Our first adventures began back in our home town of Toronto where we frantically downsized our belongings to just a few boxes and cleared out all of the possessions we have accumulated over our lifetime. The last two weeks before we left Canada were a whirlwind of sorting and organizing our things, driving to the donation centre, cleaning our rental condo and preparing for our trip. The stress of it all coupled with increasingly colder temperatures took its toll, and during the last week in Toronto, I caught a cold. I really wasn’t feeling well and even considered postponing our flight, but decided to fight through it.
We managed to find a really cheap flight, but it meant making two stop-overs on our way to Thailand. It took us close to two solid days of traveling to get here, including a ten-hour flight from Vancouver to Seoul, Korea, which was the longest flight I have ever been on. It was really tough, but we finally made it to Bangkok!
Thailand is like no other country I have visited before, although Rami says it reminds him of Syria. Buildings are only a few stories high and seem like they are built on top of one another, giving the city a “crammed” look and feel. There are motorbikes, taxis and tuk tuks everywhere and they drive on the opposite side of the road than in Canada. People are generally friendly and are willing to help, but we did get scammed by the taxi driver that took us from the airport to our guest house by making an unnecessary loop around the city to score more money. There are a lot of stray cats and dogs roaming the streets. I don’t have any doubt the stray cats can find enough food to eat as we saw a giant rat running along the wall at one of the hotels.
We bought SIM cards at the airport and that turned out to be a lifesaver. We use Google Maps all the time to navigate our way around Bangkok, taking public buses, the metro and public boats to travel around. Public transport is fairly cheap and conductors on buses and boats collect the fares, similar to how I remember it being back in Russia. However, you have to be really quick to get on the bus because it starts moving right away.
We decided to take it easy on our first day and started out by exploring a weekend market. There were a lot of interesting shops at the market, selling soap in the shape of various fruits, unusual dried fruit like watermelon and kiwi, all kinds of handicrafts, knock offs of designer purses like Michael Kors and Coach, leather-goods, and of course tons of street food. Everything was very cheap and haggling is normal. For instance, a very popular pair of ladies pants was being sold for 75 baht, which we later spotted at the MBK shopping mall being sold for 200 baht.
As the day progressed and the temperatures climbed to over 30 degrees Celsius, we sought refuge in an upscale mall called Siam Paragon. The mall contains all the designer shops you could ever imagine, such as Prada, Versace, Burberry, and so on. It also had my favourite French macarons shop Laduree, but the prices were quite steep. We then visited another mall, called MBK. It is much cheaper and is made up of seven floors, including a movie theatre and a bowling alley. Each floor tries to specialize in something, like electronics or clothing. But although there are lots of stores offering bespoke suits for cheap, I found the rest of the clothing to be very simple and bland. We were expecting the type of clothing you would find at H&M or The Gap being sold for cheap since it’s likely that it is made here in Thailand, but instead we encountered simple t-shirts and dated fashions that we could easily find at the Chinatown back in Toronto. Our plan to stock up on cheap clothes has not worked out so far.
We finished our first day by visiting the Khao San Road, which is known for being tourist central. However, it is where you can be sure to find affordable street food. As we made our way through the crowded road, we were approached by so many people trying to sell us strange things like laughing gas, a ping pong sex show and plastic buckets full of booze. There were also a couple of carts that sold deep fried bugs and charged 10 baht just for you to take a picture. Gross stuff! We have to man up and try at least a grass hopper or something. But the roaches were the size of your palm and totally freaked me out.
The street food on Khao San Road seemed plentiful and fresh with the most popular item being pad thai, which could be ordered with just eggs, or chicken or shrimp. We also could not pass on the dessert, sampling coconut ice cream (made of coconut and served in a coconut) as well as small taco-shaped sweets with condensed coconut milk, topped with either sweetened egg noodles or shredded coconut. The only thing that is not convenient is that it’s hard to find a place to sit down to eat the food that you buy at the street stalls. I have already dropped chocolate and condensed coconut milk all over myself.
Since we read quite a bit about Thailand, we were not overly culture-shocked. So far Bangkok is exactly how it is described – hot and humid, crowded and a bit polluted, but friendly and full of delicious food. It is fairly easy to navigate if you have Google Maps and the cost of living is cheap.