When booking travel, I have a bad habit of searching the depths of the Internet until it cannot be searched anymore. This time, my efforts paid off when I discovered an awesome deal on two one-way tickets for our journey to Bangkok from Busan. After a year of extensive travel, we had built up enough miles for business class tickets to Bangkok. Even more awesome: the “cash” value of that ticket combined with a regular fare return on Korean Air (still awesome) was equivalent to the price a round trip!
Business class is a totally awesome way to kick off a trip, and believe me, a real treat for us. The only other time I’ve ever flown business class was when we moved over, on the company’s dime.
The real excitement for this trip, though, was meeting up with our dear travel pals Erin and Eric. I could go into the long but awesome story about how we met (which Eric tells everyone he possibly can when we’re together), but the important part is that we’ve traveled in five countries together over the past four years. And, we’ve got another country to add in the next couple of months!
Having been separated from our dear friends for over a year, you can imagine the excitement that erupted when we knocked on their door at the Sheraton Grande upon our arrival. We were ready to kick off our Christmas adventures in Thailand, and were hit with a challenge right off the bat.
Bangkok isn’t Bangkok without a drink from a rooftop bar with great views. Our Lonely Planet guidebook pointed us to the Vertigo and Moon Bar, located at the fancy Banyan Tree Hotel. It was a bit of a challenge getting there on public transportation from our hotel, but we were willing to forgive for a place to rest our feet and a delicious beverage.
When we arrived, the really pricey Vertigo restaurant was “full” (nearly empty) unless you had a reservation. We were really just there for drinks and appetizers anyway, so we took our chances at the standing-room only bar and paid for an overpriced drink. At that point we were incredibly hangry from trying to find the place, which was not made better by the tiny bowl of nuts we had to steal from a passing cart. Thus, when the host came over and said a table had “magically” opened up, we relented to ordering from their set menu because none of us wanted to put in the effort to find another place to eat.
Despite the rocky start, the views were truly beautiful and the food, which came with wine pairings, was pretty delicious. They even took a group photo and gave it to us in a frame to keep.
Following our unintentional fine-dining experience, we were ready to meld with true Bangkok cuisine and culture the next day. We had full schedule of adventure ahead, including a bike tour and an evening food tour on a tuk-tuks, a vehicle synonymous with Thailand itself.
The first stop of our bicycle tour with Follow Me was a really unique site. Of all the things I thought we’d see in Bangkok, this sure was not on the list. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good shot of the gorgeous Bangrak fire station’s exterior, so I had to grab the one below from the interwebs.
Built in 1890 under the direction of King Rama V, this was originally the customs house of Bangkok, the gateway to Thailand if you will. An Italian architect designed it, which is why it may look a bit out of place in an Oriental city. They moved the customs office in 1949, at which point the building became the new home of the Bangrak fire brigade. It has been the backdrop for multiple films.
Interestingly, the firefighters who serve this area of the city also live in the building with their families. Considering the aesthetic glory of the building, it’s hard to believe, but the interior is more like run-down subsidized housing.
After an interesting start, our tour, which included hideously awesome lime green hats, took us through many different parts of Bangkok, including a trip on a ferry across the river, which reminded me of our vespa tour in Vietnam.
Any tour in Bangkok would be remiss without a stop at some sort of Buddhist temple. The first place we stopped was a Chinese-inspired temple with some beautiful coloring, set in a seemingly random spot of the city.
Later, we visited a glorified, huge golden Buddha inside Wat Chakrawat. Here we learned how to fold a lotus flower offering and rang the humongous outdoor gong/bell for good luck.
Overall, the bike tour was a great way to see sites outside of the typical Bangkok tourist experience. For another unique and more local experience, later that evening, we took off in tuk-tuks on the Best Eats Midnight Tuk-Tuk Tour with Bangkok Food Tour, hopes set high on discovering authentic Thai food.
Our tour kicked off with a visit to a public plaza, where there was a beautiful temple/statue set up next to a traditional Thai dance performance. Then it was on to try some chicken and rice with a purple jelly-type dessert.
While the food on the tour was good, I don’t remember anything blowing my mind, which may be why I can’t even remember the names of anything we tried or places we stopped. Shame on me for taking 7 months to write this! Anyway, we were really focused on the fun of weaving in and out of city traffic and nightlife in a tuk-tuk. Priorities.
Between stops for food, we got a private night tour of Wat Pho, a temple known for its “reclining Buddha” statue. The complex is really beautiful all lit up against the dark sky. Until they turn the lights off while you’re there, indicating it’s closing for the night.
Our last food stop had a really impressive chef that played with fire.
Throughout our travels in Asia, we have found that any restaurant hosting lots of locals seated in plastic chairs on the sidewalk proves to be a delicious option. This place was just that. I remember everyone choosing what type of phat thai they wanted, I think the options involved a choice of heat and a choice of egg. All of it was yummy, and something we probably wouldn’t have found on our own.
At some point, we also climbed some serious stairs through a random B&B which ended up having a rooftop bar with amazing views of the city at night. Probably a cheaper menu than the Banyan Tree, although since we only had drinks, I can’t attest to it. On the other hand, the strong smell of weed indicated it might be a good place to “relax”, if you will.
I’ve got some fun video footage to put together on these tours, but in the spirit of more frequent blogging, those will have to wait until another day. Stay tuned for our next day in Bangkok, which may or may not have involved waking up with face tattoos, a chain-smoking monkey and a severed finger! 😉