One extremely short week after we returned from our New Zealand adventures and I was heading back to the states while Adam started his last few months in Melbourne. On my way I made a side stop in Thailand to meet up with a girlfriend (one of “The Others” who will be known as “A”) as we were both eager to make the most of the ridiculously expensive one-way flights.
When did this become my life?
For some reason A. and my respective husbands thought it would be a great experiment to send both of us on our first solo travel trips to the underbelly of Thailand known as Bangkok. I was pumped. Tuk-Tuks will be ridden. Bugs will be eaten. Tigers will be played with. Monks will be sighted.
There was something oddly entrancing to me about the prospect of being amongst the chaos of millions of people, dirty streets, and questionable water purity. I had a sneaking suspicion that I would get a lot of enjoyment out of the things a lot of people warn you about – crooked cabbies, hostile shop vendors, wild-wild-west road systems.
And I was right.
My first taste of this ‘no rules just right’ mindset comes mid-10 hour flight when some idiot decides to have a ciggy in the bathroom…have you not flown in the past 30 years? Because I’m pretty sure smoking in flight has been illegal since the late 70’s. Luckily the pilots entered into the no rules airzone too as they decided to not follow FAA procedure (yea, I know, I was on an Oz plane…but still) and continue on without making an emergency landing.
After getting through customs, trying out my rehearsed “So-what-dee-kaa” (Hello!) and locating the taxi stand I am in the Land of a Thousand Smiles flying down the freeway (on the left side of the road! what?!) with no seat belt heading towards the city center.
Can I just say that meeting a friend somewhere foreign is a surreal, fun filled experience. I’ve never felt more glamorous than when I was stepping out of my cab, sticky and sweaty from the 100% humidity (at 9:30 PM mind you) dropping my bags off to give a hug to a friend who, by the way, I only met because I lived in Australia for a short while.
Again I ask…when did this become my life?
Off we go to take on Bangkok – first order of business is to get some food and beverages and then explore the local night market. The money feels so foreign I’m afraid to spend any of it. Luckily my friend was enthusiastic about getting me fully immersed in Thai culture immediately which started with a purchase of Chang beer, vegetable thai rice and a pair of red Ray Ban knockoffs all to the tune of 400 Baht…aka 12 dollars. I think I can get the hang of this.
We were yelled at, chased, offered chances to see seedier shows only found in Bangkok, and millions of Tuk-Tuk, Taxi and Motorbike rides. There were noises everywhere, smells everywhere, people everywhere. You learn to not be phased when someone brushes past you, you learn that traffic doesn’t stop for you, and you pick up this knack of saying ‘no’ with conviction all while keeping a smile on your face…all in about 30 minutes. The learning curve is steep but quick.
The next morning we head out to see some of the more popular tourist destinations – the temples and grand palace. It was only after we figure out the taxi boats and are jetting down the Chao Phraya river that we realize the stops aren’t numbered and the names are two feet long in Thai characters. Oh well, This Is Thailand. (This became our favorite phrase, the unfortunate acronym…well, it just made it funnier). Unsure of when to use said phrase?? Here are some examples:
Us: The water taxi is supposed to be 10 baht.
Ticket lady: 15 baht for water taxi.
Us: But the sign says 10.
Ticket lady: *blank stare with hand held out*
Us: This is Thailand *shrug shoulders and fork out another 5 baht*.
Me: Hey A., check out that dude puking on the side of the street in this major intersection next to all of those motor bikes!
A: …This is Thailand *shakes head*.
Anyway, we make to our first stop – the Grand Palace – and immediately are called out by the palace guards that we will have to go borrow clothes before we can enter the palace because our shoulders were showing. Nevermind our miniskirts, but those shoulders have got to go. We then were entertained for 30 minutes as this same guard hilariously called out tourists for denim shorts, socks pulled up (sir, you need pants! not socks!), tube tops (ma’am, you must cover! cover!) all in the nicest voice with the most pleasant smile.
Finally we reach the palace (complete with oversized tshirt) and meander around taking in the beautifully ornate architecture, design and colors. Oh the colors of this place! We venture into every open temple we see, taking off our shoes at each entrance and trusting to Buddha that no one would steal them while we were inside. It was beautiful seeing tourists and locals alike sitting quietly inside a temple, so dark and quiet even with the buzzing energy of thousands of bodies moving about, shuffling into a seated position, getting up to leave, lowering their foreheads to the floor in prayer. Flowers were also everywhere to be offered to Buddha, and candles, and gong ringing. The rituals were astounding; both chaotic and regimented. No set time for anything, leaving us tourists the awesome chance to see the country’s religion at work.
Feeling a bit sunned out (holy goodness this was a new level of heat) we grabbed a quick lunch and iced espresso before heading across the river to Wat Arun – a beautiful Temple complex housing golden Buddhas, shrines, and a crazy steep staircase offering stunning views along the Chao Prhraya river. Skirts, while definitely the go-to attire for temple visiting, weren’t so great descending stairs. With no hand rails. With gusting winds. And a creepy tourist standing at the bottom. The entire time.
We rushed back to the river to grab a taxi and experience a high tea at the Shangri-La for sunset before heading back to freshen up and hit up the Sky bar that evening.
I highly recommend SkyBar to anyone who is in Bangkok – the views are simply breathtaking (as are the ฿1000 cocktails). Afterwards we hit up the night market one more time before calling it a night – after all, we had an early morning date with Tigers the next day.
Tigers. We were actually on our way in a private cab (we negotiated this one the previous night) 2 1/2 hours outside of Bangkok to pet and play with tigers. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe it.
After signing a waiver we are in, nervously making our way through the outdoor complex. Once we gathered our nerves and calmed down we followed the workers instructions and started petting tigers, getting our pictures taken with each one. We walked a massive tiger (via leash, mind you) down to their exercise paddock known as Tiger Canyon. After going around again patting the sleepy tigers it was our time to go feed the tiger cubs.
Cue life changing moment and once in a lifetime experience. We spent over an hour holding, cuddling, feeding and pouncing around with 3 and 7 week old tiger cubs. This was by far the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. Being so close and personal with creatures that would later top 500 lbs and be able to rip you to shreds…there are almost no words to describe the feelings I had.
Awesome and Unbelievable…those two were used a. lot. But mostly it was just smiling like goons the entire time.
After tearing ourselves away from the tiger cubs we were back in our luxury cab (old school mercedes, gangsta included) and heading towards the River Kwai where we grabbed some dinner and a much needed iced espresso. Even in sight of the Bridge (yes, the Bridge over the River Kwai) we couldn’t stop talking about our day with the tigers. Most definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
We’re not sure if it was the tigers, or sheer exhaustion of being in the heat all day at an elevated level of excitement, but we were delirious with laughter almost the entire ride home. Our poor driver got to listen to girl chatter and shrieks of laughter for 3 hours…he definitely earned his ฿3000.
After ordering a Thai staple (i.e. room service spaghetti) we crash hard looking forward to our flight to Phuket the following morning…