Phnom Penh, Bangkok and Thanksgiving

Hi! It’s been a minute since my last post, so here is a quick update about what I’ve been doing.

I successfully made it from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh without any trouble – an day riding on an air conditioned bus was easy to handle. I spent the next day exploring Phnom Penh, visiting the prison museum and the killing fields that are the legacy of the Cambodian genocide 40 years ago. I’ve been working on a blog post describing those events, but it’s depressing enough that I’m making little progress, which is part of why you haven’t seen an update in so long. Suffice to say it was horrific, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge deserve all the scorn you can muster.

I finished my long day with a late flight to Bangkok – by the time I was through customs and in a cab to the city, it was almost 2 AM.

Unfortunately wandering around in the sweltering heat all day wasn’t the best thing for my still tender tummy. Nor was eating a bunch of super spicy Indian curry for lunch (tasty, but not wise). That night my traveler’s sickness returned with a vengeance. Fortunately my Bangkok hostel was comfortable, quiet, and had plenty of toilets, the perfect place to hunker down for a few days. This time I was determined to stay until I was truly better.

I should describe this hostel, since it was the setting for my time in Bangkok. It’s name is Luk, it’s a new-ish hostel run by experienced hosteliers, and it’s located right in the heart of Bangkok’s spectacular Chinatown. Instead of a common room it has a nice, slightly expensive rooftop bar/restaurant, mostly patronized by hostel guests but open to the public. They had live music most of the nights I was there. I would describe the vibe as “cool” but not “relaxed”.

My first day in Bangkok was Thanksgiving. Outside of venturing out for some noodle soup (which turned out to be fantastic), I barely left my bed. In the evening, feeling somewhat bored and somewhat sorry for myself, I ventured up to the rooftop looking for some conversation to cheer me up. What I found exceeded my wildest expectations: the staff cooked up a big Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone ate together. It was truly wonderful, and a bit of turkey and mashed potatoes did my stomach good.

Yes the turkey is wrapped in bacon, and yes it was delicious.

On Friday morning I called my family to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. It was good to see everyone and chat a bit, and of course to get a ton of sympathy for feeling like crap. Otherwise day 2 passed much as day 1 had. I felt a little better in the afternoon and walked the kilometer to the train station to book a sleeper ticket north to Chiang Mai for Monday night. I had heard they sell out fast, but I managed to get the last one.

Finally on Saturday I felt well enough to do some tourist things. I wandered around the old town to a couple of the bigger wats, took a river boat back to Chinatown, and had a delicious afternoon nap. In the evening I ventured out to Yaowarat Road, a haven for street food. Bangkok’s street food scene is famous for quality and safety (there’s even one that’s Michelin starred), so I wasn’t worried about triggering a third wave of illness.

You know what they say about Buddhas with big feet…
Bugs anyone?

On Sunday, finally feeling properly myself, I caught a motortaxi and a quick ferry to Bang Krachao, Bangkok’s “green lung”, where I rented a bicycle and pedaled around for the day. Here a meander in the river almost creates an island, and the district is preserved as a carefully managed jungle in the heart of the city. There are some homes and businesses, as well as many oddities like a floating market and a Siamese fighting fish gallery, but for the most part it’s green space, a pseudo-wild space amidst the concrete jungle. It’s kind of like Discovery Park in Seattle if it were tropical and had a giant permanent farmers market in the middle. The kind of place where middle class Thai families bring their kids on the weekends as an outing. It was a lovely way to spend a day. In the evening I did a food tour of Chinatown, which was fantastic as always.

Much of the area is only accessible via narrow concrete trails raised above the swamp.
You can see from the satellite view why they call it the “green lung”.

Monday I walked to and hung out in Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s equivalent of Central Park, then caught the train in the evening. 14 hours later I was in Chiang Mai.

I really liked Bangkok. It’s a beautiful, clean, well-organized city. It has incredible food, a good metro and it’s the first place I’ve been in months where they actually clean the streets. I stayed out of the touristy areas (didn’t even visit Khao San Road), which I think was for the best. If you want somewhere exotic and different but still safe and easy to travel to, I don’t think you could do better. It was a very good place to recover my strength and confidence.

Bangkok from the river – a well-developed, modern city.

On the other hand, Bangkok is the only place in Southeast Asia where I’ve noticed people sleeping on the streets. It’s also the only place I’ve been approached by actual beggars – even in Cambodia people always wanted to sell me something. Just here and there, not nearly as many as back home, but it is obvious that this country’s prosperity hasn’t reached everyone. It’s also true that this is the first non-communist state I’ve been to in the region. It’s just a couple data points, so don’t go drawing conclusions, but it’s definitely something to think about.