Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thailand Part VI: Bangkok

Our overnight train was supposed to arrive in Bangkok around something like 6:30 AM.  However, we were hours late, so by the time we got to our hotel, checked in, and showered, it was already time for lunch. After getting some lunch by a place near our hotel, it was time to explore Bangkok.  
Our hotel room the last night.  We splurged on this one...I think it was a shopping $30 for the night.

The crazy street our hotel was located on

More delicious smoothies with our lunch.
We had been watching the political situation in Thailand closely in the weeks leading up to our trip.  If you haven't seen, there have been widespread political protests, and for the past few weeks there has been a "shutdown Bangkok" movement that has aimed to shutdown the major intersections and government buildings in the city.  The protests have turned violent on multiple occasions, so we were glad we didn't have much of an interest in seeing Bangkok.

Originally the only thing we really cared about seeing in Bangkok was the Grand Palace, but as we set out and used our map to walk in the right direction, a man with a tuk-tuk offered to help us.  He told us a bunch of places we should see, and told us that for only 50 baht he would take us around for the day.

50 baht?!  That is not even two dollars.  We thought something seemed strange about that because that's way lower than any of our other tuk-tuk rides, and he was offering to take us to a bunch of different places.

But we ultimately accepted his offer anyway.  He sent over one of his younger drivers, who was super friendly and I think quite enjoyed talking to us.  He took us to a temple first, then to another temple with a HUGE Buddha.  It was here that we saw a man selling birds in little cages.  His sign said if you buy the birds and set them free then you will have good luck and happiness forever.  Figuring you can't ever have too much good luck and happiness, we of course bought some of the birds and set them free in the temple.

Setting the birds free...because why not?

Megan is so small compared to the Buddha! 

At this temple, we met a local man who told us that that day was some sort of holiday, which meant that certain places that aren't typically open were and some rates for transportation were lower.  He kept telling us about some place where foreigners go to buy jewelry at a low price, then resell it in their home countries. I think this guy really would have talked to us forever, but we eventually somehow managed to get away.

As we got back in the car our driver told us he was going to take us to some kind of Expo. Again, he told us some of what the man by the temple had told us--something about taxes and low prices.  Ok, whatever we thought...couldn't hurt to go check it out right?

When we got to the "expo" it was a place that was full of fine jewelry.  Some of it was beautiful, and the price was good, but Megan and I had NO intent whatsoever to buy fine jewelry on our trip.  Let's get real.  We were bargaining to be able to buy things for $2-3 at the Chaing Mai night market.  We were definitely not looking to buy any fine jewelry.

So, we looked interested, but then said we were all set and escaped that awkward situation.  When we got back in the tuk-tuk our driver told us that he was going to take us to yet another place where we could buy things tax-free.  Ummmm ok, if you must.  This time there wasn't fine jewelry, but a random assortment of souvenirs. Again, we managed to escape and get back in the tuk-tuk.

Ok, now we were REALLY ready to move on with our tour of Bangkok.  Except our driver told us that he then had to take us to one more shop.  At this point I was getting irritated.  I asked how many more we had to go to and he said this was the last one.  He said we didn't have to buy anything, but we had to at least appear interested and spend some time in there or else he wouldn't get free gas money.

I was pretty annoyed at this point, but I figured what the hell, it's only one more stop.  So, this time we were brought to a place where they make custom clothes for you.  Again, I had just bought some super cheap clothes in Chiang Mai.  There was no way I had any need for custom tailored clothes.  I think the people could pretty easily tell that we weren't going to buy anything, because it didn't take long for them to move us to another part of the store with the more typical type of souveniers we had seen a million times (elephants, Buddhas, scarves).

Finally, we went back out and were on our way...this time not to another store.  I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised by this situation because my friend Jackie had told me that things like this happen all the time.  She actually told me to try to take the subway because of things like this.  I know that tourism is the main industry in Thailand--when they see westerners all they see is money.  And I get it.  They don't have many of the opportunities we do to earn a livelihood.  They don't live off of much money, and to them we are all rich.  And by comparison, we are rich.  But still, by this point in the trip I was getting sick of people looking at me and just seeing money.

Luckily, our driver was done bringing us to stores and we finally got to go to our next destination.  He brought us to a pier where we could then pay to take a boat through a river.  Our driver told us how to bargain with them and told us not to pay more than 1000 Baht.  When we went they wanted to charge us much more, but we asked for 1000 Baht, and the man accepted the price.  1000 Baht was actually kind of expensive (about $30), but we were at the end of the trip so we figured why not.
On our boat! There was only one other guy on the boat with us.  He was from the Ukraine and super friendly!

Oh hey, there. 

The boat ride took us through some pretty dirty looking water and behind some extremely broken down buildings. During our time traveling through Thailand, we got a few glimpses of what the living conditions are like in parts of this country.  While I'm sure there are plenty of people who live in fine conditions, I saw a lot of broken down homes similar to the buildings we saw along the river.

All in all, our boat ride was enjoyable.  When our trip ended, it was time to walk to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace.  By that point it was pretty warm, but we eventually found the entrance.  It was 500 Baht to enter the Palace, but well worth the price.  This was by far the most extravagent of all the places we visited in Thailand.  Once again, my pictures don't do any sort of justice to the beauty of this landmark.  However, if you ever get the chance, it's a really a "can't miss" in Thailand.  Gold, shimmer, and shine everywhere.  I'm glad it was our last stop in Thailand, because I don't think anything else would have compared.

Amazing detail on every wall.

After we finished at the Grand Palace, we were hot and tired so we headed back to the hotel for a bit.  After taking a rest, it was time for dinner (and beer).  Our hotel in Bangkok was located in a pretty rowdy area.  There were tourists EVERYWHERE and the Thai people cater to that accordingly.  There were shops, food places, music, you name it.  We spent a while wandering around the street and ate our last bits of street food.  Although, we did pass on the scorpions that people kept coming up and offering us.  No thanks.  We also got asked multiple times if we wanted to go to a sex show. Gross.  Just a little reminder that Thailand has its dark side--that is unfortunately a huge industry in the country.
Goodbye, Thailand!

Pineapple and what I think is a banana/chocolate pancake.

We tried to stay up later, but eventually we got tired and went back to sleep for a few hours before getting up at a disgusting time (3 AM) to go to the airport.

It's always depressing when vacation is over, even more so when you have to say bye to your friend, who lives on a different continent.  I wasn't happy to say bye to Megan, but now we can just look forward to her adventure to Korea :)

My first flight went to Hong Kong, then from Hong Kong back to Korea.  I got back to Incheon around 6:00 PM, and one thing is for sure: Korea has never felt more like home.

I spent the next few days in Seoul with friends, then came back to Jeomchon on Friday morning.  I had an amazing time in Thailand, but there's truly no place like home and there are no words to describe the feeling of relief that I felt when I entered my apartment again.

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