OUR BANGKOK TRIP PART II

If you haven't read my other post about our first trip to Bangkok, you can find that here. Otherwise, let's jump right in! Samuel booked two back-to-back trips to Bangkok just a week apart, so the second time around, it wasn't foreign territory. We weren't exactly thrilled to be going back because we didn't have the best time. We didn't like the area where we stayed and were very frustrated with finding food and the hassle of getting around. The trip had its moments, but overall, Bangkok ranked pretty low on our list of places visited. It's actually insane how revisiting a place can yield such a different experience. Had we not gone back, we probably would've had much worse impressions and memories of Bangkok.

We decided to stick with the same game plan as last time: take a bus to the Skytrain and ride the BTS to our hotel. Getting off the BTS is always a little disorienting because we have no idea which way to go and our phones go haywire. Eventually, we found our hotel just at the base of the pedestrian walkway. It was a different hotel than last time, and we were instantly pleased with it. The hotel's name is The Continent -- wonderful location and staff (the concierge was hit or miss, but aren't they all?).

We quickly freshened up and went on a search for, you guessed it, Indian food. I left our post-dinner plans up to Samuel, and he had the wonderful idea to take me to the mall next door, Terminal 21, for some shopping. This shopping mall is unique in that each level is modeled after a metropolitan city. My favorite? San Francisco, of course, which also happened to be where all the restaurants were. We sat down for a mango sticky rice ice cream sundae, which in a perfect world, would be something that is easily accessible wherever I am.

Having just flown 6 hours from Japan, we were both pretty groggy. Somehow, we managed to head up to the rooftop pool for a night swim before retreating back to our room. We had the pool all to ourselves and caught some pretty dazzling views of Bangkok at night. After a much-needed steam shower, I was greeted with a pizza that Samuel had just picked up. To say I was a happy camper would be an understatement. It was such a wonderful start to a trip and I was feeling hopeful about next few days.

The next morning, I woke up to Samuel telling me to get dressed because he had arranged for us to go play with some elephants. I was still half asleep and had originally thought that we would see elephants on our next trip. It turned out that he was able to book everything through our concierge and things fell into place. We met our driver out front and began our journey to the outskirts of Bangkok.

Our first stop was Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. I wasn't even aware that the floating market was part of our itinerary, but later discovered that the elephants were right next door, so it only made sense to do both activities. I read about floating markets on our last trip and was really hoping to visit one.

Remember what I said about the lack of fixed prices and bargaining being a deterrent to me having a more pleasant time? Well, apparently the same went for renting a boat to take us into the market. We didn't realize what we were walking into. When we got out of the car, some woman came up to us and asked if we were going to the market. Were there other "companies" that rented out boats? Who knows? There were no signs or counters in sight, and she was the only one who greeted us, so we assumed that it was our only option. She quoted a ridiculous price (3,000 Baht) for a 1.5 hour ride through the market. Samuel was not aware that the prices weren't all-inclusive (floating market and elephants), and since we didn't bring that much cash on us, we got back in the car to leave. Before he even pulled out of the driveway, the woman ran after us and asked how much we were willing to pay. Again, we had no idea the price was even negotiable, so we were shocked that she asked. We ended up paying 1,500 Baht (~$50) for an hour ride through the market. Did we grossly overpay? Most definitely, but I think Samuel, too, was tired of bargaining and that 500 Baht wasn't worth the hassle to him. If you've ever been to place where you feel like you have to basically argue with people to pay a fair price, you know that it gets tiring and spoils your experience. I totally understand that this is how some cultures operate, and I'm not out to criticize them, but for foreigners like us, it's highly unpleasant and uncomfortable. I'd much rather they stick a price tag on it and call it a day.

That aside, the floating market was such a cool experience! I can confidently say that neither Samuel nor myself has shopped like that before. Vendors would take a long stick with a hook on the end and pull you in and try to sell you on everything from elephant statues to clothes to pad thai. I was giggling the entire time because sure, it's touristy, but it's the kind of crazily unique experience that I want when I travel. I didn't buy much, only a few silk scarves adorned with elephants to remember this amazing trip. We also had some coconut ice cream, made fresh in front of us, which was the most delectable treat we could've asked for at that moment.

As if I wasn't already enjoying myself, I saw a sign that said, "Photos with slow loris," and I kid you not, I let out some shriek reminiscent of a 5-year-old girl who just laid eyes on a unicorn. The guy on the platform pulled us in, and next thing you know, I was handed a fluffy slow loris, who wrapped her legs and arms around my arm. She was so gentle and docile. I was in love! Being the sneaky salesman that he was, he pulled out another slow loris for Samuel, in exchange for another 100 Baht. Samuel couldn't resist, obviously, and we had the best 5 minutes with those cute little angels. As usual, Samuel's slow loris was a funny fella and had his tongue out the entire time! Totally worth the 500(?) Baht!

