17 December 2002, Seoul
After packing until after midnight, we woke up this morning at 5:30, and it just seemed to be one thing after another. The travel agency through which we booked our flight screwed things up and cancelled our reservations, so we didn’t have seats on the plane. Fortunately there were seats left over on the way out, so we got on with no problem. The return trip, though, is still up in the air.
Anyway, after a bunch of hassles that don’t really make for a good story, we got on the plane and left Seoul, arriving in Bangkok at around 14:00. By the time we went through immigration, got our bags, and hopped on a bus that took us to Khao San Road (Bangkok’s backpacker central), it was already 16:00.
Our first order of business was finding a place to stay, and after doing some research in Lonely Planet (hereafter to be abbreviated as “LP”) we decided on the Khao San Palace Inn, smack dab in the middle of Khao San Road. We got a tiny room with a double bed and private bath, and a fan instead of air conditioning for 350 baht a night (there was no hot water, but that didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem in Bangkok’s sweltering heat—it was 32° and humid when we landed). This was a pretty good deal, since we were planning on about 500 baht a night for lodgings. The fan, though, seems to have a rather tentative grip on the ceiling, and even on the lowest setting it desperately tries to tear itself loose. It does keep us a little cooler in the stifling heat, so I guess I can’t complain.
After putting our packs in the room, we set out to do a little exploring. We walked back down Khao San Road the way we had come and headed toward the river on a rather roundabout route. Along the way we stopped for kebabs—beef and chicken for 10 baht a piece—that were pretty tasty. From what I’ve seen so far, you can’t go far in this city without encountering a vendor selling one food or another, whether it be kebabs, fried rice, noodles, “omelet rice” (this needs no explanation in Korea, but for those not in the know, it is rice or fried rice with an omelet style egg on top), fried dumplings, fruit and fruit shakes, etc. This is a good thing for people like us, as it allows us to cheaply sample a variety of foods.
We passed by another place along the way that sold fruit shakes (fresh fruit, ice, a bit of sugar, and condensed milk thrown into a blender) for 15 baht apiece, so Hyunjin got a mango shake and I got a pineapple shake. The shakes came in plastic bags—as do most beverages sold on the street, since glass bottle are expensive—with straws. It was actually easier to carry then I imagined it would be—we just grabbed the bags by the handles and stuck the straws in our mouths. It turned out to be a whole lot of shake for 15 baht, so we headed for Santichaiprakam Park by the river where we could sit down and drink them slowly.
This park is apparently popular with Thai school children, as there seemed to be a large number of kids wandering around in school uniforms. In a grassy area in the center some kids were dancing—some were practicing dance routines, and a few were whirling things about in what I can only assume is a traditional art form.
We watched the long river ferries whisk back and forth, and then went down to the waterfront to watch the sun set. We stayed at the park until we finished our shakes and then began to slowly make our way to the east end of Khao San Road. We weaved back and forth a bit, exploring arcade-like alleyways that connected Khao San Road with Rhambutri Road to the north.
At around 19:00 we reached the east end of Khao San Road and stopped for dinner in a little place called No. 147 Thai Food. It was recommended in LP, it was significantly cheaper than a lot of places we had seen along the way, and it had a very extensive menu that was written in both English and Thai. We ended up ordering the tom yam kung (a spicy, tangy soup of lemongrass broth, pineapples, and prawns—a Thai seafood hot and sour soup, basically) and khao phat neua (fried rice with beef), plus two iced teas for 105 baht. The food wasn’t bad, but being my first real meal in Thailand I had nothing to compare it to. (In retrospect, it was one of the poorest meals we had during our entire trip, and definitely the worst tom yam kung.)
We wandered back along Khao San Road, stopping here and there along the way to check out various stalls and vendors. We had no intention of buying anything yet, of course, but it can’t hurt to take a look around. We arrived at our room at around 20:00, and the cold shower was a welcome end to a long and sweaty day.
First impressions of Bangkok: as I had expected, the city is quite dirty. I suppose it’s not that dirty, considering it’s a large city, but we saw some rundown neighborhoods on the bus ride from the airport that reminded me of the nightmarishly filthy slums of Hong Kong. Perhaps it’s the heat and humidity combined with large amounts of people, but Southeast Asia in general does not seem to be a paragon of cleanliness. Like I said, though, this did not come as a surprise.
Despite being the middle of winter, it’s very hot and humid here. Again, this was not a surprise, but I think it was a bit of a shock for my body to go from below freezing to above 30° in one day.
The Banglamphu/Khao San Road area is frenetic, although Khao San Road itself really seems to be the heart of that—even one street over it’s much quieter than it is here. The street is jammed with backpackers from the farthest reaches of the world, and the road is lined with restaurants, bars, travel agencies, shops and vendors that cater to them. It’s now 22:00, and I’m starting to get the impression that the people outside have no intention of going to sleep. It will be interesting to see what this place is like in the morning.