Bangkok has to be one of the most touristy places on Earth. So much, in fact, that many seasoned travelers avoid it alltogether. That’s a mistake though: as fellow traveler Matt puts it, dismissing Bangkok is like skipping Paris because everyone wants to see the Eiffel Tower. With that in mind, we set out to discover Bangkok and ended up with four memories that made the couple of days we spent there unforgettable.
The first one is Thai people. During this trip we felt welcomed in many many places, but we’ll hold a special place for Thailand. Take the wai, for instance: it’s hard to think of another greeting that transmits such kindness. One may be cynical about it and argue that this warmth is superficial, fueled by the big part that tourism plays on Thailand’s economy. Our personal experience suggests it runs much deeper than that: for instance, the first time we set foot on a public bus, and as soon as it became painfully obvious we had no idea how things worked, the whole bus helped us. One young lady even got out with us to make sure we catched the correct connecting bus. She was a medical student, and we ended up chatting the whole way about Thailand, the Thai Royal Family, and the apparently puzzling notion that Portugal has no royal family.
The second memory we’ll hold close to our chest is company. Just like in Japan where we were lucky enough to enjoy the company of my cousin André, our Thailand trip was planned together with three Portuguese friends: João, João (I know, Portuguese need to be more original with names) and Alexandra. We barely knew each other (the first João is a longtime friend, but the first time we set our eyes on the other João and on Alexandra was in Bangkok), but we ended up spending some of the most memorable days of this trip with them. What makes a great traveling companion? It seems you don’t need to know them that well, and I don’t think it’s common interests either: some of us are chatty, while others are reserved; some are into strenuous activities, others prefer a relaxing massage. I would venture that the single most important thing you need to enjoy traveling with others is flexibility. Flexibility works in two different ways: on the one hand, it entices you to try different things or to do things a little differently that what you would normally do. On the other hand, it gives you the freedom to split when you really want to do something different and regroup with the bunch later on. Thank you Alexandra and João & João, see you on the next trip!
Onto the third memory: street food. Urged on by our more adventurous travel companions, Jules and I threw caution to the wind and ended up trying a bunch of different street food. Out of sheer luck, or perhaps a stomach toughened up by these four months of traveling, the Imodium pills remained unused and we ended up having some delicious stuff. Personally, I became a big fan of roadside Tofu Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice!
Last but not least, our fourth memory will keep some magical places in Bangkok. Let me emphasize “some”, because as a whole Bangkok is one chaotic mess where rush hour seems to go from 8AM to 8PM, and you really have to look for them. Firstly, there’s the classics: the Wat Pho Buddhist Temple (best known for its 46 meter long Reclining Buddha, but the whole complex is well worth a visit), a boat ride on the Chao Phray river (avoid the expensive tourist scenic rides and just catch a commuter boat together with the locals), and a tuk-tuk ride (Lewis Hamilton has nothing on these guys). Then, there’s the more off the beaten path stuff (just slightly so: with a population of 6 million and 15+ million visitors per year, you’ll never be alone in Bangkok). The Jim Thomson House was built from six traditional river Thai houses and showcases the art collection of Jim Thomson, an American businessman credited with revamping the Thai silk industry. Ayutthaya, situated about 80km from Bangkok, was once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam and a prosperous trading port until being destroyed by the Burmese army in the 18th century. The ancient city ruins are nowadays a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offer a glimpse of the old capital’s splendor. Of special interest for us was also the fact that the Portuguese were the first westerners to come in contact with Ayutthaya, and the city included a Portuguese settlement of over 3,000.
In the next post, Jules talks about our journey north to Chiang Mai, with a stopover at Sukhothai. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures!