Travel log: Thailand, First Impressions
Friday, October 7th
I arrive in Bangkok at 9:30pm after a 2 hour layover in Seoul. The airport is nice and still bustling at that hour. I went ahead and booked a hotel by the airport in advance because I was planning to take a overnight train to Phuket the next day. The hotel, called Thong Ta Resort & Spa, was just what I needed after a day of travel. It was clean, room was spacious, had a/c, hot shower, 2 free bottles of water and free shuttle to and from the airport. It wasn’t really a “spa” though; they only did thai massage. I was planning to get a treatment of some sort but not just a massage. I leave around 11am to head to the bus station. The train would have been the better and more comfortable option with a sleeping compartment, but I called around and I was told the a/c cars were booked. It this smoldering hot I was not about to take a fan only train. Bus ended up being 400 baht cheaper and a great way to see the country.
The bus station had a food court with a few veg options since it was veg week. I scoped out my options and settle for a place called Noodle Garden. I pointed to what I wanted from the photos of vegetarian food and they bring out a plate of rice. I point to the photo trying to communicated this was not what I ordered. They had no idea what I was saying, but how hard can it be to bring me something on your menu. They try again, this time bringing me noodles that have meat and fish sauce in it. I walked out after trying to explain to them that it wasn’t vegetarian. I was highly annoyed. Fail.
Thankfully during this week all the 7-11’s have cheap vegan food, unfortunately just frozen entrees that get popped in the microwave, but beggars can’t be choosers. There’s a smoothie shop in there too, so I grab a fruit smoothie with my noodle tv dinner. 75 baht. I start walking around to find a place to sit and come to the 3rd floor food court. I see a place that just opened with yellow signs and red letters, the signal for “Jay” food or strict vegetarian. I run over to ask them if it’s all vegan and how much; rice and 2 choices 40 baht. Score!! I help myself and save my 7-11 tv dinner for the bus ride, since I most likely will not have vegan options on the road. It is a good time to be vegan and Thailand though this week. You can find Jay food many places. Turns out the tv dinner was pretty good and I’m thankful to have it since the rest stops are not plentiful with veg options.
So, back to first impressions. Bangkok is hot, muggy, dirty, smelly, and probably the closest to a 3rd world country I’ve ever been to. People live in shacks under the freeway, trash litters the streets and rivers, the sewer system smells gawd-awful, and people drive nuts (already witnessed first bad accident on the way to the bus station). That being said the people are really nice, it’s green and lush, everything is cheap as can be, and it’s a new world. I can’t believe I’m actually here!
Saturday October 9th
Tomorrow starts the Vegetarian Festival and I already have a meetup planned with people from all over the world who are vegan and coming to the festival. I found a cheap hostel that has free internet and a pool. Life is good.
After breakfast and checking email I set out to explore the city of Phuket. Looking at the map there isn’t much to do in the immediate area. I’m really staying here to be close to and see the vegetarian festivities, but I can see myself getting bored very quickly. My hotel has a shuttle to the west side of the island where the beaches are, so I will probably take advantage of that.
So, I set out on foot and of course as soon as I reached the street someone was asking me where I wanted to go. I read all the stories about people taking you on a tour only to bring you to a jewelry shop for you to purchase things, so I said no thanks. He whipped out the map and said he’d take me on a tour of town 1 hour for 100 baht. It was hot and that was too expensive by most standards, but I said ok because the Buddha statue I wanted to see wasn’t all that close (and uphill). Within 25 minutes he says, “OK now we go to our private souvenir shop for you to take a look.” Crap, I’ve been had!! I tell him I’m not interested and I’d like him to show me more of town. He says fine, but takes me to the store. He says please go take a look for a few minutes so the driver gets some stamp. I walk in, look around, and walk right back out. He takes me to the Phuket Bay, which has a nice park, lots of greenery, and a Chinese temple nearby. People don’t swim on this side, you gotta go to the west side of the island he tells me. He gives me a brochure and tells me he can give me a good price on a day tour to Phi Phi. I tell him I will think about it. I know these people are just trying to make a living but damn, girl a solo girl traveling a break.
I have him drop me off by a Buddhist temple we had passed earlier with lots of food stalls with the Jay sign. Lunch time! Better food choices here in Phuket, OMG there is so much food here. The streets are lined with food shacks with vegan food, a lot of it fried, but also lots of veggies dishes. I go for a place with the most choices. The sweet lady let’s me sample a few things because I’m afraid the curries are going to be too spicy for my wimpy ass. And of course they are, so I opt for 3 veggie dishes with rice, 40 baht (that’s not even $2!). I sit and eat, and the younger guys that work there can not stop smiling at me. They can’t speak English, but he motions a thumbs up to me and I flash a big smile and thumbs up. The food is delish. Granted, not many people could enjoy the kind of food here, cooked in open air outside where they store, wash, prepare, and cook everything right on the street. I can even think of a few friends back home that wouldn’t be caught dead eating this street food, but I’m in Heaven here.
I met a girl from Indonesia on couchsurfing and she just arrived. She wants to rent a motorscooter and I’m so nervous because people drive so crazy here, but she is very experienced. We went all over the island and had a blast! Went to see the Big Buddha, a bunch of shrines, ate more delicious food and caught the morning procession of the Vegetarian Festival. More photos can be found here.