Thursday, February 20, 2014

Holidays in Thailand: Day Two in Bangkok - Buddha and Black Socks

I hope you enjoyed my re-cap of our first day in Bangkok. Also, you can see a set of pictures I took on our entire trip to Thailand HERE.

In total, we spent two whole days in Bangkok, and below is a review of our adventures on our second full day.

Ending our first day, the combination of jet lag and a long day site seeking defeated us by about 5 p.m. and we eagerly spent the evening in our plush hotel room at the Hyatt. I ordered room service and Diane "had an Ambien" for dinner.

The next morning, we were feeling quite rejuvenated. Given our long night sleep, we were up early and decided to check out the breakfast in the sumptuous lobby restaurant. Sitting there contemplating what to do that day, we factored in a few things: 1) we had not seen the famous "reclining Buddha" temple, 2) we knew there would be more anti-government protests, and 3) well, Bangkok is just a massively crowded city. We figured that we'd like to see the Buddha temple and that the best thing would be to get going early to avoid traffic and protests. At this point it was about 7:15 a.m.

We quickly informed our travel companions that for those who wanted to trek out to the temple, we'd leave at 8:30 a.m. from the hotel lobby. And that's what we did. Our plan worked well and our taxi delivered us to the gates of the temple within 15 minutes. This, it turned out, would be the fastest taxi ride we'd have in Bangkok. We had a much, much longer taxi experience that evening, but more on that later.

Wat Pho - Reclining Buddha
Entering the gates underneath the bright morning sun, we saw a series of temple buildings replete with peaked roofs, tiling, ornamentation, statues and more. Once inside the grounds, we quickly found the entrance to the main building housing the huge, stretched out golden Buddha statue.

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Simply put, this is a spectacular statue and one the likes of which we had never seen. Reclining from one end of the building to the far end, this golden piece shown brilliantly even though it was inside. We walked its length, periodically looking up and taking it all in. Along the front side of the Buddha, there were a number of small devotional or meditating nooks with flowers and other items.

Grounds of Wat Pho
When we reached the feet of the statue and rounded the corner so we were looking at the bottom of the feet, we saw that the feet were covered in ornamental in-laid decorations - elephants, snakes and other animals or scenes. The back side of the Buddha was similar to the front. At this point I also noticed that the outside walls of the building and the window coverings were all decorated with intricate pictures showing some aspect of Buddha's life.
Buddha's Foot Decoration

After we exited this main building, we tooled around the premises...ducking into a temple here, checking out statues there and just enjoying the exotic surroundings and the warm weather. Eventually, we wrapped up our visit and decided to try and find a market to look around at. After a short walk, we did - a vast and multi-block market of food, dry goods, hardware and other common items. As interesting as this was to look at, it did not really offer us anything to buy or to do. So, we decided to get back to the hotel. Again, we took taxis, but this time it took much, much longer to get to the hotel. At some points during our ride, we were going the exact opposite direction that we needed to. In the end, the driver was just going way around the major protest and traffic zone. This probably was the "fastest" way to get where we needed to go.

Food Court Lunch
Arriving back at our hotel, we quickly saw that the location of protest had moved from near our property to somewhere else in the city. Feeling hungry and thinking we might find some interesting shopping, we decided to go to one of the huge department stores we'd read about. In particular, some of these stores were said to have very good, diverse and cheap food courts - good enough that it was recommended to check one out. So we did. We walked along underneath one arm of the elevated tram system to the MBK Center. We entered and made our way up to the top floor where, indeed, there as a sprawling food court jam packed with restaurants and hordes of hungry people.

At the food court at MBK Center
Normally, to our American minds, you would just go up to one of the walk-up restaurants, order and pay...but not here. Nope. One of our group noticed that nobody seemed to be paying with money, but rather they all had a white card about the size of a credit card. Sure enough, the way this place worked was you went to a kiosk and purchased a card with a certain amount of credit on it. Then, you took it to which ever restaurant you wanted to order from and they deducted their price from it. There's probably a reason for this, but it was a hassle. But we did it.

