Thailand – Outsider’s Guide to Songkran

bangkok, thailand, songkran


Man, are we behind on our posts or what? I’m sorry if the quality of the posts has gone down…actually i’m not. First of all, not much to go down from and second, we have been too busy having way too much fun in Seoul.

bangkok, thailand, songkran, khaosan road

Okay, so we left off on the last post looking at how the Thai’s celebrate Songkran in the rural parts of the country. A homely affair with nice people and fun attitude.

bangkok, thailand, songkran, khaosan road

Just this morning we flew back from Surat Thani and not wanting to miss out on all the Bangkok Songkran fun, went straight to the center. The main action is at Khaosan Road, yes the same place where we had insects on our first night in Bangkok, read more here – Thailand – Bangkok Insider’s Guide.

The police close Khaosan and surrounding streets for car traffic allowing people to enjoy the festival to the max. Since we didn’t have a trash bucket or a truck with us, we had to get a water gun. If you are like us and come unprepared, at all the entrances there are stalls that sell everything you need: water guns of various sizes, protective eyewear, water, ice water, beer, food…everything!

bangkok, thailand, songkran, khaosan road

If you decide to visit this area, please only bring things that you are okay with getting wet. By the time you leave, you WILL be soaking wet…no matter what.

bangkok, thailand, songkran, khaosan road

Unlike in Surat Thani, where i was the only Phalang (aka white person), almost a quarter of the people here are foreigners. You walk through the streets shooting water at anyone and anything you want. Try to avoid the face, especially the eyes, as it can hurt. I tried to be a dick and squirted some water into a dude’s beer…his friend retaliated and shot me in the face, hitting my left it. I have to say that the pain i experienced for the next 15 minutes…i definitely deserved.

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Once you run out of water, go into any of the bars and cafes on the side of the street. Grab some food, some beer, refill your gun and go out again.

bangkok, thailand, songkran, khaosan road

Music blaring from all the windows and when the beat drops, the crowd goes into a wild water spraying frenzy, shooting their loads all at the same time. Last year I had the pleasure of attending New York’s Central Park water fight and i would say that both events were on par. Except here, you could refill your beer glass and water gun, all without leaving the party.

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The has security check points to make sure people are not bringing…hmmm..guns, knives? I dunno, what but they are fully aware of this debauchery happening on the streets and don’t seem to be bothered by it.

People have no mercy and shoot the uniformed police officers who are still on duty…AND nothing happens, everyone smiles and moves on.

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Can you see Hyein in the middle of all those colors? While i was waiting for our food and drinks, Hyein went out and just started shooting people.

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And came back with the biggest grin on her face.

Surprisingly, the bars on this street did not raise their prices…so even with all this happening around, you could still get a decently priced meal.

Which Songkran did i like more, you ask?

Can I say both? They are just different. In Surat Thani you get to dump buckets full of water on people. But here you can have beer while shooting with the little pistol…you decide for yourself.

bangkok, thailand, thai food

If you are worried about getting back home completely wet…dont worry. If you think that now because you are all wet you have to take a tuk tuk? Nope, the cabbies are prepared for this and all the seats are wrapped in vinyl and the floor covered by rubber mats. Taking a tuk-tuk from Khaosan back to Salaya? Our clothes would get completely dry by the time get back.

Shower, a little nap and then all of a sudden its dinner time.

Suin, where are you taking us today?

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A German beer garden style restaurant with Thai food and imported German beer…how did you know that this is my favorite type of place?

Suin, you are reading my mind. Whoever thought of this establishment is a pure genius. “Lets take the best from both world…German beer and Thai food”… make sure not to switch those though.

And in response to the above photo: “Yes, Suin, i know your beer glass is empty, quit pointing to it, i’ll get you another one”.

bangkok, thailand, thai food, pineapple

Yum…food photos…that’s why you come here, right? Okay, ill break it down for you. On the left we got veggies, duh. Middle is called , which is one of my favorite dishes. It is shrimp fried rice served in a pineapple. I’m sure the creator of this dish was something stronger than banana leaves when they thought of this. And on the right we got , egg fried rice.

