UIB Travels: The Land of Smiles – Thailand, Part I

Thailand the land of 22 smiles.  The only genuine one is when someone is f*king you.” – K. Clarke

Apparently Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles”.  My crazy, goodhearted, HILARIOUS, expat cousin (the man behind the remixed quote above, who I will elaborate more in part II) has lived in Hua Hin, Thailand for about five years.  This quote can mean whatever you what it to mean;  F*cking you (literally) or f*cking you over (as in swindling you) – either way, you’d be right.

Where do I begin?!?!?!  Its been about a month since I’ve returned from Thailand and I’m having serious withdrawal (I miss the energy and freedom that I felt while there).  I had SUCH an amazing time – some bad (I’ll get into that), but mostly good.  I traveled solo to a different continent, I stayed in my very 1st hostel, made new friends, saw views that some only dream about, immersed myself in Thai culture, ate bugs, laughed til I cried, enjoyed massages (and I think I got my first happy ending – I’ll explain later),  rode on motorbikes, danced with ladyboys, swam with fish, got up close and personal with monkeys, and experienced life as a pseudo celebrity (took pictures with strangers, had strangers take pictures/videos of me, or ask to take pictures with me  – in summation I LIVED!

Since I have SO MUCH to write about, I broke my review of Thailand into two parts – UIB Travels: The Land of Smiles – Part I (to cover Bangkok & Ayutthaya) and UIB Travels: The Land of Smiles – Part II (to cover Hua Hin & Phuket).  There’s a lot to squeeze into these posts; I spent over 10 days in Thailand and I don’t want to leave anything out.  It is important that you (my readers) feel like they were there with me.  Is that alright?

Cool, now where was I?

Ahh yes, I left off here: https://unicorninbrooklyn.com/2014/11/30/uib-travels-the-sandbox/.  I was in taxi headed to the Dubai International Airport to catch my flight to Bangkok, Thailand.

The flight (via Emirates airlines) from Dubai to Bangkok was 6 hours on a noticeably smaller plane, a 777 Boeing.  I didn’t bother taking pictures of my food or free Emirates goodies like I did aboard the A380 Airbus because I inadvertently left my cell phone in my backpack (in the overhead compartment for the entire flight).  I don’t know what I was smoking when I booked my ticket, but I didn’t specify that I wanted a window seat and wound up in the center aisle between a big sweaty German dude (to my left) & a lovely German couple (to my right).   Instead of fiddling with my phone during the flight,  I did some journaling, a little reading (still trying to get through Eat, Love, Pray), and enjoyed the in-flight movies.

The food aboard my flight was decent and I didn’t have NEARLY as much leg room as I did on the Airbus and I HATED IT.  I tried my best to ignore the passenger to my left, but the minute he dug his hands into his pants (as I watched in horror) to scratch an itch in his nether regions, I had to distract myself or else I was going to (a) call him a disgusting barnyard animal, (b) vomit, or (c) start gagging.  Just as I started to ignore him I was distracted by something else, a rude jackass in the seat behind me.

My seat was in the reclined position when I noticed the flight attendants making their way to my row with lunch.  Perfect, time to eat.  I remained reclined until I abruptly and unexpectedly had my seat pushed to the upright position.  I turned around and asked this clown what his problem was.  His response “I’m trying to eat.”  Yes, that’s what all civilized people do on planes, they push your seat up (shocking you in the process) without politely asking you to move it up yourself.  Might I add that the piece of SH*T passenger pushed my seat two additional times.  To my dismay, I was unable to change seats because the flight was completely booked – not an empty seat anywhere. Sigh.  It was at this moment that I knew this was going to be a VERY LONG flight!

