Finally! Our first visitors! We couldn’t wait to have friends from home come for a visit AND have them be with us for Thanksgiving. What a treat! I (Rob) used to work with Matt at Gentiva prior to setting off on this trip and Kyle was his good friend who he convinced to come along. Neither of them had ever been to Asia before, so we were thrilled to show them what we’d learned about street food, temples and the ever present street markets through our experiences thus far. We had held off of doing a few things knowing we’d be taking a second lap around Thailand so each and every day of the trip was so packed full of action that their visit will be at least a couple posts!
November 16th, 2014
The guys arrived into Bangkok in the morning and the first thing we did with them was to introduce them to one of our favorite street treats – fried coconut balls. We’d had them once or twice before; they seem to be quite elusive. Once you eat them, you are constantly on the hunt for more whether you know it or not. Of course the guys were blown away and their appetite was stoked for more Thai goodness that was to come. They were rightfully tired after a lengthy journey so we let them get a serious nap in before we went back out to explore Chatuchak Market. There we showed them the economically priced goods of all sorts and sizes, as well as sampled a few more goodies such as pork skewers for $0.33 and $1 fresh fruit shakes. We each stocked up on a few impulse buys, sunglasses for the guys, a new T-shirt for me and a hip sweatshirt for Athena. We tried to give some tips for the art of the market stall haggle process, it would be an ongoing discussion. One of the guys (won’t name names here) would have to work hard on his haggling over the two weeks to be really comfortable getting the best price. It was honestly that he is probably just too nice of a guy to deal with the cutthroat market peddlers and product hawkers. In the meantime his results were hilarious. The market had everything from kitchen wares to Buddha statues of all sizes to live animals. We saw puppies, monkeys, snakes and everything else you could imagine. There was also a rumor passed on by other travelers of an all white half bear half raccoon that was for sale somewhere in the market. Although we never found it, we affectionately dubbed it the Polarcoon and its legend continues to grow as the days pass.
That night we took them to Bangkok’s backpacker staple, Kao San Road. The big Asian city tourist vibe lives strong on this street, cheap beers, it’s hard to describe. You wouldn’t want to spend too much of your vacation here, but while you do you’ll have a hell of a good time. We drank cheap beers and bounced from bar to bar, haggled over tees, tanks, and other various products. We took random selfies with sleeping shop owners, on duty cops, and Ronald McDonald. We were approached by women of the night and ping pong show offers a shameful amount of times. We helped stomp plastic bottles for the recycling crew, carried around mannequins and eventually dove in for the classic Koa San trap of the fried scorpion. It was a big night out for sure, but it was amazing. As I said above, not much culture was absorbed, but it was a blast. It was the kind of night out you have once a month.
November 17th, 2014
The next morning we all woke up, a bit groggy but excited for a new day. Today the three of us distinguished gentlemen would be getting measured for our custom suits! We bumbled our way to the tailor (whose shop was of course surrounded by other tailors) and talked to him about styles, fabrics various options and prices. We decided to each get 2 suits made. All of us settled on one fabric for one of our pieces, a nice tan fabric with a bit of texture to it. A tan suit is more of a want than a need for most guys, so this was kinda cool to grab it at such a great price. For my second piece I decided to get a tuxedo made, again for the same reason. I hope to have and use it for many occasions in the future, and figured the custom fit job would help me look my best when it was most important. The shop owners measured us from top to bottom and told us to return the next day for a fitting. 6 pieces ready for fitting in 24 hours, wow! The husband/wife team of Dave and Pinky seemed trustworthy and professional from the very beginning. We new we were in good hands!
