Mangoes and Massages – Thailand

These 90 pound Thai women may look harmless, but they can beat your muscles and contort your body in ways you didn’t think possible.

Would I go back to Thailand again? Most definitely. Would I do things differently the second time around? Most definitely. I stuck a bit too much to the guidebook and missed out on a few things, so I’m viewing my first trip to Thailand as a practice run. I’m definitely gearing up for another go around.

A few things to be aware of when heading to Thailand; maybe you are smarter than I am, but I wasn’t expecting them. First of all, it’s hot. I mean hotter than hot. I went in early February and was expecting warm weather, but not the kind of weather where you have to change out of your sweat drenched clothes every couple of hours.

Coming from Portland, Oregon, I’m accustomed to rain and temperatures in the mid 60’s. Thailand was a huge shock to my moderate, Pacific Northwest system. So bring sunscreen. Lots of it.

Stupa in Thailand

The shape of these stupas defines Thailand. IT's repeated in the art, the clothing, everywhere.

Next, don’t expect to be in a hurry in Thailand. Patience is a virtue, and nothing will test this virtue like driving in Bangkok. With some of the worst traffic in the world, you will be waiting in cars A LOT. I t doesn’t matter what time of day you venture out; whether it’s 9:00 pm or 4:30 am, there will be enough traffic to test even the most patient of passengers.

When you are buying anything, be prepared to haggle like your life depends on it. Fortunately I’d had a little practice with this in China; although there was that time I inadvertently bargained a saleswoman up from her original price… whoops!

In Thailand, everything from street cuisine to your taxi rides can be negotiated, although usually you are haggling over just a dollar or two. It’s kind of a game, and once you get comfortable, it’s quite a lot of fun. Just make sure you’re not trying to screw the vendor into the ground; the object is to achieve a fair price for both of you.

Haggling on the Beaches

Now, on to my favorite parts of Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok to meet a girlfriend of mine, and we immediately decided that before jumping into sightseeing, we needed a trip to the beach.

Unfortunately, Bangkok is several hours from the beach so we had to come up with a plan. The sweet thing about Thailand though, is that it’s not expensive to rent a car and driver who will take you wherever you want to go. So for about $20 a piece, my friend and I got a ride in a comfortable air-conditioned car straight to our hotel in Pattaya, which is about two and a half hours from Bangkok.

Now, if you’re looking for a nice secluded beach where you can converse with the locals and get the true essence of Thailand, don’t go to Pattaya. If you’re OK with a touristy, overcrowded beach with access to lots of malls and bars, then Pattaya is your place.

But by the time we arrived in Pattaya, we didn’t care at; we just wanted a place to sunbathe and eat some seafood. And that we did. We also haggled for a rental jet ski and a really short parasailing stint, which added to our super-cheesy but fun tourist gimmick.

Emily takes a beating

Temple statue

I think this guy had had a massage, too.

Sticking with the theme of relaxation, we also treated ourselves to the infamous Thai massages we’d heard so much about. We figured we were spending a couple days at the beach, and we should indulge in a little pampering.

WRONG! These 90 pound Thai women may look harmless, but they can beat your muscles and contort your body in ways you didn’t think possible. Not that it was entirely unpleasant, but it wasn’t the soothing and luxuriating hour and a half we were expecting.

Walking out of there, however, we felt like brand new women. It’s definitely worth it, but don’t go in and be dumbstruck like me.

Must See

No matter what you do in Thailand, make time for this. Even when my entire face was melting off from the heat, I was in awe of the palace and the collection of temples.

Once we were back in Bangkok, it was on to the must-see sights. I’m glad I spent time in Bangkok and saw the sights, but I think next time I would venture out of the city more. That being said, Bangkok is home to some of the most fascinating temples, restaurants, and shows I’ve ever been to or seen.

On my first full day in Bangkok, we hit the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw. No matter what you do in Thailand, make time for this. Even when my entire face was melting off from the heat, I was in awe of the palace and the collection of temples.

My personal favorite was the temple of the Emerald Buddha. I’m not a religious person, but as I took off my shoes and joined all the other barefoot worshippers, I could feel the spirituality pulsing through the room.

It was enough to make me want to become Buddhist. The history, the architecture, and the beauty in this place are captivating. Just remember, there’s a lot of ground to cover, so try to hit it early in the day.

