Sunday, March 22, 2015


We decided to stay in the downtown area of Pratunam during our time in Bangkok, which would be the last major stop on our trip. When we arrived in the evening, we were glad to see that Pratunam had a large night market to keep James happy, and dozens of Indian restaurants on every block to keep our taste buds happy. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that many of these restaurants featured the Chinese-Indian cuisine that we had tasted in Kanpur, and we enjoyed eating manchurian and chilly paneer once again.

After dinner, we took a metered taxi to Patpong Night Market (and revelled in how cheap and hassle-free this was compared to taking taxis in Phuket). Antonia quickly grew tired of the endless rows of sidewalk stalls and especially the strip clubs behind each one, so she happily read a book in a cafe as James pressed on.

We had planned to spend the following day seeing the Grand Palace and the important temples in the surrounding area. We knew that the heat and the crowds on this tourist circuit would be punishing, but that the impressive sights would be worth it. On the way, our taxi wove through countless bright monuments, flags, and ornately framed photographs of the royal family that lined the congested streets. Antonia was immediately reminded of the colourful craziness of the Bangkok that she first stayed in nine years ago.

The grounds of the Grand Palace were so crowded and hot that we had to take several breaks in the shade, where we sat amazed at the lavish decor and squinted at the glare of the sun coming off every gilded, glitzy, and golden surface. 

We also paid a visit to the revered Emerald Buddha (although no photos of him are allowed).

Next, we walked to Wat Pho, Antonia’s favourite Bangkok temple. The main chapel was frustratingly crowded, but the giant Reclining Buddha was as magnificent as she remembered. After exploring the rest of the temple grounds, we were beginning to get hungry and more than a little tired, but we decided to see the Golden Mountain before going for a late lunch.

Because we were in the centre of the most popular tourist area in the city, though, it was now impossible to get a metered taxi or a tuk-tuk willing to negotiate a reasonable price. We were approached by a friendly bus driver who suggested some additional sites that we should see. He also mentioned that we should pay only 60 baht ($2) to be driven to all of them, and even found us a tuk-tuk driver who agreed to take us for that price. We like to think that we are pretty savvy travellers, and by now we were becoming quite skeptical. But while the bus driver and tuk-tuk driver were ironing out the details, we had hatched a scheme of our own: since we were not interested in seeing any of the other sites, and since 60 baht was an excellent price to complete our sightseeing and be dropped off afterwards, we would agree to the whole circuit now and “change our minds” later. If this was really the great deal that was being sold to us, the driver should be very happy to be paid full price for half the trip. So, after insisting on “no shops,” we hopped in the tuk-tuk and hoped that we were being taken for a ride only in the literal sense.

Our plan seemed to be working when we made it successfully to the Golden Mountain. We climbed the winding stairs around the mountainous temple and took some photographs of the city views afforded by the summit.

After climbing down, we informed our driver that he was off the hook, but that we would pay him full price just for dropping us off. We used an upbeat intonation meant to convey the great deal we were giving him, but he turned on the hard sell in an attempt to take us on the rest of the tour - and our suspicions were confirmed that this deal had been too good to be true. We insisted though, and moments later, we were being dropped off at Khao San Road by a very grumpy driver who sullenly collected his measly 60 baht from us.

Khao San Road is the backpacker Mecca of Bangkok. It consists of a few pedestrian blocks packed with shops, bars, restaurants, hostels, and massage parlours, mostly in dilapidated high rises. The scene really gets hopping at night, with stalls selling fake IDs, drugs, and “buckets” of Red Bull and vodka. While we didn’t want to spend too much time there, it is really something to see. Also, Antonia had spent her very first week in Thailand in one such dilapidated hostel, as waves of heat and culture shock washed over her. It also boasts some pretty tasty street food.

We were so parched, hungry, and tired after our adventures, though, that wanted to sit down. We found a reasonably-priced restaurant (which is not hard even in such a touristy area) and had a delicious meal of green curried tofu and vegetables, pad sew with tofu and vegetables fried with chili and basil, and refreshing fruit shakes. 

Not even fake IDs necessary here.

Antonia then had a foot massage while James perused the street stalls, and we ended the trip down memory lane with banana and chocolate rotis while we strolled down the street.

Back in our hotel, we showered and settled in for a relaxing evening after our exhausting day, but suddenly James realized that his glasses were broken, and oh no we had to go back out to Patpong market to shop for new frames (Antonia would like to note that she did not witness how the glasses came to be broken, and also that James’ exhaustion seemed to immediately evaporate at the thought of going back out to the market). Antonia went straight to the cafe to read while James spend a couple hours looking for replacement frames that would fit his lenses. Eventually, he returned with brand new specs, and we decided to celebrate with a post-midnight dinner at a nearby 24-hour Mexican restaurant called Taco Sunrise. It may seem strange that, with the pervasive availability of cheap, delicious Thai food, we chose to eat at this particular establishment, which was not cheap and likely not very authentic. But we love Mexican food and had been missing it, and we decided to splurge with guacamole and margaritas alongside our burritos to mark such a successful day. It was delicious!

Our goal the next day was to see a  movie in one of the very fancy malls in the upscale Siam Square district of Bangkok. 

After sleeping in a bit, we headed to Siam Paragon mall and planned to find some breakfast in the food court before buying tickets to whatever English  movie happened to be playing. When we glimpsed the showtimes, though, we saw an opportunity to see a movie, starting very shortly, in what was supposed to be the swankiest theatre in the world. We only had time to grab a Krispy Kreme donut (Antonia’s first ever - not surprisingly, she enjoyed it); lunch would be move theatre popcorn. We took the escalator past the Rolls Royce, Maserati, and Hermes stores and bought tickets at nearly $30 each (exorbitant for Thailand) to see 22 Jump Street. We were ushered into the lavish VIP lounge and our hostess took our food and drink orders (included with our tickets) before showing us into the world’s first movie theatre spa for our “free” 15-minute massages. The spa was luxurious, but the massages were torturous in that Thai way, in which the torture is supposedly good for you. When it was time to go into the theatre, we were shown to a room with just sixteen plush loveseats that reclined into beds - for a total theatre occupancy of thirty-two people. We took off our shoes and climbed into bed. Our food was shortly delivered to our seats. The temperature in the theatre was icy, but we were cozy under down duvets. The movie wasn’t great, but that hardly seemed the point.

On our way out of the mall, we found ourselves in a large crowd that was jostling for views of the royal family, who were making an appearance during a conference hosted at the mall. We decided to wait amongst the unsmiling guards and the signs imploring no photographs, and we were able to catch a glimpse of some royals and their entourage boarding the elevator. We think we may have seen the Queen, but we have not been able to confirm that.

Having had only junk food so far that day, we were in the mood for some real food, and walked to another nearby mall food court on the advice of our guidebook, which indicated that delicious, inexpensive, vegetarian Thai food was available at one of the stalls. But when we ordered what we thought was pad thai and pad sew, we received instead Chinese dishes that were drowned in a viscous, bland sauce. We ate as much as we could, and washed it down with green cream soda.

We walked back to our hotel in the dissipating rain among throngs of people and past numerous interesting food, flower, and lottery stalls. As the skies cleared to reveal a lovely sunset, we decided to celebrate our last night in Bangkok with overpriced drinks on the rooftop bar of our hotel. The server ignored us for so long, though, that we were able to scurry back to our room without having to buy anything, but after enjoying the views of the city.

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