Saturday, January 15, 2011

First Stop - Bangkok: 10 million residents

The first day of the trip to Thailand was exclusively spent traveling.  We had left Kitami around 11pm Christmas Eve, had a Christmas dinner in the Beijing airport, and arrived the next day.  After 26 hours of traveling by car, bus, train, airplane, and taxi, we finally arrived at our hostel in Bangkok on December 26th, around 3 in the morning.  Our first order of business was to shower and get some sleep.  Once we were well-rested, we started exploring this city described as “a city of extremes: crowded, colorful, chaotic, and charming,” by the Lonely Planet guidebook.  There was so much to take in that I’ll do my best to just highlight a few of the adventures in Bangkok.

1. Shopping - Chatuchak Market and the MBK center

Chatuchak market is considered to be one of the biggest markets in the world, covering more than 35 acres and containing more than 5,000 stalls.  This was our first intro to bargaining and shopping in Thailand.  

 This is just a tiny, tiny portion of the covered part of the market

The MBK center is a huge mall that was a three minute walk from our hostel in Bangkok.  It’s extremely famous in Thailand and seemed to have an atmosphere similar to the outdoor markets we saw, except that it was indoors and air conditioned.

2. Koh Kret

This is a car-free island in Northern Bangkok.  When we finally figured out the ferry system, we took the ferry as far north as we could – getting a great view of Bangkok in the meantime – until we needed to hop on some local transportation to get the rest of the way.  After about an hour, we finally made it to the quiet Koh Kret, only to find that not much was open on a Monday.  However, it was a nice change from the normally chaotic streets of Bangkok and we still got some good sight-seeing in.

3. Moon Bar at Vertigo

Late one evening, we heeded Lonely Planet’s suggestion and checked out the bar at the top of this hotel.  I believe it was perhaps the 2nd highest building in Bangkok, but it certainly seemed to soar into the sky.  The bar was open-aired on the top of the hotel, on the 87th floor.  The view was gorgeous, although I felt a bit out of place because the place just reeked of money and had a faint murmur of European languages mixing together.  Certainly worth it though. 

4. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (the glittering temples on the Grand Palace grounds)

This was absolutely stunning!  I never imagined that temples could glitter so much in so many different ways.  It was worth the entrance fee to be awed at the sights.

5. One Misadventure: Going to the wrong airport

Our last night in Bangkok melted into our first morning on Koh Samui much more difficultly than I could have imagined.  It never really had a beginning because we didn’t go to bed.  Since our flight was at 6am, and we needed to leave by 4am, and we wanted to go out in the town, we barely would’ve fit a nap in the time between getting back to the Hostel and leaving.  So, around 4:30, we load up in a taxi and tell him that we need to go to the airport.  Right as we pull up to the airport, about 40 minutes later, we realize that it is the wrong airport!  There are two airports in Bangkok, and both handle domestic flights, but the driver just assumed that we needed the larger one, and we just assumed that there was only one airport.  

By now it’s just after 5:00am, and we need to get across town – again – to catch our 6am flight.  The taxi driver books it, going uncomfortably fast considering that there are no seat belts in the backseat , but it still takes another 40 minutes to get to the airport.  It’s not quite ten minutes before our flight is supposed to leave and we’re just unloading the taxi.  Luck was on our side though – it was a small airport, a short line, and the plane was delayed just enough for us to get on, sit down, and buckle up before the standard safety speeches were given.  Lesson learned!

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