The deal was incredible. I heard from my best friend Mel at 5am about a glitch in the Priceline algorithm that got us an incredible deal that would have us going all the way around the world. A few days later, Shannon, whom I had never met before but fell in love with, joined in. Our $177 itinerary got us tickets on Delta/Air France from New York (JFK) overnight to Milan, and then a week later from Prague to Bangkok, via an 11 hour stop-over in Paris. Travel-wise we had to pay for: Flight to New York, side trips in Italy, overnight train from Milan to Prague via Zurich, flight from Bangkok to Phuket, and flight home from Thailand. Because I have status with Marriott, we got free hotel rooms in Milan, Prague and Bangkok, with lots of nice perks! This trip was in November 2014, we got home in time to recover from jet lag over Thanksgiving break.
Here’s our 12.5 minute video of the whole thing. It was the first GoPro video I ever made, it’s poorly shot and cheesy.
We didn’t have any major problems other than train delays in Italy. No drama or fights with the three girls, no lost luggage, no missed connections, nobody got sick. Our first leg from San Diego to Dallas on the way to New York was delayed/cancelled, so we were re-routed on different flights to different NY airports, but we all ended up at our first stop within an hour of each other.
We arrived in New York late on Sunday and stayed at my friend Marcy’s apartment on the West side (near Hell’s Kitchen) and had an absolutely amazing time hanging out with her. The four of us were like the Sex and the City girls exploring the city. She’s a friend of mine from college and we traveled together to Greece last year. We went out for a bunch of amazing food, did all sorts of touristy stuff. One of Shannon’s bucket list items was the simple NY act of walking through Central Park with Starbucks in hand, and it was amazing. We walked so much, and I was totally amazed that I felt like I was a movie set the whole time, like people must feel when they come to California for the first time. The sounds and the smells, the steam coming out of the manhole covers, all exactly as I pictured it. It was electric!
We went to the Top of the Rock to check out the view and saw all around the city and the park. It was better than going to the top of the Empire State Building because we actually got to see the Empire State Building. They were putting up the annual Christmas tree in front of the skating rink, and that was really cool.
We saw Times Square, and it was smaller than it looks on TV. Not as crowded as I was expecting. We had the most amazeballs Cuban food at a fantastic spot across the street from Marcy’s office for lunch. There was sangria, of course. We went to a trendy restaurant (Beauty & Essex) for dinner and they had champagne they were just giving away in the ladies’ room. I had a cosmo to be all Sex and the City.
On Tuesday, Marcy was back to work, and we went for the authentic New York subway experience. It was Veterans day, so we went to the 9/11 Memorial and the freedom tower. It was really moving because at each veteran’s name there was a yellow rose in remembrance. Definitely something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Walked through the financial district and grabbed the bull by the balls and picked up a cronut. We headed to Chinatown and had some awesome dumplings and a short-lived scramble to find fake purses that didn’t come to fruition.
We had a hard time hailing a cab, which lead to a scramble to get our stuff together at Marcy’s house and getting us and our cronut out the door in crazy NYC traffic through the Veteran’s Day parade to JFK. We barely made it in time to check in. Since for domestic flights you don’t start boarding until thirty minutes before departure, we thought we were fine grabbing a beer before the flight. Turns out they start pulling checked bags of people that aren’t on board for international flights at about that time, so we very barely made it! Of course, on the flight I got six hours of sleep and for Mel and Shan Shan, the struggle was real.
Landed in Milan on Wednesday morning and cleared customs and dealt with getting the train into the city from the airport and a cab to the hotel. I couldn’t pronounce the name of the hotel so the lady cab driver could understand it. We had wanted to Uber everywhere, but nobody ended up getting a SIM card the whole trip, and we couldn’t always get WiFi. (Times sure are different now with cell phone coverage!)
Our hotel was super posh (Boscolo Milano – would recommend! Marriott family!) and we got upgraded to a suite with a rain shower that none of us particularly care to experience again. We had a king bed and a rollaway, so we just rotated who was sleeping where. Since Melissa didn’t get a lick of sleep on the plane and D&S were doing OK, she took a nap while we ventured out. The running gag since Shan had never left North America that everything was her “First ___ in Europe!” We walked through the pouring rain to the big Gallerie Vittorio Emmanuele and walked by the Duomo and the big square. Had some prosciutto and melone and cappuccinos. OMG the espresso and cappuccinos in Europe, y’all. For serious. Walked around and looked in shops, got only slightly lost, and made it back to the hotel to pick up Mel.
