And we are back to a “developing” county. I heard somewhere that there are really no more “3rd world” countries left in the world. And the better way of describing a country is either as “developed” or “developing”. For example, Singapore is definitely developed and New York has been down graded to “developing”. We will review their application once they get automatic card scanners for their subway.
We just took a 2 hour flight and went from the 3rd to 75th highest GDP ranked country in the world. But that doesn’t say much until you look at the absolute numbers: Singapore is $82k and Thailand is at $16k, more than 5 times lower. Why do we even care about any of this? Because this means that things in Thailand are going to be EXTREMELY cheap, especially the basic needs like food.
After that one night of partying in Singapore we are looking forward to actually staying on budget. Here we are, patiently waiting for Suin, Hyein’s cousin, to pick us up from the airport. I’m not even posing, that is just how I look after a sunrise flight and lack of coffee, staring into the distance blankly.
Suin and her two friends, Mook and Prin, were super awesome and picked us up from the airport. We chatted away about Singapore, our travels in the Americas and the most important things to know about Thailand. One of which apparently is that this building in the above photo is a “ghost” building. Not sure of the validity of this story, but that hasn’t stopped me from telling them in the past. A few years back an unhappy worker committed suicide by jumping from the window. The company that he has worked for shortly afterwards went out of business. And all the companies that have moved in since that time have not been able to stay for a long time. So the office building just sits there, empty and unused.
Whats the moral of the story? We learned that Thai’s are extremely superstitious people and sometimes will condemn a building just because of one person.
As we drove through Bangkok, our Thai 101 history and immersion program continued. Thailand or as the old folks call it, Siam, is a constitutional monarchy, yes you are right, just like England. The king is generally loved and adored, although he is pushing 90 and has been in and out of the hospital recently. You can see photos of the King and the royal family plastered tastefully all over the city.
Suin, Hyein’s cousin, has been studying in Thailand since high school and is currently attending Mahidol University. And while we are in Bangkok we will be staying at her place next to the university. And as you can see all college students are the same around the world, proudly displaying their conquests.
In line with our tradition, I present the Thai beer – Singha and Leo. If you are confused by the similarity…i was too. Singha is a mythological super duper lion and also sounds like Singapore. So why couldn’t Singapore choose this animal as their mascot instead of the Merlion? It even sounds the same. Oh and Leo is also obviously lion, so we have to beers with big cat symbolism.
First day, first meal and it is already amazing. To keep track of the foods we wrote down notes for each photo. This one says “somtum tubwan”…Hyein took the notes, so i’m not sure what that means. And google is not really helping me out here. We will go clockwise, starting at the fish, then you got baked chicken, papaya salad, beef with sauce, another papaya salad, beef with other sauce. Man, that sounds like i have no idea what i’m talking about…anyway it was perfect.
Thinking that by going further away from Singapore, which is basically on the equator, we would find some relief from the heat. No…not in Thailand. It’s just as bad if not worse than Singapore. Shade is not a luxury here, it is a life-saving device. After the delicious lunch, we headed to the fresh market to check out offerings of the local fruits and vegetables. We have professed our love for these open air markets in numerous posts before and by now you know how much we have missed them in most of South America.
Walking through the aisles, we were transported back to Mexico. Amazing, albeit different, fruits and veggies. And if you don’t feel like cooking, you can grab some hot food right here.
I haven’t seen this anywhere yet – the yellow watermelon and rose apple (photo above the watermelon).
Rambutan, its like a lychee but with hair.
And that’s Jackfruit, not Durian.
And in these parts it grows to a humongous size. The part that you actually eat is inside, surrounded by a thick layer of squishy cushion. The edible pods are very sweet, have a strong floral aroma and super sticky. Apparently, the outside of the whole fruit is also sticky and you can see white goo covering the green spike of the rind.
Our crew from left to right: Mook, Prin, Hyein and Suin.
Exhausted by the flight, lunch and heat we quickly bought some fruits and head back to Suin’s place to sing praises to the guy who invented air conditioning. Apparently his name is Willis Carrier.
Shower, quick nap and we are ready to go explore the Bangkok nightlife.
