Bangkok, you’re doing it wrong

4 ways you’re doing Bangkok wrong:

  1. You lost your debit card in the first three days of your move
  2. You lost your iPhone in the first month
  3. You’re renting an expensive apartment with a year lease
  4. You’ve only had Pad Thai 3 times

What the f is wrong with me? How could I possibly lose my cell phone? HOW HAVE I MADE IT THIS FAR IN LIFE?

On Friday, my friends and I went to Khao San Road, one of the most touristy nightlife destinations in Bangkok. It wasn’t until we were back at home that I realized it. Phone = gone. I thought back to the timeline of the evening. We started the night at Khao San posted up at a bar where we drank buckets of soda that were allegedly alcoholic. At the bar, I definitely had my phone, but couldn’t remember using it after we left to dance in the street. Whether someone stole it out of my purse or I left it at the bar, it didn’t matter. It was 4 am and it was gone. We ate street food noodle soup and I tried not to be too upset about the fail.

More like, "VERY BIG IDIOT."
More like, “VERY BIG IDIOT.”

My friend Chris (pictured above) helped me try to get it back, even though it was super late and I’m sure he wanted to go to bed. We talked to the person who had taken my phone, trying to persuade him to return it for a reward. Instead, he kept asking us to give him the phone’s password (tempting, but no). He said that he already had a phone, and didn’t want to steal mine. Great, but not convincing, considering he took it two hours south of Bangkok. Shortly after talking to him, he disconnected the phone number he had called us on.

So it was gone, the phone was gone. The next morning, Chris, Etty (his girlfriend) and I went to the Fortune Town IT Mall at Rama 9 to look for a new iPhone. It was going to cost me a lot and no one took American Express. After realizing this was going to be a herculean task, we parted ways and I continued my hunt.

Fast forward 5 hours, and I was the owner of a terrible new $100 Samsung. The graphics were pixilated and the downloads were slow; I missed my iPhone so much that I could have gotten a tattoo of it’s serial number on my foot. Fortunately, my dad went to the AT&T store in Fresno, California and was able to get a replacement iPhone 5s for $99! Until it comes in the mail, I’ll be able to survive in my Android hell (first world problem alert).

I wanted to move to Bangkok for the challenge, but not the challenge of dealing with my own avoidable mistakes. One month under my belt in Thailand, and I had already gone through a slew of bad moves. At the end of the day, it could have been worse. No one got hurt – unless you count the hangover of the next day – and it’s just a phone (but who am I kidding, it’s 2014 and I’m addicted to technology).

Just another learning experience here in Bangkok.

Train to Hua Hin

Bangkok is a gateway for travel throughout Southeast Asia. You can go to endless places (often cheaply) from the city’s airports, train stations, and bus depots. I want to take advantage of that as much as possible while I live here, with a special emphasis on train travel.

My first trip out of Bangkok started with a 100 baht, or $3.08 USD motorcycle taxi ride to the Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Since becoming accustomed to motorcycle taxi etiquitte, I realize that my first few rides in the city must have horrified the driver. Instead of gracefully balancing on the back of the bike holding onto the seat as Thais do, I molested the first two or three Thai men by squeezing their waists intimately. Oops!

When I got to the train station, I had no idea where I wanted to go. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere with a beach, and that I didn’t want to go anywhere 12 hours away. The clerk at the information desk suggested Hua Hin, a quick four hour ride. A coworker had recommended the seaside town, so I bought a third class ticket for just 94 baht, $2.90.

Hua Lamphong Railway Station

I packed light and overdressed for the trip. I shoved a change of clothes, a book, and some toiletries in my work purse. Being a solo female traveler, I wanted to make sure I did the trip as safely as possible. No laptop, briefcases full of cash, etc. My thought process for the overdressing was that if I looked as far from a backpacker as possible, people might treat me less like a backpacker (take advantage of me, price gouge, murder, etc.). It was also by default because I brought about 90% work appropriate clothing to Thailand, so casual isn’t really my go-to.

