Bangkok: My First Time in Asia!
In case we haven't talked lately, I have been busy volunteering at the embassy as the President of the Employee Association. Ironic, right? The freeze prevents me from being an employee yet I'm running the employee association. Meh, I roll with it.
The association raises money for community events here at post. Since I cannot work, my sales background made this position a great way to contribute to the Mission, stay busy and sharpen my professional skill. Our association is small compared to many other embassies, and for years we have been just doing fundraisers with no real processes in place. My goal for this year was to create those processes and leave it in much better shape than when I started. I have been creating budgets, analyzing sales and making inventory tracking systems in Excel. Sounds boring to most, but I actually love it. *nerd alert*
Anywho, each year the Department of State holds two trainings a year for managers of such associations. It just so happened that the Fall training was in Bangkok, Thailand. Although this was a "work" trip, I was able to squeeze in a little sightseeing after class each day. Here is how it went! I plan to return with the hubs when we get a chance - we must see the Temples and the Thai coast!
It may sound excessive, but I explored the street markets all nights but one when in Bangkok! I saw the PatPong twice, the Dolat Rot Fai Train Market once and the MBK Center briefly as they were closing. Bargaining is a real must when shopping at booths in Bangkok. Yes, the items are cheap compared to US prices, but it is common knowledge to offer half of their initial price, then settle on a price about 30% less than asking.
It was kind of fun, although they get super angry if you look at items then not buy something... After haggling about a pair of pants, I asked to see them in person. I realized they were tie-around, not pants with sewn legs. I did not need my goodies hanging out on a windy day, so I said no thanks. I was promptly told to "f*** off" for making her show them to me. My friend and I could do nothing but laugh in astonishment. We walked away and tried to avoid that booth the rest of the week.
Breakfast and lunch were spent at the hotel (the St. Regis, which I HIGHLY recommend), but as a group we tried a few other restaurants for dinner!
Cabbages and Condoms is highly acclaimed, and I know why. The food is great, the atmosphere is relaxing and they donate to a good cause (HIV/AIDS prevention and family planning).
With a fellow Southeast Kansas kid, I tried Holy Shrimp. You choose your seafood/veggie mix and spice level, then they mix it all up in a bucket. The server lays a paper on your table, hands you plastic gloves and dumps the food on the table in front of you. We chose mild, but it was still pretty spicy. But delicious. This was in the Rot Fai Train Market, which I mentioned earlier.
One of the most popular streets to walk, drink and eat is Khaosan Road, and it was so cool to see. People also call it the backpacker street because so many tourists flock to it. This is also where we saw crazy stuff to eat, like crickets, scorpions and other nasty bugs. No judgement for the brave souls who tried it, but I was not one of them. The sellers have gotten smart over the years; they charge just to take a picture of the food. That is where they make most of the money, I'm sure.
The road on which our hotel is, the St. Regis (again, I HIGHLY recommend this hotel!) had several popular malls. There is a normal mall, Central World, and an uber luxury mall, Siam Paragon. Stores I know, such as H&M and Zara, are in Central World, but if you want to get a Louis Vuitton bag or Cartier watch, you want to check out Siam Paragon. When we visited Central World we saw a little festival of food and souvenirs in front of Central World. I don't know if they do this year-round, but I imagine they use their big outdoor space for lots of things throughout the year. That is street food I would try on my next visit since it looked like a relatively clean place to cook and serve food.
Last year, the beloved Thai king passed away. Interestingly enough, I learned that this king was born in Massachusetts. Anyways, for the past year the city built a giant, gold-laden memorial, including a crematorium to hold his ashes. Thousands of people visit per day to pay their respects. Because class ended too late to see the Temples or Palace, we decided to check out the memorial. And wow, it was ornate. If this is any indication, we knew the Thai people loved their king. Our timing was fortuitous because for the Thai people had formal visiting time during the month of November. We were fed and watered (? like plants?) while waiting to go in and see the buildings.
Going to Asia for the first time was exciting, but there were definitely a few things that jarred me as an American and as a tourist. The first thing I was not expecting was that Thai people have steering wheels on the right side of the car and drive on the left side of the road! I hadn't even heard of this practice, and it took me aback when I got in a cab at the airport.
The second thing also involved this cab. In my welcome pack, I was told an estimate of how much it cost to take a cab from the airport to our hotel. When I got in the cab, the guy asked for 150 baht ($5) more than what it should be. I talked him down to 500 baht, including tolls and tips. This was just the beginning of my negotiating with cabs. The drivers literally cover the meter so you have no idea how much the ride really costs. I heard that their meters only run when the car moves forward, and because traffic is so bad that they do not make much money in relation to the time they spend in the car per ride. I can empathize, but they definitely take advantage of tourists and people who do not know better. Compared to the US, and even Croatia, cabs are cheap in Bangkok - but it was still a little irritating having to negotiate every time I took a cab.
When I took the BTS train or metro, they were pretty busy at rush hour. Like, people smushed together busy. Off hours were not bad, but man it was cramped on our way to dinner one night (see photo). At least they are orderly. You wait on either side of the doors to let people off the train before you enter so as not to crowd the entrance. Getting tickets for the train and metro was easy for a foreigner, so I recommend using this public transportation if it is available on your trip.
The escalators are orderly as well. You stand on the right and walk up on the left. It was refreshing to have this because no one walks up escalators in Croatia. I like orderly walkways!
Another funny thing with transportation is with the motor bike rides. Cheaper and faster than cabs are rides on the back of motor bikes. I saw people sitting side-saddle playing on their phones while being transported on the bike. Crazy! But apparently it is a very legitimate and popular mode of transportation for locals. I was not brave enough to try, but my friend from Kansas rolled up on one when we met for dinner. It must not be that crazy.
The St. Regis was one of my favorite hotel experiences in my 29 years of existence, either because this was my first five-star stay or because it was an exceptional place. The staff was friendly, the food was outstanding, the room was spacious and the amenities were great (nice pool, access to the BTS train). Our conference had a special room rate, but I might have to try more five-star hotels in the future. I got spoiled...
I had a lot of fun, learned so many new things about running a micro-organization and saw lots of new sights. As I have mentioned, I plan to take the hubs back to Thailand eventually. I want him to enjoy Bangkok, and I want us to explore the temples and the beaches outside of the capitol. Some day.
Love to all,