We had been emailing back and forth with our contact from our new school, Assumption University, for what felt like months about setting up a meeting the week we arrived in Bangkok. Being the planners that Dave and I are, we of course wanted to know the date for the meeting as far in advance as possible, so we could make all of our other plans and arrangements. But, we’re quickly learning that’s just not how they do things in Thailand. We followed-up about our meeting before we left for Everest Base Camp, in the hopes of having an answer when we returned. Well, we came down the mountain to very full in-boxes, but nothing from Assumption University. So, we followed up again.
We were thinking that we’d have a few days to get settled and adjusted in Bangkok and then meet with our contact towards the end of the week, before leaving for our trip to Cambodia. Well, we finally heard back with a very short, “I have some free time on Tuesday at 9am. Let’s meet then. See attached map for directions.” We arrived on Monday at 6pm. That wasn’t quite the adjustment and getting settled time we’d been thinking that we’d have, but hey, at least we had our meeting, right?
We had already booked a hotel on Khaosan Road, the famous backpacker street in Bangkok, for the night we arrived. Well, turns out this was about 45 minutes away from where we had to be for our meeting. Luckily, booking.com was very accommodating and helped us switch that reservation to the following night and make a reservation at a hotel much closer to our meeting for the night of our arrival. We probably could have just stuck with our original hotel and taken a taxi to our meeting on Tuesday AM, but we heard that Bangkok traffic can be brutal and so we wanted to be as close to our meeting as possible.
We got into Bangkok at 6pm, as planned, and easily figured out the train from the airport to where we were headed in the city (or right outside the city, I guess I should say). We went from train to taxi (I had been anxiously awaiting my first tuk-tuk ride, but unfortunately only found taxis in the area we were in) and arrived at our hotel in what seemed like no time. During our 5-minute taxi ride, we spotted our first Thailand market. We quickly dropped our stuff at our hotel (which for $20 was by far the nicest hotel we’ve stayed in on our whole trip) and headed out to explore the market, and more importantly, the street food.
We spent a couple of hours browsing the market and walking up and down every aisle of amazing-looking food before finally deciding on a noodle combo, peanut chicken on a stick, and pork shumai. We grabbed a seat right outside of the market and dug into our first of many street food/$2 dinners. I was already amazed by this city and we technically hadn’t even made it into the actual city yet!
We woke up very early to get ready for our 9am meeting at the Hua Mak campus of Assumption University. We hopped in a cab (though we later learned we were only a short 15 minute walk away) and had a good amount of time to explore before heading to the English Department. The Hua Mak campus was very nice, complete with a huge pond and fountain, basketball courts, and more, but we knew that it was nothing compared to what we’d be seeing once we arrived at the campus we’d actually be living and teaching at, which is about an hour outside of the city.
Our meeting turned out to be mostly just a chance for us to get all of our questions answered. Luckily (and obviously) we came prepared with a list of about 20 questions we had about everything from what we had to wear to how to open a bank to when we could move in. As we finished our info session, we each were handed two coursebooks, which would be what we’d use as guides for our lesson plans and also to train ourselves for our new jobs. Yep, that’s right. We thought we’d have to be back a couple of weeks before school started for formal training, but nope. None of that. Should be an interesting first few weeks of school for us 🙂
This year, Assumption University is switching its semester start date to January. Because of this, there’s a short semester from October through December (equivalent to a summer semester in the States), which is the semester we’ll start with. This is great because not only will we be teaching only one subject to start instead of 4-5. (Dave will be teaching English 4, which is the most advanced and focuses on explaining graphs and charts – sounds fun:). I will be teaching English 1, which is not the most basic level, but almost. Next semester, we’ll both be teaching a mix of all the different English classes), but we also learned that new teachers have to teach for 6 months straight before getting any time off. So basically, because we’re starting now instead of in January when the real semester begins, we’ll be able to take off 2.5 months next summer (paid) to travel. Not bad! And of course, we’ve already begun planning our RTW 2.0 for that trip, namely planning to hit the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and perhaps a few other places in SE Asia we may not have hit by that time (Vietnam, more of Laos, Myanmar).
Before we left the English department, our contact told us that he’d be heading to the other campus (the one we’d be teaching at) in an hour, and asked if we wanted to come to take a tour. Obviously, we jumped at this opportunity.