We had the most delightful time at the market and was sad to leave, but it was elephant o'clock! Literally two minutes away was Chang Puak Camp. I wish I were writing about a more enjoyable, good-natured experience, but what we experienced was everything but. I had previously looked up several places to play with elephants, none of which looked like this camp. We double checked with the driver that this was the correct place that the hotel recommended, and he confirmed. I couldn't believe my eyes: each elephant had a man perched on its head. Each man was armed with pickaxe. I was gullible enough to think that it was to lead the elephants in certain directions, but soon found out that it was for much more distasteful purposes. We bought several buckets of bananas to feed the overworked elephants and left. It was all too overwhelming and horrifying. As an animal lover, I was beyond disgusted with myself that we went to this place. Granted, it wasn't one of the spots on my list, but the hotel's recommendation, which we blindly trusted. I bursted into tears when I saw yet another trainer hit his elephant with his pick. My heart was so heavy at the thought that camps like these existed. It's plain and simple animal abuse and cruelty and I am so ashamed that we even stepped foot into this place.

I did some more research when we got back to the hotel on the other elephant experiences that I found. Those places showed pictures of people in rivers with elephants, splashing around with them. Those elephants were free of chains or people on their heads. They were in their natural environment, playing with people. It turns out those were elephant sanctuaries. That's the key: if you ever want to ethically play with elephants, make sure you seek out reputable sanctuaries.

On a lighter note, the rest of the day went fairly smoothly. Samuel needed to get some work done, so he stayed in the hotel while I went out for some Indian food and a Thai massage. All the temples were closed by the time I had my massage, so I took the BTS over to Chit Lom to see the famous Erawan Shrine. It was a small but mighty alter focused on the statue that has four faces, overlooking all of the city. Given that it's one of the most visited locations in Bangkok, I was surprised that there were only two people there when I arrived. I spent a few hours browsing the nearby malls, scoring some amazing deals on Thai goodies, such as elephant teapots, scarves, and pants. I also learned that I paid triple the price for my elephant scarves at the floating market (huge shocker) -- good thing I bought fewer than I initially wanted!

My final stop of the night was the Train Market. It took a while to get there, but boy was I glad that I decided to go. This market was exactly what I thought Chatuchak Market was going to be like, rows and rows of booths selling food and souvenirs. I spent several hours browsing the market and primarily snacking on garlicy cheesy river prawns, grilled corn-on-the-cob doused in coconut milk, Nutella roti, and coconut ice cream, amongst other things. Since Samuel couldn't make it out with me, I brought back some of everything for him to enjoy the next morning.

I slept like a baby that night and woke up around noon. I had such a fun time shopping the day before that I decided to skip out on the temples and treat myself to more presents. After a satisfying Indian lunch and yet another Thai massage (they're so cheap, I'd be a fool to not get them on the daily!), I popped into a little souvenir store and found the cutest silk elephant tote for my mom. A little more browsing lead me to a matching bag in a boxier style that I liked. So, my mom and I now have matching elephant purses!

Since I didn't have a chance to buy anything at Terminal 21 the first night, I went back to shop around. We spotted a woman selling the largest selection of straw bags, so I was hoping to catch her again. Much to my dismay, she had closed up shop over the weekend. I even went back later that night with no luck.

I picked up a classic Thai tea at Cha Tra Mue (a popular tea shop in Thailand) to cool off while I went off to check out more of the boutiques in the mall. It was my first ever Thai tea -- the fact that it's orange had kept me from trying one in the past -- and it's actually very good (it tasted like milk tea with vanilla).

I decided to walk up an appetite, all the way over to Emquatier Emporium, which the concierge highly suggested I visit, to check out the shopping scene. I was told that I would be able to find some awesome Thai souvenirs there, but ended up being surrounded by designer stores. I'm certainly not complaining and would've enjoyed it much more had I not been on the search for something else entirely.

An hour later, I met Samuel back at the hotel to go out for dinner. While he opted to go back to the room to pack afterwards, I made a final effort to get any and all things that I had even debated purchasing. I lucked out on the straw bag booth at Terminal 21 once again and only stocked up on several cans of tea at Cha Tra Mue. It ended up being for the best, as I was barely able to squeeze my haul into my already-full carry-on suitcase and my bag.

Our trip to Bangkok the second time around was a breath of fresh air. While we didn't visit any temples, the cultural and exotic experiences, delicious food, and shopping more than made up for it. It was fortunate that Samuel had plans to go back to Bangkok because otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to experience this totally different side of the city.