Wednesday, 18-02-2015—Thursday, February 26, 2015.
Day 182—Day 190.
We had nine more days in Thailand (three in Chiang Mai and six in Bangkok) before we moved on to India. On none of these days did we do anything that warrants a stand-alone post, so we're just putting them all right here. (And if you're thinking that's a totally obvious way to catch up on these entries, you'd be spot on.)
Chinese New Year
So we didn't do a thing on day 182, but on day 183, which was the first day of the Chinese New Year, we walked up to Chinatown to take in the 13th Chiang Mai Chinatown Festival. It was a bustling scene, and we had an enjoyable time looking at all the stalls selling the usual collection of trinkets and food (including freshly roasted quail and plenty of fried insects).
But we resisted a steaming helping of fried water bugs. Instead, we wanted to eat lunch at SP Chicken, a well-renowned spot on the other side of town. So we hailed a tuk tuk driver and asked him if he knew where the place was. He did not (of course), so we picked a nearby temple and asked him drive us to that, from where we walked over to SP Chicken. It lived up to expectations.
The tuk tuk drivers in Chiang Mai seem perpetually confused. Although we had a piece of paper with our address on it, many were perplexed by it. None of them knew where the subdivision we were staying in was. So I started carrying a map. I'd point to a location on the map near our apartment, figuring that would do the trick. But tuk tuk drivers would always insist on an address. So I'd show them them the slip of paper with our address and they'd still be perplexed and would usually have to call over another driver or two for a consult. Eventually we'd get there, but every time I was amazed that no one would just take us to a spot on a map.
And that was it. Sooner than we liked, our time in Chiang Mai was over. It had been a relaxing few weeks, but we had to catch a plane back to Bangkok on the morning of day 184.
Back to Krung Thep
We were staying at a nice Airbnb apartment in the trendy Aree district of Bangkok. The place had some decent wi-fi, too, although the SSID was named 'pornchan' (it worked great, so we didn't ask). We spent the afternoon getting settled in and exploring the neighborhood a little bit. The next day, we'd be exploring the market.
Chatuchak (Jatujak) Weekend Market
The Chatuchak Weekend Market was just one BTS (Bangkok's elevated train, called the sky train) stop down the line from where we were staying, so we had to check it out. It's the largest weekend market in the world, filling something like 27 acres of shops and more than 15,000 booths and stalls. It's only open every Saturday and Sunday, and it's pretty impossible to see the whole thing in a day. But we did our best.
Our favorite part, aside from Ramazan Kebeb that served up piping hot döner kebabs, was an artists alley section filled with small stalls and shops displaying original artwork, mostly paintings, from local artists. This was a thousand times better than the Artist Village (Semar Kuning) in Ubud. We bought a few things, mostly clothing to replace items that had been outgrown or were falling apart, but mostly we wandered around, looking at all the amazing stuff for sale.
One of our favorite stalls was a woman who made wallets from real currency. We wanted a Chilean Peso wallet (for Bernardo O'Higgins, of course), but she didn't have that one..
For dinner, we walked over to Jim's Burgers. It was busy and we had to wait about half an hour to get a seat, but it was worth the wait. They sold decent beers (though expensive) and served up some tasty (and large ) burgers. But as good as it was, it wasn't as good as Echo Burger in Chiang Mai.
A New Debit Card!
One day we met Samantha's friend Taya and her husband for lunch. They were there for a wedding, and they were kind enough to have brought my replacement debit card with them. Yes, it took two months to get a replacement debit card from Charles Schwab. After activating it, we went out to try to (finally) get some cash. And guess what? That's right, it didn't work.
One day we ventured our to Terminal 21, a nine-level mall where each floor is decorated in the trappings of a different city, like the Carribbean (okay, not a city), Paris, Rome, Tokyo, London, Istanbul, San Francisco (the only city with two floors because it's the food court), and Hollywood (the movie theater, of course). Like most of the rest of the city, the mall as celebrating Chinese New Year and the ground floor had a lot of Chinese-style food stalls that reminded us of our walk down Beiyuanmen Muslim Market in Xi'an, China.
