Thursday, February 11, 2016

Another Trip Begins! Bangkok.

Our first meal in Bangkok.  Seafood!
It was 10 minutes past minute on February 10 that our flight took off from SFO. The first leg of our journey would take us to Taipei. We were on the same EVA Airlines flight that flew us to Singapore in 2012, enroute to Sri Lanka.   On that trip, one of Bro's friends took us to the airport; this time we took Uber.  How things have changed in just a few short years.

The flight to Taipei would be a 14 hour flight.  Ugh....I used to not mind the long haul flights but nowadays, I seriously dread them.

I managed to keep myself busy watching a couple of movies, playing games on my iPad and catnapping.  I know I can't sleep on a plane so no point even trying.  I looked over at Bro every now and again and he looked to be in a deep sleep - his head hanging down low against the neck pillow.  He later commented that he hadn't slept but at the same time, he was amazed at how the first 9 hours of the flight seem to just fly by.  Uh....it flew by cause you were fast asleep!!


EVA is Hello Kitty crazy.  The Chinese New Year's posters were still up.

Bro settled into his seat.  He had bought himself a new neck pillow.
When I booked his ticket, I had indicated he had dietary restrictions so he was getting seafood meals.
Still have not yet figured out how is eating seafood a dietary restriction.

Getting ready to land!

We landed at Taoyuan airport shortly past 5am.  It was a very familiar looking place.

Empty airport.  The shops were just getting ready to open up for the day.

I made him pose by the sign.  Happy Year of the Monkey!

Lots of Chinese New Year memorabilia still on display.  It made the airport look very festive.

We remembered seeing an orchid display when we were here in 2012.  It's still here in 2016!


We also remembered that the shops selling Taiwanese food items offer free samples.  We kept our eyes peeled for the small plexiglass boxes that hold the samples :-)  Last time around, there were a lot of mochi samples.  This time, there was more variety.


The next leg of our journey would land us in Bangkok a little over 3 hours after takeoff from Taipei.  By the time we arrived into Bangkok, we were both exhilarated that we had arrived but tired from the travel.

The line for immigration was incredibly long.  It's not an exaggeration to say that it took us more than a half hour to clear immigration.  In fact, by the time we made it to baggage claim, our suitcases had already been removed from the belt and were standing on the floor!

We grabbed our suitcases and headed for the exit.  The first thing that hit me was the heat and humidity.  Welcome to Southeast Asia!!  I am not looking forward to the weather here.   My tolerance for hot weather has taken a plunge in recent years - I blame it on menopause.  Sucks to get old as a woman!!

Our first order of the day was to get Thai currency.  Bro had a few bills left over from his previous trip but it wasn't going to be enough to even us to our Airbnb apartment.  We hit the ATM and withdrew cash.  We were stunned at the 200 baht ($6.66) processing fee!  That's highway robbery!!  What came out of the ATM was 1000 baht bills.  We decided we needed to break up the bills so we approached the bank counter of the ATM that we had just withdrawn the money from and asked if they could break up the bill.  The young woman would only give us small bills for 1000 baht.  I decided we needed more small bills so we decided to use the same approach at another bank counter and lo and behold, we got small change!

Next, we had to figure out how to get to our apartment.   My original plan had us taking the AirLink and then the BTS.  Bro had reviewed the plans during our layover in Taipei and was okay with the idea of using public transportation.   But, we got lazy.  I think we were both too tired to have to think through the logistics of how to use the public transportation system.  So, we opted for a taxi. I had read that it would only cost about 350 baht to go from Suvarnabhumi Airport to the Silom neighborhood which is near where our apartment is.  We followed the instructions, that I had printed out, to find the taxi stand.  I was hoping there would be a dispatcher issuing prepaid vouchers but no such thing.  We figured out there was a ticketing system but the only thing it did was point you to a specific taxi number.  The first driver we got was a woman.  She wanted 500 baht and while she was more than ready to load our luggage into the trunk, I refused....adamant that we should aim for as close to 350 baht as we could.

I kept wondering if there was a dispatcher or not and so we walked around a bit in search of one.  We came up empty handed and after turning down another driver, we finally settled on the one guy who was willing to accept a 400 baht offer.  From the article that I had printed out, we knew we had to pay the driver an additional 50 baht airport surcharge and very likely would have to cover the highway tolls.  At this point, I figured that both of us really just wanted to get to the apartment so into the taxi we went.  The tolls racked up another 75 baht in fees.  By the time it was all said and done, our ride cost us 525 baht!

As we settled in for our ride into town, I texted the wife of our Airbnb host to let her know that we were on our way.  We were meeting up with her to get the key to the apartment.

It has been years since I've been back to Asia.  I miss it.  What I don't miss is the crazy traffic and Bangkok has its share.  It was slow going on the highway - even though we had paid the toll to go in the faster lanes!