Like anyone looking to start off their night right in Bangkok, we headed to Khaosan Road. Suin was our guide, deciding our plans for the day and it was perfectly relaxing, knowing that we will have a good time and not worrying about where we are going. I know it put a lot of stress on her, but we thank her from the bottom of our heart for the amazing time.
Before we even got some drinks, for just 30 Baht (35 baht = 1 usd) we scored some delicious looking insects. We decided to wait for the beer to work up the courage to eat these guys.
Wondered through the street, the sides are line with bars, restaurants, shops and massage parlors. Foot massage, thai massage, hot stone massage…whatever massage places every other shop on the street. I have never seen so many people getting foot rubs at the same time.
Hair messy, eyes wild, face slimy…its not the bugs it’s the Bangkok heat, still wreaking havoc at 9 pm.
An unspecified number of liters later we collected our courage and each tried the bugs. Some tasted okay, some good, some would definitely avoid in the future. Instead of blindly munching on grasshoppers we played a game of rock-paper-scissors, suggested by none other than Hyein, and the loser would eat a bug. Hyein started to regret her suggestion after she lost 3 times in a row.
With insects gone but still feeling hungry for beer and real food we switched to a different place. Prin, after her beauty rest, managed to find her way to Khaosan and helped us kill a few more bottles. On the way to get a taxi we saw street food, which in our state of inebriation looked like a Michelin rated restaurant, so we ordered some Pad Thai and Chicken Butts.
This is where the real taste comparison comes in… a properly grilled chicken butt is a million times better than the best of the insects we had. There is a government agency in Europe somewhere…France, Germany, not sure, but they will award a million euros to a recipe that will use insects as a main source of protein in a dish. This is a stunt to get people to switch over to insects proteins from beef, pork, poultry and fish. I’m pretty sure that million is still up for grabs.
Looking as good as we possibly can after a night of insects and beer…AND massive jet lag still catching up to us after Singapore and Brazil. Mook (left) and Hyein (right, I honestly hope that by this point in the blog you know which one is Hyein) waiting for a shot of caffeine to jolt them awake in the morning.
The best thing about knowing someone in a place to where you are traveling is their knowledge of local foods. And Suin pulled out all the stops for us. This right here was my favorite meal in Thailand.
After a night of debauchery a bowl of tender ribs in a sweet, salty and sour broth is unbelievable. As usual even though there was only 5 of us there, Suin ordered food for 10 people. If this was New York or LA, i would politely ask her to cut that shit out right away. But in Thailand food is insanely cheap, this whole meal for 5 cost us less than $20.
We have been looking forward to trying for ourselves Thailand’s cuisine. We’ve tried it back home and loved it and heard plenty of travelers rave about it.
Verdict – it’s better than you have tried or imagined it. It’s the only cuisine I know that is not afraid to make a dish that has all the 5 tastes. Umami…that is the 5th one that you are thinking about and that rib dish was definitely rich in umami.
I feel like i could go on about Thai food for a while…and I will, just not right now there is still a million food photos coming up.
Just like little babies, after lunch we headed back home for a nap. Its been a week and jet lag is still on our ass, like we flew just yesterday.
At night we headed back to Bangkok to check out the bi-annual Red Cross Fair.
The idea behind it is to educated people about health, regular medical check ups all while enjoying food, shopping and fairgrounds with rides.
In reality, when we got there it was a never-ending river of people moving so close to each other that claustrophobia was enough to make you gasp for air. But in Bangkok’s heat it was something beyond what my body could possibly enjoy. Too many people, too hard to breath and we really don’t need to buy anything.
Maybe except for some Pad Thai. Disappointing that stuff from last night was WAY better.
Suin, the all-knowing, quickly suggested that we should head back home and get some decent food around there. She knows just the place.
No problem, lets grab a taxi and go back. I keep mentioning taxis here because in Bangkok we have taken taxis everywhere we went. The public transportation network is not really there and taxis are extremely cheap. Center of Bangkok to Salaya, where we lived, is a 30-45 minute ride and costs about $6. At the same time San Diego Airport to La Jolla in 30 minutes will set you back $80.