One way to somewhere, please!
One way to somewhere, please!

I got on the train and walked back and forth like a crazy person a few times before finding my seat, 57A. I lunged toward the window as I had already begun to sweat intensely. The heat was alive and well, and I needed the air condition-free train to start moving ASAP before I drowned in a pool of my own sweat. A woman and her daughter dressed in hijabs were my seat buddies, and I couldn’t stop thinking “HOW HOT ARE YOU IN THAT HIJAB AND FULL LENGTH GOWN?!”

We started to leave the station and I braced myself for the life-saving breeze that was sure to come. We began to pick up speed and then stopped picking up speed, holding a very mediocre pace. The wind in my hair I dreamed of was more of a slight puff, and I would continue to pour sweat the rest of the journey, using my spare shirt as a sweat rag.

I was the only farang (foreigner, usually white) on the train and felt out of place. I was clearly having a hard time with the sweating, and my traveling companions were kind to me. Despite the language barrier, the woman and her daughter offered me snacks like pork (which I couldn’t eat) and boiled peanuts (which I could and did) throughout the journey.

My heart seized up when the woman THREW HER STYROFOAM TRASH OUT OF THE TRAIN WINDOW! Coming from San Francisco where environmental awareness is king, I was blown away by the blasé act. WHY ARE YOU LITTERING IN YOUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRYSIDE?! It’s hard not to be culturally insensitive/ethnocentric during such events when the behavior seems so wrong. I have to remember that this isn’t my country- I have to cool my jets and accept things the way they are.

Although the woman at the train station said Hua Hin was a quick four hours away, the trip ended up being six and a half hours of sweat, snacks, and culture shock. I arrived at sunset and walked through the town known to be loved by Thailand’s royal family. Being on the water, there was seafood galore in the restaurants and food stalls.

I had a delicious seafood stir fry dinner and went hunting for a fun bar to grab a beer. My goal was to find fellow travelers or expats to chat with about life in Thailand, what’s up in Hua Hin, what the hell is going on with all of the styrofoam, etc.

September is not a particularly booming time for tourism in Thailand, but the demographic that travels year round are the sexpats, tourists who visit Thailand (or move here) for the prostitutes. While most of the bars in Hua Hin were empty save a few Thai women, there was at least one or two old white men pawing at the beautiful locals selling their services. It was a depressing place for a lonely American girl to wander. I walked around for hours in search of a place with younger patrons, but had no luck. I gave up and had a beer at a nearly empty restaurant before taking a 15 minute truck taxi to my hotel.

Mornin' Hua Hin!

In the morning, I woke up reenergized and ready to enjoy Hua Hin’s shining feature- the beach! The hotel offered a shuttle to a nearby beach and I took advantage of the ride at 8 am. I didn’t want my phone stolen while I was frolicking in the sea, so I left it back in my room, taking only a book and towel. The hotel shuttle promised to pick me up in an hour and dropped me off at the beach. I stepped onto the sand and was overwhelmed by the smell of dead fish and trash coming from the dead fish and trash strewn about the near-empty beach. Great!

I shook off the initial disappointment and decided to spend my time in the ocean and waded in, delighted to be in the water. The water too smelled like trash, but I didn’t mind. Another blow to my enthusiasm came when I noticed fat jellyfish floating around my legs. I bolted out of the water dejected and decided to read on my towel in the sun.

Not two minutes later, I heard a noise and looked up. A man was masturbating aggressively staring at me 50 ft away. I looked down instantly and panicked. What the f was I supposed to do? He started to yell noises at me to get my attention, and I realized that I was the only person on the beach. Alone, scared, confused, and grossed out, I put my clothes back on as quickly as possible and power walked down the road I came from. I wanted to run, but the packs of stray dogs have been known to attack people and I didn’t want to get their attention by flailing through their territory.

