Southeast Asia: First Impressions

I'm finally here! After three months of working my way through Europe and two months of anxiously sitting on a $300 plane ticket from Budapest to Bangkok, I can finally say I've reached my longterm destination goal. Ten months ago when I started planning this trip I had every intention of only seeing Asia, but after long deliberation and an itch to visit Iceland I changed my plans. Now, my longtime dream of seeing this part of the world is finally becoming a reality. And my first impression? It's absolutely insane!

I landed in Bangkok late on Tuesday the 27th and immediately felt overwhelmed. This is the first place I've been where I've really felt that the language barrier was potentially going to be an issue, and it started immediately with trying to navigate the Visa I needed to acquire for Thailand. I'd read online that it was a Visa on arrival, meaning I could just show up, (maybe) pay, and enter the country for 30 days, so as I walked through the airport to find Immigration, I immediately saw "Visa on Arrival" and hopped in line. 

Wat Pho in Bangkok

Panic quickly ensued as I realized that the only other people in line were fifty Chinese tourists all with photos of themselves in hand. I assumed I was in the wrong place and was quickly directed to the "Other" Visa on arrival line for those tourists only requiring a stamp in the passport...for FREE!

Thailand allows most western countries free 30-day Visas upon arrival. Though I read this a number of times, there were still a few misleading websites that made me somewhat unsure how it all worked. Thankfully I got everything sorted out quickly, and after ZERO questions about my intentions to visit were asked, I waltzed on through the Thai border without any real knowledge of where I was going.

I'd booked a hostel just a couple of days in advance and thus needed to figure out how to get from the airport to downtown. Bangkok's public transportation is not very extensive, but there is a train from the airport to a relatively central location which I could take and then get a taxi from there to my hostel, so I capitalized on that after getting some cash out of the ATM (shockingly there are no places to use credit cards ANYWHERE thus far) and made my way to a point where I could find a reasonable prices taxi to my pre-booked accommodation.

I checked in to my hostel, Born Free, and almost immediately met an amazing group of people from Britain and the U.S. whom I eventually spent the next week with (along with another French guy who joined us after a couple days). Our group hit it off right away and we spent the first night bowling at a local place just down the street from where we were staying. Our hostel was a bit off the main backpacker street, Khao San Road, and I was thankful for that because after seeing it the following evening I realized I wouldn't have gotten an ounce of sleep had I stayed down there. 

Born Free was in a great location and each of the first few nights in Bangkok were spent finding some great Thai street food near our hostel or a restaurant along the road with reasonably priced food. I'm surprised how quickly my mindset on what's considered "expensive" has changed as everything in Thailand is quite inexpensive. For example, take what I spent my money on the first day I was in Bangkok:

  • 1 night at the hostel - $6.68 (240 Baht)
  • Breakfast (bowl of cereal) - ~$1.00 (guesstimate as I bought a box of cereal and milk) 
  • Lunch (Pad Thai at a street food stand) - $1.81 (65 Baht)
  • 2 tank tops from the market - $6.96 (250 Baht)
  • Dinner (Noodle soup and a beer) - $2.51 (90 Baht)

The sad part about that day above is that the most expensive thing I bought all day was two tank tops which I probably didn't really need...

Giant reclining Buddha

Not only have I found Thailand to be incredibly inexpensive (which is great because Europe was a total b**** when it came to ease of spending money), but the culture of the people in Bangkok is also incredibly focused around money! Every local person you walk by's sole mission in life is to get you to spend just 5 more Baht on their product. There is a constant internal struggle to find the best price around, and if you choose one food stand over the other you will quickly be made to feel bad about not choosing the other one by the sweet older woman desperately in need of your 20 Baht for 3 spring rolls.

The first few days in Bangkok were a blur filled with visiting Temples (Wat Pho), biking around Burmese cultural islands (Koh Kret), visiting downtown Bangkok, old Siam, and Khao San Road, and being sick for four straight days to kick things off. The culture was a shock. The people were a shock. And the food I've now been introducing to my stomach the last few days have REALLY been a shock to my GI system and it's not thanking me for it either. I really think I'm going to love it here!