I ate my food, reclined my seat back again (I didn’t give a damn whether the man behind me was trying to eat or not), watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and did some journaling to pass the time.  The journaling was needed now more than ever, because I needed a release:

Journal Entry: 12:46 pm (Fri. October 31st) – It’s 12:46 pm (I think).  I am not sure because I am no longer in the UAE time zone.  In exactly 2 hours and 29 minutes I am slated to touch down in Bangkok.   I just had to get up and request a seat change.  This obnoxiously rude piece of s*@t behind me pushed my chair,  not once, not twice, but THRICE.  He pushed it the 1st time when he was trying to eat, then twice more soon after.  The 2nd time when I reclined my seat back after I finished my meal (I reclined it 1/2 back and he pushed it up).  I didn’t say anything.  I reclined it all the way and this long-legged, white haired, thick black eyebrowed DEVIL snapped his food tray into my chair and pushed it one last time.  I had to get up before I f*@king lost it.  I spoke with one of the flight attendants in hopes of having my seat changed, but it was a full flight (which explains why I’m seated next to a fat, slovenly beast disguised as a man).  When this man sat down next to me I noticed that his pale pink skin (reminiscent to a disgusting pig)  was clammy and sweaty.  This gross barnyard animal actually dug in his pants to scratch his “nether” regions or something near his groin. GROSS.  Don’t even get me started on when they food arrived.  He inhaled every single thing.  He’s been gone for the past 15 minutes – he’s probably using he facilities in ways that I do not wish to imagine).  Now, as I was saying, this rude and audacious a*@hole behind me was scolded to by one of the male flight attendants (at least I think that’s what he was).  The man lied and said that he only pushed my chair once when trying to eat.  Ain’t this some SH*T?!!  How do you justify your rude behavior because you’re trying to eat?  Why not f*@king ask me to move my seat up you piece of SH*T!?!  Anyway & anywho, this aircraft isn’t as plush as the airbus.  I’m seated in the center aisle and its kinda tight.  You already know who’s seated to the left of me – the slovenly dude.  To my right – is a pleasant German couple on their way to New Zealand (their commute will consist of 4 planes and 30 hours – yikes).  My food selection let me down.  I ordered the fish lo mein, but it was disgusting.  I wound up getting a piping hot bbq chicken (the same WACK bbq chicken that I had when I flew from Bangkok to Dubai) with white rice and bok choy.  The soba noodle salad with duck confrit was nice.  The dessert was great – banana hazlenut cake with cream & passion fruit puree.  OMG delicious!… Two more hours until Bangkok.  I’m going to try and nap now so I’m prepared for the turn up upon landing.  Let’s see how Bangkok treats me….. We touch down in less than 5 minutes.  We’ve been descending for the last few minutes.  It looks so dreary outside of the window, guess it’s raining… We’re landing – ahhhh. My ears are popping. Wheels down.  I LOVE my life right now!  Pilot confirmed – 6:25 pm in Bangkok.  Need shower.  I’m so nervous about the beast that is this city, but hella excited!”

Bangkok

After my six-hour flight from hell (OK, it wasn’t really hell, I’m just dramatic) I made it to Bangkok – yeah baby! I was more excited to get off the plane than I was to actually be in the country.  I wanted to run to a shower badly and change into cool clothing so I could hit the ground running  – but first I had to make it out of the airport.

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Selfie: Tired as hell , but I was super excited!  I took this as I waited for my luggage at baggage claim

The second I entered the airport I was given a 3M SIM card.  This would come in handy for me as I’d recently unlocked my old BlackBerry and I planned to use it while in Asia.  However, things didn’t quite go as planned.  I forgot my BlackBerry ID code – (who the hell remembers that crap after so many years anyway) and was unable to use the SIM card.  Lucky for me I was able to get an international data plan (with my cell phone carrier, T-Mobile) while in Bangkok (I’ll explain later).

I went to baggage claim, grabbed my luggage, exchanged $200 USD  for about 6100 baht.  Even though they took out about 450 baht for the exchange rate fees (RIP OFF OPORTUNITY #1 – I am quite sure there are cheaper places to exchange your money in Bangkok, but the airport is convenient (and they know this) so they overcharge you with exchange rates) I still left the counter feeling like a BAWSE.  I was told by my cousin that exchanging this amount was more than enough to get me through my first few days in Bangkok.

