Once we arrived in Suvanarbhumi Airport, I realized that three years had hardly seemed to have passed since I’d been in Thailand. The signs, sounds, and smells of Thailand all felt very familiar. Bangkok, however, is almost a separate culture of its own in Thailand. With a population of over fourteen million people wedged on about a 600 square mile space, Bangkok makesNew York City look like a mere pit of a big apple.
Time passed unusually quickly for our twenty eight hour trip to the other side of the planet. Once I set foot on land, however, time moved at a snail’s pace. It suddenly hit me that my body hadn’t laid horizontal for about two days. Somehow, for me, even six straight hours of sleep on a flight cannot replace a bed with big pillows. It was 7:10 am in Bangkok, and I couldn’t wait to sink my body onto a real bed. The process of waiting in line for customs and obtaining our thirty-day Visa on arrival seemed to take hours, although in reality, it was no more than about twenty-five minutes. Once I received my Visa, I picked up my luggage, went to the ‘hong-nam’ (toilet, but I must start using my Thai now!), and met up with the other women to walk together to ‘Gate B’ to meet our guide who would escort us to our driver to transport us to our hotel. As I lugged my big purple suitcase along with my black backpack and my yoga mat bag over my shoulders, I looked over at two of my former students who are traveling with me – Anne and Anna. They each had only one rather small bag! I had a moment of envy as I lugged my cumbersome luggage. No matter how many times or how far I’ve traveled, I still cannot seem to lighten my load that small. I always have numerous ‘what if’s’ when packing and end up not using half of what I brought. Still, I knew I’d be grateful for my yoga mat, insect bite remedies, vitamins, and excessive pairs of underwear when I’d be immersed in the tropical 95 degree (F) or higher temperatures. I was anxious, though, to unload my belongings. All I wanted was a bed.
As we looked for a sign with the travel agency’s name on it, we eventually found a woman with a sign that simply read ‘Amy Warcup.’ I figured it was a good guess that she was referring to me! We joined her, and she greeted us cheerfully as we made small talk and she asked us what our plans for our trip would be. After she directed us to our taxicab van, we excitedly hopped on board. We made it! This was not a fantasy anymore. We were really in Thailand!
Aside from the excessive traffic and large billboard signs written in both Thai and English, we knew we were in Thailand as soon as we looked at the sign above our seats.
One of my favorite silly pleasures when I travel to Asia is reading the signage. I also find myself wondering what our signs in the U.S. would look like if we dared to attempt writing in Thai. So much must undoubtedly become lost in translation between a tonal language with characters and a Roman language with letters. No matter now humored I get, I always appreciate the effort the Thais make to accommodate the tourists in their country.
Each time I visited Bangkok in the past, I always stayed in the city’s Bangrak neighborhood, – a wild, exciting, bustling neighborhood that carries contradictions of tradition and unconventionality, purity and sin. On one corner one may find a temple lined with monks, statues of Buddha, and prayer offerings, and walk only one block up to find an array of strip clubs and bars with explicit names, awaiting to fulfill any foreigner’s naughty Bangkok fantasy. It is also home to the famous Patpong night market, which is large,crazy, and exciting, but also very crowded and overwhelming at times.
This time, however, we stayed in the Sukhumvit neighborhood, which is described as being one of Bangkok’s hottest strips of real estate with the widest choices of restaurants to dine at in the city. My first impression of the neighborhood was that it is most definitely designed for the foreign traveler. On our little side street (‘soi’) alone, one can find a Starbucks, German Restaurant, British Pub, and several Thai restaurants, with Thai massage businesses speckled in between. I noticed seeing just as many Western people as I did Thais strolling down the crowded, narrow street where our hotel was located.
We stayed at the Salil Sukhumvit Soi 11 hotel; an unassuming little Bankok guesthouse tucked away on a small side street off of the famous Sukhumvit Road. The hotel had a very ‘homey’ atmosphere. We were greeted by a sweet young Thai woman, and also by a fun, friendly man named Mr. Wit who asked to be called ‘Wilson.’ The outside of the hotel had a small spirit house and Buddhist alter where the hotel workers prayed and gave offerings. Here is Marcie standing outside of the entryway.
