1 January 2003, Bangkok
At around midnight last night we went out to the balcony and watched a few distant fireworks go off, and then we went back to bed. We woke shortly before 08:00, packed our bags, ate breakfast, and then walked to the southern ferry (that is, the northern ferry on the east side of the river, since the ferries cross paths). As it turns out, the cost of the southern ferry is the 1B listed in LP. You can actually see the northern ferry from the southern ferry—it’s only about a hundred meters away, but I guess everything seems further when you’re carrying a heavy pack. I have no idea why the northern ferry costs twice as much as the southern ferry, but the price difference is still only 1B, so I suppose it’s not that bad.
We bought “standee” tickets for the next train to Bangkok, but when we boarded the train we were able to find seats. There were actually quite a number of seats available, but most of them were occupied by Thais who had made the overnight journey in 3rd class and ended up sprawled across the seats. They didn’t seem too happy when the attendant woke them up to make room for us. I imagine I wouldn’t be too happy if I made the overnight journey from Chiang Mai in 3rd class, and I felt a bit sorry for them. Not sorry enough to refuse a seat, of course.
The train was only ten minutes behind schedule, which is surprising, and it stayed ten minutes behind schedule all the way into Bangkok. There were times when we just sat at stations, apparently to maintain this ten-minute deficit. Our theory is that the trains can’t actually be on time—if they were, all the Thais would miss their trains. Then again, Thais don’t seem too concerned with tight schedules. They just show up at the train station and take the next train that comes along. The train is definitely not the way to go if you want to get somewhere precisely on time.
Having spent a few days in Bangkok at the start of our trip definitely helped psychologically when we walked into the main lobby of Hua Lum Phong. Had it been our first time, I imagine I might have been a bit overwhelmed and lost. As it was, though, we headed straight for the bus stop outside and took the #29 AC bus to the MBK shopping center. We crossed the street and went down Soi Kasem San 1, where most of the guesthouses in the area are concentrated. We had our eye on Wendy House, which looked good in LP—all rooms with AC, hot water, and TV. As has been our experience with every other place before, though, it was more expensive than listed: a room with a double bed for two people (minus the TV) was 550B, as opposed to the 350B/450B listed in LP. Granted, our version of LP is now a year and a half old, but that still seems like a pretty steep price hike. Incidentally, LP continuously notes that single rooms and double rooms refer to the number of beds in a room and have nothing to do with the number of guests. However, we have never found this to be the case; everywhere we have stayed, the rates have been different depending on the number of guests. And, strangely enough, a room with two twin beds at Wendy House costs 500B, 50B less than a single double bed.
Discrepancies and oddities aside, Wendy House is a nice place. The rooms are clean, and they have daily maid service. The AC is also a refreshing change to the heat—within ten minutes the room was cool, and after a half hour we had to shut the AC off because it got too cold. The guesthouse also has safe deposit boxes for guests, and a nice touch is one day of storage for free. This is handy if the bus, plane, or train to your next destination leaves after the 12:00 checkout time, which is often the case. It sure beats having to pay to store your bags for those few extra hours.
Overall, Wendy House seems to be the cleanest and nicest place we’ve stayed at, which is appropriate, I suppose, since it’s also the most expensive. After suffering at the Khao San Palace the first time around, though, we decided we wanted a bit more comfort, even if it cost a little more.
After settling in we had lunch at the MBK food court (the one outside the actual shopping center on the ground floor), and I went with my old stand-by of rice noodles. Then we went back across the street and down Soi Kasem San 2 (the lane just west of our lane, although the two are not connected) to Jim Thompson’s House. Jim Thompson was an American who is credited with reviving the Thai silk industry after World War II. His house was built by reassembling six old Thai houses collected from around central Thailand. He lived in the house for eight years, from 1959 to 1967, when he disappeared during a visit to Malaysia. According to the information we were given upon entrance, “not a single valid clue has turned up in the ensuing years as to what might have happened to him.” LP, however, referred to recent theories that he was killed by a Malaysian truck driver who then hid the body. I suppose it’s more romantic and exciting to say that he disappeared mysteriously and without a trace than to say that he might have been run over by a truck.
