"The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free
I can feel an angel sliding up to me"
Bangkok: We flew in and passed through again several times throughout our month-long trip. It's a big, exuberant city that I've been enticed by since my teenage theatre-nerd-self was in the musical Chess (the origin of that "One Night in Bangkok" song, which is the reference in the title of this entry). We stayed in a nice hostel in a neighborhood with a good mix of travelers and locals -- loads of Thai street food as well as a few joints offering Western breakfast (I can't give up eggs and toast). The place was walking distance from the wild backpacker street Khao San Road, which is basically a clone of Saigon's Bui Vien, mostly catering to the ragey backpackers with the dirt cheap "bucket"-style cocktails made from guaranteed-hangover poison liquor. It's definitely a sight to see: just complete and utter chaos. Worth a quick wander, but be ready to be ferociously harassed by people trying to coax you into bars (a bit suspicious that every time of day seems to be happy hour, sir), perseude you into massages, and beg you to buy a cheap counterfeit Michael Kors bag ("Real leather! Very beautiful!").
George and I decided to stop eating curry for 2 weeks before the trip to make it all the more worth it when we got there. So, obviously our first morning we made a mad dash to the nearest curry street stall for breakfast, and it was just as excellent as anticipated. This joint was near our hostel, and if I can figure out the name of it I'll update this post:
I was eager to do some shopping because clothes and goods in Saigon are not the best quality, so we went to the infamous MBK Shopping Center which is a place I can only describe as an overwhelming madhouse of all the things. Yes, all the things. If you don't know what you're looking for you could easily panic about where to even start. You need a thing? You'll find it there. For me, the best part was the mobile phone floor (yes, a whole floor) because I needed a phone case, screen protector, waterproof bag, external battery, and headphones (I'd been waiting to get all this stuff in Thailand), and I got all of it for like $35. If you need phone or camera repairs, do it there. You need a second-hand or refurbished phone? Get it there. I'm seriously considering flying back to Bangkok for a weekend just to shop because why not?
When in Bangkok, The Grand Palace is a must, just know what you're getting yourself into. The palace is as grand and beautiful as you'd imagine, but picture that flooded with a zillion and a half selfie people. I think we all just have to accept that any major tourist attraction in the world is now overrun with them, and they should just be considered part of the experience. At first it was annoying having to dodge the selfie sticks and have the view obstructed by Becky and friends posing with prayer hands to get that perfect #bangkoklyfe Insta shot, but then I realized that this is our generation and it's worth documenting, so I just started photographing the them.
After walking for ages around the palace, we got Thai massages on Khao San from a place with good ratings on TripAdvisor (now I can't seem to find the name of the place for the life of me). I absolutely loved it: painful, but felt great afterward. Thai massage is essentially a mixture of a brutal beating and having your body stretched into yoga positions. George hated it, I thought it was fantastic and ended up getting another one in Chiang Mai.
On day 3 we wandered China Town in the rain and got some street food, then ended up coming across a wat (temple) where we stopped and listened to some monks chanting some sort of lovely Buddhist mantra. I became entranced by the sound of Buddhist chants on this trip and ended up downloading some off YouTube to relax and fall asleep to.
One night we ended up at a market called Siam Gypsy Junction. We unfortunately arrived as they were shutting down due to rain, but I'm glad we checked it out. Really bizarre place located wayyyy outside the city center under some train tracks laid out like the old American west (like saloon-style), selling all sorts of random antiques and objects (e.g. boxes full of doll heads). Also full of street food and live music -- hipster paradise essentially.
Whenever I travel to a place I really love, I add a tattoo to my half sleeve, and I found a really sweet tattoo shop called Common Ground Tattoo and they did an absolutely wonderful job helping me with the design and finding a good spot to fit the piece into what I already had on my arm. Highly recommended!
Before flying back to HCMC, I made a doctor's appointment at Bumrungrad Hospital because healthcare is much better quality in Thailand than in Vietnam and I had to get some health issues sorted out. It's a private hospital and a bit expensive by Asian standards, but it was hands-down the nicest, most comfortable hospital I've ever been to. Hopefully you never have to visit a hospital, but if anything ever happens, go there.
So my overall impression of the "City of Angels": It was a good time and definitely the ultimate must-do big city when in Southeast Asia. Shop and eat and drink and look at some temples.
Perhaps you've heard of the infamous tuk-tuks in Thailand (auto rickshaws), and although it's worth taking one to check off your bucket list, one time is all you need. Drivers are super scammy and try to vastly overcharge tourists. They also do this stupid thing where they ask if you'd mind making a quick stop at their friends shop and pull the "you don't have to buy anything, just look very quickly" spiel. They'll take you to a gem shop or tailor and you'll be heavily persuaded into buying some jewelry or a custom suit/dress/whatever. Always just say, "Nope. Straight to my destination." Bottom line, tuk-tuks are a dumb hassle and not worth the trouble. Download the app GrabTaxi -- you can order a cab and know exactly what you'll be paying ahead of time. HOWEVER, it's harder to get a cab this way in Thailand than it is in Saigon, but it's a useful tool for figuring out how much it actually costs to get to your destination so you'll know when tuk-tuks and cab drivers are trying to overcharge you.
Samsen 360 Hostel -- loved this place. We stayed 3 nights when we first arrived and ended up returning for 3 more nights before we headed back to Vietnam. Short walk to Khao San, but far enough away from the noise. Really clean and feels homey. Attracts a really chill crowd. Not a party hostel, but still full of social backpackers and Workaway staff. Free coffee, cereal, and toast.
Siam Gypsy Junction -- Off-the-beaten-path alty night market full of food, live music, and weird antiques and an eclectic mix of eccentric things. Unlike any other market you'll see in Thailand.
MBK Shopping Center -- The king of all shopping malls (^ as described above).
The Grand Palace -- Obviously.
Common Ground Tattoo -- These guys are great! Nice and clean shop.
Bumrungrad International Hospital -- If you find yourself in a pinch, go here. Excellent quality care.