from my “revisiting” series….
I didn’t expect Bangkok to leave such an impression. It was a layover stop, a twenty-four hour break to help me recover from jet-lag. A friend who was going to Laos for a conference invited me to join her on a trip to see Angkor Wat when the conference was over. We made plans to meet at the Bangkok airport for a flight to Siem Reap. I decided to arrive in Bangkok a day early, to give myself wiggle room in case I had any flight delays during my DC-Frankfurt-Bangkok route. And since my friend would likely be acclimated to the time difference after a week in the region, I wanted to be sure to be well-rested when we met.
The day I arrived in Bangkok, I checked into my hotel, ate lunch, napped, took a short stroll, ate dinner, and then passed out for the next twelve hours. I awoke the following morning feeling energized and ready to explore the city. My flight to Cambodia departed in the evening, so I had most of the day free. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything, but I figured I could do a little-sightseeing. Not wanting to spend the day on a tour bus, and worried that exploring on my own might find me far off course when it came time to head to the airport, I found a tour company that offered one-on-one walking tours. I met my guide Daeng in the hotel lobby that morning. She was about my age and I immediately felt comfortable following her lead.
Daeng took me to all of the popular tourist destinations, and they were all impressive. But what I enjoyed the most about my tour was all the little stops in between. As we walked, Daeng mentioned that she was thirsty and asked if I was okay with stopping at 7-Eleven for a drink. I didn’t think much of it, but as I roamed the aisles while she got her drink, I became fascinated with the choices of snack foods. I had forgotten how much fun it could be going to grocery stores in other countries. Often, junk food preferences can tell you more about a country than any museum. When I saw that Daeng was getting a Thai iced tea from the fountain selection, I had to have one, too.
Food was a recurring theme in my enjoyment of the day. Daeng took me to her favorite street food vendor and coconut vendor, where we drank coconut water straight from the coconut. I never would have found these places on my own, or would not have been adventurous enough to try the street food. Even now, I’m not quite sure what I ate, but it was tasty. As we navigated our way through the crowded streets, Daeng took me on multiple forms transportation, from boat to taxi to the Skytrain. In fact, I was grateful that she took me on the Skytrain. On the other end of my trip, after Cambodia, I had another twenty-four hours in Bangkok before heading home. The November heat was pretty intense and, not wanting to get gross and sweaty before a long flight home, I decided to take the Skytrain to the mall so I could buy souvenirs.
Like grocery stores, I’ve found malls and department stores to be fun ways to observe life in other places. Whether it’s iconic stores like El Corte Inglés in Madrid, Galleries Lafayette in Paris, Harrods in London, Bloomingdales in NYC, or the stores where you’re more likely to be shopping among locals than tourists, it’s always interesting to see what’s going on inside. Staying cool inside the Siam Paragon mall, I found little in the way of souvenirs. But I ate well and had fun people watching. The mall was decorated for Christmas, and I got a kick out of listening to Elvis sing “Blue Christmas” as I drank my bubble tea.
I suppose what surprised me most was being able to get a peek into life in Bangkok within such a short window of time. Like I said, Bangkok was the layover city. I could have decided I didn’t have enough time to really see it and waited at the airport instead. But I’m so glad I spent the money on a hotel for two nights. It was intended as insurance, since my connecting flights were on different airlines. And in that short period of time, I had so much fun that to this day I still long for Thai iced teas from 7-Eleven. And each December, if “Blue Christmas” comes on the radio, I think of Bangkok, naturally.