My Four Days in Bangkok

My Four Days in Bangkok

Except for the first time I visited Bangkok in 2008, on subsequent visits I never bothered to linger too long in this huge sprawling city. Maybe it was because of the jet lag which invariably comes with such a long flight over to this part of the world from my home in Nova Scotia. How do you deal with a teeming city of over eight million people where there are literally thousands of things to do and see when you are tired and your whole body is out of whack? Many visitors to Thailand have come to look upon Bangkok as merely a jumping off point to the more laid back areas, such as Chiang Mai in the north or one of the country’s beautiful beaches in the south.

This year I am travelling solo without “hubby” so I decided to renew my acquaintance with Bangkok by revisiting some of the places I saw eight years ago and to take in a few new sites.

My first significant change was to find another place to stay rather than the Atlanta Hotel on Sukhumvit Road which is primarily noted for its large, glitzy malls as well as its rather sleazy Nana area, one of Bangkok’s famous red light districts. This time I booked myself into the Uma Residence, a new boutique hotel in the Dusit area, which isn’t too far from the Chao Phraya River in the older and more residential part of the city.

If you happen to find yourself in Bangkok at any time, I would highly recommend the Uma as a great place to stay especially if you have a modest budget and want a decent bang for your buck. Taking advantage of their opening special (it opened in June), I received one night for free after a three night stay resulting in a nightly cost of $28. For the price of a budget hotel, I received accommodations that were the equivalent of a 4 star hotel. My room was tastefully decorated with pictures on the walls, which is a rarity in Thailand, and an extremely comfortable bed. They even provided me with a dressing gown, slippers, and a hair dryer. However, it was the outside of the hotel which I found the most inspiring. In the centre of the grounds was an inviting pool with more than enough lounge chairs, tables, and couches to relax in. To top this off, they provided us with cookies and all types of coffee or hot chocolate (from a machine) which was surprisingly good, for FREE! The Bangkok Post was available every day so I was able to catch up on all the latest Thai news since I left in March. Coffee table books were scattered here and there for additional reading. To make it even more like home, there was a cute Christmas display with Santa and all his reindeer. There are over 100 rooms at Uma but they were not all full so at times I felt like I had this place to myself. Another plus was that it is located off a busy street on a small soi ( lane) so it was exceptionally quiet compared to the Atlanta or any other hotel in Bangkok. Even the rooster who woke up early like all roosters do didn’t bother me as he simply added to the country atmosphere. As I revelled in my comfy sofa with a cappuccino and newspaper, I began to wonder if I really was in the city.

Entrance to the Uma Residence hotel.

Entrance to the Uma Residence hotel.

My comfortable room.

My comfortable room.

The pool and gardens.

The pool and gardens.

Christmas display.

Christmas display.

My one complaint about this hotel would be the distance to the nearest BTS Sky Train stop which as I found (because I did it) had to be more than 5 km. away leaving me only the option of using a taxi. To make matters worse, not all taxis would pick me up so I had to be somewhat aggressive in hailing one down. One of them refused to take me to my hotel because it was out of his way. However, the upside to this lack of transportation was that I was within walking distance to the Chao Phraya River, a large river that still functions as a part of Bangkok’s rather chaotic transportation system. Numerous boats of all shapes and sizes ply up and down the river all day and night providing visitors with an alternative to taxis, tuk tuks, the subway and the sky train. This is a great way to travel and see the sights in Bangkok. For the first time, I visited Chinatown and had fun finding my way around the maze of narrow streets and sampling some of their street food. I was told that the best time to see it and the river, too, is at night when every thing is lit up.

Chinatown

Chinatown

One of the ferries that transported me down the Chao Phraya River.

One of the ferries that transported me down the Chao Phraya River.

Another popular spot near my hotel is Khao San Road which was dubbed by a Thai writer as “a short road that has the longest dream in the world”. This street has been immortalized by the hoards of backpackers who have been coming to Thailand for the past 30 years looking for a cheap room and board, cheap and sometimes pirated goods of all kinds, and a thriving nightlife. Most stayed for only a few days before heading out, but unfortunately, there were those who were looking for that elusive dream that they couldn’t find back home, so got trapped by what Khaosan had to offer. Everything was for sale and it was cheap. It wasn’t unusual to see a few lost souls wandering the street at any time of the day with a beer bottle in hand as I did on my first visit several years ago. However, this time, there seemed to be a different vibe. Many of the old buildings have been renovated, and I didn’t spot anyone wandering aimlessly around with beer can. Even the quality of the copious amount of merchandise seemed to have improved along with the prices, of course! Khaosan appears to be undergoing some kind of change for the better. However, let’s hope it can keep some of its past which would be the reputation it has for providing people a place to be able to walk a short street crammed with so much to see and enjoy.

Khao San Road - famous backpacker row.

Khao San Road – famous backpacker row.

Including Ronald!

Including Ronald!

