After spending an absolutely wonderful week with my parents, we headed out to Bangkok. To many, this is nothing. You board the plane, take off and land in your new destination. For me though, this is something. I like to think I have a very close relationship with my parents and my family in general. We’re in constant contact with each other, going so far as to have a Bo-Linn family Whatsapp channel full of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I took my first solo, non-family trips when I was 30. I’m accustomed to a certain travel itinerary one might say, one diligently planned by my dad. My trips with Mark in 2018 were the first trips I planned on my [our] own, and all were successful. As odd as it might seem to some, this adventure is a big step in Isabel’s world. I’m taking my first leap, starting with Bangkok.
How was my first flight as a thirty-something baby bird? Not bad, not bad at all. As Mark predicted and continues to remind me, we hit a few hiccups. The Grand Palace is only 13 miles from our hotel, but no taxi or Grab (Southeast Asian version of Uber/Lyft) would take us there because Bangkok is essentially a city built of traffic. LA is an empty highway compared to Bangkok. Subway, here we come. The BTS system is actually very easy to use and cheap. Well, why didn’t you two do this option first?? Because 2.5 hours, two subways and one ferry later, we arrived! It took awhile, but it was relatively peaceful and we got to witness the beauty that is the polluted Chao Phraya riverfront! Fun fact: Bangkok is home to 8+ million residents who like to burn trash and drive cars with horrible emission so the pollution is terrible. So terrible that while we were there, the city “seeded the clouds”…aka made fake rain, and I don’t mean dollar bills. Smog aside, I still highly recommend visiting Bangkok, it’s surreal. Just pack some N95 face masks and get over “looking silly.”
Stop #1: The Grand Palace. I like to say it’s a fancy place where fancy Thai royals lived fancy lives and conducted fancy business. My father the historian would be dumbfounded that that came out of my mouth, so here is the wikipedia article for you to read on the toilet.
The reason the Grand Palace sees about 20,000 tourists a day (at 500 baht a ticket) is that it’s damn beautiful. Every wat you see you think “wow, that’s cool.” The Palace puts them to shame. It’s an enormous complex, heavily detailed with mosaics, statues, murals, and temples. Photos don’t do it justice, you have to see it in person, with 20,000 Chinese tourists.
After a pit stop at Starbucks (“fiercely air-conditioned” says my dad), we walked to Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Buddha. For the skimmers, this is the temple with the GIANT RECLINING GOLD BUDDHA. Again, photos don’t do it justice, mostly because you can fit him in one nice photo. There are other sites at Wat Pho (buddhas, buddhas, buddhas, a cat here and there), but the thing to see is Mr. Gold Buddha himself.
The Buddha is here is in his last illness, about to enter parinirvana. Reclining buddhas are always lying on their right side because one’s heart is on the left. If you lie on your left side, you are putting pressure on your heart and it must work harder. At least that’s what our tuk-tuk guide said (more on him later). This Buddha is genuinely breathtaking, his sheer size is overwhelming and the amount of detail in the embellishments could take days to record.
We ended our time in Bangkok (round 1) with a night-time tuk-tuk tour. Our group was small and consisted of only Americans (shotout to Ohio and Chicago). Our guide, P, was enthusiastic and funny.
My name is P, like the letter P. Not like “pee-pee.”Our guide, P
Our first stop was a night market near the piers. As I mentioned earlier, getting around Bangkok is a real pain the a** because of the traffic. Locals like P resort to cutting across the river to save some hours. Someone got the hint that a large number of commuters were cutting through this alley, so they created a market. Locals heading home outside of the city will stop by for food, pick up a snack for the family and maybe even pick out some new clothes. We sampled Thai street food, aka meat-on-a-stick, and desserts like custard bread. The custard was created from a pandan leaf, a plant widely used in SE Asian cooking.
We went on to drive by the Grand Palace again and another wat, where P taught us about how to be a monk. All Thai men need to be a monk at some point in their life, usually before the “next stage” like marriage or a new job. The time is usually short, a few months to a few weeks. You learn the ways of the monk, like self-control and discipline with your anger. P recommends meditating every day to help achieve self-control. He was so adamant about it, he had us mediate when we visited Wat Pho. Yes, we went back, but this time at night and no one was there. We couldn’t see the Buddha again but we got to roam the grounds again.
Other highlights of the tour included eating arguably the best pad thai in Bangkok. Thipsamai Pad Thai is famous for its pad thai (duh) and orange juice (what?). I’d stand in line again for the OJ, without a doubt. Since we were on a tour and VIPs, we cut the very long line and ate immediately. The pad thai is sweeter than pad thai in the U.S., and Thipsamai’s specialty includes wrapping it in an egg.
Finally, we ended our tour at a flower market. This flower market is open 24 hours a day, mostly because they act as wholesalers for vendors. Flowers are incredibly popular decorations for weddings, garlands, chandeliers, funerals and temples. They are given as offerings, gifts and adorn homes. As a final goodbye, we folded a lotus flower and offered it as a blessing to the shrine outside the market. Fun fact: if you are going to offer a flower to the Buddha or monk, don’t sniff it first. No one likes a used gift.
After writing this piece and taking the time to properly reflect, my mom is right. It’s time to leave the nest, it’s time for Chiang Rai!