It was nearly an hour before we arrived at the front step of our apartment building.  We waited outside for a few minutes before the wife of the host appeared.  Her name was Aea and she seemed to be a very lovely woman.  Aea escorted us inside the building and when we entered the apartment, we stepped into a very clean, nicely furnished and nicely sized space.  I was relieved as it looked exactly as shown in the photos.  I immediately knew we would be very comfortable staying here.  Aea showed us around the apartment and then left for a few minutes to buy us some bottled water.  I thought that was very nice of her.  While she was gone, Bro and I checked out the apartment.  When Aea returned, she not only had the water with her but also a small bag of fried bananas for us to eat.  That was so thoughtful of her.  The were piping hot and absolutely delicious!!  The bag of at least 12 banana halves cost 30 baht.....less than a dollar!  I am looking forward to the street food in Bangkok!

Photos of our apartment as posted up on Airbnb.com.  It even has a small balcony which is commonly used for drying laundry.

Before she left us, I had Aea show us how to use the washer as I know we'll be doing at least a load, if not two, during our short stay here.  We also asked her for advice about places to eat.  Of course, this is her neighborhood and when you ask a local where to go, they often reply with simple answers like "When you leave the apartment, walk down the street, turn left and turn left again."  Very helpful.  Very not helpful.  Same is true if you ask what's good to eat.  "Everything!"  Very helpful.  Very not helpful.  Okay, we'll just figure it out.

We said our goodbyes to Aea and then Bro and I took a few minutes to settle in and relax.  While I was keen to hit the streets, it been a long journey and there really was no need to rush out.

Eventually, we got off our tushes and out the front door.  I'm sure it was hot and humid but I was too excited to notice.  I just wanted to get on with exploring our neighborhood.  We followed Aea's directions and quickly found ourselves on Surawong Road.   Bro noted the cross section we were standing at so we knew where to turn off to get back to the apartment.   I decided to fire up Google Maps to see where we were.  I was expecting to see modern high rise buildings and lots of shops and lots of business establishments.  Instead we saw lots of low rise buildings, a few shops and restaurants and LOTS of traffic!  Not quite what I was expecting but nonetheless, we were definitely on a city street.

The street our apartment is on.  Quiet at the moment.

Apartments.  Everyone is crammed into small spaces and there are utility lines hanging everywhere.

I decided we needed to walk with a destination in mind and the only thing I could remember was Patpong Market.  I knew it was a night market but thought I would ask anyway so I cornered the first local person we came across and asked for directions.  No luck getting an answer, language issues.  Eventually, I found someone who pointed us the way.   Our first Bangkok city challenge was to cross the street.  This is one of those places where you just learn to find that small gap in traffic and dart across.  Bro and I are veterans.

We arrived to a small street where vendors were busy setting up their stalls.  This was Patpong market getting ready for the night.  It was amazing to think that every day, vendors have to set everything up from scratch - tables, overhangs, lights and then display their goods for sale.  Reminds me of the daily pop up night market in Djemma el Fna in Marrakesh.



The street that hosts Patpong Night Market connects Surawong Road with Silom Road.  I remember from my pre-trip readings that Silom Road was the heart of Bangkok's tourist district.  Indeed it was a busy street. 

Both sides were lined with stores, eateries, and banks.  There are LOTS of banks and ATM machines in Bangkok.  LOTS of ATM machines.  Oddly enough, they have separate ATM machines for different functions - withdrawals at one; deposits at another.  Thankfully, we had already gotten our money so we skipped the ATMs but made note of ones that we could go back to e.g., the Citibank one.


Silom Road was packed with traffic and it wasn't even rush hour.  I dread to think what the street's like during morning and evening rush hours.

I had to take a picture of the colored road sign.  The colors represent the level of traffic congestion.  Red is bad.
           
From Silom Road, we crossed back over to Surawong Road.  Along the way, we saw a restaurant specializing in seafood.  We made a note of the place.  Could be one for dinner tonight.

Back at the apartment, we rested some more before heading back out to Surawong Road for dinner.  In the light of day, we had spotted a seafood restaurant.  By night, the place was hopping - there was already a crowd queued up outside.  We decided to keep the place in mind as we checked out what other options there were.

The sidewalks of Surawong Road had completely transformed at night.  Sometime in the last few hours, the street food vendors had arrived and set up shop and in some cases, tables and chairs for their diners to sit and eat at.

Foodwise, you could get anything from a bowl of noodle soup to all things sauteed, stewed, grilled and fried.  It was an amazing sight!  I quickly became very greedy and wanted to devour everything in sight but Bro is always cautious on his first night in any place.  There was no convincing him to try anything.



If I lived in Bangkok, I wouldn't bother cooking at home.  I'd just eat the street food.  Seriously.  It's plentiful and cheap and I am certain, very tasty.






After a bit of walking and menu reading, we decided to head back to the seafood restaurant.  Somboon Seafood was a place that my mother, who has been to Bangkok, also recommended that we try.  When I first saw the name, it was vaguely familiar to me and it wasn't until afterwards, when I checked my trip folder, that I remember her telling me about it.


