18 December 2002, Bangkok
We ended up leaving the fan on all night, as turning it off not only let the heat creep back in, it also stopped drowning out the noise from the street. I slept in fits, and we woke up at 7:00 to get a relatively early start. Breakfast was some fruit pies left over from the airplane and yogurt and milk from the 7-11 downstairs. Apparently one of those ingredients didn’t agree with me (I’m thinking it was the yogurt) and caused me problems throughout the day.
Khao San Road showed its tame side in the morning. There were still quite a lot of people, but these were the diligent crowd who hadn’t stayed up all night partying. Many of them had their full packs on and looked as if they were either heading out for greener pastures or arriving early to find a room.
We decided to start our day with a walk toward the Democracy Monument. At first I thought the name quite interesting, since Thailand is a monarchy, but what I did not know is that it was built to commemorate the switch from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932. It’s also a popular site for democratic protests, so I suppose the name is appropriate. We continued on from there to the Golden Mount (also called the Royal Mount). It is a temple built on the only hill in Bangkok, and was said to have taken three reigns to complete. Bangkok is very flat, and even this hill is not natural—it is what remains of a mud-and-brick chedi (otherwise known as a “stupa”—a tower that houses relics of the Buddha) that collapsed and was left to deteriorate.
On the way to this hill we met a man who asked us where we were going. When we said we were going to see the Golden Mount he said that it was closed in the morning for a monks’ ceremony, and that we should take a boat (conveniently right at hand) up the canal to see the standing Buddha. Fortunately, I had already read about this sort of trickery in Lonely Planet, and Hyunjin had told me about her experiences when she had visited Thailand during university. Basically, no matter where you’re going, you will invariably meet a tout along the way who will tell you that the site you wanted to visit just so happens to be closed at that very moment due to some event, and you should take this convenient mode of transportation to another site. The tout, of course, gets a cut of the exorbitant fee you will pay for the transportation.
Even knowing all this, I was still a bit taken aback by his bold-faced lies. In the end I got him off our backs by saying, “Well, we’ll just walk around until it opens.” As we walked up to the temple I thought, what if he was telling the truth? But when we got to the gate we discovered that not only was the temple open, it had already been open for an hour and a half.
Being located on the only elevated land in Bangkok, the Golden Mount affords a good view of the city in all directions. There is a lower level with large open windows and an upper level that is open to the sky and has a big, golden chedi. When we arrived we saw that the base of the chedi was wrapped with two golden cloths that ran around the circumference like skirts. A group of people were holding a folded length of orange cloth and praying. When they finished praying they unraveled the cloth and wrapped it around the base of the chedi. Then they walked around it three times while chanting. They invited us to join them, but we declined.
When we left the Golden Mount we went back down to the traffic circle around the Democracy Monument and took Ratchadamnoen Nok Road north to the TAT (Tourist Agency of Thailand) office. There we got a number of good maps, including one that showed bus routes. We were going to take a bus to Siam Square, but we decided to walk it. It wasn’t really all that far, but the day was getting hot.
We took a detour before reaching Siam Square and headed south to the train station, where we checked times and prices to Chiang Mai. It was so hot at that point and we were so tired that we decided to take a bus to Siam Square after all. It took us forever to find the bus stop, but when we did we managed to get on the right bus. None of the city buses in Bangkok have destinations written in English (except maybe some going to Khao San Road or the airport), so you either have to ask someone or guess with the help of the bus map—which turned out to be somewhat cryptic.
Nonetheless, we managed to get on a bus that dropped us off in front of MBK Center, a modern shopping complex. We walked through the doors and I was stunned—after Khao San Road, it was like a different world. It was a totally different side of Thailand, and one I was not really expecting to see. In those glittering, air-conditioned halls, it was easy to forget what lay back at Khao San Road (or, right outside for that matter).
Our first order of business was lunch, and we went out of the shopping center to a food court in the rear on the ground floor frequented mostly by Thais. It’s technically still in the shopping center building, but you have to exit the center itself and walk through what looks like a maintenance hallway (water pipes along the walls, etc.) to reach it. There were places to eat in the shopping center proper, of course, but we figured the locals wouldn’t eat there if it weren’t good (and relatively cheap). I ordered rice noodles and Hyunjin got a rice dish with seafood using the point-and-order method. The food was good and inexpensive, as we expected, but the portions were smaller than what we’re used to (that is, small even by Korean standards).
After lunch we went back inside MBK Center and began our tour of the shopping centers around Siam Square and the Pratunam area. We visited MBK Center, Siam Discovery Center, Siam Center, and the World Trade Center. Our only purchases, though, were immediate necessities: a pair of comfortable shorts for me and snorkels and masks for our upcoming island trip.
There’s really not that much to say about the shopping centers, except that I often forgot I was in Thailand. We went through so many malls and shops that by the end of the day I could no longer tell which particular shopping center I was in at any given moment.
After our whirlwind tour of Bangkok’s best and brightest shopping centers we went south to the Siam Square area to look around. This area is apparently the place to be seen in Bangkok if you’re a trendy young Thai, reminiscent of Myeongdong in Seoul. After walking around for a while we passed a Thai/Japanese restaurant called Daidomon. It has an all-you-can-eat “yaki shabu” buffet, which consisted of barbecuing beef, chicken, fish, squid, and other foods over your own personal charcoal grill. This is accompanied by vegetables and what we call eomuk in Korea (literally, “fish jelly”) boiled in a pan that fits around the grill. The staff didn’t speak much English, but they were very friendly, and the point-and-order method served us well once again.
We spent a little more time in the area and then decided to head back to Khao San Road. The No. 15 bus goes right to Khao San, but we waited for 30 minutes and it never showed. Fortunately, a local going in the same direction advised us to take another bus that ran near Khao San, and she showed us where to get off.
Being that it was our last night in Bangkok (at least for another two weeks or so), we decided to get out and experience a bit of the local nightlife. We walked to the west end of Khao San Road and crossed Chakraphong Road to reach Soi Rambuti (“soi” is Thai for “alley”). Not too far down we passed the Korean-owned and oddly romanized “Dong Dea Moon” (It means “Great Eastern Gate,” and is one of the four main city gates of Seoul—and should be romanized Dongdaemun). Despite our intention to avoid Korean-owned places (not that there’s anything wrong with Korean-owned places, of course, but there were plenty of them back in Korea), we decided to go in and have a drink—there is a nice open-air bar on the second floor with a thatched roof that looks out over the street. We had some fruit juice and soaked up the atmosphere, then decided that was enough nightlife and headed back to Khao San Palace for our last night there. Just like last night, blaring music from the street made sleeping a challenge, but we eventually managed it.