The First Weekend in Bangkok

I survived my first week in chaotic Bangkok despite the initial trials and tribulations! On Friday, I officially moved all of my belongings (a suitcase and a carry on bag) into my apartment and took the crowded BTS train to work.

My BTS stop - Krung Thonburi

I learned many valuable (and frightening) insider tips on Thailand life from my coworkers including:

  • Most rice will have bugs in it. The bugs are cooked by the time they hit your table, but they’re definitely there
  • Avoid walking in streets of less populated areas at night because packs of dogs may attack you
  • Avoid taking a motorcycle taxi of a man who is wearing a face mask (which can also be to avoid breathing in pollution) because he could be hiding the smell of alcohol on his breath
  • Drinking ice in most places is ok to do!
  • If a police stops your car/taxi and searches your belongings, they may put drugs in your bag and accuse you of smuggling them. If this happens, you have to bribe them with money to get out of the situation
  • Never get into an argument with a taxi driver; they have been known to beat customers up or try to run them over
  • On the note of taxis, make sure to take a photo (with the sound on so that the driver hears you do it) of the taxi number in case something bad happens

After work, a group of us went out to a bar for happy hour, then to the street for dinner for my first proper street food meal. We had sea bass in lemon sauce, Tom Kha soup, rice (with unintentional bugs in it of course), and beer. Arroy (delicious).

Said sea bass
The perfect pairing

We went to Patpong Road, a red light district, and played pool at a dive bar uncharacteristic of the neighborhood. I cringed as we walked by drunken expats grabbing at Thai women, again not something I’m used to. Pool was fun, despite us being terrible at the game.

Pool in Patpong

Hungover the next day, I woke up and started my mission of buying things for my apartment. I decided to explore my neighborhood a bit and walked around in the intense heat. It was fun walking through the narrow bazaars. If you ever need sunglasses (that I bought and broke almost immediately), contacts that make your eyes look huge, or Hello Kitty backpacks, I know just the place.

I ended up by the river and took a ferry across to Chinatown. It should be noted that this was a complete accident. I thought I would be heading on a nice little river cruise to some other stop. Instead, the boat shuffled to the other side of the river. The ride was over in 3 minutes.

Chinatown was great, albeit stiflingly hot. I walked through what seemed to be a silver hawking district, then an area full of custom tailors. Sprinkled throughout Bangkok are beautiful Wats (temples) that stop you in your tracks, even when they are in the middle of horribly ugly parking lots.

Parking lot beauty

Tuk Tuk Dreams

I stopped at the Bangrak Bazaar and ate at an indoor food court filled with stalls and lacking air conditioning. I ordered stir-fried morning glory and rice, and sweat poured down my face as I ate the fantastic meal.

I stopped into a mall to cool off, and went to the restroom to freshen up. In the mirror, I found that after sweating all day and wiping my face with a paper towel, little bits of paper towel had flaked off all over my face. My face was covered in shreds of paper towel. I had been shopping, smiling at people, ordering food looking like a paper mache psycho. Reason #475 you need to have friends.

I cleaned the paper towel graveyard off of my face and went back into the hot world. Fortunately, I ran into a man who made spare keys on the street. He crafted two spare keys for my apartment while his sweet friend watched and gave me his chair. It was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen.  The men were about 75 years old and still doing their thing in the sweltering heat. I snuck a picture because I wanted to remember them forever, but it’s also super weird to take photos of people without asking, so I mainly got the keys.

The man, the myth, the legend
The man, the myth, the legend

With spare keys made and a full belly, I went to the Big C Supercenter, which is essentially a Target/KMart mix by the Chidlom BTS station. I was ushered to the top floor to look for all of my home ware needs. I picked up sheets, hangers, towels, etc., but couldn’t find any normal laundry detergent. Without stopping to think, “Hey, I bet they have more things on other floors!” I decided to buy baby laundry detergent. For the next few months, I am going to straight up smell like a little ol’ baby. Maybe this will be a good friend-making tactic. Maybe people will just think I’m a mother. Only time will tell!

Baby fresh

I got home with what seemed like 10,000 plastic bags (cringe) and went to hanging up clothes and making my bed. SURPRISE! I bought the wrong size bed sheet. That’s right, sheet (singular). In addition to assuming the bed was queen sized, I didn’t read the f-ing package and bought one single fitted sheet. Double fail. Now I have one single fitted sheet that I will use as a weird blanket I guess.

Nothing like covering 3/4 of the bed!
Nothing like covering 3/4 of the bed!

 My apartment has a washing machine IN THE KITCHEN and so I washed my new towels to get them baby-fresh clean. My wet laundry has one of the best views laundry could have! My wet laundry doesn’t even know how good it has it.

That evening, I went to a coworker’s house for dinner and had delicious fish Bánh Mi and other Vietnamese treats from a nearby restaurant. So good! Went back to the 31st floor of the Villa Sathorn and flopped into bed exhausted from another full day of shopping, sweating, and eating.

