Travels Through Bustling Bangkok, Thailand

By: Marcela Swenson

Walking into Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles airport is always a good feeling because not only does it mean I’m leaving the country, but this time, it meant I was leaving the hemisphere. And … there’s a very special reason to leave the Western world behind: I’m going on my honeymoon!

RETURN TO THAILAND
My new husband Noah and I had first visited Thailand in 2006 when our relationship was just beginning. We were so enchanted by the country that it was an obvious choice for our honeymoon. What’s not to love about a country with white beaches, delicious food, gorgeous scenery and genuinely kind locals?

We traveled business class on Japan Airlines thanks to Noah’s mom and her frequent flyer miles; our flight was a breeze, even for my 6’3″ husband! After 15 hours of flying, we arrived in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (pronounced Suwanapoom). First, we exchanged our dollars for baht, (currently about 34 baht to $1USD) and discovered it was smarter to withdraw money from an ATM instead of exchanging currency. There is a transaction fee of $5 and a surcharge of 1% of the amount you withdraw, buts it’s the same cost as an exchange service and you don’t have to carry a week’s worth of cash in your wallet.

“WELCOME HOME”
The last time we were in Bangkok, we spoke to the first taxi driver we saw and ended up paying more than double what a public taxi would have charged. This time, we followed the signs for the public taxi stand and found an airport employee who spoke English. She asked if it was our first time in Thailand and when we told her it was our second visit, she replied, “Welcome home!” Nothing quite makes you feel welcome in a foreign land like someone telling you that you have returned home.

We approached the taxi stand and told the English-speaking attendant our destination, which she then wrote in Thai characters for our driver. The highways were completely devoid of traffic and the trip into the city was quick. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the traffic on the surface streets. Despite having both a metro system and a Skytrain, traffic in the city center makes Los Angeles traffic look like Talladega.

THE METROPOLITAN
We pulled into our destination for the night: the Metropolitan Bangkok. The chic yet simple lobby was a welcome sanctuary from the busy city streets. We were escorted to our terrace room, which included a large walk-in closet, yoga mats, a comfy couch with ample seating, subtle lighting under the bed and my favorite, an outdoor shower on our private terrace.

The management had gotten word that we were on our honeymoon and sent us a gift to help us celebrate. We ended our day sipping champagne and devouring some of the best chocolates and exotic fruits I’ve ever tasted. After a long day of travel, we felt that we had earned the king-sized bed and Egyptian cotton sheets.

BREAKFAST AT CY’AN
The next morning we planned out our day over an amazing breakfast buffet at Metropolitan’s restaurant, Cy’an. There was an incredible spread of pastries, meats, fresh made juices, and an array of fruits.

In addition to the buffet, breakfast included one item from the menu. Noah ordered stir-fried noodles with fried egg and for some inexplicable reason, I decided that Thailand was the place to try eggs benedict for the first time in my life. Noah’s fried noodles were incredible but the eggs benedict weren’t the right choice for my palate and I ended up sharing Noah’s dish.

THAI MASSAGE
We set out with one mission: get a Thai massage. During our first trip to Thailand, we were blown away by the pulling, prodding, and sometimes punching ritual that is the Thai massage. Our goal was to get a massage every day, and at 250 baht (about $7) per hour, it was certainly affordable. We went straight to the source, Wat Po, the temple known for training masseuses.

The helpful staff at the Metropolitan advised that a cab to the pier would be faster than walking to the nearest Skytrain, and about the same price, too. At the pier, we purchased tickets for the water taxi, the most efficient mode of transportation. Day passes were 150 baht each ($5), but paying for individual trips was the better deal for what we were doing (between 26 and 36 baht, depending on the destination).

As we traveled the Chao Phraya River, it was stunning to see colorful temples set beside modern high-rise hotels, as long tail boats passed us by. We were soon off the boat and inside the temple walls where we approached a man holding a sign advertising Thai massages by Wat Po trained masseuses.