Btw that dish is called Khao Pot Poo or fried rice with crab and it is served with a traditional sauce of fish sauce and thai chilies.
Way more fun than the silly Red Cross Fair. I’m not sure if you can see it, but the two glasses next to Suin and me with the yellow liquid is beer with ice. Because of the heat Thai’s always drink their beer with ice. Confused at first, now I 100% support this practice…but only in Thailand.
This was an emotional moment and my sarcastic humor doesn’t fit for this part of the story. This was a great moment, we shared food, drinks and after a while got onto the family stories. Some i knew, many I learned.
Towards the end Suin and Hyein started to speak in Korean so fast that I could not keep up with it and decided to go see the lady that made our delicious food that night. I asked her if i could take a picture of her hands working, she said only if i include her face with them…I see what you did there.
Isn’t this the most disturbing picture, like EVER? Those look like human hands…thank god they are just chicken feet. And no…we didn’t have any…this time.
Grand total for the night. I’m not sure if Suin and Hyein are tired or trying to hold back their tears. Eitherway, time to go home and get some rest.
Next morning – I present to you our breakfast, Guay Tiew Reua or River Boat Noodles. They are traditionally sold from boats on a river, but we just walked outside of the apartment to get some, no boats required. Have you noticed how all of our breakfasts start out with a nice bowl of soup/noodles? Yeah, no reason…no reason.
On the way to the taxi i got stopped for a quick interview about global climate change. The interview was conducted in English and recorded either for a whole class to see or just for them. Funny enough, one of the questions they asked: “How was the climate different from your generation to ours?”
Shit…these 18-year-olds think I am in different generation…is that true? Am i not one of them anymore?
The plan for the day was to go visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, but since we get up at noon we only managed to get there by 3:30 pm which an official closing time for foreigners. Instead we grab a tuk-tuk and headed to the river.
I know that everyone thinks that tuk-tuk are an essential part of the Thai experiences…sorry to disappoint you guys, but they are mostly for Falangs (Farangs – foreigners). With outside temperatures pushing low 100’s F (+35C) riding in open tricycle is less than enjoyable. They are smelly, probably not that great for the environment and expensive. For the same price you can take an air-conditioned taxi and ride in comfort.
Here is a NomadicYear Top Travel Tip – always ask the price BEFORE you get in your ride. If there is a meter ask them to use meter, if they refuse then you are getting ripped off. Move on to the next taxi, in a busy place you will not have to wait long.
The hour-long boat ride will take you through the Chao Phraya River and its numerous canals. The method of transport is a shallow bottom boat with an iconic V8 engine strapped on the back. The power from the engine is delivered to the propeller through a very long drive-shaft. This allows precise control of propeller depth and propulsion in extremely shallow water.
Mook and Suin – family, friends and amazing tour guides. During the ride you get to see people living on the canal, people selling knickknacks from small boats, kids playing on the water, houses on stilts, all very familiar. It’s just like Guna Yala in Panama, except the clothing is a bit different and the weather is cooperating.
The coolest part was when we bought some stale bread from an old man on the short and fed it to the fish. The water is so muddy that you cannot see more than a few centimeters below the surface. So when you throw the bread in the water and all of a sudden see huge fish start thrashing around, it comes as a bit of a surprise.
Given the muddy waters and general shape of the fish my expert conclusion is that these are catfish. Just to be more scientific, lets call them Asianus Felinipescarius.
Silly jokes aside, this was the best part of the boat ride. We got 6 loaves of bread for 20 baht and went through them in less than 5 minutes. Get 12, no screw it get 18 loaves and have fun, the fish will not stop eating until everything is gone.
The boat ride finishes on a pier next to Wat Arun, in Thai “Wat” means temple and “Arun” is Dawn. It’s also the temple pictured on the 10 baht coin. If i knew we were coming here i would have found a cleaner coin, but this is all we had we us, so deal it.
Whatever ideas you have about Thai culture you are both right and wrong. More on this topic later, but now we are entering a temple so no stripper poses for the ladies. Also, nothing to revealing, but if you forgot about this you can always rent something decent at the entrance.
