Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Short Stop to Shop in Bangkok

The ride to the Thai border was full of bumps and swerves, but it didn't take too long, and while I had heard horror stories about how long the crossing could take, it really wasn't too terrible, aside from some strange characters hanging around the border.  As most border crossing transit seems to go, there were multiple vehicle transfers - our original bus left us at the Cambodian border, then we packed into smaller trucks for a ride to a random restaurant on the Thai side, then waited again for minivans that would take us the rest of the way to Bangkok.  

A 'colorful' truck at a rest stop just outside Bangkok - the driver wore a Burt Reynolds mustache and a leather jacket - 'Murica!

Thankfully we were able to fill up on delicious Pad Thai before continuing on, and a few of us had formed a little friendly group - myself, an English guy, a girl from South Africa named Zara, and an older gentleman from Japan - for the rest of the journey.  We were dropped off at Koh San Road, so Zara and I shared a taxi to the Sukhumvit neighborhood, marveling at the blue ribbons decorating everything for the Queen's birthday (which doubles as Mother's Day for the country) and observing that a return to the familiarity of Bangkok felt like a homecoming of sorts. 

For this short stay, I booked a room at the brand new Blocks Hostel in Sukhumvit, a few blocks from where Jimmy and I had stayed before.  I've grown to really like that neighborhood for its access to the Skytrain and delicious street food, as well as its distance away from the backpacker insanity of Koh San.  Blocks turned out to be wonderful, with some of the most comfortable bunk beds I would sleep in for the whole journey, and an incredibly friendly staff.  I celebrated my return that evening by heading straight to Soi 38 for a delicious papaya salad and a plate of crispy chicken rice - I couldn't have been more content.  I finished off the evening with a relaxing foot massage just around the corner from the hostel, a perfect return to Thailand.

Sukhumvit Soi 38, aka street food heaven

I only had one full day in Bangkok before jetting off to Hong Kong, and I certainly made the most of it with a packed shopping day.  Knowing I needed to mail back a piece of art I had bought in Siem Reap, I decided to check out the Chatujak Weekend Market for some souvenirs and gifts to add to the shipment home.  To my great surprise, as I was stepping off the Skytrain to go to the market, I ran into Zara again!  She and a friend were shopping together, so I joined them for the approach into the market - it was much bigger and busier than I remembered from my first visit nearly seven years prior!  We wound up splitting up, and I spent the next many hours getting lost in the endless maze of shops, picking up gifts for friends and family, and drooling over a Dali-inspired copper statue of an elephant that I could never afford.  Finally I sat down and had a very late lunch at a packed bar that was serving plates of paella of all things, freshly prepared in a giant pan by a chef with a Dali-inspired look himself.  

Mango-hat-wearing mango vendor at the market seems unimpressed

Spain in the middle of Bangkok

Somehow I ran into Zara and her friend again getting back on the Skytrain, and per their recommendation, I wound up paying H&M a visit at the massive Central World shopping center a few stops away.  I found a replacement for a skirt I had lost in Cambodia as well as a few items I decided I would need when I got back home!  Finally I escaped with all my purchases for the day, dropped them at the hostel, and walked a couple of blocks to Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant I had been wanting to check out that is known for incredible food and bizarre decor.  The restaurant supports AIDS awareness and prevention, as well as the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) for family planning and population management, and there are all sorts of decorations made from colorful condoms all around the restaurant space.  I arrived just before they closed, sitting down for a plate of Poo Nim Phad Pong Karl - deep fried soft shell crabs stir fried with vegetables in a yellow curry.  It was outstanding.  Alongside the beautiful garden space and the amusing condom-covered decor, it was a memorable evening!  I finished off the night with a full Thai massage before turning in for one final sleep in Bangkok.

I wound up having a bit of a hectic morning, as the nearby post office was closed for the Queen's birthday, and I suddenly had a large pile of purchases I really wanted to get off my hands before going to the airport!  Thankfully the hostel manager knew of another post office in Central World that was usually open on holidays, so I rushed to the mall, waited around until it opened at 10am, and ran inside to get the shipment put together.  Somehow I got everything mailed, returned to the hostel, grabbed my bags, and caught a cab by 11:15.  Thanks to the holiday, traffic wasn't too bad, and I made it to the airport in plenty of time to spend the rest of my Baht and get an exit row seat for my flight.  Next stop:  Hong Kong!!

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