You can get a really good feel for the Thai way of life as it is today as well as it was in the past in this area called Dusit. Bangkok was built in the central part of Thailand along the Chao Phraya River in the 1700’s on a low-lying plain. An extensive system of canals was built for drainage to assist the agricultural activity of the area at that time resulting in its claim as “the Venice of the East”.  Over the years as the city began to spread outward in all directions, many of the canals were paved over to make roads for the increasing traffic. As an aside, Bangkok today has over 7 million cars for its population of just over 8 million! Needless to say it has a real problem with traffic which in spite of every mode of transportation possible, there is still no real solution. The one which no one wants to face would be to ban people from driving their cars forcing them to rely more on the transportation which is available even though it isn’t perfect. Perhaps it’s a good thing that some canals still remain and are used by the residents as an alternative to the horrendous traffic, and by the tourists as an opportunity for them get a taste of the traditional Thai lifestyle. Unfortunately, the canals or klongs are quite polluted and the disparity between the rich and poor living quarters can be a bit unsettling for some.

One of the remaining klongs.

One of the remaining klongs.

A modern Thai home facing the canal.

A modern Thai home facing the canal.

Older homes of the not so wealthy.

Older homes of the not so wealthy.

Markets and street vendors galore are another familiar scene in many parts of Dusit. I was running into them everywhere I went. Fresh vegetables, fish, flowers, and all kinds of merchandise can be bought without ever having to set foot into a shop. Most business is done out in the open. Most of my meals came from various vendors near my hotel, and I didn’t get sick! In the past I’ve gotten sick from eating in restaurants but never from street food! It’s also cheaper to eat this way, and for a solo traveller this can solve the problem of eating alone in a restaurant. Some of the food vendors do provide tables and chairs but they are almost always occupied by locals because most Thai eat out rather than at home.

Vegetable and fruit street stall.

Vegetable and fruit street stall.

This lady sells her fish from baskets which she can take anywhere.

This lady sells her fish from baskets which she can take anywhere.

A flower stall near Payap pier where I got my ferry.

A flower stall near Payap pier where I got my ferry.

There were many more sites to see and things to do in my newly chosen area if I had planned for more time. The Grande Palace, the Wats Pho and Arun, the Vimanmek Mansion, the largest teak house in East Asia, and the Dusit zoo are just a few of them. Hopefully the Uma Residence will continue to offer their wonderful special for it is undoubtedly a little piece of heaven and the perfect place to chill out after a hectic day on the streets of Bangkok.

Thailand Again?

“Are you going back to Thailand again? When are you leaving? What is it that draws you there?”

These are the three questions I can expect to be asked this time every year as I ready for my big trip over to Thailand. As most of you probably know my answer to the first one is an unequivocal “Yes, I am going back again.” In reply to the second question, I am leaving on December 9th from the Robert L. Stanfield Airport just outside Halifax arriving in Bangkok on the 11th causing me to lose a day. This will be my eighth visit. When I mention this, many then throw out the third question of WHY I would choose to go to the same country for eight years in a row?

The first time I was asked why I keep going back (my first trip was in 2008), I really had to give some serious thought to my answer, coming up with a few obvious reasons such as the warm climate, the Eastern culture, and the friendly people. Over the years my reasons have multiplied so the aim of this post is to help you understand what calls me back each year to this still beautiful and exotic country.

TO ESCAPE WINTER

This is undoubtedly a top priority for me and Thailand offers this in spades. Our winter months coincide with their dry season which is invariably sunny and hot. December and January are the most comfortable months.  After that it starts to heat up and can be quite humid as its near the equator. However, I will take this any day over howling winds, sleet and snow  which have become a steady diet in Victoria Beach in Nova Scotia. To give you an idea of just how important this is to me, this trip will be the second time I am going solo leaving “hubby” in Florence to shiver in the raw cold that it offers in winter. No thanks! I have been there twice and loved the city but could never imagine spending a winter there.

FRIENDLY PEOPLE

It was probably after our first whirlwind trip in 2008 when we were on our way home that I knew without a doubt that I would return again and the next time would be longer. The gentle smiles of the Thai people with their genuine greeting of ‘Sa wa dee ka’ accompanied with a wei ( a forward bow of the head with hands together) did it for me. I sometimes wonder where they get all their patience especially with us tourists who are coming in droves often failing to leave a positive impression. We live by the clock over here in our Western world and the Thai don’t. They also don’t understand why we let little things like being overcharged for a tuk -tuk ride get us so angry.  The Thai are usually more than happy to help us out if we run into any difficulty, and the ones we have met are honest to the nth degree. Hubby has left his wallet, camera, and glasses at various places over the years and never once did he not get them back.