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And more delicious food. We got a blurry dish on the left called… and a chicken curry on the right. The final result…the food is great, the beer amazing…the price? Ouch, the most expensive place to date, probably because each beer is almost more than our usual dinner total.

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Check that photo out…there is definitely something too it. We try to capture mostly travel photos, but once in while get some pretty ones…mostly by accident. I have no idea what i’m doing with the camera.

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Buzzed after dinner and high on family love, we decided to raid the local store for a beer, dessert and snacks.

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Back at Suin’s house, where we usually end our night by sitting around a small table, drinking beer and sharing stories. Tonight we are blessed by the presence of this heavenly creature. At this point I should introduce some new characters in our story, please welcome April and her boyfriend Kohe. And this beautiful cat, Sky, is April’s little friend.

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When choosing to buy a dslr, i read that a lot of people end up buying one when they get a kid expecting amazing photos and getting some brown colored toilet paper. Mate, its not the camera’s fault. You just haven’t figured out the right setting for it. And as you can see, neither have I. I would group pets and kids in the same category of difficulty of photography. Both are very active, both refuse to sit and pose, both don’t understand English and both are very fast.

Oh and i forgot…given the opportunity, both will shit all over your house.

bangkok, thailand, street food

Another tough day in Thailand…i think today we just stayed at home and fixed whatever was aching them, we rested wrote a bit of the blog, got over the multiple day hangover and jet lag, caught up with world news. I personally did nothing and it was glorious.

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But at night, we feast. Tonight its Thai Street food in Salaya. Thats Kohe (left) and April (right). Look at that sexy blur on our faces…someone (me, its me) kept the camera in Aperture mode…which like totally, doesn’t work for this, duh!

bangkok, thailand, street food

I’m writing this from Seoul, the land of amazing food, and on top of that i just had dinner and STILL my mouth is watering at the sight of these dishes. I can’t even imagine what you guys are going through. And don’t pretend like this is not delicious, you know you are jealous.

We got soup, its spicy, sweet, sour…the best way to describe it is fresh. Then to the right we have… a meat dish with just the right amount of sauce and spice. And at the bottom we got…a deep-fried deliciousness that goes perfectly well with beer.

bangkok, thailand, street food

What regular street food looks like in Thailand. This is not a “fair, market or festival”, this is your everyday food for everyday people. Bunch of tables of the street, small stools to put your butt down and short menu to choose from. This happens to be Hyein’s favorite photo from the last few posts. Funny, how in just one post we got both of our favorites…isn’t that just the cutest? Excuse me…got carried away.

bangkok, thailand, street food

You know what is the funny thing about this photo? That all of these are just side dishes…our main course is not even here. I’ll tell you what it was – salt encrusted white fish grilled over charcoal. And the final total for the night for all of us with just a few drinks? 700 baht!

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In the morning…our mornings are most people’s lunches, we decided to meet up with Cherry, Hyein’s friend from Seoul. Man, i feel like a real novelist would introduce their characters better…but who am i kidding…this is just a travel blog. Okay, so Cherry studied in Moscow for a few years, before finishing college in Seoul and getting a job with Samsung. So what is she doing in Bangkok? The answer is studying Thai and becoming a regional specialist…wait but if she already studied in Moscow and speaks fluent Russian, why is she in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the answer will hurt my Russian pride…Thai’s are just nicer people. Ouch…that did hurt, but only if you don’t know Thai people and how awesome they are.

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So as part of her contract, she studies Thai language and culture for a year, then goes back to Korea to work at Samsung. Pretty sweet gig if you ask me. She does have to write professional reports once in a while, but then again she is staying in a nice apartment and getting paid.

Wait, I write reports…they may not be professional and come out whenever i wish…where is my apartment and play money? I feel sad now 🙁

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For legal reasons, lets just assume that Cherry had no idea where we are going and why we are going there…she just tagged along.

