Bangkok Day 2
April 8, 2006
I wake at 4 am and get up to write. David watches the Masters golf on TV. We drink coffee and tea and wait for the sun to come up. Since the room does not come with breakfast, we walk out to the street and down Sukhumvit toward the Starbuck's we'd seen from the cab on the way in. It's further than we think, but the day is still cool and when we see a street vendor selling bags of fried dough, we stop and buy. The dough is hot and crispy and slightly sweet like a beignet. There are 6 pieces shaped a little like bones and 3 or 4 little pillow shaped bits, all yummy and only 10 baht. The Starbucks finally appears, across from the Landmark Hotel.
From there we walk up Soi Nana to the main east-west canal (Khlong San Sap) with the goal of taking a local canal boat over to Wat Saket and the Golden Mount. We find the pier underneath the small bridge on the west side of the street and go down to wait. The boat comes and we get on with no idea how much, or how to communicate with the ticket seller. There are all of about 5 seconds to jump onto the boat and slide into one of the benches before it takes off again. This is a smaller boat than the Express boats on the Chao Praya and the bench seats span from side to side with no center aisle. Climb over your seat mates if needed when your stop comes up. The passengers do their part in raising a lowering the tarps on the sides to keep everyone from being sprayed with canal water.
The ticket taker comes around and shows us stamped tickets with a 12 baht price; David hands him change and the ticket taker indicates he needs more. David hands him more, and it seems like it may not be enough, but the guy just gives us the tickets and moves on, probably frustrated with the dumb farang. Later we realize we've most likely shorted him by 3 baht. Midway through the trip, the boat docks at a stop and everyone gets off and moves to another boat. I'd read about this (the second boat will go under the lower bridges), but it still seems odd since the boats appear to be the same size. We show our tickets and don't pay for the second leg, though I'm unsure if this is correct as the vendor is selling 8 baht tickets. It's a fantastic way to travel, cheap, easy, and cooler than up on the street. The scenery is a fascinating look at life behind the scenes, though at times it's hard to see because the tarps are up. As we move further West, the boat slows and the tarps drop. The life along the canals (and other parts of Bangkok) can be heartbreakingly poor. Some of the houses are little more than shacks of pieced together wood and corrugated metal.
More Canal Scenes on the Photo Page...
We get off at the pier for Wat Saket. It would pay to invest in a good map with all the canal boat stops listed on it, but more on this later. A man sitting by the bridge approaches us, asking us where we are going. I'm instantly on guard, but he's just friendly and tells us it's better to see the Golden Mount at sunset, but unfortunately for us it's only 9 am. He points us in the right direction and tells us to have a nice day.
We walk up and up and up and finally reach the top. Inside is a working temple, complete with incense, lotus flowers, buddha statues, and saffron robed monks. In addition, there are great views of Bangkok, both from the windows and the platform at the top where the Golden Chedi sits. 10 baht admission to the top chedi and viewing platform.
After the temple, we walk to the Giant Swing and then begin our pilgrimage to find a restaurant for which I have a number of highly praising recommendations, Chote Chitr, yet no concrete directions or address. We walk in circles, up one long road to the Democracy Monument and then down another, blisters forming. We get stopped again by a passer-by, recommending we go see the "Black Buddha", but he lets us go without offering a tuk tuk to a gem shop. He did try to tell us it was a "special holiday" however. Finally, we find Chotre Chitre. It's off Tanao road (which is the large street heading South off the East end of Khao San Rd), one block North of Bamrung Muang Rd. It would have been easier for us to have walked straight down from the Giant Swing, but who knew?