If you’re ever going to go to Milan and want to see the Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci (And it is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it) you need to buy tickets for it about three months or so out. It’s fading, and for preservation they only let in 25 people for 15 minutes at a time. When we went to get our tickets, there was availability for the day before and the day after we wanted to go, so we had to go through a tour group to get in to see it. We were on a bus and they took us around to the big sites – we went to the opera house (which the tour was way much longer there than it really needed, but you could tell it was a huge source of pride for them). We went back to the Duomo and Vittorio Emmanuele (we spun on a tile mosaic of a bull’s testicles in the floor for luck). Instead of going into the cathedral for free exploration with the rest of the tour group, the tired trio ran into a coffee shop and D&S got our signature espresso drinks “al banco,” or standing up at the bar like a real Italian, and Mel always got amazing hot chocolates. As the sun was setting, we went and walked around the old castle, which was neat, but would have been neater in the light and not rain. There were always super cool things to see and photograph, and of course we were travelling with San Diego’s #1 wedding photographer and we kept saying “I’d put a bride in front of that” if we saw something cool. Finally we made it to the Last Supper and it was absolutely amazing and incredible. One of the top moments of the trip for me. Our tour guide was pretty good, I’d recommend it, but there’s a shorter version through another company we tried to change to. She kept over-using the words “elegant” and “elegance” the whole time though. We made it a drinking game (we didn’t have any booze, but every time she said it, we’d say “drink!”) and thought we were hilarious. With her Italian accent, it came out sounding more like “helegant” though… which will come into play later in the trip!
Due to flooding, there were huge delays on the train lines on Thursday. They had to funnel all of the trains on one track. Because of that we were about eighty minutes late in getting to the train station in Verona. We didn’t have phones and no way to get in touch with our chef/driver about the cooking class, and when we finally did, we missed it and we lost our deposit. But I was armed with her handy travel book and gave a five star on Yelp walking tour of the city. We stopped at a little tratorria off the main path and had some amazing risotto and wine, and Mel found her first European craft beer of the trip. Stopped in a little enotecca that used to be the archbishop’s private chapel and sampled some wine that the guy tried to explain in full Italian. It took us a few tries to find it, but we eventually came to Juliet’s balcony. It was totally swarmed with tourists, and it was not as charming as it looked in the Amanda Seyfried “Letters to Juliet” movie. We got some bad pictures of us and checked out some letters posted on the wall, but didn’t end up writing any of our own. We walked to the river and checked out some gorgeous light at sunset, but after so much travelling and delays and it starting to get cold, we decided to hop on an earlier train back to Milan. We went out to a craft beer bar recommended by Mel’s Roman friends and were blown away by the hamburgers we had. (Pumpkin burger. For serious) It was really nice to be somewhere outside of the city center where all the tourists were too.
We were so terrified at first that Venice wasn’t actually going to happen. I got trip alerts about protests and strikes and weather and anything that could disrupt the trip, and we heard that there were going to be strikes on Friday when we planned on going to Venice. We were super lucky though because it was actually only the local regional trains that were striking, and we were safe with our high speed train to the far North East of Italy to see Venice before it sinks.
Venice is shaped like a fish, and the Grand Canal winds through the fish from mouth to ass, with all the other smaller canals radiating off of it. We hopped on the Vaparetto (it’s Venice’s version of a bus… but it’s a boat) and took it all the way down from the train station at the mouth to St Mark’s square at the butt. I gave another A+ tour highlighting all the sites as we glided down the Grand Canal running the GoPro.
We spent the rest of the day touring and walking back up to the train station to head back home. The best part about this Friday was that the weather was absolutely perfect. We were prepared for anything (Venice floods frequently, and in fact did a few days after we got there) and we had nice crisp, clear “jeans and a sweater” weather in November. We stopped at a little restaurant right on a canal and had our taste of Italian pizza before we tackled the sights. We only went into St Mark’s cathedral on the square and didn’t hit up any of the other major sites like the Duomo or museums. (I’ve seen it all before, and we weren’t trying to make this a very museum-y trip).
We stopped at Harry’s Bar, which is where the Bellini was invented to get the three most expensive cocktails ever. I’ve been there on each of my three trips to Venice, but it was my first time getting a bellini because I usually get a martini like Hemmingway did, because he used to drink there.
We stopped in cute shops the whole walk back, I got a mask, Shan got a shot glass for her dad. We found a spot on a side canal where you could see between some buildings to the top of the Salute church, and for awhile there were no tourists walking by and it was totally quiet. Mel said that was her favorite place in Venice. I had to keep reminding myself that everything was real, it wasn’t a Disneyland set that was designed to look like that. We swung by the place where Clooney got married, but they didn’t invite us in. Some spectacular people watching and yummy beverages all day!
We finally had a day where we didn’t have to be up early. But that’s not how I roll, so while Mel and Shan slept in, I got up and actually went inside Milan’s Duomo cathedral. It was absolutely amazing and I really liked the crypts underneath with some famous saint being buried there. Did some highly fashionable Christmas shopping that I’m excited about and came back to check out of the hotel to hop in an Uber to the train station for the last time. (“Uber?? Five Euros?? REALLY?” We were educating the masses about it!)
We had a frantic dash trying to figure out how to get the Zurich tickets (on a different rail company) printed and validated, almost missed the train! It was an uncomfortable train ride in a regular car to Zurich… Mel and Shan were across from some new parents feeding their infant apple juice and an lady who was stealing all the leg space. The ride was rainy with bad visibility, but what we could see of Lake Como and the waterfalls in the Swiss alps were out of this world and we all want to go back.
