Southeast Asia | Part One | Thailand

Happy 2019, my frens! A little delayed as per usual, but I wanted to share some of the highlights of my recent trip to Thailand and Vietnam over the holidays. This was my very first time in Asia, and I spent roughly half the trip solo, the other half with my friend, for a total of 2 weeks. The first few days of the trip I visited Bangkok, Thailand, and here’s what I saw, heard, ate and experienced.

Even though I had heard mixed reviews on Bangkok, I had a blast roaming around the city by myself for three days. I found it to be energetic and grand, and, in general, people made me feel special. I was so fortunate to stay with my college friend’s auntie, Jam, and would be remiss if I didn’t quickly tell this story of how I ended up in her house.

We met as students at Cal, when we were just 18! Now look at us!

My friend Jeff, with the sunniest disposition and the biggest smile, is Thai and has family in Bangkok. At some point, I was calling him, frantically asking about what I should do, where to stay, and he said his Aunt Jam owned a hostel. Turns out that the hostel was fully booked already, but the family’s house (right next door to the hostel) still had an empty room, Jeffrey’s mama’s childhood bedroom. Auntie Jam invited me to stay in her home, in that room, even though she had never met me before. Jam, her mother (the cutest little Asian grandma you could imagine), and her team of ladies were so kind and welcoming to me, and they colored my whole experience while I was there. Of course, my own mother was relieved that I would not be truly alone.

Hostess with the most-est, Jam

I spent my nights and mornings on this property, called Baan Kachitpan. My favorite moments were breakfast time – her staff made incredibly good food (I would fly back for just that massaman curry) and we would eat in the outside table area in the front with the other guests of the hostel, enjoying our coffee / tea, playing with the little cats that lived there, surrounded by beautiful mango trees, plants and flowers. Jam and I would chat before she left for her job, and she would teach me little phrases in Thai, recommend places to go, explain the foods that her girls had prepared. So thoughtful.

The property
the girls

After she would leave, I’d slowly get my day started, with no real itinerary, just a list of things I wanted to see and do that day.

Here were the highlights:

Temples

Wat Arun

I LOVED visiting these grand temples. The style of these religious shrines, the material, the patterns, the colors, are so different from the churches in the west. Red and gold are such prominent colors here. I also felt more spiritually connected, maybe because I was raised Buddhist-leaning, and enjoyed seeing the familiar buddha sculptures I used to see as a child, only these sculptures were massive and gilded.

Reclining Buddha

There are three major temple areas in Bangkok: the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and Wat Pho. If you can only go to one, go to Wat Pho. The Grand Palace was enormous and beautiful, but they do charge 500 baht and you will be surrounded by a sea of Asian tourists groups, shouting things in Chinese, and it will not be chill. Wat Arun was smaller and quieter, so the vibe is better but you’ll be done in about 20 minutes. Wat Pho, however, was a nice blend of quiet and respectful, with lots to see, including the Reclining Buddha, AND… DRUMROLL… there is a traditional Thai Massage school there where you can get a Thai massage when you’re done walking around, and this is where I had my very first legit one. It was AWESOME, and cheap.

Tuk Tuks

O M G one of my favorite activities was riding around in a tuk tuk, which is kind of like a three wheeled vehicle, sort of narrow, with a seating area in the back of it, open air with a roof. It’s a great way to travel around the city because you’re not as subject to car traffic – tuk tuk drivers can sort of go in between cars and into narrower streets.

Some tuk tuks are better than others and there is a potential to get swindled (I paid a stupid amount of money for my first ride but I blame the jetlag and misunderstanding of currency conversion), but they’re relatively cheap and you can barter. Most rides cost me around 100 to 200 baht, so like $4 to $6 bucks.

Not the tuk tuk itself, but a view from the tuk tuk. So much more fun than a car.

It was so fun to ride around in the back of these little tuk tuks, because it felt like a real adventure, with the view of the sites around me, passing by other tuk tuks, feeling the hot temperature but lots of wind in my hair. My favorite tuk tuk was suped up with neon lights and a sound system, so at some point I was singing along to pop music, people staring at me and the driver, just living my best life feeling like I was in a music video.