My second floor room looked just like a doll house, which was a big contrast from the fancy, modern room I was in during my last visit to Thailand in 2012. This room, however, suited me just fine. It was clean and had everything I needed – a comfortable mattress, a good shower, and air conditioning (it was 9am and already it was 95 degrees outside!). I couldn’t wait to sleep!
Although I wanted to only sleep for about four hours so I could enjoy the day, I couldn’t pull my head from my pillow until about eight hours later. At this point, it was dark outside and dinner time in Bangkok.
I knocked on the doors of the others, but I didn’t get any answers. Assuming they were all either still sleeping or out exploring Bangkok, I meandered up the street solo to find a place to eat. On my way, I passed one of dozens of massage places and found Morgan, Natalie, and Marcie all seated in a row inside of one place receiving blissful Thai foot massages. They told me they were almost done. I planned to meet them back in a few minutes to find a place to eat together. Next, I saw Anne and Anna walking up the street. During the time I was sleeping off my jet lag, they had already visited the Grand Palace, the Wat Pho, taken a water taxi ride, and visited other temples. I was amazed! It turns out that I was the only one who needed eight hours of sleep upon arrival after our long flight.
Later, I went to dinner with Marcie, Morgan, and Natalie. The prices on the menu were quite a bit higher than the ones I recall in Chiang Mai, but they were still far cheaper than they are at home. The menu also looked delicious, so we stayed.
I couldn’t resist ordering fresh coconut water, which is served in Thailand right out of a real coconut with a straw. I had been craving fresh coconut for a couple of years at his point. Natalie ordered one, too. Here we are drinking out of our coconuts.Yum!
For dinner, I decided to order the pineapple coconut fried rice. I assumed (correctly) that the dish would be served in a real pineapple. Being a great lover of this fruit, this alone was a good reason for me to order it. Needless to say,it was absolutely delicious.
This somewhat upscale Bangkok Thai restaurant also included live entertainment. The band consisted of a male and female singer, two keyboardists, a drummer, bassist, and a guitarist. They played all Western music, mostly from the 1970’s and 1980’s. The male singer sounded just like Joe Cocker. There was a large television screen that showed them up-close in case customers couldn’t see them from their seats. Marcie was clever enough to find the camera, and she took the opportunity to stand as close to it as she could get to it. For a moment, Marcie was a television star on our first night in Thailand! I have a feeling we’re going to have fun with Marcie here!
After dinner, I decided to follow in the footsteps of the other ladies and get a foot massage myself. It was so relaxing that I fell right back asleep once I returned to our hotel. Ahhhh.
We had the next day free until 2:30pm, when we would be picked up to return to the airport for our flight to Chiang Rai; a much smaller Thai city located in the North. While some of the others engaged in more tourist activities, I decided to search for a belly dance studio. I had the fortune to do many of the tourist activities in Bangkok during my previous visits. I knew I’d find plenty of yoga studios throughout Thailand, but I didn’t know if I’d find belly dance anywhere outside of Bangkok. To my great fortune, I did find one, and it was only two stops off of the sky train from where the hotel was located. I discovered on their website that they are affiliated with a well-known studio I’ve visited in New York City called Bellyqueen. That,to me, was a very good sign. The studio I went to is called Rumpuree.
I attended a noon class with a teacher named Jody. When I arrived, I was greeted by a pleasant young Thai man. I registered, got dressed in one of the changing rooms, and entered the class.
The class was small, with two other students and the teacher. The entire class was taught in English, which I was not expecting since I was in Thailand. This certainly made it easier to follow along with the teacher. Most of the steps in the choreography that the teacher, Jody taught were the same as what I’ve learned at home, but the arrangement of her steps and the music was new. I was delighted that I could follow along and join the other ladies in their dance. It was so much fun that I didn’t even notice until the end that I was sweating so much that I looked like I just came out of a swimming pool (did I mention that it’s hot in Thailand in June?). At the end of class, I was lucky to get a photo with the Jody (far left) and the other students in class. It feels like a small and comfortable world to engage in a dance I love so much at home with women who live on the other side of the planet!
When I returned to the hotel, it was time to gather my cumbersome luggage together to return to the airport for our short flight to Chiang Rai. Somehow, my luggage felt a little lighter being in Thailand. Perhaps the more relaxed, easy-going ways of the Thai people was rubbing off on me already, even in the huge city of Bangkok.
Before we left, we said goodbye to our fun and friendly host at the hotel, Wilson.