Around 5:00 AM, the train pulls into the Bangkok station and I’m excited because the delayed departure didn’t affect my original plan.
As we pull into the station, reality slaps me in the face in the form of an odor that’s been brewing on my body for about 2 days now. It’s time to figure this out.
At the very least I’ll find a bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. I find a sign in the station that says bathroom/shower, so I’ve got the minimum covered. I’m mostly intrigued to see what they define as shower. To my surprise, and slight disappointment (for further adventure), the showers are actually quite nice and give a ton of room, so I decide to go for it.
In the shower box, I realize that I was so plagued by my decision whether to actually try it that I forgot to get soap. Since it’s 5am I’m not even sure where I could have bought some anyway.
The shower still feels really refreshing even if it is just a rinse. Now, I’m changed and ready to set out for China town.
I ask some sweepers on the street because they’re the only people out and I get pretty good directions. I also find that I’m able to speak Lao and the people still understand enough to hold a conversation. That makes sense to me in the northern part of Thailand because it’s so close to Laos and part of it used to be owned by Laos, but it surprises me it’s still this way down in Bangkok. Good thing because it would be a lot harder to do anything if I couldn’t speak to them at all.
I walk around the main street going through China town, but not inside the side street markets because of my back pack.
It’s the first day back to school and I’m happy to use a trail of students as my shield to make the seemingly non-stop stream of traffic come to a halt. The only issue is that I hang back to take the picture and have to run the last few steps as the traffic light goes green again and people come screaming off the line to see who will be the first to get the bonus points of running me over.
I keep walking to other places in the area I was told to see. I see a statue my friend said to take a look at, then go into the flower market.
Everyone is still setting a lot of it up, so it’s interesting to see them all before their beautiful touristy covers are ready. There’s also lots of fruit to look at, so I’m more than entertained. I walk to the nearby pier.
I’m surrounded by local Thai culture, with monks, people on their way to work, and Thai language being spat from every direction. I see a Starbucks that throws my brain into confused spirals. The blend of the Thai culture and the impending globalization a are fascinating.
At the pier I find a boat that takes people down part of the city. It seems that there are mainly three types of boats on the river. There are the barges delivering huge amounts of goods, tourist boats giving commentary of the scenery, and the boat Im on, which is full of locals on their daily commute. There’s a nice view of the Bangkok skyline along the way.
I get off at a main railway entrance to make some sort of a circle to go back up closer to the neighborhood where I’ll be meeting my host for the next few nights.
The doors for the metro open and it’s already packed with people, but I squeeze on anyway. I feel like I’ve seen these videos before in the crazy rush hour trains in China and Japan. I’m pressed up against everyone around me and try to keep and equal resistance back so I’m not squished back into the exit door. Oh great, I look over and there’s a big sign that says don’t lean of the door. I spin my bag to front and lean all parts of my body against the people to make sure I stay on the train car. I want to take a picture to document this, but that’s probably not the safest thing to do my first day in Bangkok.
I get off a few stops from my host and explore the main mall street of Bangkok. I go to one that claims to have a “trendy jet setter” theme, whatever that means.
Well I find out quickly that it means that there are 6 floors, each one dedicated to a different country. It sounds like an interesting idea, so I bite and decide to explore each floor. I could see this place would be amazing for those people who like international clothing designers. But, I could really care less, so I was more looking at the people around and of course the food. I think the French people would throw up if they see the Starbucks on their floor.
After leaving the mall, my feet are hurting again, so I sit on the side of the street and do more people watching.
Then, I walk down a famous street for new hip stuff and get pretty bored pretty fast. I do stop to eat a couple of delicious pastries and then move on.
It comes to 530, so I find the place I’ll be staying at with Emily, the couch surfer host.
I don’t have a SIM card for my phone here, my feet are just about worn out, and I keep being told to go back in the opposite direction I just came from when I ask people. At this point I’m wondering if the problem is her directions. Of course it can’t be my ability to follow directions.
A few streets over I find some geeky looking guy who speaks very good English. That pretty much hits on all the criteria I have for a good guide. I’m also relieved because he points at a skyscraper and says it’s that one. That’s much more tangible than “uhh yeah it’s just two more blocks that way.”
The nerd was right and to my relief I get to settle down a bit. As always, I was correct with the directions! She told me to look for a big sign saying life condo. The life condo sign only covers 98% the largest building face on the block. If it covered the whole thing, I’d still only give her half a point. It also only says life, no condo to be found … So, I feel my stupidity has now officially confirmed.
As I come into view, a black woman gets up at the same time and we catch each other’s glance, but I think it must just be a weird coincidence. Then she comes over behind me to walk in same two big front doors. My Imagination is now going wild and my James Bond instincts are kicking in.
I look in the reflection of the metal next to the door and can see her staring right at me. I did have a feeling that couch surfing was just a way to kidnap backpackers. Makes sense to me.
I wait until I hear the rippling of the wind past her outstretched karate chop directed at my neck to throw a deflection, secure my grip onto her arm, drop my knee, and flip her over my body, face first into the tile floor. Body guard number one, taken care of.
I come to from my day dream as she catches up to me and says my name and tells me she’s Emily’s friend. Okay, much less exotic than my daydream, but I’m glad I won’t have to use my Walther PP7.
Emily comes down and we immediately jump on the same wave length. We relax in her beautiful condo and she tells me about everything she owns and how I’m welcome to it all. We instantly share passions about traveling abroad and starting some kind of extended adventure from work. She tells me she has plans for dinner with some friends and hands me her condo key in the case we separate on the way back.
We go out to dinner with her henchman and another friend. The henchman, who I’ll call Ashley so I can stop beating the James Bond joke to death, asks if I want to take a motorbike and without hesitation I say yes. I thought she’d be driving for some reason, but quickly find out we’re taking a motorcycle taxi.
You can tell the motorcycle taxis as groups of people on the most busy corners in Bangkok who wear an orange vest with a yellow taxi sign on their chest. It’s a little more expensive than the car taxi, but I’m excited for the adventure.
I feel pretty confident with all the times riding motorbikes on the bad roads in Laos. This can’t be much worse than that, right?
The guy immediately shoots off and I nearly fly off the back of the bike. People in Laos don’t drive this fast from a dead stop. We cut through traffic and then come to a hard stop in the front of an impatient crowd of rush hour waiting for the light to change. The red lights here count down until they turn green again. That’s a terrible idea because at about 5 seconds left my guy lets off the breaks and we drift into the intersection. He checks both ways, to be a responsible driver, before he tears off through the soon-to-be green light.
This time I’m ready holding tight to the back of the motorbike. We pass Ashley and her bike like they’re standing still. We weave between cars on all sides of the lane, including the bike lanes on the shoulder. I speak Lao to him and tease him that he’s driving like a maniac. He laughs and says his friend is just slow. I’m not sure if he means his friend driving Ashley because everyone seems like they could fit the description of “his friend”.
White knuckled and windswept, we finally get to a side road and then find the place for dinner. That was terrifying and so dangerous, but way too much fun. I couldn’t imagine telling one of these guys I’m in a hurry, he might press a button that springs wings. I’ll save that for next Bangkok trip.
We eat Mexican, margaritas, and then go to a rooftop bar that has free drinks for woman every week. Damnit, I knew when I was getting rid of my stuff in Laos I should’ve held onto my dress.
We go up so high in the elevator that my ears pop. This is the real deal. I quickly shuffle to the deck where I hope no one will see the plaid shorts I’m wearing. The view is beautiful and the rest of the night consists of great conversation and travel stories. This right here makes couch surfing worth it.