I exited the Bangkok International Airport and made a beeline to the taxi line (and waited for about 45 minutes. I’d just missed a bad storm, that left the taxi line backed up.  Drivers weren’t driving as fast as normal and there was a lot of traffic leading and coming to the airport apparently.

I was finally next in line and was greeted by my driver for the night – a short middle-aged Thai man.  He spoke very little English, but smiled often.  After an approximate 35 – 40 minute ride, I made it to my hostel,  Saphaipae Hostel (http://saphaipae.com/), without any hiccups (other than a little traffic.  Sidebar, Bangkok traffic is a BEAST).   My taxi driver tried to rip me off – the meter read 300 baht, but with a straight face he told me that the fare was 500 baht.  RIP OFF OPPORTUNITY #2: Your taxi driver WILL overcharge you, I almost GUARANTEE it.  Keep this in mind and prepare to haggle the price down.

I chuckled at my driver’s audacity and gumption.   I flat out told him that I wasn’t paying that (with a smile).  I didn’t care that he barely spoke English, he was gon’ learn that day.  I haggled him down and wound up paying him 400 baht.  Sure, I could’ve paid much less (closer to the metered rate), but I was felling generous.  I looked at the extra 100 baht as a tip, after all it was only $3.00 USD.

Sidebar/Mini Thai Lesson

Learning these two key phrases can help you when you get to Thailand: Sawatdee Ka/Khap/Khrap – Good Morning/Good Afternoon/Good Evening (“ka” is feminine, “khap” or “khrap” is masculine) and Khop Khun Ka/Khap/Khrap – Thank you.  These are key because they are mannerly and show respect, thus making your presence well received upon meeting.  Here are some additional (9 useful phrases in Thai) to use when you get to Thailand: http://www.thaizer.com/language/9-useful-thai-phrases/

Now where was I? Yes – I just paid my taxi driver.  After paying him I stepped out and proceeded to take it all in.  Deep inhale… “What the HELL is that smell?”  YUCK. The first thing that I noticed was the smell.  It reeked of rancid street meat.  The air was humid; humid air that exacerbated the smell of the street meat odor – I was not a fan. I grabbed my luggage and backpack then walked up the steps to my hostel.  Relief.  The lobby was brightly lit and cool – literally, the a/c flowed in abundance.  After a quick check in with the friendly concierge, I received my key and went through the locked glass door towards the elevator.  My room, a deluxe room was on the highest floor of the hostel, the 8th floor.

I posted two 15-second Instagram reviews on my Instagram page, @unicorninbrooklyn.  Check them out here:

Use the hashtag #UIBTravels (for all travel related photos) to check additional photos from my time in Thailand (as well as Dubai, Cambodia, and Jamaica – earlier this year)

I was THOROUGHLY pleased with the Saphaipae Hostel.  My room (which ran me about $28.00 USD/night) was immaculate, comfortable, and very spacious.  I had a mini refrigerator (that was stocked daily with two complimentary bottled waters and  soda (pepsi)/beers (Leo, I think) for purchase), a queen-sized bed, a huge panoramic window with views of the city , two guest chairs, a small table, 2 night stands, cable TV, free Wi-Fi, and a partridge in a pear tree (I joke, I joke).

In addition to the aforementioned amenities, the deluxe room included free breakfast vouchers.  I was pleased with the breakfast as it was filling (unlimited) and really good.  It changed from day to day, but the assortment included some sort of soup, sticky white rice, juice, eggs (fried, omelet, or scrambled), pork sausages (I can’t vouch for how good they were because I don’t eat pork), stir-fried veggies (my favorite dish), white bread (for toast), fresh salad, and various condiments (ketchup, butter, and jelly).

I hit the streets of Bangkok after midnight with a Natay, a friend (and fellow solo traveler – currently on a 8 month tour of the world) that was staying in the hostel (in the women’s dorm facilities on the 2nd floor).  We were hungry, so we wound up walking around until we found something open.  No luck, so we hopped in a taxi and were bought to an all-night seafood spot.  The food wasn’t anything to write home about, but that didn’t matter.  I was hungry and it was food.

