As our two weeks in Hoi An came to a close, Kelly and I were both looking forward to heading home. We probably weren’t in the best frame of mind to tackle a city the size of Bangkok, but we did our best. We had two full days set aside for this city of 5 million people. We splurged on a nice hotel right on the river. This gave us access to the river walk and beautiful views from our balcony. But, as with most of Southeast Asia, Bangkok suffers from pollution. Debris floating in the river and smoggy skies made for very hazy views with the sun struggling to burn through. We did find a great Pub with live music just a 5 minute walk down the river from our hotel where we enjoyed dinner and a cold craft beer.
On day one we bought a day pass on the hop on hop off tourist ferry that made its way up and down the river. This proved to be a good choice and a bargain at about $8 a ticket The Chao Phraya River runs through Bangkok and provides easy access to many of the tourist sites. We caught the ferry just a block from our hotel and enjoyed a relaxing view of the city from the river. We hopped off at Chinatown and wandered through the crowded market streets/alleys and only had to avoid a few motorbikes making their way through the crowds. A little like walking through a crowded shopping mall at Christmas and every once in a while a motorcycle zips through the crowd. We hopped back on the ferry and then off at the Royal Palace where we walked to the Wat Pho temple to see its famous reclining Buddah. The architecture and statues are truly amazing. But….after six weeks of temples and golden Buddahs these travelers had lost a bit of their awe and wonder for Buddhist temples but it was beautiful and worth the effort to see.
After a day of wandering the city in 95 degree heat and 90% humidity we headed down to our hotel bar to enjoy happy hour and the two for one deal on cold adult beverages only to find that the country was celebrating the Buddhist holiday of Makha Bucha, I am not sure what is celebrated on this holiday but in my mind it can’t be much of a celebration as no alcohol can be purchased anywhere in the country. So rather than happy hour we enjoyed sad hour, sipping sparkling water. This may have led to my lower enthusiasm for Buddhist temples.
Day two we joined an evening Tuk Tuk tour of Bangkok. We started with a stop at the Golden Mount which ended up being closed as the King was visiting, not the best start. The tour which we booked through TripAdvisor was good, but not great. It was a bit unorganized and our guide was nice but seemed to be just going through the motions. I would say it was a good way to see the city at night but don’t expect to be wowed. We had stops at a beautiful temple and dinner at a street food stall in Chinatown, followed by a walk through the Portuguese community with its Catholic Church and a stop and the huge Bangkok Flower Market.. We finished with a walk down Khao San Road, the famous party street where you can snack on Scorpions or stop by a bar serving laughing gas. A wild scene even at our early hour tour of 9PM. A big bonus of a night tour of Bangkok is that temples and buildings appear much clearer for photographs as the buildings are lit up and the smog is not.
With six weeks in Southeast Asia behind us I had time to reflect during our 15 hour flight home, actually 24 hours of travel as we left our hotel around 9 AM and touched down in LA 24 hours later. I liked but did not love Southeast Asia. I would recommend going but I don’t know if I will return.
I wouldn’t avoid it if my travels took me back to that part of the world but I have the feeling that I have been there, done that. I know I would do it differently if I had to do it again. I would certainly ask anyone who is going “what exactly do you hope to see and do”? In other parts of the world I would say that the journey is equal to if not better than the destination. I did not feel that way in Southeast Asia. The destination was the only thing that really interested me. If you like beach time, go to a resort where affordable luxury will give you clean beaches, clean water and good food. Checking out a dozen different beaches will probably leave you disappointed. Nature provides the best sites in Southeast Asia so get to the National Parks. City sight seeing is mostly temples and Buddhas which get old pretty quickly.
I really thought I might fall in love with Thailand and expected to find a less expensive Hawaii with great food. But in my mind it fell short. Flying home I watched the new George Clooney/Julia Roberts romcom “Ticket to Paradise”. Its entertainment, not history. A fun and entertaining watch but it led me to the conclusion that my expectations of Southeast Asia were formed by Hollywood. I have long felt that people’s perceptions are overly influenced by Hollywood. I know this may come as a shock, but the American West is not accurately depicted in a John Wayne movie. Its entertainment, not history.
Stupa, burial mounds