We all know the dangers of sequels. Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place too often, and I think you’ve got to move beyond it, go the extra locker mile and have the courage not to just repeat the first one. -Colin Firth
Early this month we decided to return to Bangkok for a weekend getaway from Pak Thong Chai. Ben was busy working on his Master’s thesis, so only Hannah and I made the trip.
It began with a five hour bus ride. The bus to Bangkok ordinarily takes three and a half to four hours, but the traffic on the outskirts of the city was so terrible it took an extra hour to arrive. Once we pulled into Mo Chit 2 bus terminal, we had to navigate a maze of street stalls to find the Mo Chit city bus station nearby. There, we took a bus to the nearest BTS (Bangkok Sky Train) station. Finally we boarded the sky train to the middle of the city.
Unlike our last trip to Bangkok, we didn’t stay in Khao San, the noisy tourist district. Instead we stayed at in a quiet neighborhood, at a hostel called GLUR Bangkok, whose downstairs doubles as a café. Due to availability of beds, Hannah and I were relegated to separate dorms. Each dorm was a room with four beds (more comfortable than my bed in Pak Thong Chai!) with accompanying lockers.
After settling into GLUR, we walked around the neighborhood and found a McDonalds, where we satisfied our cravings for American food. Then we returned to the hostel and spent the evening chatting with a friendly couple from the Netherlands who were passing through Bangkok as part of a grand tour of Southeast Asia.
The next morning we took off to Taling Chan—one of the much-rumored floating markets of Bangkok. The expectation Hannah and I shared was to find a market set up in boats on the river (people grilling prawns or mixing Pad Thai on the open water). Instead, Taling Chan was set up on the edge of the river.
Slightly disappointed, we took advantage of a sudden opportunity: for 99 baht (less than $3.00) we could take a 3-hour tour of Bangkok’s canals and stop at two other “floating” markets.
We took the tour on a long, gondola-esque motorized boat packed with about 20 other tourists. We soon left the river behind and were taken into the canal system. This was a whole new life from the one we’ve experienced in Pak Thong Chai. Here, the houses opened out toward us, with mailboxes sticking out of the water and steps leading up from the canal. We passed a garbage boat, and several temples, and little children who leaning off their porches to wave at the passing tourists.
After our tour we returned to downtown Bangkok and took a walking tour of our own design through Chinatown. Chinatown itself was similar to what you’d find in New York or San Francisco, although with a few more street stalls.
While we were there, we passed a massive crowd in the street outside a temple. The crowd was energetic and at some points it seemed violent—surely they couldn’t be there simply for a Buddhist or Taoist ceremony? We approached the nearest information desk. The officer inside opened the window and blasted us with cold wind from his air conditioner. He told us that, sure enough, the crowd was there to give merit to the temple, a common Buddhist event.
Passing back through the crowd we spotted some signs to confirm that information: practically everybody was carrying some kind of food as they waited to be let into the temple. Some were even clutching their food close…we figured out why very easily. A middle-aged man was passing through the crowd, holding his five- or six-year-old child in one hand, reaching out with the other and trying to snatch everybody’s food!
When we finished in Chinatown, we headed to a night market. Called the Train Night Market, it was a huge parking lot full of normal Thai market fair—Thai food and Thai coffee—along with stands that sold clothes, shoes, toys, temporary tattoos, and other memorabilia. Framing the market was a series of bars, antique shops, restaurants and even one barber shop. The bars mostly catered to the “hipster” crowd, which is difficult to define but if you know it, you know what I mean. One such bar was built into an old yellow schoolbus—the only yellow schoolbus I’ve seen in Thailand.
Hannah and I enjoyed spicy Thai noodles, beer, conversation, and a long stroll through the market before returning to GLUR and to our beds.
The next morning featured a return to Chatujak Weekend Market. I was looking for warm clothing to prepare for my upcoming visit to the Himalayas, but was out of luck. Last time we went to Chatujak, I spent an hour lost in the pet section. This time, Hannah and I spent two hours looking for the pet section. But despite the help of several maps, we couldn’t find it.
That afternoon we returned to Pak Thong Chai. It was a more relaxing, somewhat more cultural, and entirely more quiet visit to the big city than our last one.
More on everything to come!