Our flight to Bangkok, Thailand was at 1pm. We arrived early in the morning at Zurich airport. Our first order of business was to return our rental car. It was a bit bittersweet as we had it for 80 days, drove almost 10,000km and had numerous funny episodes in it. Since we have access to the airport lounges (thanks to my hubby and the perks of Chase Sapphire Reserve Card), we decided to go to one of them, relax a bit, eat and soak in our last moments in Europe. As we were walking through passport control, we both noticed the officer seemed to be taking a bit longer then usual and did not have a friendly facial expression. She asked if we were aware that we stayed in Europe 99 days? What was she talking about, of course we did. Well, its a bit of a no, no. Here is the truth: as a non-European citizen, and holder of a US passport, you can only stay in Europe without a visa for 90 days. If you wish to prolong your stay, you need a visa, which we did not have. Since Leo, Mila and I are dual citizens, this rule did not apply to us. Rick on the other hand...how to say it...got in a little trouble. He was escorted over to border control where the officer explained all of the rules and our rights. Rick had to fill out a report stating that it was all a miscommunication and misunderstanding, that we were vacationing with family. He paid a hefty fine (kind of like going 85mph in a 55mph zone). We were allowed to clear security and be on our way. Ironically, Rick researched VISA requirements for every Country/Continent except Europe. The situation shook us up a bit, so to calm our nerves down, we enjoyed some wine in the airport lounge :-)
Leo and Mila could not wait to get on the airplane. The total flight from Zurich to Bangkok was almost 11 hours. We got super lucky because this flight was half empty and therefore, we got three empty rows all for us. Overall the flight was very smooth and uneventful. As soon as we took off, Mila was out and Leo was watching Smurfs. For the first time, I don't know in how long, I managed to watch four movies!!! 11 hours went by super fast and before we knew it, we landed in crazy Bangkok - it was 5 am).
After collecting our luggage, we exchanged some money, bought a SIM card, and ordered a taxi. Despite being 6 am, the taxi driver warned us about the traffic. I though he was joking but as soon as we hit the road, cars, tuk tuks and scooters were everywhere. We just went from the Swiss Countryside and Alps to 13 million people & Bangkok! Talk about culture shock! Super HOT, loud, noisy, dirty, smelly, super busy and congested. Our taxi driver came close to hitting a man on the scooter and the sudden break shook the whole car up pretty good. I could not wait for this ride to end. We got lost a bit and the taxi driver had to make a call to our host to get the exact directions to the apartment. Once we arrived at our destinations, we paid 800 Bhat ( about $ 20) to the taxi driver and met our host. He took us up to our apartment located on the 15th floor of a high rise. Very nice man, explained to us all about the neighborhood and local customs. As soon as he left, we all took showers and went to bed...it was 8:30 am. I woke up to a noise coming from the street, once I looked at the watch, I could not believe it was almost 2pm!!! Since we all were super hungry, we got ready and headed to our neighborhood to get some food. I got thai noodles mixed with veggies, and Rick ordered fried rice with veggies and sea bass. Around 9 pm we all got tired again and headed to bed. I guess the jet lag was setting in because at 11:30 pm we all woke up ready to go. Leo and Mila were bouncing off the walls and refused to go back to bed. We called family in Europe and USA, let the kids watch some cartoons and around 4 am fell back asleep. Once again, I woke up to the sounds coming from the streets...the clock was showing 12:30 pm. We were sleeping in as if we were partying all night long! Jet lag was definitely hitting us. We decided to take the metro to one of the biggest shopping malls in the country - Siam Paragon Mall.
Gosh, where do I start…this place was something we have never experienced before. It was huge, I mean super huge: 5 floors with over 250 shops (from high end brands to small local once), food court big enough for the whole american army, movie theatre, aquarium and pretty much anything that you could imagine. It was simply overwhelming. We are not big on shopping malls, but this place was more than a place to shop - it was a place where people all of ages could socialize, hang out, eat, have a drink, watch a movie and get out of the heat. Did I mention how hot it is here?!? Easily 95 with humidity. Florida is a walk in the park compared to this sauna. We walked around, got lost several times, sat down for lunch and people watched.
Since Leo and Mila are the only blond kids there, probably the only ones in the Country, pretty much everyone kept looking at them, smiled, waved and took pictures of my two crazy rascals. Around 6pm we decided to head back via metro and that was a crazy experience - imagine rush hour in the city where you have over 10 million people - do you see where I am going?! It was a mad house! People, people, and more people. We’ve been to NYC at 5pm and that doesn’t even compare. Mila was on Rick’s back, so she was safe, but I kept squeezing Leo’s hand constantly to the point of pain. Thank goodness the metro system has air-conditioned because I can’t imagine being squeezed like a sardine and not being able to breath.