On Sunday, I was determined to remedy my sheet disaster and planned to go to the Big C again. My building has a little coffee shop in the lobby where I’ve eaten something called Thai Toast two days in a row. It’s essentially white bread toasted with condensed milk sugar sauce drizzled on top. Nothing to complain about there, other than the impending diabetes.

Another BTS ride and I was back by the Big C. I walked around a bit first and took in the sights. I went to the Siam Center and thought about going to Siam Ocean, the aquarium. It wasn’t very cheap, so I stood around the aquarium lobby because I am a creep.

Just a bunch of landlubbers

Back at the Big C, I beelined for the bedding section. After finding sheets that I hoped would fit, I went to the grocery floor and was very lost immediately. I wandered the aisles for a long time just staring at all of the things you would never find in America.

Fish sauce on fish sauce on fish sauce

Got the sheets, sent my first letter (it hasn’t been easy finding stamps, and UPS charged a pretty damn lot to send one letter), and got a foot massage. Back in the heat, I wandered through the food market outside of the Siam Center. I picked up a taro dough thing that was really great. I wish that I would have bought more for my apartment, or just my mouth right then.

The weekend ended with this blog post, written at Glur Bangkok, a hostel and coffee bar that could be in any hip neighborhood of any hip city in America. Vintage decorations, slow drip coffee, Edison lights, etc. The only thing that detracts from the cool factor is the music selection. Think Glee-like knock offs of American Top 40 and a lot of Michael Bublé. Still without WiFi at my apartment, I have to come to places like this to use my laptop when my building’s coffee shop closes. Not really complaining, as it gets me out and in the world.

And with that, a week goes by in Bangkok. How did that happen? How am I a resident of Thailand with a Thai cell phone number and a decent handle on the BTS system? After the beating of the first few days, Bangkok has eased up on me and things are looking sunny (maybe a little too sunny – it was 95 degrees today).

Next up: keep making friends and eating new things.

Bangkok and Other Places

Moving is stressful, traveling abroad is stressful, starting a new job is stressful. Do all of those at the same time, throw in some jet lag, and voila! Your cup will floweth over with stress. Days three and four of this epic journey were not what you would call graceful. 

Day Three

Wednesday started out great! I left my apartment well rested and ready to tackle apartment hunting. I got to an intersection near my hotel to find a motorcycle taxi driver waving at me. MY MOTORCYCLE TAXI DRIVER REMEMBERED ME FROM OUR RE/MAX ADVENTURE THE DAY BEFORE! My heart leapt. Someone remembered me in Bangkok! I had read an article on culture shock prevention, and seeing familiar faces is one way to stave away said shock.

I didn’t need a ride, but I asked him in Thai how his day was. He seemed enthused, and replied happily. I was elated, and practically trotted to the BTS station. I got off at the stop where I was meeting Siri, my great realtor, and stopped to eat street food before our appointment. Thinking I had ordered vegetarian noodle soup (for breakfast), I was bummed when a pork noodle soup was served to me at the food stall. My Thai is not good enough to try and remedy the situation, so I did what any terrible pescetarian would do and ate around the sliced pig.

Noodle Soup

The meal was great, and only $1 or $2. It was a win in my book despite the whole “I just basically ate meat” thing. After probably offending the shop owner for not eating the most expensive part of the soup, I went to meet Siri and her colleague (who was super nice and I cannot remember her name for the life of me). We hopped in a cab to look at apartments nearby. I guessed we would look at sleek, modern apartments and I guessed wrong.

Dingy and Stained

The first apartment was in a rag tag building very close to work, which is an expensive area. I literally stepped over a dead cockroach entering the room. Stained furniture, low ceilings and bad lighting were standout features. I tried to stay positive and forced a smile as I took photos of the place. A mantra of “F****ing never in my life” ran through my head as scanned the room for the bright side. Even though it was in my budget and extremely close to work, I had to pass on the place. She showed me an equally enticing apartment in the same building that did not sway me to reconsider.

We went on to the second apartment, a high rise building also within blocks of my work. Nearby minimarts, restaurants, laundry services and salons were promising features. Then we took the elevator upstairs. The (blurry) photo below was taken on the way to the room, not in a hospital.

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I tried my hardest to keep smiling as I paced around the room. Hellish would be the wrong word, but depressing would be a very right one. I could 100% never, ever live here. I was starting to question what the f my realtor was thinking when she decided to bring me to these dungeons. Was she trying to manage my expectations? She was doing a great job of that.

The next property was still close to work. Our taxi driver couldn’t take us down the building’s street because the road was too narrow. We had to trek down the eerily quiet path to an old, old blue building with a barking, mangey, tiny dog.

Pathway to hell

While we waited for the building owner to unlock the gate, I asked the realtor, “is it safe to do this walk at night?” She immediately told me that no, it was not safe to do this walk at night. You should definitely not do this walk at night. We decided not go into the decaying building and went on to the next showing (which I assumed was going to be a smashing hit considering what I’d seen thus far).