We filled out a bunch of paperwork at HR, and it seemed like we were pretty much all ready to go. The last thing we needed was our work permit letter from the president, which we’d use to get our work visas (which we found out we would have to make a separate trip to Laos for in the next month). This was a little annoying because we had already planned our trip to Cambodia and probably would have gone to Laos instead had we known, but we didn’t really have much of a choice. Oh well. Considering we had an extra week now because we didn’t have to be back for any training, I guess we can’t really complain about an extra trip to Laos! We actually already bought a Lonely Planet book covering all of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, so we figured we’d check out the Laos section and see what else there was to do near Vientienne, the capital where we needed to go to get our work visa. We already knew of one place in particular we wanted to go, a place called Vien Vieng which we heard was a famous party town for river booze tubing. And lucky for us, it’s only 3 hrs from Vientienne!
Almost exactly an hour later, we were boarding the huge coach bus to take us the 45 minutes to the other Assumption campus, where we’d be living and teaching. We got the full campus tour, including our new offices, classrooms, the “union,” the huge sports complex/area next to our dorms which includes an outdoor track, bball courts, tennis courts, a huge indoor pool (Olympic size with diving boards and all) and a gym. From the looks of it, we will be very fit while living at Assumption University. Last but not least, we got a tour of our dorms, and met our mentors, a couple from Texas who has been living and working at Assumption for the past 4 years. Before arriving in Thailand, they had been traveling for 2.5 years (and I thought 2.5 months was long!) throughout the entire world. They realized they were ready to settle down when they arrived in Egypt and weren’t even that impressed by the pyramids. They landed in Bangkok and after a few months there, were bored and needed something to do, so they decided to teach. They love it and have no plans to return any time soon. They gave us the lowdown on teaching and living in the dorms and answered all of our questions, which was extremely helpful.
We hadn’t expected our meeting to turn into a whole day activity, but we’re glad that it did. We had such a great day and were really starting to get excited about starting our new jobs and new life. We were very glad we didn’t end up waiting until the end of the week for our meeting, because now we had the whole week to start preparing and planning before leaving for Cambodia.
But first, a night of fun on Khaosan Road.
We took the bus back to the city, picked up our bags from our hotel, and hopped in a cab to the infamous backpacker street of Bangkok. The second we stepped out of the car my senses were literally taken over. Between the markets full of clothes, the bars blasting their music, the food carts, and the drink stations lining the streets, I didn’t know where to look first. We had planned on finding our hotel and resting for an hour or two after our long day, but as soon as we were on Khaosan Road, I knew there would be no rest for the Staves tonight. I was ready to get out there and explore. After a little searching, we found our hotel in an alley off the main street (which was a perfect location because it was a little removed from the bumping music playing everywhere), dropped our bags, and were back out the door.
First thing first, we grabbed a couple of big Singha beers and walked up and down the entire street to make sure we got a good idea of the whole scene. This place is literally amazing and I was able to tell right away why all of the tourists and backpackers stay there. After we finished our beers and our mini tour of Khaosan Road, we settled at the bar with the best drink specials and live music. We ordered a big bucket of vodka redbull for 200 Baht, or $6 (less than the price of one drink in the US). I was pretty much in heaven. And then the scorpion lady walked by (and by scorpion lady, I mean a lady carrying a big tray of fried scorpions).
I turned down the first offer, but by the time the second scorpion lady walked by, I had mentally prepared myself to try my first insect (is a scorpion an insect? i don’t really know. But, you get what I’m saying).
On the count of three, Dave went in for one claw, while I went in for the other. Hey, it was actually pretty good! Pretty much just tasted like something very crunchy dipped in a lot of soy sauce. I liked it! We finished the rest of our scorpion and convinced the couple sitting next to us to try one too. They bought us scorpion #2, and hey, I was not complaining.
Once we had finished our drink and our “appetizer” we were ready to choose from one of the many pad thai/spring roll carts lining the streets of Khaosan Road. We picked one, ordered one pad thai, one spring roll, and grabbed a spot on the sidewalk to sit and eat.
It was a delicious dinner and the perfect end to a great first night on Khaosan Road and in Bangkok.
We slept in a little bit the next day (8:30am) and woke up with some serious hangovers. We spent a couple of hours looking into the details of our Cambodia trip before heading out to explore Bangkok. We thought about checking out some of the city’s famous Wats, but figured that we’d be back to see them with all of our visitors, so we might as well save them (and 1,000 Baht). Instead, we headed out to see Bangkok’s famous Chao Phraya river for the first time.