So mysterious, what are you guys gonna do?

Well, finally we are gonna explore the dark underbelly of Bangkok and go look for some street walkers with a third leg.

What??

bangkok, thailand, night, city, phat phong

Yes, the famous Phat Phong street.

bangkok, thailand, night, city, phat phong

Walking through the narrow street, filled with stalls selling knock off watches, clothes and other stuff you don’t need, you might think that this is the reason why people come down here at night…for the market. No, you are wrong. The market is a charade put on by probably the bar owners themselves…

“Wait…Bars?”

Just beyond the brightly lit market stalls are many bars that offer services not found anywhere else in the world. This place is mostly known for lady-boys, that’s a man who looks and acts like a woman, while still having all the male dangly bits.

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I have to report that we did not see any lady-boys while just walking on the street, and after a quick glance inside a few establishment decided that we don’t want to go in there. They were completely empty and we felt a bit awkward being the only ones there. So that’s a bummer.

But we offered the menu list you see in the photo more than a few times. Some of these are weird, but some of these are just making you wonder why would anyone wants to see such a thing.

bangkok, thailand, wat phra kaew, grand palace

Soon we will be leaving Bangkok, hopefully to return another time, but we still haven’t visited the famous Wat Phra Kaew temple in the center of the city. This is probably one of the biggest and prettiest temples that you can see these days. Everything is covered in gold and Chinese tourists.

bangkok, thailand, wat phra kaew, grand palace

I have to apologize right away for the content of the photos, if you see a cut off spire or part of the building…that’s because we don’t have a wide-angle lens on our dslr. The only lens we have is a prime 50mm…great for portraits, not so much for taking photo of large buildings from up close.

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So if you dont like our photos…send us a 35mm prime lens 🙂

Anyway, how is the temple? Hard to say, first of all if you are coming here dont forget to wear a long skirt if you are girl and long pants if you are a man. I obviously wore shorts, because it is 40C outside and had to borrow pants at the temple entrance. Just leave a deposit and you get it back when you return the pants.

That means that you are walking around in this heat in long pants that dont breath AT ALL.
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Hyein had to wear a cardigan to cover her arms and shoulders. I understand modesty, but it’s just too damn hot to be covering your skin.

In the background you have the Phra Si Ratana Chedi…a massive stupa completely covered in gold foil. The ambient heat and the color of the stupa make you feel like you are standing next to the Sun itself.

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Wow…i remember being hot…but i just look bad here. Not in an ugly way…more in a medical condition bad. Not a single piece of dry clothing on me.

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Inside the temple you are gently reminded that this is a religious institution and that Buddha is not just a brand name to be plastered over everything. You are not supposed to use Buddha head flower pots in your house or put his head on clothing. It might look cool, but very disrespectful and if you do decide to depict Buddha…dont just cut his head off, use the full figure. This actually reminds me a bit about Islam…where you are not allowed at all to make representation of Muhammad. Except the consequences and reactions are a bit different.

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When walking around the heat is not the only problem, i swear half of China decided to visit the temple on the same day we did. The spaces between buildings are not very large and huge crowds make them feel even smaller. Extra body heat and sweat make it hard to breath and easily create a feeling of claustrophobia.

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Thats the 50mm lens…i wanted to take the picture of the full building and Hyein, but there is not enough space to back up.

bangkok, thailand, wat phra kaew, grand palace

After the temple we moved on to the Grand Palace, which is basically in the same complex and doesnt require another ticket. Here the space between buildings opens a bit, allowing people to spread out.

bangkok, thailand, wat phra kaew, grand palace

This is good for us on two levels…finally dont have to smell other people’s sweat…just my own. And second, we can foot zoom far enough away to actually fit some buildings into our shots. bangkok, thailand, wat phra kaew, grand palace

I’ll try to summarize our experience with Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace.