After the tailor we hit one of our favorite streets for food in Bangkok, Soi 38. We each picked up some delectable dishes for about $1 a piece and then topped them off with fresh fruit shakes, arguably the best part of street food. We then headed west across the city to take in some of Bangkok’s most famous temples. After using the BTS skytrain to get to the Chao Phraya river, we boarded a longtail which nosily but efficiently deiseled us upstream to our destination. First, we went to the Grand Palace. I think it’s named this because it’s in-freaking-credible. There is endless detail across what’s got to be 10 main buildings. Colors, carvings, reliefs, statues, paintings, glittering gold and mirrors- it’s a sight to behold. After that, nothing could really live up to be honest. But we hit our second spot, Wat (meaning temple) Pho. Here there are many more intricately decorated buildings, all centered around one giant edifice in the center of the complex. Inside of this massive building is a golden Buddha statue lying down who is end to end, 130 feet long and 45 feet high. That was pretty awesome to see, but nearly impossible to capture in one picture!
Our original plan was then to tackle a third temple, Wat Arue, that you were supposedly able to climb on to the top. This immediately brought to mind images of the crag from Global Guts for me, and we all agreed to save this monster for the next day. Instead, we headed back to the river and found a restaurant with a little deck hanging out over the water. We’d take in the sunset over the water and a cocktail. To our surprise, they ushered us up onto the roof where we got an even better view while sipping our drinks. The sun set behind tomorrow’s climbing challenge while we snapped away.
After our drinks, we moved on to find our next delicious meal. Close to our hostel was a large mall and one thing that surprised us was the quality of the food in the food courts there. We would never have eaten there to be honest, but read the tip that these restaurants nestled amongst the shopping are nothing like food courts back home. We ordered soups, pad thais, Korean and iced coffees, all of which hit the spot. Matt finished the trip swearing that the food court meal was his best of the entire 2 weeks – something to think about if you ever happen to visit.
That night we decided to head out on a self guided pub crawl around, you guessed it, the Koh San Road area again. So much for once a month. In a lonely planet guide or something similar, we had found a map which outlined 5 or so good choices, so we headed over and started searching for bar 1. After 15 minutes, we gave up and walked over to bar #2. Unfortunately that was nowhere to be found either! At this point we had walked by about 30 bars so we decided to chuck the map and just go to the bars we had wanted to stop at while searching in the first place. We ended up making a great pick with a bar that was on a tiny alley run out of a converted VW bus. Relaxing with some cheap Thai beers (the guys drank while Athena indulged in a quick $4 foot massage) we ended up stumbling into quite a treat. A group of Thai kids, probably about 16-20 years old, held a beat boxing/break dancing show for all of the people in the street. These guys were really talented, each one besting the guy who had just had his turn prior. The beatboxer didn’t miss a beat (or a box) for the full 20 minutes that they were turning heads in the alley. It was really cool to be so close to the action in such an impromptu performance with such great talents. From the VW we headed over a block to the actual Koa San Rd and the night went pretty much as the prior one. At one point I obtained the greatest shirt ever known to man, the legend himself – Arnold – posing joyously with a cigar. I tried to buy a second in order to have a sleeveless option available for summer, the gym, general intimidation but they only had one of this model. Needless to say, I’m not surprised there weren’t many left.
November 18th, 2014
Next morning our first order of business was going back to the tailor for our first fitting. It blew our minds the progress on the garments in less than 24 hours. All of our pants were done, ready to be tried on and let out or tightened up if necessary. It was a relief to have the initial measurement out of the way because now we could really start to eat without reservation! The jackets were all complete, but without sleeves. Dave and Pinky held up these and figured out exactly where they should sit on the shoulder to stop at the wrist. It was pretty cool to see them not fully assembled. The sleeveless suits were kind of like mullets, announcing that we meant business, but you know, were down to kick ass and have a good time too. While we were doing this Athena was at the local mall searching for the deals amongst the zillions of stores in the 6 or 7 story building. I think there is actually one zillion stores there, honestly. I was happy to let her loose there while we ran our errand. I know she would have loved a shopping buddy there but she still had a good time. I’d be back in my role of de facto shopping buddy as soon as the guys left. We grabbed some lunch at a tiny den of multiple food vendors in the Bangkok business district on our way back to unite at the hostel. We were the only white people there and it was awesome. The food was great and the experience felt so authentic. It’s nice to know you truly have gotten off the beaten tourist track sometimes.