When we got to Zurich there was no wifi available unless you had a phone number to get a code sent to you, so we were on our own. We had found out that one of the best places to have a variety of beers in Zurich was actually in the train station, so we were set. We did all leave and walk around the Limmat river for a little bit so we could actually say that we were in Zurich. Had a lot of beer and super filling cheesy food and some beer ice cream that knocked our socks off. The waiter was enamored by us and brought his friend over to say hi. The Heineken was not skunked in Switzerland – not good but didn’t suck like in the US. Then we finally hopped on our sleeper train prepared with beer and snacks and Mel’s iPad loaded with Sex and the City episodes. Our cabin was truly the size of a mini closet. We had three seats that would fold into three bunks. There was a toilet at the end of the car for everyone to share (there weren’t very many other passengers) and we really didn’t have anywhere at all to store our bags, so it was a complicated juggling sequence to get all of us situated in there, couldn’t have done it without our awesome porter Michael who probably thought we were crazy. Lots of beer and cramped quarters led to me doing yoga in the train aisle. The video does not exist, don’t ask for it. Remember when we played “I Never” on the train from Zurich? We finally got to sleep a little late and didn’t sleep well on a loud and rocking train, but at least we were laying flat and all of our stuff was secure!
We woke up on the train and had our little breakfast before getting in to Prague. We checked into our little hotel room (Pension Prague City – just OK) up a gazillion stairs (no elevator) and got cleaned up and powered through to go explore the city after lunch time. We walked right to the main square and watched the show as the Astronomical Clock chimed the top of the hour. (We were fine, but watch for pickpockets) We found a little restaurant for a traditional lunch that was like being in someone’s living room. We went around and found us some Pivovars (breweries, we liked this one) and had some yummy beers. Unfortunately, I found out that my uncle Tommy had just passed away back in the states, so that sucked, but we drank some whiskey to honor his memory.
We walked to (but not all the way across) the Charles Bridge. One of the coolest things we did was go up to the tower and have an incredible view of the bridge and the tower. Then things started to get a little crazy as we had one of our only big party nights of the trip. We hit up a bunch of different restaurants/bars/breweries and tried as many different beers as we could. We learned the spectacle of the proper way to drink absinthe. You start with a shot and a spoon full of sugar. You dip the sugar just far enough to get absinthe soaked into it, but not stir the sugar in. Then you light the sugar on fire and wait for it to caramelize. If you hold your spoon too close above the shot, the flame will jump down into the shot glass. You’re not supposed to do that because it burns off all the hooch, so you just put a plate on top of the shot glass to extinguish it. Well, on our second shot of the night, Shan Shan got a little over exuberant with extinguishing and spilled her shot everywhere and lit the bar on fire. And the bartender. And the stuff behind the bar. We were absolutely those people. Upon further video review, it may have been Mel that lit the bar on fire. Still one of the best stories of the trip.
Speaking of those people, I’ve been reflecting on the Bohemian lifestyle that we have heard so much about (Prague is in Bohemia). We were there for the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution (start of the fall of communism in Europe) and we had La Vie Boehme from Rent stuck in our head the whole time because a lot of Czech figures that kept popping up in my famous five star Yelp review tours. From Wikipedia: “Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.” I’m thinking, we’re totally wanderers, adventurers and vagabonds on this trip: we should all get along great here! But we were surprised to find that the rudest natives on our trip were the Czechs. My theory is that Prague has just been so overrun with tourists so fast that they’re a little bitter about it and un-accepting of travelers.
Our second day in Prague, the struggle was real. Like seriously hungover. Of course we couldn’t get Mel to shut up about how she took advil at 2am and felt like a fairy frolicking in a meadow of rosebuds. She sucked that day. 😉 We had breakfast included for our hotel at a restaurant across the street and we thought it was random that there were wieners in a chafing dish. We took the recommendation of the hotel dude and went and walked through this big park and up to the castle. We got there a little late, but were able to see the major sights there. The cathedral was really cool with neat stained glass and a monument that was like three tons of silver or something. We went into the prison tower and saw a lot of cool BDSM stuff, ha! From the castle on top of the hill we got a great view of the Charles Bridge and the river and the rest of Prague.