This is the first Thai temple that we visited so it will stick out in our memory for a while. Unlike other temples, Wat Arun is made up mostly from intricately decorated towers and sculptures. Since we are in Thailand and not in Siberia, it is acceptable to have an outdoor only place of worship.
I guess this counts as a “church” picture, right?
So, lets see how this is different from a Christian church or a Hindu temple. Without offense to anyone, i hope. Okay, so Buddha is like Jesus H. Christ and is plastered all over the temple in all kinds of sizes from tiny figures to huge statues. The color scheme and tiered pyramid architecture much closer resembles the Hindu temples. And of course there is a bit of gold, but all the religions are guilty of this.
So why do i get a different feeling here? When entering the greatest Christian cathedrals of Europe and Americas you get a sense of awe, yes the original meaning of the word, before SoCal girls took it over. That sense of something greater than just yourself, from the high ceilings to the echos of ethereal vocals. You feel small in the presence of God.
On the other hand Hindu temples are a bit more practical, busy with worshipers coming and going. Smell of food, incense, flowers and your uncles sweat gives these temples a homey feel. A place where you are always welcome and will not be judged.
In the Buddhist temple, you instantly feel calm. The open sky above your head is the highest ceiling you can wish for. And unless the temple is a major tourist attraction with thousands of tourists, you feel peaceful here. The large towers, called stupas, with their large bases make you feel grounded on this planet as you still reach for something greater with the rising peaks. Even though it was hot, humid and i was tired, i felt at home here.
Just outside the temple you can have a bit of fun and dress up in traditional Thai dresses.
Managed to convince Suin to try it on, so we can take a family photo…for the parents 🙂
You are not going crazy, yes you saw this photo on Facebook already.
I remember that at this point i started to feel a bit dizzy, had to sit down for a few minutes and drink some water. Lugging the camera around, taking photos and enjoying the temple i completely forgot to drink water. In this heat that could be a very dangerous thing, luckily I’m not THAT old yet so 5 minutes of rest a bottle of water and i was back to normal. Please, please, please make sure to drink enough liquids.
Across the river by a ferry, 1 minute walk, 2 chicken butts and a few more bottles of water and you get to Wat Pho. This is a much larger temple than Wat Arun and will set you back 200 baht to enter. Also, the name has nothing to do with a tasty Vietnamese dish.
This temple is most well-known for their reclining Buddha statue. It’s the largest in Thailand and 3rd largest in the world, according to this source. So, why do we care if the Buddha is sitting, standing or lying down?
According to the religion, in reclining position Buddha is believed to be entering the state of Nirvana.
Also, building a large reclining statue is easier than a standing on from engineering viewpoint. Just make it longer and longer…like a wall.
Suin and Mook, taking a little break to catch on the latest snapchat news we were left alone to wonder around the temple.
Unlike Wat Arun, there are more buildings with actual interiors here.
Maybe it was the late hour or maybe we just got lucky but we were here almost by ourselves. With the setting sun reflecting off of the golden steeples and countless mirrors worked into the decorations, the buildings start to glow in the quickly darkening sky.
The haze that covers Bangkok’s sky during the day makes for some epic sunset, allowing you to look directly at the sun without hurting your eyes. I’m not sure what optical effects work here, but the sun is huge. It really quite hard to capture that feeling with a camera, so if anyone knows how to do it…please let me know.
After a quick rest at home, we headed out to Chinatown to eat some delicious food. Just like in Mexico and parts of South America, the streets are lined with restaurants as well as food stalls.
It was not physical hunger that was driving us, but the hunger for new tastes and experiences.
Although very simple, mango and sticky rice, is a delicious dessert to enjoy even after you have stuffed your face with a full dinner.
And our strange/weird/unusual dish for the day – bird nest soup.
It taste as good as it looks, disappointing. The actual nest has no taste and has a texture of squirmy jello. The broth, well it was so unoriginal, that i can’t even remember if it was sweet or savory.
Apparently this is medicinal dish and helps you with all kinds of problems, from digestion to fertility. Just remember that you are actually eating rehydrated bird saliva, that’s right, the nests are made from swiftlet’s saliva.
Honestly, tasted like nothing, would not eat again.
Next up – Koh Samui, the Thai Island Paradise.