They say that Bangkok offers the first blow to you and you have to respond. Well, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The following morning we woke up around 9. IT was already 90 degrees out. When I opened our balcony door, it was like someone just slapped me in the face! The traffic was backed up for miles, everyone was rushing on their scooters, in their cars, beeping and yelling - Bangkok, you remind me of a crazy cat on steroids! After quick breakfast, we went downstairs and ordered a taxi to the Grand Palace (Royal Palace) which was located about 10 km from our apartment. It took us about 45 minutes to get there and we only paid $4 for it! In order to enter the palace, you need to be properly dresses - cover your legs and shoulders. We were all dressed according to the rule -Rick wore long pants and a T-shirt, & kids were fine. Before entering the palace we were checked by a guard who politely informed me that I need to wear a t shirt, scarfs were not allowed. Are you kidding me?! So I walked across the street and bought myself a thai shirt and funky pants, and looked like a true gypsy! (it cost me $7). The Grand Palace is simply spectacular architectural work of art. The royal family does not live there and some parts of the palace were completely closed off. We enjoyed strolling around these thai temples even though it was super hot and humid. Once again, Leo and Mila were followed by thai paparazzi who constantly took pictures of them, it was so funny! One guy and his mom begged us to allow her take a picture with Leo - he might as well move to this palace and be worshiped by these people!
Our next stop was the temple called Wat Arun, right across the dirty and smelly Chao Phraya river. In order to cross it, you need to take a water taxi. The ride was only $1 for all of us and it was a fun and new experience. First, they put you in several different lines and as soon as the taxi arrives, everyone is rushed to get on it as fast as possible - no life jackets, no safety precautions, just get in and go. We witnessed one group of friends being separated due to being too slow while getting on the boat. After short ride, we were climbing the steps OF the Wat Arun temple. Unfortunately, the steps leading to the very top were closed - from there you could see the whole panorama of Bangkok, but not this time.
The last part of our adventure was visiting the Temple Wat Pho - also knows as the Reclining Buddha. Once again, we took the taxi back across the river and headed towards the temple. Since the kids were pretty tired, Rick stayed with them on the outside bench while I went to meet the famous buddha. I must say this was my favorite place that we visited today. It was much less crowded, the whole scenery was quite beautiful and the statue of the buddha was simply amazing.
It was close to 5:30 pm and we only ate breakfast, plus some fruit at the local stands. Due to the extreme heat, we were not very hungry but decided to find a small restaurant and sit down. We stumbled upon a hole in the wall - Thin Than Cafe. After scanning the menu, we ordered vegetarian pad thai, shrimp pad thai, chicken with peanuts, cashews and rise, spring rolls, milk, lime juice, ice coffee and a typical thai dessert - sticky rice with mango. For all this food we only paid $15 and it was delicious!
I will admit that the variety of thai food is overwhelming. There are thousands of street vendors selling pretty much anything you can imagine, I cant pronounce 99% of local dishes and to be honest, I am intimidated by many of these dishes. When we lived back in the USA, occasionally, we went out to eat at a Thai restaurant called Joy Noodle - yes, they had very good food, but it’s nothing what we are experiencing in Bangkok. I promised myself that I will expend my taste and try new dishes but it is not as easy as it sounds :)
We finished our day with a tuktuk ride back to our apartment. Rick was pushing for the regular taxi but I thought it will be a fun experience to take the tuktuk…I read somewhere that Bangkok is an attack on your senses and this tuktuk ride only confirmed that. Among the exotic aromas coming from the street vendors, you could smell disgusting waste, pollution and sewage. I am quite sure that we inhaled more polluted air during this tuktuk ride than during our whole life. When we were moving it was not that bad since you had a little bit of a breeze. However, once we stopped at the traffic light, boy oh boy, we smelled things that destroyed our senses! What can I say, being in Bangkok is a bit like being in Las Vegas, sometimes, you just make bad decisions :)
I think we are still catching up with the lost sleep hours from the plane ride because today again, we woke up past 9 am and could sleep few hours more. Our plan for the day was the following:
1. Take Leo to a local barber and trim his mullet
2. Visit the famous JJ weekend market
3. Pamper ourselves by getting a Thai foot massage
Right next to our building we spotted a male hair salon and stop by to see if they could serve Leo. Before we knew it, Leo was getting a hair cut from a Thai barber, what!? I was a bit nervous about this whole idea, but if the barber messed up, the hair would always grow. Fortunately, he did a very good job and we left the place happy and spent only $3!
