The best moments of a trip, as well as in life, are unexpected and pretty impossible to document but will live on in memory forever. Often, they can be like a blue sky cloud break in the middle of a rainstorm. Yesterday, we had one that was literally just the opposite.
We had an exhausting day, spending much of it literally lost in seas of people in shopping centers. Jet lag continues, and despite the exhaustion we are still unable to sleep past 5am. This compounds after a couple of days, and without question affected our ability to fully enjoy our second day. Our standard continental breakfast was still enjoyable day two- nothing worth noting except for that weird white fruit showed up again. Seems like in the kiwi family- white inner, red peel, and what looks like black sesame seeds throughout. Not a lot of flavor, but tasty enough.
I felt woozy and dizzy for much of the morning, and felt like no matter how much water I drank that I could never get fully hydrated. Our hotel room was equipped with bottled water, as the tap water is probably not safe for western stomachs. I tried to keep up as well as possible, but sweating through the humidity, sleeping 5 hours a night, and walking all day make it hard to get ahead.
But I didn't let it stop me. We bought an all day pass on the skytrain and set out to Chatuchak Market (http://www.chatuchak.org/), which touts itself as the worlds largest weekend market. I do not question their claim. The market is 3 square miles of over 1500 booths selling denim, handbags, paintings, furniture, puppies, glassware, sunglasses, food, etc. It is a zoo, and it's impossible to see all of, even in the 5ish hours we spent walking around it. We had a few things we would have picked up if we came across, but honestly it was too overwhelming to do anything but wander around like zombies, appreciating the enormity of it all. It was hot, but mostly covered, and we refreshed ourselves from time to time with scoops of coconut ice cream topped with peanuts and sweet corn, served in coconut shells. If I lived in Bangkok, I would furnish a house and my wardrobe with the items there, but our limited packing ability and need to stay pretty lightweight prevented us some buying some pretty cool stuff. We did end up with a set of cups that we're going to do our best not to break over the next 18 days.
For lunch we ate at Thom Kha Gai from a stall in the corner of the market, and it was exceptional. The red chile burned my dry lips a bit at first, but it was every bit as good as anything we'd eaten thus far, for about 4 dollars. A brief rainstorm blew through, which helped cool things off, and we snapped a few photos, but mostly it was a morning of exhaustion and overwhelming options.
It took us longer to get back to the hotel than we wanted, and we were tired of being on our feet. Planning to hit the pool, and then abandoning that plan, we fought the urge to nap until we realized it would overtake us unless we got back out on the street.
Our plan for the evening was multi-pronged: We needed to eat another late lunch, visit a few shopping centers Emily had researched, get her a foot massage, and get some dinner out somewhere. We set off for the heart of the shopping district of Bangkok- Siam station. The area consists of at least 5 of the biggest malls I've ever seen, connected by systems of walkways. From the extreme upscale Siam Paragon to the more thrifty stalls of Siam Square and MBK Center, there is more than something for everyone. There is too much of everything for anyone.
We snagged some Phad Thai and seaweed salad from a restaurant in one of the malls to help with the 3pm late lunch need. Interesting side note- no alcohol can be purchased between 2 - 5pm. I have no idea why.
What follows is mostly a tale of frustrated exhaustion, which will be as hard to describe as the brief moment of fun in the middle of it. Emily had a few shops that she really wanted to make it to, and a few things she needed to pick up, including some more comfortable shoes for our longer walks. The mall complex is endlessly confusing, and not very well documented. We spent probably another hour trying to find some specific stores (that I think we later realized were removed to make space for a 6th or 7th mall in the area), and then walked for 20 minutes in the wrong direction. And then it started to pour.
Having only spent 3 days in SE Asia I cannot verify this, but it seems like the weather follows a pretty consistent pattern this time of year. Around 5pm, the clouds grow dark, and the wind and rain let loose. Everyone in the shopping center stopped what they were doing and stood under awnings, watching the monsoon.
We, however, were on a mission, and this storm was entirely novel to us. We walked along the mostly covered skytrain platform, with rain being blown horizontally aside us, and marvelled at a type of rain we rarely see in our part of the world. It was still so humid and warm. We reached the end of our covered walkway and became exposed, and had to duck into a mall to find protection. From that point, the rain kept coming, and we darted from awning to awning, often through 4 inches of puddle in our flip flops, as locals watched from the protection of their umbrellas. When we finally reached our shopping destination, we were soaked through, but it was a bizarre moment of levity from the otherwise tiring evening.
We made a few more attempts at shopping, but really didn't have the stamina or mental capacity to do it, so we gave up and went back to the hotel. Dinner was a mystery, so after about 20 minutes scouring the internet for anything near our hotel with decent reviews, we hopped back on the skytrain one last time to a little restaurant called Nalin Kitchen.
If it had been closed (or sketchy looking), it might have genuinely ruined the day, but thankfully it provided everything we were looking for. We also got a little help with our Thai. We now know both how to greet (sah-wa-dee-khap for me, sah-wa-dee-kaa for emily) and thank (khap-oohn-khap for me, khap-oohn-kaa for emily) thanks to a very friendly server. The food was great, and helped a lot to get our spirits back up. Enough so that we had the energy to make one last trip to a department store across the street in a shoe shopping attempt. No deals to be found, so we trudged back home to our room and passed out by 10:30 (our earliest night yet).
This was our last real day in Bangkok. It's the busiest part of our trip, and the most stressful. When the coup happened in May, I was most concerned about its effect on our experience there, but I really didn't even think about it most of the time. There may have been an increased military presence on the streets, but I had no context for what it was like prior to martial law and never felt unsafe at any point. Obviously, that's a goal of whoever is in power. Anything that hurts the tourist industry is very bad for Thailand, so precautions are being made to ensure that doesn't happen. I don't have the political background or presumption to have an opinion on what it means for Thailand as a whole, but it really has had no effect on our travel thus far.
Takehomes from Bangkok (and any big city, really):
1. Don't judge a city by your experience doing the most touristy things there. If you want to see the sights (which I still always do), expect to deal with the same problems that always come along with them.
2. Don't judge a city by your exhaustion from trying to do too much in too little time. That's your own dumb fault.
I really enjoyed Bangkok as a city and look forward to visiting it again in the future.
Up next: Chiang Mai!