I think the consensus was that the food was OK. Not great, not horrible...just OK. But, the experience was kind of neat. A couple of our group ended up with very, very spicy food and needed some ice cream to calm things down. And indeed, there was an ice cream cart in the middle of the food court. But, other than vanilla ice cream and M&Ms, the flavors and toppings on offer were NOT what we'd ever seen before. Corn? Peas? Something that looked like worms (I'm sure they were not, but they looked like them)? Wow. Our two people got vanilla ice cream and were satisfied.

Once finished, we decided to head back to the hotel since the shopping on offer was more along the lines of electronics, home appliances, clothes and such...not the Thai art or handicrafts we were looking for. Back inside the Hyatt, we hit the pool for a couple hours for some nice, relaxing sun and cocktails before heading out to our last night dinner in Bangkok.

Black Socks and Dinner on the 55th Floor
For our last night in the city, we decided we'd go to a nice restaurant with a view. We settled on Breeze Restaurant. It's a modern Thai place situated outdoors on about the 55th floor of a sky scraper. It's just a few floors lower in the building than Sky Bar. Those of you who saw the movie "The Hangover II" will recognize Sky Bar as that open-air lounge where the group of American screw ups met up with some shady characters. Our plan was to hit Sky Bar for a cocktail, then head downstairs to Breeze for dinner.

Now, as we prepared to leave, we all knew that the bar and restaurant were nice places...but we also
knew this did not mean coat and tie attire - more like nice casual. So, that's what we all wore.

We jumped in a cab for the approximately four mile drive to the building housing the bar and restaurant. After initial progress, we bogged down in that famous Bangkok traffic. Way down. If fact, it took more than 90 minutes to cover the distance. As we inched along and sat at traffic lights for 10 minutes at a time, we saw our "drinks at Sky Bar" time ticking away.

At long last, we arrived at the building, exited our taxi and made our way to the elevators. Up we went and - despite the long cab ride - bounced out into the lobby anticipating the view from Sky Bar. As we strode in, I was politely asked by the hostess to please stay back. We all stopped. She said that I could not enter the bar because, despite my otherwise "nice casual" attire, I was wearing what they considered "open toed shoes." Now...I WAS wearing black leather sandals, but they covered virtually 99 percent of my feet and in no way were any of my toes visible. I questioned their judgment, but was again politely told that I could not enter. The lady suggested that if I were to somehow wear black socks underneath the sandals, that would be OK. Dumbstruck, I asked our group to go ahead into the bar while I went down to the hotel lobby again to look for socks at one of the shops there.

Sky Bar
Photo: (c) Mark Parren Taylor/Time Out
On my way down, I had a hunch. Instead of going all the way to the lobby, I stopped off at the restaurant where we would be dining in about 40 minutes. I asked the hostess there if I could get in wearing the shoes I had on. My thinking was that if I could...I'd just hang there until Diane and our group came down for dinner. But no, she said I couldn't. I reminded her that we had a group of eight coming in for dinner and drinks...ready to spend that we wouldn't be spending if I were to be excluded. As I did this, people wearing FAR more informal clothes walked by and into the restaurant. We're talking shorts, t-shirts and the like with sneakers. After a phone call to her manager, the lady told me that - like upstairs - if I could wear black socks under my shoes I could get in. Wow.

Down to the lobby I went. A very nice hotel employee informed me that there were no shops, but that the 7-11 down a close by alleyway might have black socks. Right. Guess what? 7-11 doesn't have socks of any kind. Could have seen that coming. What to do? I went back from the alley up to the main street the hotel sat on and decided to walk up the boulevard to see if I could find a shop with what I needed. I walked and walked - lots of food stalls, bulk cloth vendors, hardware, but no place looking like they'd sell socks. I came to the conclusion that I'd not be making the dinner. As I did so, I looked up and across the busy avenue and saw what for all the world looked like a modern department store.

Yep. It was a department store. At that point, I knew my problems were solved. Indeed, things were looking up, but it still took a while to get it done. I found my way up to the men's floor quickly, but then embarked on what turned out to be a time consuming hunt for where they had black socks. I knew they would have them, but where? Well, it turned out they were on a display in a far, far back corner of the floor. I grabbed a pair and headed out to find a cash register. But wait! All of a sudden, two store staff came to my side and said that I needed "the card" to go with the socks for checking out. Card? I was confused. They scurried around and looking high an low among the shelves for "the card." I said something like, "I'll just go buy these." They assured me I needed "the card" and that it was missing. Great. Our dinner reservation time was coming right up and these guys can't find "the card."