It was very hot and sweaty. There were way too many tourists in the Wat to make it enjoyable, Palace was a bit better. The temple architecture is not that much different from the much less congested Wat Pho, so on our experience i would recommend going there instead. However, the Grand Palace was very pretty, I enjoyed the mix of European style architecture for the facade of the buildings with Thai traditional styled roof designs. Since i dont know if you can visit just the palace itself, i would have to recommend that you go visit them both. Do try to chose a cooler day. Got an idea…maybe if its raining it would be a perfect time to go since other tourists will try to stay inside? Plus the rain will only be a plus in this weather.

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Our last night in Bangkok, decided to skip the street food and go out in style.

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“The Most” a fancy beer bar with great food, good beer and pretty beer girls. These girls are not just your waitress, their job is to notice if your glass is empty and refill it for you, while being absolutely lovely and pretty. I don’t know what we did to upset our beer girl, but she just brought our beer tower and was never seen again…what a shame.

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The food was very good as always. I have to say that the only difference that i noticed between street food and this place is the presentation, the actual quality of the dishes is the same. And surprisingly even though it felt like we were eating in a fancy night club, we did not spend more than $15 per person.

We say good bye to our new friends. Thank you for the good times and dealing with us: Mook, Mo, April, Kohe, Jinyong, Pailin and Cherry. Without you it would have been just another place that we saw on the trip, because of you guys it became a home for us. No, we didn’t forget Suin, you know how much we appreciate everything and glad that I am part of your family now. Thanks for everything.

bangkok, thailand, wan and mou, world travel

Bright and early, we fly out of Bangkok to Chiang Mai. And guess what we see in the airport?

Yup, a wall-sized poster about Wan and Mou, two Thai world travelers. These guys did the whole world tour in 6 years on bicycles.

bangkok, thailand, wan and mou, world travel

That definitely makes me feel like a lazy ass, driving down the road in our comfy Land Cruiser. But this is a free world and we do what we want. Good for Wan and Mou though.

We walked around the whole exhibit, looking and guessing at the location of the photos. It was super fun to recognize the places just from the background. Since not a lot of people in Thailand do this kind of extreme traveling, they are well known and celebrated for their achievement. I’m pretty sure when we get back to the states, no one will be making a exhibit about us. And thats okay, we do this travel for us 🙂

Up next: Elephants in Chiang Mai.

7 Comment

  1. Andrey says: Reply

    You guys may want to consider getting an ultra-wide angle lens for your new SLR. I use 17-40 f/4 on my 5D during trips and it is my favorite lens for architecture, landscapes, and occasional portraits.

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Yes…im seeing why that is a good idea after that post. Architecture with a 50mm prime is HARD. Landscapes are okay. Portraits are amazing.
      Currently sizing up what would be good price/quality – no job and another 8 months to go you start to think about every dollar a bit different 🙂

      1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

        and is your email a Drosophila reference?

        1. Andrey says: Reply

          As to the lens, yeah, I also own 50 f/1.4 and 24-70 f/2.8. I pretty much stopped using them as my main lenses now. I have 17-40 on the camera most of the time and keep 50 f/1.4 in my camera bag just in case.

          Yeah, the email is a reference to a Mojave desert fruit-fly that I used to grow back in grad school 😛

          1. Andrey says:

            As to good price/quality vs no job for another 8 months: when else are you going to go on such a trip? 🙂 When I paid almost $3k for my Canon 5D while being a poor grad student I thought I was nuts. Now, looking back at the photos, I think it was one of the best purchases I have ever made.

  2. Макс says: Reply

    For large things I sometimes use Zenitar http://www.amazon.com/Fisheye-Zenitar-Lens-Nikon-Camera/dp/B0036WG2WE – you probably might pick it up for cheaper while in Russia. It’s a bit tricky since it is all manual, but often it does the trick. I also like its solid chugunium build (but mostly having smth made in Russia in my photo bag)

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      We will definitely look into the lens, i’ll hit up a camera store in Vladik. Leaving next Sunday, super excited.

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