THE THAI CULTURE

About 95% of the Thai population practices the Theravada form of Buddhism. Unlike all other religions, it does not emphasize how or what we must believe but more on how we can better ourselves in this life by carrying out positive actions in the way of the Buddha. The wats or temples are open all the time and everyone is welcome so unlike our churches which are for the most part only open on Sundays. Buddhism is a way of life practiced every day not just on Sunday. Since time is not the high priority it is in our society, to visitors it appears the country is in a perpetual state of organized chaos which somehow to our utter surprise seems to work. The Thai take things in their stride and simply laugh at those visitors who get upset over things that don’t work out according to their agendas or code of perfection. Needless to say this laid back attitude does wonders for my stress level. This along with the sun improves my well-being considerably.

EASE OF LIVING

Thailand is now considered by the modern-day standards of our world as a developed country making it a relatively peaceful and welcoming country to outsiders. It’s probably the only country in the world that can claim a succession of military coups over the past 20 years which have been mostly peaceful. The two largest cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, are now world-class and have all the amenities of the Western world. There is poverty and there is great wealth, but there is also a growing middle class. All of this along with the multitude of gorgeous beaches make this an easy place for ex-pats to live there and for visitors to hang out. People always ask me if I feel safe there. My reply is that I feel safer there than I do at home.

COST OF LIVING

Most people are really surprised when I tell them that I can live cheaper there than I ever could in Nova Scotia. This is especially true in the winter time. I don’t have to heat my home or feed fuel to my car. In addition, my food, accommodation, and transportation are all cheaper than here. I usually rent a fair-sized room with a fridge, TV, and air-conditioner for about $275 a month. It’s much cheaper to eat out than in so I have no cooking to worry about. I get my room cleaned and sheets changed once a week. What more could I ask for? It’s really an extended holiday since I can do all those things such as reading and writing that I never can find enough time for when I am at home.

DENTAL/MEDICAL SERVICES

Thailand is quickly becoming a mecca for those people who seek expert and inexpensive dental and medical services. I have been taking advantage of their dental services every year having had crowns, gum surgery and expert cleaning done to keep my teeth healthy. This time round I am scheduled to have two crowns put in probably to the tune of $500 at most. The last crown I had done several years ago cost me about $200. Here in Annapolis Royal I would have to pay about $1200 per crown. I have never had any medical work done but for my friends who have, they all report having a very positive experience and are highly impressed with the quality of service. It’s not surprising that Thailand is being noted as a good country to go to for a medical holiday.

MARKETS AND SHOPPING

Over the years I have noticed a marked increase in the number of markets available now in practically every town of fair size. Chiang Mai where I hang out for most of my time is a shoppers haven for not just craft markets but for those who have money to spend and are looking for world-class shopping. In the past two years, three new classy malls have opened up, and it’s not just tourists who frequent these malls with their upscale shops and cafes but more and more Thai, especially the youth. The Thai people love to shop as hubby and I witnessed last Christmas while in Bangkok.

ACCESS TO OTHER SE ASIAN COUNTRIES

The Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok is now rated one of the busiest in Asia and the 16th busiest in the world. It is the main link to all other Southeast Asian cities. Because Bangkok is a large cosmopolitan city rivalling all other SE Asian cities, it has become the favoured jumping off point for tourists to other parts of Asia. I think many tourists would agree with me that returning to Thailand after a jaunt to any of the other Asian countries is somewhat akin to returning home. Is it the people who inhabit this country today or the long history of a strong and independent race who have never been under the rule of some foreign power that makes this place a safe haven for all the adventurous souls who roam the world? Who really knows but I’m game to bet that most travellers feel the same way as I do.

RE-UNITING WITH OLD FRIENDS

Over the years I have made friends with other travellers who go to Thailand again and again for many of the same reasons as I do. We may skip a year or two but we all manage to somehow meet up again and share past travel experiences and discuss all the advantages of the kind of lifestyle we have adopted over the years. We aren’t exactly ex-pats because we don’t live there year round but we are becoming close to it. Chiang Mai has probably one of the largest and most active expat societies in the world composed of many people from the US, Britain, Canada, and other European countries. It started off with mostly older retired couples and singles looking for a warm country which isn’t too expensive to live in, but more and more I am discovering many young people who have decided they don’t want to be a part of the ‘rat race’ or simply haven’t been able to find appropriate work in their own country so have chosen to become what is commonly known now a ‘digital nomads’. They are working their way around the world and like the older folk are discovering that Chiang Mai is a nice place to settle for a while.

In just twelve hours I will be heading out for my long journey over to Thailand for my eighth time. I will arrive in the early morning of the 11th after approximately 30 hours of flying time with breaks in Toronto and Amsterdam. It’s too much time in the air, but I always try to make the best of it with the latest movies, reading, and some sleep if I’m lucky. I usually manage to beat any serious jet lag by taking a homeopathic remedy called “No More Jet Lag” which doesn’t help me sleep while on the plane but does eliminate all the side effects of flying long distances, such as fatigue, sleep disorders, and general discomfort. I am usually back to normal after a day or two and ready to enjoy what is becoming a second home for me. I no longer can imagine spending a winter here in Nova Scotia so long as I have the choice to go to some place like Thailand.