We arrive around 10:30 and the place is so tiny, only about 5 tables, and of course, not yet open. The owner offers to let us sit, but we think we'll walk to find an internet cafe. No such luck so we head back to restaurant to sit and wait for the 11 am opening. Two little dogs have the run of the place. David tells her I've been wanting to come here, and the NY Times article is posted on the wall. Even though she hands us a menu, she knows what we want (all the dishes I've read about), so why not go just go with that? She's notorious for telling people what they want to eat, not the other way around. Banana flowers with chicken and shrimp, Shrimp with red curry (thought I'd ordered Pork, but I guess it was "prawn"), mee crop with tofu bits and chicken and orange, and an amazing roasted eggplant salad with shrimp and shallots and an incredible smoky flavor that I could not stop eating. It was all incredible and lunch, including water and a coke was 320 baht.
Belly's full, and aching feet, we decide to take taxi back; it's a straight shot down Bamrung Muang Rd which turns into Sukhumvit. Should be easy, right? We get into a taxi and he asks us if we want to take the expressway as traffic is too heavy across town. After going for about 5 min, we reach a point where traffic stops (this is the driver's shortcut??) and we sit, not moving for almost 10 min. I look at the map and although we're not exactly sure where we are, we think we can make it back to the canal. We pay the driver who laughs good naturedly, and set off walking. My feet are killing me, and when we reach the canal, we can't find a pier. The further we walk along the street parallel to the canal, searching for a pier, the more irritated I get. We finally go though a narrow walkway to a footbridge over the canal and take a look for a pier. There's one about a block away, and we walk along the path alongside the canal to reach it. By this time I'm limping and David is sweating buckets. Once the boat comes, we hand the ticket seller 16 baht and get 2 8 baht tickets. When we have to change boats, we wind up buying 2 18 baht tickets. Some of the passengers from the 1st boat already have the 18 baht tickets and are not charged again. I think that's the key-buy one 18 baht ticket for the whole trip. We get off the boat at the Asok stop and take the subway back one stop to the hotel, but not before buying a large bottle of fresh squeezed tangerine juice from a sidewalk juice vendor. These are an incredible tasty value at 20 baht.
David wants to rest for a couple of hours, so I go out to a small mall across from the hotel to check email (1 baht per minute), buy an iced coffee, and my favorite newspaper, the International Herald Tribune.
Around 4 PM we go out and take the skytrain to MBK to look for an international cell phone. MBK is a crazy-huge shopping mall filled with stores and vendor stalls. It's an overwhelming assault on the senses; noise, color and sound. I always think of the movie "Blade Runner" when I come here.
I want a quad band phone I can use anywhere in the world, but new ones are running 14,000 to 16,000 baht, more expensive than at home. Used ones are about 7,000 baht, still more than I want to spend. Finally, we look at a used triband phone for about 2500 baht, but decide against it because it just seems to complicated to figure out without the instruction manual. I'll buy one on ebay before the next trip.
We head for the 7th floor, remembering it as having the food court, but it's filled with fast food restaurants and a movie theater. Back down to the 6th floor to find the food court which has been updated since the last time we were here. It works on a coupon system. We check out the choices and I decide I want to try durian. But then my stomach starts to grumble, and not in an "I'm hungry" type of way. I find the rest room (1 baht fee) and it's clean with western style toilets and toilet paper.
I'm no longer hungry but we buy David an order of Pommelo which gives him 6 large sections served with a sugar-chili mixture for 45 baht. He loves it. The smell of food is making me ill, so we leave and go back to the hotel for a rest. By the time we arrive it's 6:30 PM. Both of us fall asleep and don't wake until 12:30 AM when we decide it's too late for dinner.
I lay there, mad at myself for missing a potentially good meal, but I know that there are times when you have to listen to your body. I feel fine and the intestinal issue does not re-appear. I don't think it was anything I ate, but rather my body's way of adjusting after 24 hours of airplane food and a bit of very spicy food.
More Photos on the Photo Page...
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Thai taxi drivers are a distinct breed of entrepreneur. They have earned their reputation for being pushy, dishonest, and refusing to follow directions. In my world, that of first grade teacher, most Thai taxi drivers would get sent immediately to the principal's office. We have had a difficult time finding the good ones, who are most certainly out there, on each and every visit to Thailand. This one begins no differently.