Next on our itinerary was visiting the famous JJ weekend market. Our host recommended going there especially since it was within walking distance from our apartment. He warned us that the variety of sold goods was pretty much limitless. The size of that flea market was out of this world. We were tired just by looking at it. From different types of clothes, shoes, bags, textiles, ceramics, flowers, spices, cosmetics, candles, body oils, art, to electronics and god knows what else! Of course, there were hundred of food stands. Once we got hungry, we sat down for a quick lunch - very safe, boring but yet delicious - chicken and rice plus coconut smoothie ($1.50). It was a hot and humid day, well what else could expect in Bangkok in September. We all got a few clothing items, mango soap and mosquito repellent. We spent there good 4 hours and did not even make it through the whole market. Leo and Mila started to get tired and we decided to end this shopping adventure. We took a tuktuk back to our apartment - ha, I know we said we would not do that again in Bangkok but slowly, the whole city and its bizarre culture is growing on us. I guess you just become a part of the dirt, noise, smell, but more importantly, everyone is super happy.
Once we got back to our apartment, Rick took the kids to the pool and I pampered myself a bit by getting a real Thai foot massage. So back in Florida, for one of my friends birthday, we went to a spa and got a Thai foot massage. It was only 30 minutes and we paid $40 per person, not bad, right!? I walked into a small spa and received the best one hour foot massage you could think of. The lady used something called tiger balm and let me tell you, my legs never felt more weightless and relaxed before. When she was pulling my toes, I felt my whole back cracking. It was on the boarder line of pleasure and pain but it felt fantastic. At the end, she brought me a cup of a sweet ginger and turmeric tea and one thing is clear - I was in a Thai heaven. The best thing is the whole service cost me $6! Bangkok, you are the place to be!
Our last day in Bangkok was spent exploring the amazing Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market. Bangkok and its surrounding areas used to be called Venice of the East because of the high amount of waterways and canals. Back in the day those canals were used mostly for transportation and many people sold different goods straight from their boats and that's way today we call places like that a floating market. Lots has changed since then, the infrastructure has developed drastically, however, there are still places around the canals where people gather on the weekends and have a market. Most of the goods are sold directly on the land but there are many boats that kept the old system. You visit those markets mostly for food and let me tell you, we tasted some of the most delicious dishes in Thailand, yet. We walked around for a bit and admired the uniqueness of this place. It was pretty crowded but mostly locals, there were not many people from the western world. Leo spotted a fish tank where you could directly feed them from the bottle, how cool, right!? Of course he had to try it and had a blast. We also witnessed those fish tanks where you put your legs in and the littler fishes eat the dead skin from your feet...we were not brave enough to try it and honestly, I kinda find it gross. This market seriously attacked our senses! The smells and aromas coming from the food stands were out of this world. At one point we all started to cough because the air got so hot and spicy, we felt as we just ate a whole bottle of chili sauce! We started to get pretty hungry and ordered dish called Pla Pao - it's a salt crusted grilled fish. It's stuffed with lemon grass and was simply delicious, full of flavor and very moist, the fish meat feel straight off from the bones. They served it with two different sauces - very spicy cilantro sauce with garlic and lime, and the other one was roasted chili sauce. On the side we got rice and vegetable. Leo and Mila loved this dish so much that we ordered another one to go. For everything we paid 300 THB ($9). This market has plenty of other attractions, we shot a gun and won a toy for the kids. Leo and Mila also participated in painting class where you color a t shirt. I think Mila ate more paint than she actually put on the t shirt :-) Before we left the market, we grabbed a Thai omelette with vegetable and little dessert - looked like mini tacos filled with coconut cream and spices.
Tomorrow we leave Bangkok and fly south to Krabi and the Thai islands. Bangkok has been a new experience for us, something we’ve never felt before. It definitely put us out of our comfort zone but we are slowly adjusting to a life in the Far East. After a couple of days of jet lag, the city started to grow on us, mostly because we felt a positive energy from the people here. I continue to be amazed by Leo and Mila and their ability to adjust to new environments. I look at them and can't get over how easily they adapt to the new culture. I'm kinda jealous of it! If they were not blond, you could never tell they were not from here. As my face looked puzzled at times, those two rascals act as if their were born and grew up in the streets of crazy Bangkok!