We explored each floor and enjoyed some time among the teddy bears of Mr. Jones' Orphanage before heading back to Aree.
On the Chao Phraya River
On our last full day in Bangkok, we decided we were finally going to ride the Chao Phraya river. There's a boat, called the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat that offers an full-day pass for 150 baht and hits something like 11 different piers along the river. So we took the BTS down to the river and got on a boat.
In the end we lost a little money on the day passes. The boat is about 40 baht per ride, so you need to make at least four stops to make the 150 baht day pass pay off. As it was, we only used three. Jackie was free, though, so I'm not going to feel bad over losing 30 baht, but it was a good reminder to carefully consider the value that you get in an all-day pass.
It was fun speeding down the Chao Phraya, which is a really busy river. We saw all sorts of transport boats and commercial boats, but the most fun to watch were the long-tail boats with their huge engines and long propellers that kicked up a plume of water behind them as they zipped along.
We wanted to visit Wat Pho and the Royal Palace, two places we'd missed on our first tour of Bangkok, so we got off at the appropriate pier and started walking toward Wat Pho, home of the famous reclining Buddha.
So when we said Bangkok is hot in earlier posts, it was all practice for today. This was one hot, humid day. So while we walked over to Wat Pho, we didn't go in, mainly because the idea of wearing long sleeves and long pants felt insufferable. And we'd seen so many temples in the past month, it's safe to say we were suffering from temple burn out; for better or worse, the idea of visiting a temple, even of seeing the reclining Buddha (as amazing as it probably is), was no longer compelling. So instead, we looked at the spires from the outside for a little while and then headed over to the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace
There's only one entrance open to the public, and there was no respite from the sun as we walked around the compound, past some sort of protest, to get to the front gate. We were a collection of sweaty messes by the time we got there.
Like any temple in Thailand, proper dress is required to enter the Royal Palace grounds. There's a woman sitting at a folding table just inside the gate telling people they're not dressed properly and pointing out their clothing malfunctions on a nearby posted chart. There was another woman, who was kind of a pushy guide wrangler, telling people the same thing, but I don't think she worked for the palace.
We opted out of visiting, mainly because of the oppressive heat and because there were so many people pushing and shoving, it would have been a miserable experience. So we snapped some photos and trudged back to the pier, seeking respite in small spots of shade along the way.
We got on the wrong boat on the way back, which wasn't a big deal, except that it stops at every pier, whereas the tourist boat only stops at certain piers. So it took a little longer to get back, but that was okay; compared to walking on the streets, the boat was nice and cool. On the way back to the first pier, we passed under the Rama VIII bridge, so we got a neat perspective of this iconic bridge.
Once we were off the boat, we took the BTS back to our apartment and had our last dinner in Thailand at Salt Smoke, another burger joint in Thailand (seems to be a theme in Aree), this one a small offshoot of Salt, a popular restaurant in the area.
Off to India
For our flight to India, we were flying out of Suvarnabhumi Airport instead of Don Muang International Airport. So we got a taxi at the apartment and took the freeway (this meant we payed extra baht for the tolls, but it was a lot faster way to get through town at 4:30 p.m.) to the airport. Our flight didn't leave until almost 9:00 p.m., so we weren't quite looking forward to hanging out in the airport for four hours, but when traveling you sometimes have to make do.
After we checked in to our flight, we walked into the concourse and saw the giant statue (a number of statues, actually) from a scene out of the epic story Churning of the Sea Milk, which is also depicted on the walls of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, so that was a nice bit of cultural synergy.
Somehow, my wife had booked us (at no additional cost) in premiere class on the Jet Airways flight to India. This meant a faster line to get through immigration and the security screening and earlier boarding.
It also meant we were given passes to the Thai Royal Air Lounge, which was quite civilized and solved our dilemma of what to do in an airport for four hours. We chilled out there until it was time to board the plane. By Midnight, we were in Delhi, India.