This was the day that was the holiday/velvet revolution anniversary, so we saw a huge march going on from the castle on the top of the hill. We walked down the hill trying to get to the monastery (actually apparently the wrong way) and found this little stand that had these spiral cut deep fried potatoes. They were like thick warm potato chips and were amazing. (That sounded more erotic than I intended) At one point we also had the other Prague food delicacy, which are these pastries that are wrapped around tubes and grilled over a fire. NOM NOM. We found out that the march we saw was actually an anti-government protest, but it was peaceful and we asked cops for directions to the monastery, and they were cool about helping us and ended up one their phones trying to figure it out for us. Dudes in uniform with an accent? Yes please! Either the protest moved or there was a second one, and we eventually found a wall of people and a wall of police officers blocking car & foot traffic on the street we were walking on, so we look at each other and ask “Beer?” in unison and popped in the most amazing medieval tavern. It was super dark, only lit by candles, had great food, beer, mead and cider and had surly wenches and slave boys serving us. Went in the basement to use the bathroom and found a whole other bar area that was covered with fake (I hope) human skulls on the wall. Totally trippy and I love that the unexpected parts of the trip can always turn out to be the best.
We checked out a beer garden on the river and checked out all the swans swimming. We walked over the Charles Bridge at night, which was gorgeous, and made a wish at the saint statue on the bridge. We went to a beer bar that night and had more bad service, like they couldn’t believe that some Americans made it out of the tourist sector. The traumatic/funny part of that was the cab ride that we took there from the main old town square – which is a big no no because that’s where the cabs know to get the tourists and they have overactive meters and TOTALLY rip you off. This is apparently all run by the mafia, which we didn’t know at the time. So Mel was livid that the meter was running like that and there was nothing she could do about it. When he dropped us off and we paid she was all “DO YOU HAVE CHILDREN SIR? I hope nobody ever tries to rip them off like this.” Hilarious. Had dinner at a tapas place and had a really nice waitress that used her own cell phone to call and confirm a legit cab for us, so that was a bit of redeemer. Uber had only been in Prague for 10 days when we were there, so it was all super new and nobody had heard about it.
The last day in Prague we were supposed to hit up all the spots we didn’t see before, so we got an Uber to the Strahov monastery we missed before. I wanted to go there because they have an incredible library that looks like the one The Beast gave to Belle. The smell of old books was incredible, I was in heaven and we couldn’t even walk in the room, as they have it cordoned off. I wanted Mel to go because they of course brew their own beer there. This was the only place that we ever found anything with any hops to it. We watched the astronomical clock show for the third time and had some food before we headed to the airport!
We only had about an eleven hour stopover in Paris. It was super nice though because it was technically just a really long layover, so we didn’t have to deal with wrangling our checked bags and just had our carry-ons. The flight attended on our Air France flight there was gorgeous and also pretty funny – I’d say droll, which I know is an old-timey word, but fits him. I was in a swoon of love for Paris from the start. I had a long conversation in French with the Uber driver on the way to the hotel, which was really nice. (Note that you pick up Ubers upstairs, not downstairs with the taxis!) Our hotel was super gorgeous, and we used my Marriott perks to get upgraded to a suite that was far bigger than any apartment I could afford if I moved to Paris.
We were there right before midnight, and they do this twinkly light Eiffel Tower show at the top of every hour, the last one being at midnight, so we dropped our stuff really quick and power walked the five minutes to the Trocodero to see it. The manager had left with his compliments three bottles of “white wine” (they were too big to be airplane bottles of booze) so we took those with us and thought we’d be romantic and drink them while we looked at the Eiffel tower all lit up. It was so gorgeous, so Parisian, so ineffable. The weather was clear, the view incandescent. We opened our fabulous free French wines and toasted to how awesome we all are and took a big swig. Nope. Not white wine. Totally gin.
We walked to the Arc de Triomphe and then stopped in a little café bar that was right nearby that I had scoped out online before. So cute, but so didn’t have any food. It was around 1am and we were starving, so we went back to the room and got room service pizza.
The next morning we only had until 11am to do some things, so we had an AMAZING French breakfast at the hotel (would have cost us $100+ without Marriott status, yay!) and walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower and across the Seine to get our ride to the top. Only today the weather had totally changed from the night before and the top half of the tower was cloaked in fog. We were some of the first people on the lift (which goes diagonally up the legs!) and checked out the view from all the way at the top. So that means we were essentially in a cloud. Right when we were about done the clouds were breaking a bit and we could see over the top of the cloud. It was incredible! On our walk back we grabbed some cheesy souvenirs and stopped for a street crepe with Nutella and coconut. The vendor dude professed his love to Shan Shan profusely. It was awesome. Hopped in our Uber back to CDG and then enjoyed some movies and our 11.5 hour flight to Bangkok. Of course, I slept six hours straight. Yay!
People are always asking what my favorite part(s) of the trip were, and one of them is always “Paris, because Paris”
Two nights in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster. Right? Close enough. D’s coworker’s wife is a former travel agent from Thailand, so she totally helped us out with stuff when we were in Bangkok. We hired a driver Tai (may have been a little 420 friendly) and we made it to our hotel on Sukhumvit before lunchtime. We weren’t able to check into our suite, so we showered at the spa area and got back in the car with Tai. Right away from those two rides I found maybe my least favorite part of the trip, and that was anytime we were in or about a car in Thailand. The traffic was crazy and there are always too many people precariously holding on the back of a truck or a moped. There’s cutting off left and right and it all made me nervous, though for people that were driving, they all seemed to know what they were doing and the traffic flowed well, if you could move at all.
