After 11 hours over the Pacific and 3 at the Taiwan airport eating taro cakes in the Hello Kitty terminal, we finally arrived in hot, sticky Bangkok. Our limbs felt heavy as we pushed through the humidity with our trusty packs in stow, marching toward our apartment with the address บ้านเลขที่ 34/8. “No one will know it,” our AirBnB host kindly told us. “Just walk along the green fence past the massage shop.” Perfect, we thought. I’m still not sure what that ‘slash’ is for.
After getting a handle on safely crossing the street amidst whirling cars, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks, we quickly learned that pedestrians fend for themselves here in Bangkok, and maps may or may not reflect the actual design of the city. So we marched on, making a few wrong turns and taking in the smells of burning rubber, car exhaust, and bubbling cauldrons filled with mysterious meats and spices. Thankfully, the “follow the green fence” system worked, and we made it to our little side street lined with women calling us in for massages and leathery men sitting on squat stools reading the paper.
Knowing we only had a short time in this massive city before heading up north, we strategically filled our days with market wandering, temple visits, foot massages, and street food. The presence of and devotion to Buddhism is felt on nearly every corner. Magnificent temples peak out from nondescript alleyways, and beautiful shrines fill the streets, piled high with offerings from flowers and food to cigarettes and bottles of Fanta. We visited Wat Pho and Wat Trimitr Vityaram Voravihahn, homes of the Golden and Reclining Buddhas.
The markets are filled with everything from dried herbs and spices to fresh fruit, unidentifiable meat, clothes, trinkets, and enormous bowls of Thai noodle and rice dishes for less than $2. One weekend market we visited, Chatuchak, was like a city of its own with nearly 8,000 stalls. We spent hours getting lost in the narrow corridors of these markets, bartering with shop owners and thumbing through piles of scarves until our feet felt like balloons. But somehow, right at those I could collapse moments, a coconut presents itself or a smiling Thai woman grabs you by the arm, plops you in a reclining chair in an air conditioned room that seems to appear out of nowhere, and places your feet in an ice bath. In Thailand, foot massages (at $5/hour) are seen as part of daily maintenance, rather than a once-in-a-blue-moon luxury. We adopted that cultural norm immediately.