After this it was time to meet back up with Athena and tackle the climbing temple, Wat Arue. This was a really beautiful, intricate temple, as they all seem to be, but to be able to climb the INCREDIBLY steep stairs to the top and then look out over Bangkok and the river was really cool. Some monks who climbed the temple in their standard striking orange robes are always interesting to observe at the religious sites. On the way down we saw a woman operating a large street style stall of traditional Thai royal clothes and robes. We popped over to investigate and ended up making an incredible discovery. For $3, you could dress up as a king or queen, and they would take all kinds of pictures of you and your friends. We had an absolute blast during the next 20 minutes of our “photo shoot” doing funny poses and hopping around in the colorful ornate robes and crowns! We took a tuk tuk back to the hostel and prepared for another night out. We started off at a Thai brewery, which provided us German style beers in a large beer hall setting, complete with blaringly loud live Thai performers. While the music was way too loud, the beers were so much better than the standard light beers we’d had for the past 30 days. We indulged in a couple of liter mugs per person. From there we headed over to the notorious Soi Cowboy district. The night out didn’t end up being as crazy as the last two, which was probably a really good thing. It seemed like the theme of the night turned into an endless search for grub, both good food and experimental choices. We ate about every part of a chicken you can imagine, grilled (hearts were actually really good!). We also took the durian plunge. This fruit is a love it or hate it sort of thing that has a taste described as “rotting garbage.” Its reputation was a bit too harsh in my opinion, but I certainly wouldn’t choose it over a pineapple or banana. Matt felt similar while Athena and Kyle hated it if I remember correctly. It was just another one of those – “Well we’re in Asia we have to try it” sort of things. We ended the night with some delicious burritos. In an effort to make sure our new suits would be quite snug, we doubled up on these calorie heavy indulgences and headed home for bed. We had big plans for the next day.
November 19th, 2014
We woke up early and headed for victory market in order to catch our minibus. There has got to be some sort of organization there, however we never could determine the system. To get on our specific bus, we just asked driver after driver and inched closer to where we would catch ours. Finally we found the right area and purchased our tickets. We boarded our bus after a short wait and headed out to start the days activities. The first item on the agenda was a famous floating market ######. We haggled hard to get a good price of the boat, which would take us around. As is sometimes typical, there is a price for tourists and a “local” price. We managed to pay as the local Thais would rather than the 5x higher white people rate. Once that was over with, it was pretty cool navigating the canals lined with shops and stalls on each side. A drawback to the floating market however, is the awkwardness that comes with your boat driver stopping at many of the stalls where you aren’t interested in the products. A minute or two of silence passes or perhaps about 10 offers for different products have to be declined by the passengers and then the driver will move you on… to the next stall which is quite likely selling the same stuff. Once we got more central into the market, there seemed to be a greater variety of things for sale, including food on some of the vendor boats, which we pulled up alongside. We ended up spying some of the day one fried coconut balls across the way and sampled them, but they weren’t piping hot and were kind of a let down compared to the initial serving. The last highlight of this area was my photo op with some Burmese python. Apparently 75% of the boat was quite scared of snakes, so I was the only one to put on the python “boa.” Negotiating skills came in handy again here paying $2 for the pictures rather than the $40 initial offer, haha.