We looked at two more places that turned out to be much nicer, but I caved and said I’d raise my budget a bit. She had to run back to her office to get in touch with different property owners, so I went to lunch at a mall. [FYI, eating at malls is not like it is in the US. Mall eating in Thailand happens to be great!] After eating a half good / half bizarre meal of MORE SHRIMP, I had a heart-stopping realization.

I. Lost. My. Debit. Card.

I tore through all of my belongings. I tore through them again. I tore through them a third time. It was gone. I thought back to the day and realized that I either left it in an ATM or dropped it. Either way, I felt so stupid and started to panic. My mind went to what it would mean to lose a debit card in Bangkok.

I am going to have to cancel the card before someone uses it / oh god what if someone has already used it / literally all of my money is in that account / what will I do if they used it all / wait I only have an American Express and no one takes American Express so how will I get any money / oh f I only have 300 Thai baht what is that going to get me / holy shit I have to pay cash to get an apartment / holy shit I can’t get an apartment / I am going to have to keep blowing money on hotels and I am going to run out of savings and be in debt in Bangkok / How did I let this happen / It is going to take so long for Wells Fargo to send the replacement card to an address I don’t even have yet in THAILAND / HOW COULD YOU LOSE YOUR DEBIT CARD ON YOUR THIRD DAY. 

I got up from the table and power walked to the only semi-private corner of the mall near the bathrooms. I emptied out my purse and wallet again to be sure the card was gone. It was definitely gone. I crouched into the nook and got out my Thai cell phone, my iPhone and my Wells Fargo American Express card (to which I do not have the pin, so no cash advance opportunities there). I tried calling the international number via my Thai phone and I could not get through. I was in such a panic that I was not dialing the + sign, so that was probably my issue. I lost the semblance of cool that I had and started to cry as I turned on my US cellular (read $$$$$$$$$$$) and called my parents. After telling them that they needed to help me cancel my debit card immediately, I started to sob like the saddest baby there ever was. In hindsight, the crying was probably more cathartic than anything. There was no way that I would be totally without food or shelter, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

My parents would help me by loaning me money through Western Union, and things were going to be ok. I stood up and went to the bathroom to clean up. I pitied my puffy, red-faced reflection. I felt weak (mentally) and tired (physically). How could I do something so careless and easily avoidable the THIRD DAY in Bangkok?

I went to look at the other apartments with Siri after returning to my hotel first to try and figure out my financial life. I was wonderfully relieved when she showed me a fantastic place with a breathtaking view. I had found a home on the 31st floor of the Villa Sathorn. HALLELUJAH! We agreed to meet the next morning for me to sign the lease, pay the landlord, and get the keys to my apartment.

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Exhausted from all of the happy and sad of the day, I had no intention of officially moving into my apartment. Instead, I booked another night at my hotel, ordered room service and ate it in bed.

 Day Four 

At 6 am, I woke up at the hotel and realized I had a ton of things to do before my first day of work. I had to order a new debit card, get to Western Union to pick up the money order, get to my apartment, sign the lease, and get to work by 10 am. This was doable until I discovered Western Union didn’t open until 8:30 am. I panicked and had to tell my new job I would be late (on my first day), but hoped they’d understand given the circumstances.

First up: call Wells Fargo. I was delighted to revisit my stupidity on the phone. “Are you sure you lost the card?” Yes. “Where did you leave the card?” I DON’T KNOW, I CAN’T BELIEVE I LOST IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. PLEASE END THIS SALTING OF MY WOUNDS! My debit card replacement was scheduled to arrive in 5-10 business days (although I don’t think international travel time was factored into that generic estimate).

I was 100% ready to quit everything and move back to California, although I knew that I would never actually go through with giving up that easily. I felt the same way during my first week in San Francisco. It’s natural for me to want to capitulate from the get go. Things will get better, and I know that.

I checked out of the hotel, went to the bank for the money order, and took a motorcycle taxi to the BTS station. Everything was looking up thanks to the clutch financial save from my parents. I met Siri the realtor at the Villa Sathorn and became an official renter of property in Bangkok, and the property had a pool!


Back on the BTS, I made my way to my first day at work. I couldn’t believe that I would be working at a job in my field abroad. I paused to stare at the building before I went in. It was a great feeling.

Sathorn Square

Everyone was extremely welcoming and I had a great feeling about the new position. I’ll have to get used to the heat outside, but I think things are going to be wonderful in Bangkok.

Sathorn at Night

After work, I was too tired to go through with shopping for bed sheets, towels, and other household necessities to move in. I checked in yet again to the Hotel Icon Bangkok after another mall meal.

Bun for one
Bun for one

Back at the hotel, writing this blog post helped me put the experiences into perspective. Nothing that bad has happened to me. Some milestones have been hit, and things are trending positively. I made this move explicitly for the challenge, and I have to keep remembering that. The entire point of this experience was to get through the rough transition. I can’t keep getting so upset so easily.

I have eaten delicious food, encountered wonderful people, and reached major goals. Time to shake off the minor upsets and dive into the exciting new obstacles ahead.