While walking around I felt very comfortable and safe on the streets.  This was key, as I was a solo woman traveler (despite the fact that I happened to be with another female traveler at the time).  I found that walking around Bangkok (no matter the time of day) there was an ample amount of traffic and pedestrians on the road to keep you company.  When exploring be sure to use your gut instincts/women’s intuition/street smarts and stay alert.

After our late dinner we returned to our hostel via taxi and haggled the rate.  Notice a trend here? I haggle just about everything because I’m a native New Yorker (it’s one of the things that we do) – I seldom pay for things at face value ESPECIALLY in different countries.  The reason for this is because I am targeted as a “rich” tourist.  Natives are quick to try and swindle tourists so I use my haggling skills to negotiate a rate that I think is fare for just about anything (including food, taxi rides, excursions, souvenirs, massages, and admission to clubs)!

The next morning, Sat 11/1, was my first full day in Bangkok.  I barely got any rest, maybe two hours or so (jetlag was crazy and I was anxious to explore).  It didn’t matter, I woke up, packed two bottles of water, a copy of my passport (which I carried at me at all times), my journal, an extra shirt (to cover my shoulders when entering temples – as a sign of respect), a pen, my phone, and my Canon T3 DSLR.

My hostel was conveniently located near the BTS, Thailand’s immaculate and efficient train system.  I walked to the BTS and took it one stop to… (I can’t recall the name right now), but if you ask a worker behind the ticket counter he/she can tell you.  I paid 0.15 baht ($0.0045 USD) for a one way ticket on the BTS.  When I arrived at the pier I paid 150 baht/ $4.54 USD for a one day river pass aboard the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat.  This is a stop and catch type boat; you can get off and on the boat all day, as much as you like with this pass.  To get across the river, like I did to and from Wat Arun & to and from Wat Pho, I had to pay an additional fee of 3 baht/ $0.009 USD (each way) for a ferry ride.

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Fellow passengers on the BTS
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Riding Around & Getting It: I asked a passenger to catch this shot for me

 The first temple that I visited was the Wat Pho.  I figured that I’d start here because I was most excited to see the famous golden reclining Buddha.

After paying an admission fee (I think I paid 200 baht/ $6.06 USD), you are free to walk the temple grounds  – where you can visit several small temples. While each temple contained various interesting items of worship (i.e. statues, alters, incense, flowers, etc.) they didn’t hold a candle to the main attraction, the reclining Buddha.

At the entrance you are instructed to remove your shoes (even flip flops) and are given a lime green robe to cover up with, if you’re deemed too “sessy” (as the Thai woman called my shirt because my shoulders were exposed) or sexy.  I passed on the robe because I had an extra shirt in my bag to cover up with.

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The head of the “Reclining Buddha”

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Posing: I asked a fellow tourist to catch this shot of me

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Once inside I noticed several signs that warned about pickpocketing, I assumed tourists were so enamored by the statue that they didn’t pay attention to the contents of their backpacks/bags.  I kept my backpack close to me at all times and proceeded to get my photography on.

It was incredibly HOT and humid inside the temple.  Matter of fact, it was incredibly hot all OVER Bangkok.  Dare I say it’s the hottest climate that I’ve ever experienced (yeah, hotter than the hottest summer day/night in NYC).  I implore you to wear something breathable, you’ll thank me later.

While I found the reclining Buddha to be impressive (the detail was very intricate), I was underwhelmed.  I anticipated visiting this statue for awhile, but didn’t have my breath taken away after viewing it in person.  Nonetheless, I took many pictures and appreciated what the statue represented – a holy statue of worship.

After leaving the reclining Buddha, I took my shirt off and walked around the grounds a little bit before making my way to the ferry to cross the river.  Next up, Wat Arun.

