the second stamp

On Tuesday morning Kara and I hopped a plane for our next destination: Bangkok, Thailand!!

We arrived later in the afternoon and took the subway into the city itself. Bangkok has a wonderful subway system. It's easy to use, extremely affordable, and even makes all announcements in Thai and English. Plus, it's super clean and orderly. People patiently wait for passengers to get off the train before getting on. Passengers also line up on either side of the door to allow disembarking passengers plenty of room to get off the train. 

After checking in and dropping off our bags, we attempted to book an Uber to one of Bangkok's many temples. As the estimated 15 minutes stretched into 30+ we cancelled the car and attempted to get a taxi instead. The taxis quoted us rates 3-4 times the Uber so we eventually bailed on that plan too.

Back in the room we re-grouped and decided to check out a big mall we had seen. Both of us had ripped a pair of pants in India and were down to only 2 pairs of pants to cover the entire rest of the trip. Since the mall offered an H&M and was only one stop away, we decided to check it out.

Shopping is huge in Bangkok and that was very obvious once we hit the mall. Not only was it packed to the rafters, the mall itself was much larger than your standard American mall, stretching 7 stories high. The top 2 floors were devoted to restaurants. Instead of the food court of American malls, Thai malls are all about restaurants. There's everything from fine dining to cheap eats. While it's predominantly different Asian cuisines, there was a bit of Italian and even a restaurant dedicated to tacos. We tried to make a lap of one of the floors but ended up getting overwhelmed and a little turned around so we settled on a restaurant serving ramen that had caught our eye. 

Since it was later in the evening, we decided to turn in early and get a fresh start in the morning. As we left the mall we had our first encounter with monsoon season: it was pouring rain! While Kara and I had come prepared with umbrellas, a lot of people had not and were huddled under the exit to the subway near our hotel. 

Back in the hotel we discovered that the only English channels we got were BBC World News and Al Jazeera. We did find a tennis match and even the commentary was all in Thai, we knew enough about tennis to follow the action. 

The next morning we slept in late; it was a much deserved break since we'd had to wake up crazy early everyday so far. We grabbed a little lunch (okay so we slept in super late) and set out. We attempted to visit the same temple again but were equally unsuccessful, ending up in a tuk tuk that took us to a tour company that attempted to sell us a boat tour that neither of us could afford. After a rather tense confrontation that ended with the tour organizer telling us that he thought we were lying when we said we couldn't afford the tour, we walked away. Thankfully another tuk tuk driver came to our aid. 

This tuk tuk driver eagerly offered to take us to a temple or two at the very reasonable rate of 100 baht per hour, which was roughly a tenth of the lowest price the other people had offered us. We took him up on his offer and endless promises to take good care of us and hopped on in. 

After riding in auto rickshaws around Delhi, I have to say that their Thai equivalent, the tuk tuk, was delightfully tame. 

Our first stop was Wat Maha Pruettharam, a temple outside of the Chinatown region of Bangkok. Our driver showed us inside the first of three rooms. This room, the Phra Ubosatha Hall,  featured a large reclining Buddha, all in gold. 

Next, our driver showed us to another room where a Thai man was sitting in prayer. As it turns out, he was a high school English teacher and invited us in to sit with him. Since it was a holy place, he asked us to take a seat, which we did. He asked us about our plans for the day. When we told him which temple we were trying to visit he informed us that since Buddha was sleeping we wouldn't be able to enter until after 3 pm. He then proposed we check out a market normally reserved for commercial vendors. As it turns out, Cartier and Tiffany buy their gems from this particular market. In honor of the prince's birthday the week before, the hall was open to the public and all purchases were tax free.

After we bid goodbye to our English teacher friend we entered the last temple where we met another gentleman who also recommended that we visit the gem sale. 

Since shopping is a key draw for tourists to Thailand (for Westerners, it's extremely cheap to purchase jewelry or custom made clothes there), the guide took us to a store that made custom suits. Neither of us were really in the market for one so we quickly made an exit. Our driver then offered to take us to a jewelry store. While we initially declined, after a few minutes we relented. As it turns out, the driver would get a coupon for free gas if we spent 20 minutes in the store. He was low on cash and gas so we agreed to do him the favor.

Despite our plans to just wander through the jewelry store for 20 minutes before leaving, we both left with jewels. Kara purchased a ring that they re-sized for free and I ended up with a beautiful pendant. At a small fraction of the cost that the pieces would have cost us in the States, we were unable to resist buying ourselves something sparkly. 

After the store we bid adieu to our driver at a subway station and made for the river. Bangkok was built around the river and the canals and that much is apparent once you reach the river. While there are some modern buildings along the waterfront, it's still crowded with traditional Thai residences and temples. 

As we got off the subway and headed down to the waterfront to hop a water taxi, we had to pass through various street vendors. Let me tell you, one of the best things about Thailand is the street food. Seriously it's a food lover's paradise. There are vendors everywhere selling delicious foods for next to nothing. We grabbed a bottle of pineapple juice to split and some delicious grilled pork. While neither of us are normally big pork eaters, this pork was so delicious and so prevalent that we ended up getting it many more times before leaving Thailand. 

After enjoying our pork and juice we hopped a water taxi. We ended up mostly riding water taxis around the river, stopping at various points to wander around and eat from street vendors.

One of our favorite finds was a stop where people were feeding fish off the docks. The fish writhed around in a massive pile. For some reason watching the fish proved to be quite amusing and we stood there for a bit longer than planned.

 Finally we found our way to Wat Pho, home of the famous giant reclining Buddha.

While the Buddha itself is amazingly impressive, the entire grounds of the temple were just as beautiful. Kara took a picture of a guided tour that was posted outside the main hall and we followed it through the grounds. 

With the sun setting we set our for our one pre-planned meal: pad thai from Thip Samai!  Thip Samai was highly recommended and touted as some of the absolute best pad thai in the city. 

Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. We ordered two different pad thais and opted to split them. According to the menu, these were two of their most popular dishes. 

The one in the background is actually wrapped in an egg, almost like an omelette. It was amazing! The pad thai tasted nothing like American pad thai. In fact, it was much better. Worlds better, if we're being honest. I even ate the bean sprouts, something I never do normally. While they provided a plate of toppings you can mix in we found that we didn't need them. 

Once we ate as much pad thai as we could, we headed back to watch more tennis before turning in. 

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