We drove three hours to the Tiger Temple, which was simultaneously one of the best and worst parts of the trip. It was considered a Buddhist temple, so we had to wear very covered up clothes. Mel and I had tank tops and skirts covering our knees, so we had to buy Tiger t-shirts when we were there. We went in and first saw a very sad bear in a very small cage. Then we found our first tiger, which was a little guy about a year old and got some pictures with him. We found out that there were only three spots left for the whole day to have the baby tiger feeding experience, but that we’d have to split up into one and two. Shan went with the babies first, and Mel and I ventured down into Tiger Canyon with the adults. This was the sad part. There was an area where you had about a dozen heavily sedated adult tigers napping. We paid extra to get the bonus photos package. We had a guide that walked us around the enclosure by hand, would pose us with the tigers, and then would take pictures with our cameras and take us to the next one. We got the bonus “head on lap” experience, which we thought would be kinda neat. Was not neat. The tigers all had collars on, and there were chains secured to the ground so they could be tethered if needed. We had Mel be the tiger on lap girl, and she sat down and the dude picked up the tiger by the collar around his neck, essentially choking him, and then plopping his head down on Mel’s lap. It was so uncomfortable for us and really sad. You can see our faces in all of the pictures that we’re all super WTF. There was one tiger that was super awake and roaring (like the MGM lion from the beginning of movies, a little scary) and a few minutes later we were each posing behind him and he was passed out. Some of the tigers were zonked out like my kitties, with their bellies exposed like they were ready for a rub. (We did not rub sedated tiger bellies). So yeah. Totally horrifying experience, and if our day ended there, I’d tell everyone unequivocally to never go to the Tiger temple from this experience alone.
But then we swapped places with Shan Shan and got to see the cubs, which was one of the best experiences of the trip. There were three rooms, and we went into the first room with the 1-3 month old cubs, and then in the second room there were 3+ month old cubs, and the third room (which we didn’t go in to, they were wrestling/fighting over some chicken) that were under a year. They. Were. The. Cutest. Super playful and snuggly, they were gnawing on us a bit and then one even bit Mel’s boob. Took tons of photo and GoPro, but also tried to be aware and in the moment. There was a family and a gay couple there, so we had to share attention time with them. We went into the second room with the older cats and shared feeding them a bottle. It was so cute because he totally got in the zone and was blissed out in a “there is nothing in this world awesomer than this bottle” sort of state. We went back into the first room, and the babies were starting to get sleepy and we snuggled and spooned with them when they slept. I think we got to spend a good amount of time with them and it was a nice experience. The kittens weren’t sedated and weren’t chained, though they did have collars on. After doing both extremes, I’d still not condone the tiger temple. If they were talking more about education and conservation, that would be great. My thought going in was that it’s probably better for the tigers to be safe somewhere instead of being hunted by poachers? I really don’t know what I think, I’m definitely torn on it.
Editorial from two and a half years later: History has shown that this temple was BAD FUCKING NEWS. I had tried to do research to see if this was animal cruelty before I went. All I saw was that it was sad that they were sedated. I assumed since it was monks that I could trust them. I am horrified that the great experiences I had with the cubs came at this price. It was not worth it.
We hopped back in the van for the ride back (lots of napping) and we were super hungry and asked Tai for a spot for food, expecting a cool Thai takeout place. He stopped for gas and told us to go to the 7-11. That’s a super big deal over there, kids scream for their parents to take them to 7-11, and they are always super busy. We got some junk food including ice cream and weird flavored potato chips. My eight year old self would have been totally stoked for that lunch.
We went back to the hotel and were super hungry and exhausted and didn’t want to deal with venturing out anywhere, so we went to the rooftop restaurant/bar that sold us on that hotel in the first place. It was pretty amazing, the food was good (if a little Americanized), but suuuper expensive for Thailand. We went up to the tippy top where the bar is and enjoyed some drinks… until Mel found a chunk of broken glass in the bottom of hers. Everyone was super nice and apologetic about it (the Thai people are really as nice and warm as everyone says) and they said we could come back tomorrow and get free drinks.
We weren’t ready to be done, so we decided to do a very late night trip to Koa Sahn Road. (This is where Leo stayed in The Beach when he first got to Thailand). Lots of lights, lots of restaurants and bars and street vendors selling all sorts of weird and good smelling stuff! It’s known as the “backpacker ghetto.” We got some delicious Pad Thai, even though we were still a little full from dinner, and had our first massage experience. The Thai massages are really cheap – full body Thai massages are an hour and cost $8. We stopped and got foot/leg massages and it was super relaxing. We were sitting out outside on little recliners just watching the foot traffic of the street go by. We totally closed the place down, which was a little shocking, and just went to bed.