Inside the massage parlor, we were relieved to feel the air conditioner blasting sweet salvation from the heat outside. My masseuse’s strong hands knew where to find the knots in my back and showed me no mercy when stretching my legs. We laughed about how inflexible I was and how I couldn’t do simple stretches. As she pulled my heel to the back of my hamstring she sweetly chastised me saying, “You need to exercise!” It may sound like torture but was actually the most fun I’d had during a massage.

SCAMMED!
On a search for food we met Jon, a friendly Thai local who spoke English and told us what to see. We thought he was doing this out of the kindness of his heart but it wasn’t until I did a little Internet research after our honeymoon that I discovered he was part of an elaborate scam. Here’s how it worked:

Jon circled some places on our map including a few Buddha sites and Voglee, a tailor shop. He told us to pay no more than 30 baht (less than $1) to go to four destinations and immediately found a driver (also in on the scam) who agreed to the fare. At the first temple, the driver told us he had to use the bathroom and while we waited, a man sitting nearby asked where we were going. We told him Voglee to which he responded, “Voglee? How do you know about them? Did you hear about them on the news?” He explained that Voglee only served Thais but was open to foreigners this week. They were licensed to make Armani suits and would even give us a gold membership card! It sounded too good to be true but we believed every word.

Noah was already in the market to buy a couple of new suits and I wanted a pair of linen pants so we were an easy sell, but after our measurements were taken the up-selling began. Suddenly I was buying two pairs of linen pants and a silk dress I knew I didn’t need or want, but without it I wouldn’t get the coveted gold membership card. Noah ordered three suits and six dress shirts and together we spent $1200.

After realizing we’d been duped, we felt foolish for not realizing that the man at the temple was in on the scam to get us to part with our money. It could have been worse — after all, we did get tailor-made clothes, which we wanted, and we were driven all over the city for cheap. By exercising caution and questioning the motives of locals who initiate conversations with tourists, these scams are easily avoided. But if you’re looking for a suit, play along and take advantage of the cheap tuk tuk rides!

LUMPHINI PARK
Back near our hotel, we took a detour into Lumphini Park, a 410-acre park in the business district. It was dusk and the locals were out jogging in the humidity. Those who weren’t running were working out on real exercise equipment in the park that works out your abs, legs, etc; we’d discovered a grown-up jungle gym. For those looking to exercise on their vacation in Bangkok, forget the gym and join the locals in Lumphini Park. Peaceful and quiet, you will forget that you’re a tourist in the heart of Bangkok.

BACK AT THE METROPOLITAN
We returned to the Metropolitan and took some time to explore the hotel, admire the outdoor pool, and even managed to get a peek at the Como Suite, the biggest “room” in the hotel. With two bedrooms, an office, two-story windows with a view of Bangkok and a shower with seven showerheads, you can’t exactly call it a “room.”

Returning to our suite, it was time to put our outdoor shower to use. The humidity made for the perfect outdoor shower. Surrounded by limestone walls, wood floor and the scent of herbal shampoo, it was the perfect ending to a long day. Although the Metropolitan is a short cab ride from Silom Road, home of the bustling night market and infamous ping-pong shows, we opted for an early bedtime because we had a 7am flight taking us to the serene beaches of the Andaman Coast. Although we are always saddened to leave Bangkok, we knew there was still much to see and do in the city that would keep us returning for years to come.

Marcela Swenson’s Bio:
I have a hard time staying in one place for too long. My international travels began when I went to Colombia at 2 months old and I’ve been obsessed with traveling the world since. Sometime during high school I decided I wanted to travel the world for a living. So far I’ve only gotten the traveling part down, now I’m just waiting for someone to pay me. So far I’ve been to 18 countries, traveling mostly on a frayed shoestring budget. When I’m traveling you can find me in streets, alleyways, or on front stoops with my beloved iBook, searching for a free wireless signal (I haven’t paid for Internet access in over a year, both abroad and at home). When I’m home I can be found hosting karaoke at numerous bars around Los Angeles.

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Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Metropolitan Bangkok .

Team Johnny Jet

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