The place was packed.  The wait line spilled outside.  I went in and gave my name to the receptionist.  We were told it would be a 10 minute wait.  Looking at the queue of people, I was skeptical but sure enough, around the 10 minute mark we were ushered to an upstairs dining room.  This restaurant is huge - every nook and cranny seem to open up into a large dining room.

It was so crowded on the second floor that it took some time for us to get a table.  We patiently waited for our table for two.

The menu here focuses mainly on seafood and the restaurant is known for its fried curry crab.  Of course, we had to order that - we ordered a small sized crab.  We also had a dish of prawns and vermicelli and a dish of a vegetable called morning glory.  We also each ordered a drink.  The place was so busy it took quite some time before our food arrived.  In typical Asian fashion, the dishes are served as they are cooked so stuff arrives in dribs and drabs.  Thankfully, the crab showed up first.

The crab.  I enjoyed it.  There wasn't much curry flavor in the sauce so you could enjoy the sweet taste of the crab. 
The sauce was thickened with egg whites.

The prawns and vermicelli.  The prawns were overcooked.  Overall, the dish was okay but nothing I would order a second time.

The morning glory turned out to be what we call water spinach or kangkung which is what I knew it as when I was growing up in Malaysia. 

The sauteed morning glory.

Although I can buy it in my neighborhood Asian supermarket, it had been ages since I had last tasted any.  We both enjoyed the dish.

Enjoying our first meal in Bangkok!
Because of the slow service and our lingering over our meal, dinner was a long affair.  No mind as we weren't in any rush.

After leaving the restaurant, we decided to head back to Patpong Market and check out the night life.


The half set up stalls were fully set up and the vendors were doing a brisk business.  Clothes, jewelry, small electronics, knick knacks, household items, bootleg DVDs and CDs.  You name it, you'd probably find it here.



During the day, we had not noticed the commercial establishments that lined the street.  We missed the bars, massage places and ping pong shows.  Yep, the ping pong shows.  We got solicited many times to see one but we never took the offer.  I have to admit, I did peek in a door or two as we passed by and all I saw were girls, in bikinis, moving about on an elevated stage.

Want to see a ping pong show the next time you're in Bangkok?  Go to Super Pussy at the Patpong Night Bazaar!

In case you don't know what a ping pong show is, here's the description from Wikipedia.
"A ping pong show is a form of stage entertainment that takes place in strip clubs, most often in Thailand. The show consists of women using their pelvic muscles to either hold, eject, or blow objects from their vaginal cavity. Ping pong balls are the most iconic objects used, but others include long strings, whistles, pens, cigarettes, candles, darts, spinning tops, bottles, firecrackers, razor blades, and chopsticks. A male member of the audience may be brought onto the dance platform to hold a balloon while a dart is shot at it, or the girl may do a shoot around the table at balloons tied to each customer's chair. Another activity is the shooting of goldfish into a bowl, or stuffing a rather large frog inside to see how long she can keep it in."
Only in Bangkok is this legitimate entertainment!

Lots of neon signs with Japanese lettering.  You would think you were on a street somewhere in Japan.

We walked up one side of the street and back down the other - seeing the entire market.  Back on Surawong Road, we continued to another street.  I don't know the name but from the looks of it, I would describe it as Japanese Restaurant Road as every establishment seemed to serve nothing but Japanese food.  This was also the street that was filled with ladies of night, clustered in large groups, standing and sitting, waiting for potential clients to come by.  I commented to Bro that I swore that the only other  people on the street looked to be Japanese men.....most likely on the prowl for a lady.

Japanese Restaurant Street.

After walking up and down Japanese Restaurant Street, we decided we had had enough and decided to head back to the market.  We were quickly fading because of jet lag and we were just a bit too tired to take in the hustle and bustle of the night life.  It was becoming sensory overload for me.

Prayer altars are a common sight on the streets in Bangkok.

Before we headed back inside our apartment building, we made a quick stop at the 7-11 store across the street and bought some bottled water.

Conked out.  So cute that he fell asleep reading the guidebook :-)

At 10:40pm, I got a text message from Ayşe.  Earlier in the day, she had texted me to tell me she had made it to Tokyo okay. That was the first leg of her journey from DC.

After another 8 hour flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, she had arrived and was waiting for her luggage.  Yay!!  About an hour later, she texted me again.  She was downstairs.  I immediately rushed down to let her in.  We were so relieved to see each other - you can imagine what big smiles we had on our faces!  We gave each other a big hug and I welcomed her to Bangkok!!

The excitement of trip finally beginning kept us awake for a short time.  We had to compare notes on our travel day.  Ayşe definitely won for the most arduous journey.  This is her first trip to Asia and the 14 hour flight was the longest she had ever taken.....to date.  Someday, today's flight will be eclipsed by an even longer one!

Chat and chat we did but soon enough, it was time to call it a night.  Tomorrow will be our first day of sightseeing.  We need to be well rested.

Our little travel group is finally all together and we're ready to explore and experience Bangkok.   I am so happy!

Goodnight from Bangkok!