But first, we had to find lunch. We weren’t ready for more pad thai, and since this was pretty much the extent of the food choices of Khaosan Road, we went for a little walk to find something else. And luckily, because Bangkok has pretty much the best looking street food you’ve ever seen on every single corner, we didn’t have to go very far. A few blocks away, we found our lunch spot – a little cart on the street with a huge menu and a very cute eating area, set up with plastic tables and chairs. The Thai girls sitting next to us were each eating a soup, which looked fantastic. We asked them to point out what it was on the menu and ordered one of those. And panang curry, one of Dave’s three favorite Thai dishes (the other 2 being pad se ew and lard na). Another amazing meal for about $4. Note–we’ve quickly learned that unless we eat somewhere with English on their menu, which are places few and far between, our only options for eating here are finding a menu with pictures, or more likely, finding someone else eating something that looks good and ordering that. But finding all three (pictures, English and other people eating) is like heaven.
A short walk (and as always, many markets and food carts later) we found the river. We wanted to take a boat ride, and after the lady working there tried to sell us an hour long tour for $15pp, we opted for the water taxi route for $2 to the end of the route, which would land us in Silom, the destination of the famous Patpong night market. We were a little early, but figured we’d spend a few hours exploring the neighborhood and be ready to hit the market right when it opened at 5.
As much as Khaosan Road was the tourist/backpacker area, Silom was still touristy but much more upscale (but of course still had all of the great markets and food carts lining the street – this is really the best thing about Bangkok). We picked up our first Thai iced tea for the walk and explored the very fun area. We were already thinking that this would be a good place for our parents to stay when they visited.
At 5pm on the dot, we reached the night market. Even though it was called to start at 5, when we arrived, everyone was just starting to set up. We figured we had another hour or so to kill before everything really got started, but keeping yourself busy in Bangkok is never a problem with so much to see (and eat) everywhere you turn.
We were in the market for new work clothes, but found the night market to have more t-shirts and souvenirs. We still each found a few things, but most importantly, Dave really got the hang of the whole bargaining thing. He even devised a whole strategy for it – offer half of whatever the vendor says initially and then once you decide (in your head) on the amount you’re willing to pay, take out that amount of money (the key here is to have exact change) and place it in the vendors hands. We found that they will have a hard time handing you your money back and asking for their merchandise (of which they have 10 more of the exact same item) back in exchange. The strategy worked almost flawlessly for most of our purchases that night.
We had thought about going to Chinatown after the market, but by the time we were done shopping, we were ready to eat and then go home after another long, but great day. We picked the best looking place on the street (of course as always we did our homework and scoured the whole block before deciding) and each got a very, very spicy noodle soup, again our whole dinner was $4. I love this place!!
We woke up to a surprisingly cool day (and when I say cool, I don’t actually mean cool, I just mean you’re not sweating the second you walk outside) so we decided to go for a run to Chinatown. We thought we’d maybe eat lunch there, but after arriving faster than we thought, we weren’t even close to being hungry, so instead we just explored the markets that this area had to offer.
We found ourselves in pretty much the biggest market ever, filled with rows and rows and rows of electronics. With everything from DVD players to fans to kitchen appliances to power cords, we immediately decided that we would come back here shortly after we move into our dorm instead of buying all of our electronics for full-price in a department store. In fact, we made a list of everything we need to buy and the prices in case we find them for anywhere cheaper before we come back, which we doubt we will.
We walked back to our hotel, stopped for lunch along the way (another day another amazing street food meal, this time for about $2), and dropped off our laundry next door before heading back out to Khaosan Road for some shopping (laundry was $3). The vendors on Khaosan Road have mostly casual clothes so we each bought a few things, but with so many markets all over the place, we didn’t want to go crazy.
After a long day of shopping, we were ready for our first Thai massage. We found the most crowded place on the street and each signed up for a half hour for $4. We were led upstairs to pretty much the most relaxing 30 minutes of our trip so far. I couldn’t believe we only had to pay $4 for that. I told Dave that next time, I would try a foot massage. He didn’t believe me when I told him those are the best, but I’m sure anyone who’s ever gotten a pedicure will agree.
After our massages, we picked up dinner and decided to call it an early night.
On our last day in Bangkok before leaving for our Cambodia trip, the first thing we had to do was go back to our school to pick up our work permits. This was a little annoying because as I mentioned earlier, the school isn’t close, but this was something we had to take care of. We spent some time in the morning getting ready and packing for our trip and then headed back out to Hua Mak.