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Brown Girl w/ a Camera: Outside one of the temples on the Wat Pho grounds

I made my way to the ferry and paid another 3 baht to cross the river to check out the Wat Arun (also known as “The Temple of Dawn”).  This temple is one of the most symbolic landmarks in Bangkok.  I was FLOORED by the detail in this ancient temple – the intricate design, the vivid colors, and the size took my breath away.

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Levels: Headed to the top of the temple to take in the views

I made my way up and down the steep steps, snapped a few photos, explored the grounds, then made it back to the ferry.  I planned to visit the Grand Palace for more sightseeing, but I was exhausted.  I was too damn hot and hungry to boot, so I bounced and headed back towards the ferry to take me back to the pier (where I could ultimately catch the BTS).  While at the pier I grabbed some lunch and did a little journaling and “people watching”:

Journal Entry – 11/1 – 3:06 pm.  Lunch time on the pier.  I’m having Pad Thai with prawn and a strawberry Fanta soda.  I just came from Wat Pho & Wat Arun.  I’m hot as hell!  I wore the wrong pants.  They constricted me from walking up all the steps at Wat Arun.  All good, I made it up most of them.  I’ll definitely be wearing shorts or a dress tomorrow.  This dish isn’t exactly my fav, but it’s cool – and cheap.  It amazes me how much I’m stared at.  I wonder what its like to live somewhere and hardly ever see black people.  Two of the waitresses have whitening cream smeared all over their faces to appear lighter skinned.  Dem a bleam out dem skin!  I’m going to skip the Grand Palace I think and head back to the hostel for a shower and rest…  Oh sh*t, did the cook just come to my plate and squeeze the prawn out of the tails for me with her BARE sweaty hands and WITHOUT me asking – then look at me like she wanted to kill me.  YES, that just happened at 3: 17 on a Saturday afternoon in Thailand.  I immediately opened my journal  after she did that… She just gave me back my journal (she took it for a few minutes to show it off to her co-workers).  She briefly took my journal to show her friends then gave it back to me with a big smile.  She appeared to be impressed with my writing (for some odd reason – odd because she barely spoke English so I highly doubt she was able to read it).  She said something in Thai and looked at me with approval.  I don’t want anymore of my food – I’m writing as she’s standing over me by the way.  She just said “good” (BITCH I don’t need your approval!) as I am writing.  Umm, she’s scaring me.  I’m full and this dish is greasy.  I’ll try my best to eat as much as I can then I’m out…

While heading back to my hostel I noticed an influx of staring.  I noticed some staring here and there while on the ferry, temple grounds, and the BTS (from Thai natives and Europeans), but it was even more obvious on the streets of Bangkok.  As much as I ignored it, I didn’t like it because it made me feel uncomfortable.  I wondered what Thai natives saw when they looked at me.  They stared unapologetically and intensely.  There was nothing that I could do except walk with purpose to my hostel, so that’s what I did – I walked back to my hostel and did my best to ignore the glares.

After a wind down, shower, and change, my friend and I took the BTS back to the same pier where I caught the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (to go to the Wat Pho & Wat Arun earlier in the day) – destination: Asiatique the RiverFront.  Asiatique the Riverfront ( http://www.thaiasiatique.com/index.php/en) is a hodgepodge of restaurants, live entertainment, shops, and rides on a pier.  We took a different boat (different than the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat.  I can’t recall the name offhand, but it was free and it took about 10 minutes to get there).  The views along the way were awesome – you can see the entire boardwalk lit up as you approach it on the water.

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On the Boardwalk of Asiatique the Riverfront

Once off the boat we walked down the boardwalk to take in the sites and to grab a bite to eat.  We heard music, hip hop music (specifically rapper Fat Joe) and decided to follow that sound.  It led us to the Happy Fish Bar & Bistro where we dined outside and feasted on fresh papaya salad (a popular spicy salad in Thailand) with large prawns, salmon with grounded rice (in sauce), garlic bread, and cocktails. We enjoyed the sites, weather, music, and people as we ate our meals.