Friday was a looooong day. We started early with our same driver and “Toom” the tour guide. It was really hot, but since we would be going to temples all day, we had to wear clothes that covered our shoulders and knees. I actually wore leggings as leggings. (GASP!). We started with a brief detour to get a pair of flip-flops because the only pair of shoes I brought for Thailand BROKE on Koa Sahn road last night. Kinda funny to go to a Thai Target. For the first real stop we went to the Golden Buddha temple, and that was really cool. It’s the world’s largest solid gold statue, and weighs 5.5 tons. Bling bling! The three of us bought matching silver bracelets that are really simple and elegant and have a nice blessing for happiness. Toom was excited to show us all the intricate statues that were made out of folded banana leaves, all done by hand. And the wall decorations in the temple were gorgeous – it looked like it had to be wallpaper, but it’s all hand painted and perfectly replicated and symmetrical.
Next we went to the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) and it was really cool. The Buddha is too big to capture in one photo, it’s in a long hall with a bunch of columns in it. The bottom of his feet are decorated with gorgeous mother of pearl inlay. Along the back side, there were a bunch of metal cauldrons (for lack of a better word, that’s what they were shaped like) and you could buy a bunch of coins and you dump one coin in each cauldron as you walk along and I wasn’t sure if it was for praying or what, but it sounded really neat and added to the experience. Wat Pho is one of Mel’s favorite places in Thailand, and all of the architecture was really neat. We walked around and took a bunch of photos, and saw the “repeating Buddhas,” (see photo above) which were statues for each wealthy/royal family.
Next we went on a ferry boat (thank goodness Toom was there to guide us. We could have figured it out ourselves, but it took a little finesse) and went to Wat Arun, which is a really neat looking temple (the Temple of the Dawn) that had SUPER steep stairs that Shan and I climbed to enjoy the view of the Chao Phraya river and the rest of Bangkok. We then went back across the river and met up with Tai. The traffic, y’all. It was crazy. We drove through the market area of Bangkok and saw all the gold shops and the fabric district and the flower district. It was so cool, it felt so different than any city I’ve ever been in, really alive and unique.
The Grand Palace is the most sacred and holy place. Even though Shan and I had our knees and shoulders covered, it was a little too tight, and we had to rent colorful sarongs to wear over our bottom halves to be respectful. At this point, it was well after lunch, and really hot, and we hadn’t had anything to eat at all, and while it was gorgeous, we were all slightly hangry. Gorgeous pagodas covered in intricate gold mosaic tile, gorgeous patterns, and a giant Buddha made out of jade (called the Emerald Buddha). We saw coronation rooms and an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony.
We were excited to finally get in the car and head to the hotel and get some food, but little did we know we had one more stop. We were taken to a mega jewelry store and watched a video about the history of precious gem mining in Thailand (maybe the cheesiest video ever) and then were walked through the workshop where they were cutting the stones and into the big showroom. We knew that Toom must have taken us there because she gets a commission if we buy anything. We were wondering how long we had to stay before we could leave and be polite. We walked through a smaller part of the store that was selling more semi-precious items, and they had ivory for sale, and that really freaked me out so we left quickly without buying anything.
We got dropped off at a Thai place that they recommended near the hotel – it had the most hilarious descriptions of the food, based on stories of how the chef came up with the dish after trying to sneak in an extra meal after a football game and weird stuff like that. We then found a massage place right across the street and got full massages, not just the feet. Heavenly!
Like I said, it was a looong day. When we got back we rushed to get ready to go out for Mel’s Bachelorette in Bangkok! Ok, so we honestly did the exact same thing we would have done if it wasn’t a bachelorette party, and it was just the three of us, but I wanted an excuse for a veil, a light-up sash and PEN15 straws. We hopped in an Uber and went to Mikkeller Bangkok, which is an awesome brewery from Denmark that we are all huge fans of now. There was a hot beer dude that took our picture for himself because he was so impressed with the veil. Had some really good nibbles there too and enjoyed much high ABV beers.
We were going to go to Soi Cowboy anyway, but it was fun to do it the night of the “bachelorette.” It’s the red light district in Bangkok, and it’s about a football field long. There are go-go bars everywhere with girls out front in super skimpy outfits trying to get you to go into their bars. We walked all the way down the street, and then let two girls pull us into their club. We went in the bar and there was a big stage with a bunch of topless girls dancing. The madam came over to check out why there were three girls by themselves in the club and was eyeing us skeptically. All the girls dancing had numbers on their outfits so you could pick out the one that you wanted to take home. There were a few guys in there getting dances. It was totally weird, but I had no judgement at all for the girls, but was totally judging the guys that were there. Insert super sheltered privileged view of it all: The girls at this first place didn’t seem too young or coerced, but were just like strippers trying to make some dough. The guys I thought were all super weird. Some of them we saw on the street were normal good looking guys, and I don’t know why they’d go for something like that and was sketched out by what they had at home that they were cheating on. Of course there were also quite a few gross old guys too. We bought the two girls drinks (“Hehehe… we only drink tequila!” yeah, we know it was water) and chatted and just checked everything out a bit. After our one beer, we left, but we gave our girls some PEN15 straws and they loooved it.