Admission is a pretty steep 100B per person, and the tour is mandatory, but you get to walk around the garden and hear explanations of the various rooms in the house, which now serves as a museum for Jim Thompson’s collection. It was an interesting hour or so (the tour itself lasts a half hour), but I wouldn’t by any means call it a must. Then again, it certainly wasn’t a waste of time either. Outside the entrance to the house is a separate building where the James H.W. Thompson Foundation sells various items (silk clothing, books, souvenirs, etc.).
After touring the mostly non-air conditioned house, we were ready for something cool and refreshing. We went back across the street to MBK (thanks to the web of pedestrian overpasses running over the intersection, all this going back and forth isn’t so bad) and had ice cream sundaes at Swensen’s. Hyunjin tried something called the Golden Sundae, which has vanilla ice cream, corn (yes, corn), and jackfruit. Apparently this sundae is unique to Thailand—on the order slip the waitress recorded the order as “1THAI.” Feeling less adventurous, I just went with a simple hot fudge sundae.
The next item on our itinerary was a stop at Khao San Road, so we went down to the bus stop to wait for the No. 15 bus. The last time we tried to take the No. 15 we waited for a half hour before giving up. This time, though, it showed up after about two minutes and we were soon back on Khao San Road. As I walked down the street once more, I was so glad we weren’t staying in that neighborhood this time around. The place is overflowing with backpackers, tuk-tuk drivers, and all sorts of odd characters. It’s noisy, dirty, and smelly. I suppose it’s an interesting place to hang out, and the nightlife is definitely lively, but as a place to stay it leaves much to be desired.
We asked around at some of the travel agencies about tours to the crocodile farm south of Bangkok, and we eventually decided to go with a combined tour to the floating market in the morning and the crocodile farm in the afternoon for 480B. Had we had more time and more motivation, we might have sought a more individual experience and visited the various locations ourselves, but we’ve had good luck with tours so far. It may not be a completely genuine experience (then again, I sometimes wonder if there really is such a thing), but it is definitely convenient, and sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the hassle.
After buying tickets for tomorrow’s tour, we stopped in an internet cafe on Thanon Rambutri (the road running parallel to Khao San to the north), where Hyunjin sent an email to her sister and I sent one to a friend. We also met a Korean university student who had already been in Thailand for some time (almost a week, I think), yet she had not yet left Khao San. I was pretty much floored by that—how could you spend so much time in Khao San and never leave to see anything else? As it turned out, it wasn’t by choice—she was young and inexperienced and didn’t really know what to do, so Hyunjin gave her some travel advice.
We then went over to the creatively spelled Dong Dea Moon for dinner. We found that it was closed for the holiday, though, so we ended up coming back to Siam Square and wandering around Siam Center for a while before heading up to the 4th floor and having dinner at Coca Express. Coca Express, whatever images the name may conjure, is not a place where you can get drugs to go, but an all-you-can-eat Thai Shabu place. What that means, basically, is that you get some boiling broth in a pot built into the table, and you dip meats, vegetables, and other foods into the broth to cook them before eating. The food was pretty good for an all-you-can-eat place, and the bill was 376B for two. Definitely more expensive than a typical Thai restaurant, but at least we ate our fill, and it was something Hyunjin wanted to try (shabu shabu, originally a Japanese dish, is quite popular in Korea).
We finished dinner at around 21:00, then stopped at Dunkin Donuts and 7-11, two traditional Thai establishments (cough), to pick up breakfast for tomorrow. We have to get up pretty early to be at the travel agency by 07:00, so we figure we wouldn’t have time for a real breakfast. Tomorrow will hopefully be our last early start of the trip.