Finally it turned up. It was a white card with a UPC code on it. Huh? One store employee escorted me to the nearest register where, you guessed it, there was a line up of about four people ahead of me buying things. And each and every one of them operated like they had never bought anything at a store in their lives. How much does this cost? Do you take a credit card? Oh, wait, I actually want to go get something else? No, I don't know my credit card PIN number. And on and on. With my socks, "card" and cash in hand I waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, I was able to buy. It took all of 30 seconds for them to scan the card and take my cash. I bolted back downstairs and outside to the concrete steps in the plaza in front of the department store. There I pulled off my sandals, pulled on the socks and put the sandals back on. OK, time to get back to the building, up the elevator and to the restaurant. I had about five minutes before our reservation.

I knew right where to go, but I had come a ways down the street to get to the department store. The sidewalks were jammed with people and that made the going quite slow. So, I decided to the street. Cars were there and moving, but not fast. So, it was pretty easy to run right along the sidewalk - away from the crowds and safely on the edge of where cars were rolling by.

I made it back to the building and up to Breeze. I found the same lady who told me I needed the socks. All I did was walk up to her and say I was here for a reservation and stuck out my foot showing black socks under my sandals. With that, I was in. Again, it galled me that I saw kids in shorts, adults in short sleeved shirts and tennis shoes walking in as I re-presented myself, but whatever. I'd made it.

View from Breeze Restaurant
All that accomplished, Diane and our group had posted up at the bar. Now, Breeze is a nice place and almost all of it is open air way, way up on the side of a sky scraper on what amounts to a huge balcony. As I strode in, I saw where they were sitting, gave them the short version of my story and then we proceeded to our table. Suffice it to say...I needed a drink.

Where we sat, my back was all of three yards from the edge of the building. A bit spooky. But, the food was good - actually among the best meals we had during the entire trip. Suffice it to say that the rest of the evening was uneventful as we leisurely ate our meal.

...And One More Thing
Oh, wait a second. No...the evening didn't end uneventfully. The hits just kept coming.

Our group was six people strong, and we could not all fit into one taxi home. So, we split up. Three went ahead in the first taxi. Diane, myself and our friend Michael took the second cab. Immediately we were pleased because traffic had abated significantly. But that ended quickly.

At some point, our taxi was pulled over by a stationary motorcycle cop. We sat there listening to the cop speak to the driver in Thai...not sure what the problem was. It seemed clear, however, that the issue was between them and not us. But then the cop stuck his head in the window and asked us in broken English where we were from and we told him USA. All of a sudden, there were hand motions to the meter, and what sounded a question about our passports and something else that sounded like "you pay."

With that, both Michael and I blurted out, "No, we're out." We opened both back doors of the cab and got out, taking Diane with us. We started walking away, and the cop didn't protest too much. But, I did here him call to us again. I did NOT want to spend the night (or longer) in a Thai jail, so I turned around. This time, I heard the cop more clearly say "pay meter." I walked to the side to the taxi and looked at the meter - fearing an all-of-a-sudden very high amount. But no. It signaled a very small amount of money - $3 maybe. So I simply agreed and paid with the lowest denomination I had...probably something like $5. A bargain to get out of the situation.

Inside our "escape" tuk-tuk on our way back to the Hyatt
We walked down the street and quickly found a tuk-tuk to take us the rest of the way. We paid him too
much, but it was worth it to be sure we'd get home. As we pulled away, we looked back to where the taxi had been and the cop was still interrogating the driver, so we figured that the whole thing was probably not about us, but were glad to be leaving the vicinity.

And that did end our evening. We arrived back to the Hyatt and called it a night.


Come on back later for my next post about our trip as we venture up to Chiang Mai for some culture, relaxation, cooking class, elephant riding and more.

NOTE: All pictures in this post except the Sky Bar shot were taken by Marc Osborn and Marc Osborn owns the copyright for those images. Any use of any of the pictures taken by Marc Osborn in this post is not permitted without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

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