We went to another bar we had seen earlier on the street that didn’t really look like a strip club. There were girls hanging out, but they didn’t seem like they were strippers at first blush. We were sold by the Belgian beer umbrella outside, so we stopped to get a good drink and drink on the patio out front and watch the people. Eventually the owner came out to talk to us, and he was The. Worst. Total @$$hole creeper pervert that kept calling the girls the c-word and ordering them around to bring us another drink or the nuts that he made. He brought us three shots of tequila, which I refused, because roofies, and Mel was all “Good luck handling the two of us on roofies!” (Luckily there were no roofies). I ran inside to go to the bathroom, and it was a fully nude bar, and it was gross because it looked like exploitation instead of a choice. The girls were young and sad and it was the height of sketchiness. The bathroom was disgusting. We skedaddled not long after that, but not before the gross owner tried to grab my boobs. The. Worst. We went back to the hotel bar on the roof to get our free drinks from Mel’s glass incident the night before, and then we found out that they were hosting a party for Jimmy Choo! We got into the party at the tail end and got our free champagne and chatted and enjoyed the view. Went back to the room late and had a silly photo-shoot in the bathtub in our party clothes (GIANT bathtub with a view of the city) before passing out.
Our last day in Bangkok, we slept in kinda late and got a quick breakfast before we went to the airport to head to Phuket. Bangkok Air was really nice (so much nicer than Domestic flights we have in the states) and we hung out at the lounge and had free snacks and food before our flight – and we were flying coach!
We arrived in Phuket and tried to get in the taxi line, and I don’t think that clusterfuck is a strong enough word to convey how messed up the process of actually getting a taxi was. We finally got to our hotel (aggressively fine, but did have a swim-up pool bar), driving through the pouring rain, and it was a really long complicated process to check in. We forgot that we were going to try to sneak a third person in on the reservation, but ended up having to pay for it. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. We finally checked into the room and had a drink at the lobby bar (the Caipirinha became our official drink of the trip starting here) before heading out for some amazing Indian food. We. Ate. So. Much.
Afterwards we went to get our Thai massages. If you’ve never gotten a Thai massage, the parlors I saw were a little similar to hospital wards in the way they’re set up. There are several low mattresses on the floor in a row, and they’re separated by curtains that you can pull like the hospital curtains. They walked us in to the room, and the nearest curtain was already closed, and there were three open beds just after. We all got set up and started getting our massages, and I’m in the curtained off area next to the already occupied bed. A few minutes in and I start hearing whispered negotiations, and she apparently is willing to do what he asks for an extra thousand baht. ($30). Then I hear some more massaging, and then a quiet, yet audible groan of pleasure. Gross. Then there were some sounds of handi-wipe packages opening. I’m totally freaking out because the only thing separating me from this is a thin curtain. So the name is wrong, it’s more like a happy middle, and the dude is all relaxed and gets to enjoy the rest of his massage. A little later the massage is over and I hear some awkward lip smacking and he is apparently trying to kiss her. Then in a not-so-whispered Australian accent, I hear “You’re 19, right?” Eeew… We saw him in the lobby, and he was my dad’s age. It’s disgusting and I wish I knew how to help. We walked around to the area to the South of the hotel and were looking for the fun bar areas, but didn’t really find it. Had a beer at an Aussie bar that was totally not crowded.
The next day, we had a beach and pool day and it was super hot and nice, even though the forecast at our hotel was that it would rain all week. We had a great lunch at a hotel on the beach (Mel and Shan had a pineapple that was hollowed out with fried rice in it. We chilled at the pool and drank Caipirinhas. We signed up for our boat trip for the next day and shopped around and got our daily massage. There were a lot of “ladyboys” all over the place in Thailand. Some of them were easy to spot, some of them were not so easy. I found it fascinating because we still have drama about bakeries serving LGBTQ+ in the states, but here it’s a part of life. This was also the place where we got our fish pedicures – what a weird sensation! It totally tickled, but you got used to it after awhile. Grabbed dinner at a spot on the main road along the beach.
I had been on Tinder in every city with a request to help us find a good spot for local beer around here. Seriously one of my best travel app recommendations if you want to know what the locals are doing and not get recommendations from the travel industry people that have a stake in you doing things to make them money. Tinder never worked to meet up with anyone until that night, when we had Peter offer to show us around Bangla Road. We hopped in our one and only Tuk Tuk ride a whole 2 minutes and met up with Peter, who was cuter than his pictures. Walking down Bangla road was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I can only describe it if you took the entire length of the Vegas strip, and condensed it into a short walking street without skimping any of the neon or hedonism. The street starts off with a literal wall of hawkers trying to get you to take a flier to a ping-pong show. Like red-rover style and you have to walk through them! There were ladyboys in full Vegas regalia on the street, jumbo-trons like you were in Times Square, Russian prostitutes, Thai prostitutes, awesome stairs that have TV screen-type displays on the risers so when you look at the stairs head-on it you could watch it as though it was one screen. We went to Soi Tiger (Tiger Street) which is this “road” of bars under the Tiger nightclub. It’s like the size of a football field and has dozens upon dozens of bars that are the size of a craps table. There are lights and girls dancing on all of the bars. Peter took us to “Sin City” which is his favorite spot because he’s been going there for awhile and knows Joe the bartender. We drank beers and played a dice game and had fun until about 3am, not so good because we had an early wake-up. Peter was super awesome, and we hit it off so much that he changed his flight so he could spend an extra day hanging out. Fun fact: still friends that keep in touch to this day!