Fortunately, the man did not follow me down the road and I made it back to my hotel safely. I couldn’t report the incident to the hotel because the thought of explaining the scene with the language barrier seemed insane. I huddled up by my hotel pool and felt very weird about the whole experience. A night of sad sex tourism on display and a day of indecent exposure was not what I had intended for my weekend getaway.

I ended up taking an overpriced taxi back to town after a lackluster breakfast at the hotel. The thought of riding back on the train for six and a half hours after the let down was not enticing, so I took an air conditioned van back to Bangkok. It was very uncomfortable, but only took three hours and got me back in time for a late lunch with friends in the city.

While I enjoyed the experience of train traveling alone, Hua Hin was not my favorite and I don’t think I will be going back any time soon. Fingers crossed for a better adventure next time!

Getting to Thailand

On Saturday, September 13, I left San Francisco to start a new chapter in Bangkok.

As I sat in the Manila airport on Monday morning after a 14 hour flight from SFO, it still didn’t seem like reality. Why would I leave a life I loved in California to be extremely uncomfortable in Southeast Asia?

Into the unknown

With a five hour layover in Manila, things were off to a good start. The people were happy and friendly, and there was free WIFI. My friends Haley and Amber, who were off to Vietnam, were with me the first leg of the trip. We managed the 14 hour flight and enjoyed a coffee in Manila as they waited for their plane to take leave for Ho Chi Minh. When it was time for them to go, I just stood there in a stupor. This was it, I was about to be alone in Asia. I’ve never done anything epic alone, so the idea of literally flying solo was hard to take in. I took photos of them in a panic as they boarded their plane.

They leave :(
Haley and Amber, off to Vietnam

I paced the terminal and found myself in a 30 person line for the bathroom. I thought it was nice that they had a stall set aside for “Elderly Use Only” even though that meant the wait was wildly long. Using What’s App, I stressfully communicated with loved ones back in the USA until my 8:50 flight to Bangkok.

One of the trip's in-flight meals

When I landed in Bangkok and went through customs, I logged into the airport’s free WIFI and opened HotelQuickly, the app I would be working for, to book my first hotel room. After booking a night at the Hotel Icon Bangkok, I found a metered taxi and headed for the city. My taxi driver may have been the least friendly person in Thailand, but I tried to stay happy despite the 24+ hours of total travel time. I spotted a billboard on the freeway that helped comfort me in my insane decision to move here:

“Opportunity has landed, welcome to Bangkok” was a comforting sight to see. Thirty minutes and less than $10 later, I was at the hotel where I was greeted with a sweet, violet-colored beverage and an iced cold towel. I checked into my room and was still in a general disbelief.

My room at the Hotel Icon Bangkok

After so much travel time and reading up on the possible horrors that could happen to a single woman traveling, I was extremely paranoid to leave my room again. I had been so fixated on the idea that everyone was going to rob me, rip me off, or kidnap me that the thought of leaving my safe little abode was overwhelming. I showered and lingered for two hours before mustering up the willpower to go and buy a cell phone.

From the BTS

I took many wrong turns, went into many wrong buildings, but finally ended up at the TrueMove H store where I bought a prepaid phone for $20 from a man who spoke very little English. I kept finding that whenever I asked people (in Thai) if they speak English, they find it hilarious and usually laughed at me. So that’s great.

Overwhelmed and jetlagged, I went back to the BTS (the skytrain) and got off when I saw a sign for massage. I settled into a comfortable chair at the massage parlor and had one of the best foot massages of my existence. This could have been due to the roller coaster of emotions I had experienced over the past week, or just that the woman was a true genius. Either way, it was heaven. The cherry on top of the day was dinner: my first pad thai at a place called Lee’s near my hotel.

Pad Thai

I walked back to my hotel and flopped into my bed. I continued to repeat “how is this real?” as I talked to family and friends online. The first day was under my belt.