I pulled out the map of Bangkok from the Lub-d Hostel lobby and mapped my walking tour objective: To the strip clubs, to the park, to the giant MBK mall, to the river, and to all the glistening golden temples between. Off we go!
Vegetable stir-fry and my daily condensed-milk-sweetened ice coffee (OH I LOVE YOU!) to start, and then in to peek at the infamous Patpong strip of girlie clubs. Yeah… I promptly ran away after being creeped out by the vibe and the giant sign: “Kitty Club!” (and other variations on the cat theme). By the way, I’ve heard from a bunch of travelers that if your curiosity gets the best of you and you walk in to see a “free ping pong show”, you will be forcibly trapped inside until you pay the exorbitant 900 Baht “viewing fee” which is suddenly sprung upon you.
Onward! Distances going much faster than I expected. Due to the crushing traffic of Bangkok streets, walking is pretty swift in comparison! And then they began to come, fast and furious: TEMPLES! I dared not enter any as I was wearing shorts and a tank top, and that’s too immodest to mix with the monks, but I drank in the golden spires and multicolored paint work.
I suppose the U.S. is dotted with churches and we don’t think much about it, but there is something breathtakingly shocking about the juxtaposition of smog-choked highways against these towers of Buddhist holiness.
And then to the temple of capitalism: MBK. Everyone has been raving about the 8 glistening floors of BUY BUY BUY! It reminded me of Japan (and in fact, had a bunch of Japanese restaurants and stores) in its sleek modernity and colorful commercial fever. It even had metal detectors! I ate some rainforest crunch ice cream (Swenson’s– a San Francisco brand wildly popular in Thailand), used the bathroom for 2 Baht, and burst back into the sweltering humidity of outdoor Bangkok.
More temples! Then Chinatown! Then a scuzzy river rivulet that I followed, hoping it would take me to the big river (which at this point I was thirsty to see, being a water-lover), but it only took me to 7-11. I bought some water for my dehydrated self, and a yogurt so I could be in the airconditioning. Bless randomly snacking during random walking.
At this point, a persistent tuk-tuk driver offered me a ride to the river, and I stepped into my first ever tuk-tuk ride!! SO SCARY!!!!!!!!! We wound around and between and through and under ten million traffic-knotted highways, all the while with me clinging to the siding and searching the fluttering map.
“You here!” said the driver triumphantly after ten minutes. I read the map and realized we had basically gone in a huge circle and weren’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. “No we’re not,” I disagreed politely, pointing to the desired riverside temple. “Oh, okay okay,” he said, “You want temple.”
Off we went again! Flashing colors, smoke, exhaust, street-vendors yelling, mo-peds whizzing around us, massive buses hugging us from both sides. “Tuk tuk tuk tuk!” gurgled the motor.
“We here!” cried the driver with a delighted flourish, pointing to the golden spires. I read the map again. “Um, no,” I said. At this point, the crestfallen (and clearly very lost) driver took the map and consulted with a friendly sightseeing Thai couple about how the heck to get me where I wanted to go. I snapped a picture.
“Oh, we very very far,” he said dejectedly.
“Just take me anywhere on the river, then,” I said. “You go on boat! You look! You look!” he said, miming a sightseer on a water taxi. “Sure, sure,” I said, bracing myself for the motor to start again.
An hour later, I paid the driver his 50 Baht ($1.50) and emerged to the glorious river!!! Except– ew. It was brown and choked with thick green weeds. Ah well. I achieved all my objectives, and I was only a half hour walk back to the awesome hostel. A kiss to the river, a hug to Bangkok, a thank you to the heavens for protecting me on my first (and perhaps only?) tuk-tuk ride… and home I went.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!