So I mentioned briefly the Ping Pong show dudes that were trying to get us to go to a show. We had originally been planning on going, but then we found out that it’s $60, and they don’t just shoot out ping pongs, but turtles and goldfish and everything. I think we would have gone for cheaper to say we’d have the experience, but I didn’t need to spend that much money to see women and animals like that.
The next morning we woke up pretty early and the struggle was real. Peter met us at our hotel and we took a van to the harbor. We were on a slower big boat and it took us about an hour and a half to get to the first spot. We had great views of the islands on the ride there, and it was just really nice to be on a boat. The islands around this area are what inspired James Cameron when he did the floating mountains in Avatar. It was just so beautiful. James Bond Island (see photo) was the first spot (it was the shooting location from the henchman’s hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun). It was really pretty, but it was SLAMMED with a gajillion tourists trying to take selfies with it. We hiked around a bit and it was pretty cool, but not the highlight moment I was hoping for. (You might recognize this photoshopped picture)
Next stop was two different islands where we hopped in some kayaks (two people with a guide) and got this fun boat tour around the islands. We went into these caves and it was just so cool. My last favorite part of the trip were the “Hongs” which are these lagoons that you can only get into during certain tides because the only entrance is a cave. We went through the cave and the guide couldn’t paddle and we had to lay down, the ceiling was so low – the guide used his hands along the ceiling to move us along. The lagoons themselves weren’t very big, and they had these ridiculously tall, steep walls that were covered by trees and vines and greenery. The first one we went into it was just Peter and my kayak with nobody else in there, and it was totally silent and amazing. It was like we had left the planet. It was just one of “those” moments, know what I mean? We went to a second island that had more developed caves and a bigger Hongs. Inside one of the caves was a huge mass of quartz that everyone referred to as the diamond cave. The guides used headlamps and flashlights to show us because it was a pretty big dark cave. Seriously, I can’t believe this was all on a second date – I honestly felt like I was on an episode of The Bachelorette. (Edit: They totally went there on an episode). The last island we went to as “Monkey Island” where we got to see a bunch of cute little monkeys. There may have been some monkey sex captured on GoPro. At some point they served us lunch on the boat, so that was kinda cool. We had brought some rum with us to put in the drinks, but we were all pretty worn from being out so late the night before that we only had one each. After dinner we all met back up again at Sin City for some beers with bartender Joe.
Here’s some pictures of what the kayaking was like.
The last full day of the trip, before Mel & Shan left the next morning at 2am, we went to the beach and the pool, had dinner and fresh young coconuts on the beach. Ate a lot, of course. Melissa and Shannon went and did a thing where you ride elephants and got to feed them. I had done some research on how elephants are treated in Thailand and didn’t feel comfortable going, so more time at the pool. YOU SHOULD NEVER RIDE AN ELEPHANT. Google “elephant phajaan,” it’s awful. Did some shopping and went in search of the last great Caipirinha from a little pink VW bug van. Our last big thing of the trip was that we went to the beach and we got those wish lanterns and we all lit them and released them as a way to make a great wish and give thanks for everything that this trip had been for us.
On the last day, I had to check out by noon, and for her it was just lounging by the pool, shopping, one last Thai massage, and getting all packed up. It was weird being alone after eighteen days straight together all the time. The girls flew out late through South Korea, and my flight was through Hong Kong because I really wanted to stick with an airline that I can get earn flier miles. My flight out of Phuket was really late and I had a short connection, so someone met me at my flight and ushered me through customs. I TOTALLY recommend Cathay Pacific. It was so posh I almost forgot I was in coach!
[…] Back in Amsterdam… for my last full day of the trip, I did some solo touristy stuff while Kristen hung out with the niecelet. I saw the palace, shopped around for souvenirs, and had lunch in the courtyard of a museum. It was a nice a peaceful place. Not sure of the name, but it was by the Amsterdam Dungeon. Stuff I didn’t do this trip but I want to do next time I visit: definitely a canal cruise, and maybe I’ll be in a more landmark/museumy kind of mood and I can check out the Frank house and Van Gogh museum. I definitely want to see the Red Light District and compare to Thailand. […]
I had so much fun reliving this trip through your blog! Thanks for that! ❤ Even forgot many of the memories!
This is from my email to the Betas – I still had it saved and put it all up!
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