I highly recommend Asiatique the Riverfront when in Bangkok because it was a really nice experience.  What I do NOT recommend doing is missing the last free ferry boat back to the pier (because that’s what we did).  We wound up taking a tuk tuk (my first tuk tuk experience) back to the hostel.  The ride – cost us about 200 baht/ $6.00 USD and it was worth every penny.  A tuk tuk (powered by a motorbike) usually has room for two passengers and a roof of some sort over your head.  Since there are no seatbelts, all you do is hold on and brace yourself if the tuk tuk driver stops short.  I thought it would be a leisurely ride through the streets of Bangkok, but I was wrong.  Dude drove at least  50 mph.  This speed may not seem very fast to you, but when you have wind blowing through your face and hair with no seatbelt, it feels like a very fast speed.

Here’s a vid of my first experience on a Tuk Tuk:

Made it back to my hostel and immediately called my best friend in the states (via Viber) to have her call T-Mobile so that she could upgrade my calling plan to include international calling ($0.15 a minute) and unlimited FREE texting and Wi-Fi (where available).  Finally – I didn’t have to worry about being in my hostel or a restaurant to use my data plan, I could use it wherever I went.

I went to sleep with a sense of accomplishment – I was able to upgrade my plan, I had a phenomenal day of exploring temples (by myself) in Bangkok, I had a great meal and fine dining experience with a new friend, and lastly – I rode on my first tuk tuk.  Great day indeed.  I wound down (a little after 2:00 am) and caught up on some much needed sleep.  I was going to need it because the next day was going to be a long one; Natay and I were slated to raid/explore temples in the Ayutthaya District of Thailand.

Ayutthaya District

The Ayutthaya District, is Thailand’s oldest district.  Here’s a little history: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/576.

We missed our desired train out of the Bangkok Railroad Station, so we went with another option.  The all day excursion to the Ayutthaya District in Thailand (ran me 1,000 baht/$30.47.  This included roundtrip transportation to about 10 temples (in an air conditioned private car) from the Bangkok railway and a drop off out my hostel.  Keep in mind this was MY half of the excursion (Natay paid the same amount that I did).  Admission to each temple was either free (I’d say a good four of them were free), 50 baht/$1.52 USD or, 100 baht/$3.04 USD.

My favorite temple was the first one that I visited, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.  The grounds were pristine; lush green vegetation and larger than life Buddha statues took my breath away.  It was in this temple that I was also videotaped without my consent (that was such a weird experience).  Thank goodness Natay caught the woman taping me and advised me to shield my face as I was speaking to a monk about the history of the temple.

Unfortunately, we were unable to make it to all 10 temples (due to exhaustion and the extremely hot and humid weather), but we did make it to about 7 or 8 of them.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon: Taking it all in.  This temple has great significance for the Thai people as it was built during the reign of King Naresuan the Great to commemorate an epic battle, when he rode a war elephant into battle to defeat an invading Burmese prince.  The octagonal-based bell-shaped stupa, its most distinctive structure, stands out in the surrounding landscape.

 

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Larger than Life: Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
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Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon: Inside the temple. Visitors can purchase gold foil paper from the monk inside and add it to one of the eight Buddha statues inside.
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Wat Mahathat – This temple had the greatest photo ops and views in my opinion.  It is on these grounds that visitors can view roots of an ancient fig tree covering the head of a Buddha image.   During the reign of King Songtham, the principle stupa collapsed leaving only the giant base.  The many pagodas surrounding this base reflect the changing architectural trends of the time.
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Wat Phra Si Sanphet – Known for the three magnificently aligned chedis. During the peak of the Ayutthaya period the Grand Palace and the Royal Temple of Wat Phra Si Sanphet was noted as the grandest palace complex in Asia. It was burned down when the Kingdom was invaded.
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Wat Chaiwatthanaram: This riverside temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya River has some of the most beautiful architecture that remains in good condition. There is a strong Khmer (Cambodian) influence with the main stupa complemented by satellite stupas similar to the layout of Angkor Wat. This is a very popular temple, particularly in the late afternoon when the sun sets behind the principle stupa (a complete contrast to Angkor what where the best view is at sunrise).
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Natay & I seated outside Wat Chaiwatthanaram

While Natay and I were busy taking in sights as we explored sacred temples and ancient ruins, Thai natives and Asian tourists (from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, and China) were busy obsessing over us.