After the floating market came what was really the highlight of our day, and one of the overall best experiences for Matt and Kyle no doubt. We were heading to a tiger interaction. Just down the road from this floating market, was a family run tiger zoo. When we arrived, we could immediately see that this location was far less commercial than Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. We headed in and walked over to the large enclosure with the fully grown adult tigers. Contrary to TK (Tiger Kingdom) these guys were incredibly active. Running and chasing each other around, jumping up on top of the fence tub that we were walking through in order to get a closer look at us. It was awesome watching these enormous animals do their thing! After our initial observation, we headed on to the next step – feeding the tigers. The four of us and an employee got in a little cage/box outside of a second adult tiger enclosure. Once we were locked in, a motor would pull our box into the large tiger enclosure. It was like a cage diving for sharks type experience but on land – felt very much Jurassic park-ish. We held up large pieces of chicken and the tigers came over to jump on the cage and eat it from our … forks, no way we were putting our hands outside of that cage. All the tigers seemed to be in great spirits with the exception of one. This big male – the patriarch of the entire clan we were told, sat next to our cage and growled frequently. The most intimidating noise I have ever heard, without a shred of a doubt. Once we were done with the feeding, which was quite awesome, it was time to tow our little box outside the enclosure. And like in Jurassic Park, the amazing natural experience would immediately turn terrifying! The motor was broken our cage was stranded in the middle of the large tiger playpen, right next to grumpy himself! What happened next, I still can’t believe. Our guide got on the radio, and within moments a man opened a couple doors and waltzed right into the tiger den! He came over to our cage, turned his back to it and began to push. The tigers surrounded him with curiosity as he worked. Grumpy came over (with bad intentions I’m certain) and the man unflinchingly swatted him right on his gigantic nose just as you would a dog who was getting a bit too close to the edge of the dinner table. This guy, with nerves of steel pushed us back out and locked everything up before making a casual escape back outside of the den himself. We learned from our guide that he (and his father) own and run the place. They care for each tiger since birth and are incredibly close with them. These two men are the only ones who will interact with the large tigers without cages in between.
The last part of our tour was to get up close and personal with one of the three cubs who were recently born at the zoo. Their names were dollar, Euro and Apple, which we found hilarious (the guide said the Thai Baht was not worth enough to be a worthy name). We got inside with little Apple and held her out a bottle of milk. She immediately went to work on it, and you could encourage her to curl up on your lap while she fed. It was so cool! As we each took turns doing this, you could see the excitement of such a unique opportunity on all of our faces. I think the pictures capture the “Holy crap I can’t believe there’s a tiger on my lap” expression pretty well. Apple got the best of both of our Gopro sticks with her tiny (only by tiger standards) teeth and claws, but we quickly forgave her as she then settled in for a 20 minute snooze. During this time we continued to pet and picture her. While our initial tiger experience at TK was awesome, and I’d still recommend it to people, this was much different and felt more special. First it was less crowded and felt less commercial like a family run place. You could see that everyone there loved the tigers and there was no gift shop, café, etc. The small tiger experience was actually pretty similar with the exception that while we paid for 15 minutes, we actually got about 45 minutes of time with Apple, and we left when we had decided rather than a clock. The last part was probably the biggest difference – the activity level of the grown tigers. These guys were all over the place as opposed to TK where they were all asleep. TK adamantly publicizes that their animals are not drugged, and I think we still believe that… but the family run place didn’t need to quell any suspicious practices. Their tigers were alive and kicking and seemed like they just finished a double espresso. It makes you wonder why the ones at TK were so sleepy.
When all was finished (and after a really nice conversation with the girl working the front desk – another personal tiger touch) we zoomed back to the city. On the way, Matt informed us that he was allergic to cats. Maybe he had told us earlier, can’t remember, but now he was proving it. His face was swelled (from using Apple as a pillow) and his eyes looked like he was on some sort of drug. He did not look good. Mostly, we just made fun of him, but we made sure to get him all the meds as soon as we arrived back in BKK, after he had suffered through a couple hours on our minibus. We got back to the city and immediately headed over to the tailors to pick up our suits. Once we were all suited up, we took a cab over to the moon bar @ the Banyan Tree hotel. The moon bar was located on the 33rd floor and had no roof. It really provided an on top of the world type experience. I’ve been to rooftop bars before but this one blew them all out of the water. I think it was the combination of the open feeling created by having nothing over our heads as well as the city of Bangkok doing it’s best to dazzle us with lights in all directions. We hung out for a couple of drinks, but were ultimately pretty tired from our long day, and retired early as we were heading to Krabi early in the morning. After four days of probably more activity than we’d had during any other span of our trip, we’d have to proclaim that Bangkok was an absolute success.