I believe all the temples would be worth seeing, but there are so many that it’s impossible. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, is gorgeous, and well worth your time. You can even take a trek to the top to get a great view of the city.

But be warned, if you’re afraid of heights, the stairs are practically vertical. On the way back down, kids are prancing down the stairs and I’m clinging to the rail and taking about 12 seconds per stair, trying not to plummet to my death.

Gimme more temples!

I was turned away. Turns out, if it’s that time of the month, you are ineligible for a foot massage. That was more than a little mortifying.

Thai temple

Some of the temple structures defy belief.

Another set of temples you should definitely check out is Wat Pho. If you haven’t guessed yet, Wat is Thai for temple. Wat Pho is home to a famous massage school as well as the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand.

The reclining Buddha actually doesn’t mean that he’s sleeping or rested as I originally thought, but rather means that he is in a full state of nirvana. Either way, it’s enormous and pretty fascinating. My final note on Wat Pho is that you should get a Thai massage of some sort at this ancient school.

I wish I could tell you that I did, but I was turned away. Turns out, if it’s that time of the month, you are ineligible for a foot massage. That was more than a little mortifying, but I’m guessing that somehow lady time interferes with reflexology. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On a less disgusting note, the shrines dotted all around the city were one of the most fascinating aspects of Thailand for me. Religion and spirituality is everywhere in this country, from ancient temples to busy street corners. I even saw a shrine parked right in front of Starbucks.

People are bustling by these shrines on their way to work or to meet friends, but they still make time to stop their lives for a brief moment, clasp their hands and bow to the shrine. It’s a reminder to me that you can make time, even small amounts of time, for anything you choose.

My favorite shrine I found, the Erawan Shrine, sits on an active city corner with a mall as a backdrop. It’s surrounded by observers, worshippers, bringers of flowers, and sometimes dancers. It instills the notion that serenity can still be found amidst chaos if you decide to look for it.

Worthy Westerner

Another sight worth taking a look at is the Jim Thompson mansion. Thompson is the Westerner who made Thai silk famous in other countries, and he returned to Bangkok to build his own “Thai style” house.
A Thai house according to Jim Thompson meant building a Thai home and filling it with lots of Western elements. Even if it’s not 100% authentic Thai, it was a cool house and the guided tour was informative and interesting. Just a warning though, don’t buy any silk here – it’s crazy expensive and a fixed price, so go bargain and find yourself a better deal at the market.

Emily with the Ladyboys of Bangkok

In case you're wondering, I'm the one in the middle.

One of the “top 10 things to do in Bangkok” that I would probably have missed is the floating market. Since Bangkok is kind of an Asian Venice, based on lots of waterways and canals, one of the main markets used to take place on boats.

Back in the day, I’m sure this was a spectacular sight, but now it’s basically recreated for tourists. There’s definitely some worthwhile merchandise and cool souvenirs, but it felt like most of it was Thai vendors in tacky hats selling a lot of knock offs. And it’s like bumper cars for boats. I much preferred taking a small boat tour around the canals of Bangkok and getting to check out some untapped wonders of the city.

So I’ve saved my two favorite highlights for last: the food, and the lady boys. Fresh vegetables, curries, noodles, fried rice, seafood, mango and sticky rice, oooohhhhh the mangoes and sticky rice – you name it, Thailand’s got it, and it’s damn good. And cheap too! From the nicer restaurants downtown to the cheap, hole-in-the-wall restaurants in back alleys, I didn’t eat a single thing I didn’t like in Thailand.

And finally, whatever you do, if you are in town for one night in Thailand, make sure to buy tickets to the Lady Boy show. These transvestites and transsexuals are some of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen.

Granted, it was a complete blow to my ego – I’ve never looked that good in women’s underwear and I have the legit equipment. But these guys put on a hell of a show, singing, dancing, entertaining, and it was the best $30 I’ve ever spent. But the best part of the entire thing is that you can have your picture taken with them afterwards; even up close and personal they’re still stunning. I must admit I was just the teensiest bit star struck. Go see the show, and you won’t regret it.

So that sums up the main spots I hit in Bangkok, and they were great sights to see. But I still left feeling like I missed Thailand’s character and charm that I’d heard so much about. I’m thrilled I got to see the sights and lounge on the beach, but next time, I’d try to head out of the big cities and more off the beaten path. But maybe that’s just me creating an excuse to revisit; either way, I’ll be back.

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