Apparently Black people are celebrities (or scary aliens, depends on the person’s perspective) in Thailand.  A little girl damn near screamed bloody Mary when her parents tried to get her to pose for a picture with me.  Random people walked up to me saying “Obama” (I assume they did this to let me know they knew someone else Black) then either took pictures of me (without my consent), asked to take pictures of me, or my favorite – asked to take a picture with me.  When they were given permission they were full of glee and excitement.  Might I add, my hair was a major hit around town.  It was “cool” as per the locals.

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Wat Mahathat with new friends
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Paparazzi on the grounds of Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Natay and I were driven back to our hostel in the evening (well after the sun set).  I showered and damn near collapsed in my bed, it was a very long and eventful day.  I wanted to get as much rest as possible because the next day, Monday, would be my last day in Bangkok.

Before heading out to my final excursion (a visit to the River Kwai and the River Kwai bridge, elephant trekking, a visit to a waterfall, and a visit to Tiger Temple/Tiger Canyon – which I booked through the hostel for 2,100 baht/ $63.65 USD), I enjoyed a delicious breakfast downstairs in the restaurant with Natay.  My driver came to pick me up at around 7:50 am to join my group to head out in the air conditioned van.  I gave Natay a hug and wished her much luck on the next leg of her trip (she was slated to leave that afternoon to head to Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai).

Before I get into how the excursion went I must tell you this – the excursion was NOT what I thought it would be.  I was told that I would be bought back to my hostel by 6:30 pm, I didn’t get back until almost 9:00 pm.  Not only was I not dropped off on time, I was the last one to be dropped off.  To make matters worse (due to traffic), I wasn’t even dropped to my hostel, I wound up getting dropped off about three blocks from my accommodations.  I was LIVID about this because after being out all day, the last thing I wanted was to get back to my hostel hours after I was told that I would AND not directly to my door.

Before making it to the first destination we stopped at a gas station so our driver could gas up and for passengers to use the facilities (if need be).  I had to use the restroom so I made my way to the ladies’ room.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the door and saw this instead of a standard western toilet:

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To cop a squat or not? That is the question

I had to go really bad so I copped a squat!  This eastern toilet did not contain toilet paper (thank goodness I packed some in my backpack) and the sink outside didn’t contain soap (I also packed Purell hand sanitizer).  Word to the wise, do the same when in Bangkok as most toilets are eastern and do not always have toilet paper, soap, or running water.

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Taking in the views of the River Kwai while on the River Kwai Bridge. This bridge became world famous when it was featured in books and films.

While on the bridge my left shirt strap popped unexpectedly. Thank GOD I had an extra t-shirt (with Bob Marley’s face on it) in my backpack – Marley always has the answers.  I did a quick change when I went back to the van to head to the next destination – elephant trekking.

I was incredibly excited to ride the elephants! It would be my very first experience with this beautiful animal and I couldn’t wait!  I wound up riding my elephant with another solo traveler, Alex.  During our ride I learned that he had been on holiday for about 6 months as was slated to return to Italy (his home) in a few days.

The elephant handler informed Alex and I that for 100 baht/$3.03 USD he would take numerous pictures of us on the elephant with our camera or camera phone.  I opted for the latter and gave him my camera phone (Samsung Galaxy S5).

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Sounds wonderful right?  Too bad it wasn’t.  It wasn’t until the end of my elephant experience that I saw how sad the elephants around me looked.  They had chains around their necks and looked miserable as tourists posed on their backs.  I felt incredibly guilty and was overcome with tears.  I was regretful that I participated in this excursion.