Food

Dessert for breakfast

You must have a respect for complex flavors, intensity, spice, and fishy things in order to enjoy the food here. I absolutely loved it – there was not one meal I had here that I didn’t love, but there was one dish that was so spicy I couldn’t eat the whole thing… fair enough. As I mentioned, there was a massaman curry that I ate at Baan Kachipaan that changed my life, and other memorable foods was just a regular Pad Thai from a street vendor, a fried SOMETHING dipped in this sweet, coconut-y flavored green dip from a street vendor in chinatown that had a Michelin star (can’t remember what it’s called but would die to eat it again), and a mango sticky rice that was just… hold on, let me mop my drool.

The massaman that changed the entire game…

The flavors are 10x more intensified than I expect here, even from Thai restaurants. I love flavor so it was perfect for me.

Even the colors are more intense

One last thing about food in Asia: we did it right. This whole concept of the typical western breakfast is so lame, and not that eggs and pancakes and yogurt can’t be good in the AM, but it does not hold a candle to a bowl of noodle soup, or massaman curry + roti, or these sweet little coconut ball things. The rules of breakfast do not apply, and I found that a lot of Asian foods I’d eat for dinner were breakfast foods here. IT WAS THE BEST.

Only thing that sucks about solo travel is I only have one stomach and I want to eat all the things. Fortunately, I did make friends with a Malaysian family next to me and we did share so I got to try more foods. This was a meal I had in Chinatown, and I did pretty good for myself! That morning glory was en fuego tho so I couldn’t finish…

I will say that, of course, I felt a hyper awareness of the potential for food poisoning, which does put a damper on things because it all looks and smells so good. This did not happen to me in Bangkok… but do I have a story for you, soon. 😉 As a general rule of thumb, drink bottled water and only eat street food if you see there is a quick turnaround of the food and a long line of customers, even better if the food is fried.

Thai Massage

Everyone knows I love massages, especially when I can get a deal. Sorry, not sorry, I loooooove to be pampered. However, I had heard that Thai Massages were not always relaxing, and were different from a typical Swedish massage that I’d normally get. Still, of course, when you’re in Thailand, you must get one, and I found that I genuinely liked this style of massage. It’s almost like a massage and a stretch, all in one. I got twisted around like a pretzel, and even though it looked like it might hurt, it didn’t hurt me. If you’re super inflexible (and I’m really not that flexible), tell them to be easy on you.

Also… they should be 300 to 500 baht here, which is $9-$12 USD… I just looked up a Thai massage in NYC and that will cost me upwards of $100… hence my insistence of getting a massage every day.

I went to Khao San Road, which is a notorious backpackers party area (like the Southeast Asian Bourbon St), and I didn’t know what to do with myself because I wasn’t about to start dancing on tables alone… so what did I do? I GOT A MASSAGE, right on Khao San Road, people watching. I wish all party destinations had a thai massage area.

Other #moments below:

I was there when the King (who the Thai people absolutely adore) threw a giant winter festival, where people dress in traditional Thai garb. My host auntie lent me this dress and I walked around all day like this. I felt so great. Tuk tuk driver called me a “ling noi”.
I asked for one of these dudes to take a photo of me in front of that giant monument, but then they asked to take a photo with me, and all of a sudden some soldiers pulled up for the photo too!
Lots of beautiful flowers at the Winter Festival… it was also hotter than hell.
Everything around me was telling me to live more boldly!
$1.25 for mango juice, I’ll take it.

I only spent a few days in Thailand but would love to come back. Coming from NYC is rough because it takes 2 planes and 24 hours, and then you lose a day because of the time difference. So I would recommend always to take 2 weeks minimum if the destination is on the other side of the earth, so you can really enjoy the time without feeling limited.

Can’t wait to tell you about Vietnam next time! Kap kun ka / thank you so much to Na Jam, Baan Kachitpan + ladies, Jeffrey, the sweet people I encountered along the way who made it very special, and the food for being so damn good.

Xoxo

Trace

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