It only took a few minutes once we got there to pick up our visas, and then we had to figure out what we were going to do for the rest of the day. After looking at our map, we decided to head to Pratunam, which we heard was the area with all of the huge shopping malls. We figured out that we could take another taxi boat down the river for about 50 cents pp to get there, which was perfect.
We got off the boat and immediately saw one of the biggest malls either of us had ever seen. Actually, this mall was probably twice the size of the biggest mall I’ve ever seen. We walked inside and I couldn’t believe that anyone would actually shop in one of the designer stores when literally right outside they were selling the same stuff for a fraction of the price at one of the markets.
Our destination was floor 7, the movie theater. On our way, we got distracted by an entire floor filled with electronic stores. They were selling everything and anything you could want or imagine, but we were both a little surprised that the prices were the same as you’d find in the US. We were in the market for some phones and maybe a new tablet computer, but we knew there had to be somewhere we could find them for cheaper. And, about an hour later, we found that somewhere.
We walked into the second of the three huge malls in this area (after walking down the street through another huge and amazing market) and found a floor similar to the one we’d just been on, but this one had all of the electronics (mostly phones and tablets) you could want, but all used and half the price. Now this was more like it!! And, each place offered a 30-day warrantee with their products, which of course, was key. We spent the next hour or so exploring all of the different options and planning when we’d come back to make our purchases.
Once we were done with the malls, we spent some time in the market. This was arguably the best one we’ve been to so far (for me at least). Within a matter of minutes, I saw pretty much every article of clothing I would need for work. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make any purchases because we literally do not have any more room to store stuff (we’re leaving most of our bags with our hostel on Khoa San Rd for 3 weeks while we go to Cambodia/Laos and they charge 30 cents per day per bag and we already bought an extra bag to replace the one I had stolen, so we literally didn’t have any more room for clothes until we return from our next trip), but I’ve already planned exactly what I’ll be buying when we come back after Cambodia/Laos.
This was definitely one of the coolest areas we’ve seen in Bangkok so far. It’s amazing that all in one place you can find the fanciest and most expensive clothes at the mall, and then also the cheapest (but equally cool) things (and food) at the market right outside. We already decided that we’d most likely be staying here when we come into the city on the weekends because it’s close to the free bus that drops us off at the Hua Mak campus, and it has tons of movie theaters, shopping malls, and street markets, pretty much everything one could ask for in a big city.
As we sat down for dinner (this time, for ribs and chicken fingers for $5; we splurged on a delicious half slab of ribs for $3), I could not stop thinking about how much I loved this city and how amazed I was at everything it had to offer.
Writing this post now, I can’t believe that the city I spent the past week exploring is my home for the next year, or more. Before arriving, I was a little nervous about Bangkok because I feel like it gets a bad rap from a lot of people. For months, when I told people I was moving to Thailand they would immediately say something like “oh, Thialand is the best. Get in and out of Bangkok as quickly as possible and head straight to the beaches.” And then I would tell them actually, I would be living in Bangkok, to which they would reply “oh really?” or “really? you should live in Phuket instead.”
Well, after just a week, I can already say that Bangkok is unlike any place I’ve ever been to… In the best way possible. It has all of the draws of living in a huge city (one that would rival NY, for sure), but you can also find the cheapest and best food and clothes on the markets that line every street in every neighborhood. You can shop in a designer store, go to a fancy, upscale club, eat at a nice restaurant in the mall or even stay in a hotel for a few hundred dollars a night.. but then go out onto the street and get the same meal for $2, the same clothes for $5, and stay at a still pretty nice hotel for $20. That to me, is amazing (personally, I’d rather shop in the markets, go to a bar with $6 buckets of vodka redbull, stay in a guesthouse for $20 a night and get dinner for $2 – but hey that’s just me).
And, not only all of that, the Thai people are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Of course, I never had problems with mean or rude New Yorkers, but also no one really ever went out of their way to help me or make sure I was ok or had everything I need, like the Thai people do on an every day basis. For example, when Dave left his umbrella at one of the street markets we ate at and returned almost an hour later, the owner/chef had put his umbrella aside when he easily could have just claimed ignorance. Similarly, although you bargain with everyone for everything, once you finally agree on a price, the Thai people take great pride in their service/products, and on the off chance you overpay, they’ll correct you by giving you change.
The next year is going to be filled with new people, new adventures, a new culture, new job, new exotic vacations, and probably the best food ever… This first week in Bangkok made me realize how many new and exciting experiences I will be having every single day and I really can’t wait for all of it.
But first, 3 weeks exploring Cambodia and now Laos, too.