At the end of the trek, I dismounted Melanie (my elephant) and went into my wristlet to get money to pay the elephant handler.  The smallest bill that I had was 500 baht/$15.00 USD.  I gave my money to one of the women selling souvenirs and told her that I needed change.  This woman returned to me with five crisp 20 baht bills.  Imagine my surprise when I was handed my change.  I immediately told her that I gave her 500 baht, but she denied it and began to scream at me “You gave 100 baht”.  I screamed back and used expletives then walked to the same window that she’d gone to to get my change.  I demanded my money, to no avail.  A big Thai guy came out with a wad of money.  He offered 100 baht in exchange for my five 20 baht bills (even exchange), but I declined.  They got me.  I was outnumbered and alone.  I begrudgingly paid the elephant handler 100 baht and gave the woman who swindled me the nastiest look possible.  I was LIVID.  There was no one there to vent to because the tour guide was nowhere to be found AND he barely spoke English.

After the trekking experience my group and I were ushered to the van so that we could be dropped off for lunch by the river and a bamboo ride.  I needed that.  I ate some of the pre-prepared spread (chicken, stir-fried vegetables, and white sticky rice) and did some journaling.  I needed to release my frustration, writing has always done that for me.  I used my journal to vent and immediately felt better.  Maybe they needed the money more than I did.

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Serenity – taking it all on while on the back of the bamboo raft

After a scenic bamboo ride and a brief visit to a waterfall (I didn’t go in, I took pictures of some of the dudes from my group) we made it to the final destination – Tiger Temple aka Tiger Canyon.  Ummmm, WTF is Tiger Temple/Tiger Canyon (you may be asking)?  Trust me, I asked the same thing.  I didn’t even know this sorry reject existed when I booked my excursion with the hostel.  I was under the impression that I was going to interact with ACTIVE tiger cubs and adult tigers in Tiger Kingdom, not at this SAD place.  The tigers were heavily sedated and zombie like in their movements.  Again, I felt guilty after the experience.

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Trying to make the most of it – I experienced a rush while I had this tiger’s head in my lap. I didn’t realize how drugged it was until I reviewed my pictures after leaving the facility.

As mentioned above, this excursion took ALL day.  I was “dog tired” by the time I was dropped back to my hostel.  I made my way back up to my room – anxious to shower and was greeted by THE most wonderful, most sweetest, most thoughtful surprise – flowers on my bed.  “Mr. Thai” (a name that may sound familiar to you because I’ve written about him on several ocassions) called my hostel and arranged for concierge to give me a half a dozen roses (he originally told them he wanted two dozen, but that option wasn’t feasible for concierge).  This thoughtful gesture truly made my day!

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Flowers

I showered and packed as much as possible before crashing for the night.  I was slated to check out the following morning to head to Hua Hin to meet my expat cousin for the next leg of my trip.

On my last morning in my hostel I did a check of my room to make sure I packed all my belongings, enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the restaurant downstairs, checked out at concierge then made my way to the BTS.  I received instruction from concierge on how to connect with a van to get me to Hua Hin and made my way there.  I was ready (and excited) to meet up with my cousin and to see what Hua Hin had for me….

Stay tuned for part II 🙂

***

Until Next Time Friends!

~Pennie Penz

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2 thoughts on “UIB Travels: The Land of Smiles – Thailand, Part I

  1. Hi there sunshine! I enjoyed readying your post =)
    ….and though I am happy you were able to take in the beauty beyond our Western world, there is so much I wish could have gone differently in your experience 😥

    I invite you to take a look at this post I found (from another blogger, not myself):
    —> http://everywhereonce.com/2014/11/28/how-to-make-and-keep-a-travelers-hippocratic-oath/
    or
    —> http://everywhereonce.com/2014/12/01/an-ethical-elephant-encounter-in-thailand/

    It was a wonderful reminder to take a step back before planning all things travel (not that I’ve done a lot of traveling myself, but will certainly do so soon =) ) And I was particularly drawn to the part about tourists and animal attractions.

    Hope you take a take a peek and can reflect on some of the content. ❤

    All the well wishes in 2015 and magical traveling goodness to you!

    Denise

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