After we cleared customs, having spent nearly 18 1/2 hours stuffed inside an airplane (16 1/2 in one, and almost 2 in the next), we found ourselves in the longest line for a taxi one could imagine. The reason to wait for the meter taxi at the official stand, we learned over the years, is to avoid the hassle of negotiating a fixed price, and then, in all probability having to fight to keep that price over the course of the journey, or being taken somewhere other than the destination you desire.
So, the theory goes, you wait in line, and the taxi logs itself at the stand with a destination, time of departure, and fare, supposedly ensuring the details of your ride. But this time, we were let down by the very system we thought would protect us. At the taxi stand, Kristina presented the printout with the directions to our hotel in Thai to the two young ladies who were dispatching, only for us to be rushed into a taxi and given a fixed price! We tried to argue, but were summarily blown off, given the "stupid foreigner" treatment, and sent on our way.
She tried again to insist, once in the vehicle, that the taxi driver use the meter, but to no avail. We were lucky to convey the address of our hotel properly to this guy. At least the AC worked in his car. Once on the road, he passed up the first expressway on ramp, and Kristina again questions him. He is supposed to use the elevated toll road, but that costs more, and often is eschewed when the driver thinks he can get away with it. "Yea, yea, expressway he nods" missing ramp after ramp, en route to the hotel via surface streets. This guy is an ass, and he clearly has no intention of taking the expressway. Luckily, traffic is not awful, and it only takes us 30 minutes to get there when it should of taken us 15. Needless to say, it makes us both a little steamed beyond the already hot and humid weather, to be ripped off like this by a bad taxi driver, especially because we know better.
Once in Bangkok, we know our way around pretty well, and we use the subway and skytrain very effectively. To reach the Golden Mount, on the second day, we have crossed town by canal boat, a very fast and inexpensive way to cross town. We also do a lot of walking.
But, we find ourselves far from either canal or subway, and with blisters forming on Kristina's feet. Having wandered the back streets of this neighborhood for an hour in order to find the tiny little restaurant that Kristina has read about, and stuffed ourselves with amazing, spicy food, we are in no shape to walk back to where we can avail ourselves of the public transportation.
We decide to hail a cab, and insist on the meter. This is so much more easily achieved from the center of town than it is from the airport, where it is assumed that you are a stupid tourist, but naiveté is not the only pitfall on the road of taxi travel. Traffic on the streets of Bangkok is even worse than in our native Los Angeles, and can turn the saffron robes of even the most patient monk inside out. Our taxi driver, clearly not of the 'bad' clan, elects to evade traffic in an way which I can relate to: go around the town on the freeway- longer distance, but ultimately faster.
We only make it a few blocks before we come to gridlock hell, nowhere near the freeway at this point. While we sit and wait for the traffic to move, our taxi driver, who is honest and pleasant on the one hand, shows us his ugly side. He, like any human being, does not like to sit in traffic, but instead of sudoku, or the radio, he decides clean his ears. This is a thoroughly foul process, involving tweezers and his finger, and no apparent receptacle for that which is liberated from the depths of his nasty ear canal. By now we have reached our 'ugly' quotient, and we politely pay, and disembark. Although we are suffering from blisters and heat exhaustion, we hike a mile or two until we find the canal boat stop, and get on. It takes over an hour to return to the hotel, but we figure that our taxi driver is still in that traffic, if the creatures in his ears let him live, that is.
It is always easier to get back to the airport, and our ride from the Westin back to Don Muang proves this once again. This taxi ride is clean, fast- he used the elevated toll road and got us there in 15 minutes. Even with the cost of tolls included, and a small mystery fee, we only paid 250 baht- 100 baht less than the 30 min. ride to the hotel! We vow never to let another taxi driver tell us that the elevated toll road is only one way (one of the many lies our first 'bad' driver tried to feed us), and look forward to our next meeting with a taxi driver, some five days hence.
Bangkok Day 2 Photo Page