Day 244-246: City Living

Miley, my Airbnb host, gave me a ride to the Sky Train which would take me to the Siam Center, a mall in Bangkok. Miley was tall, had red circular glasses, and a confident stature. She appeared to be in her late 20s and was in charge of the Airbnbs in her family home. I got in the front seat of her car and turned around to meet her family.

Miley’s mother and grandmother were in the back, so we said hello to each other. Then they said something in Thai, which I couldn’t understand. I looked at Miley for help and she said, “They think you’re very brave to be traveling alone. They think it’s great.” I smiled, “Oh, well tell them I said thank you!”

Miley dropped me off at the Sky Train station and gave me instructions for how to use it. I climbed a few flights of stairs, bought a ticket at the ticket booth, and followed the ticket booth operator’s instructions on where to stand to get the correct train to the mall.

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The Sky Train is an elevated metro system and provides some amazing views of the city. I wanted to ride it and I read online that the malls in Bangkok are something special to see. It made sense to take the train to the mall. It wasn’t very crowded, it was new and clean, and it reminded me of England. In Thailand, they drive on the left, say “mind the gap” when getting on and off the train, and “mind your hands.” In Chiang Mai, a local told me they had a strong presence from England decades ago, so they have replicated a lot of the Brittish culture.

The Siam Center was huge! I first started to look around the outside covered area and found a small shop selling a “pancake cup,” which is a cup of mini-pancakes, strawberries, and cream. I ate a cup while enjoying the small air conditioned section. I continued walking and noticed shops had very narrow stores with glass doors. The doors allowed for air conditioning and they only had to cool off a very small section. What it created, however, were small store booths that looked like little jail cells.

I continued walking around, but the heat and humidity were making me uncomfortable. I found a restaurant with air conditioning and ordered a chicken with egg. After that, I went to the main indoor section, Siam Paragon. The multilevel glass windows made it look regal and expensive.

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I used the toilet and it included a container of disinfectant that you could use to wipe your seat. Bathrooms (or toilets as they say) are very inconsistent in Thailand. Most are run down, or only have squat toilets, don’t have toilet paper and instead have a spray nozzle attached for you to use to wash yourself, and no soap. But there are also high-end places like this mall where the toilets are fancy – they included toilet paper and the spray nozzle, soap, and were incredibly clean. This bathroom was cleaner and nicer than most bathrooms in the U.S.

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I continued walking around and couldn’t believe how amazing this mall was! The floors shined from the marble, sculptures hung from the ceiling, and I could look up and see seven stories! Most stores were priced similar to an average store in the mall in the U.S. There were also high-end stores like Chanel, Bvlgari, Cartier, and Rolex.

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This mall had everything you needed: furniture stores, hair salons, investments banks, a bowling alley, a boxing gym, a movie theater, a food court, lounges, and car dealerships with actual cars inside! I watched as children in school uniforms worked on homework in the food court and it appeared people spent many hours there.

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I was exhausted from walking around so much and even though there was air conditioning, I was still a little warm. I read online that the movie theater there is a “must see,” so I headed to the very top floor and found it. I talked with the girl at the counter because I was confused about the theatre options. She talked me into the higher-end theater that came with a small ice cream, a latte, a small bottle of water, and a lounge recliner seat. It cost $32 USD, which I thought was a lot, but I wanted some down time.

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I walked into the VIP lounge and was treated like royalty. While they got my ice cream, latte, water, and the popcorn that I ordered for $5 USD, I went to use the toilet. It was the most fancy toilet I’ve ever seen! I had my own little room that was covered in marble. The toilet lid opened itself when I approached. The seat was heated, it washed me, and then flushed itself. As soon as I left my little room, which included a personal sink and cloth washcloth, a housekeeping woman immediately went in to make sure it was perfect for the next guest.

I got to my theater and it was dark, so a man walked me to my seat using a flashlight. My seat was a large double seater for couples. There were only two other people in the theatre and they were a few rows up from me.

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I watched the movie, The Favourite, about Queen Anne. The movie was in English, but it had Thai subtitles. I enjoyed the movie and the pampering was nice.

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When the movie finished it was dark outside. I walked through the mall some more and eventually left. I walked towards a rooftop bar,  checking out the shops and nightlife around me. It reminded me of New York City because of its size and high-rise buildings, but the walkways, stairs, and bridges reminded me of Las Vegas.

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There didn’t seem to be any trash cans around on the street corner like I’m used to. When I had trash from a water bottle or snack wrapper, I just put it in my purse until I could find a trash can. The strange thing is that they don’t have a lot of litter around. I also noticed another big difference than the U.S. Maybe it was just where I was walking (near a high-end mall), but I didn’t see any homeless people. I saw only one disabled man laying on the street asking for money. In the U.S., homelessness has become an epidemic for many cities.

I walked just over two miles and arrived at a rooftop bar that I found online. It provided incredible views of the majority of the city. I paid for the view in the price of the drinks ($12 USD each). I enjoyed some appetizers and cocktails while enjoying the evening. I didn’t run into many tourists, especially Americans, during most of my time in Thailand. But in touristy places like the rooftop bar, I could hear American accents.

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I took a Grab to my Airbnb and slept in the next morning. I was feeling extremely tired. I lounged around, updating my blog and creating a video. It takes much longer than you’d expect to do all of this.

I needed to eat more than a protein shake, so I wandered around my local neighborhood. On the way out, I met Miley’s mom. She didn’t speak much English, but she was really welcoming. Miley’s family always had a smile on their faces.

I ate Americanized chicken for dinner, but it was not good. As I walked around, I saw a nail salon behind the glass windows, so I stopped in. They didn’t speak English, but a customer translated and told me to come back in 20 minutes. I enjoyed some ice cream and made my way back.

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The manicure wasn’t done very well because the girl didn’t do much cuticle work. They had gel polish though, which I couldn’t find in Chiang Mai. The girl then worked on my feet while another girl and a guy just hung out talking in Thai. She saw that my big toe on my left foot was bruised under the nail and she kept asking me something in Thai. I kept telling her I don’t speak Thai.

Then the girl who was just hanging out used her phone and Google Translate. It said, “nail figure” and I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant. Then she typed “are you hurt?” I shrugged again, “I guess so.” I didn’t know where I got that bruise, but it hurt, especially when she dug under it.

As I sat there getting my nails done, I played on Facebook and saw that the girl, Tsui, who I met in Chiang Mai at the Art Museum posted a sweet message to her account about the time we spent together. Tears came to my eyes as I read it. Seeing her post made me smile and I was grateful that I had this opportunity, even though it was tiring at times.

The next morning, I took Miley’s advice and took a Grab to Nonthaburi Pier. When I arrived, I searched for the long tail boats. I read online that the boats were a really fun way to get to the island that I was going to. There were a few different men with long tail boats and one approached me. He told me it would cost $400 Baht ($13 USD) for a round trip.

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The driver’s name was Pet and he helped me get  into the small boat without tipping over. I sat on two wooden boards in the middle, just in front of Pet. The boat was so close to the water that when we took off, water was splashing up on the sides. I didn’t get wet though and it was a really fun ride! The wind was a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity.

Pet stopped a couple of times for me to take pictures. We rode up the river, passing under a huge modern bridge, small houses that were right off the river on stilts, and statues.

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I climbed off the boat when we arrived to Ko Kret, a man-made island. Pet told me to be back there in two hours and he would pick me up. The island is still in the craziness of Bangkok and they offer a weekend market. I perused the stalls of interesting foods, occasionally buying some to try. I resisted the temptation to buy anything else. It was over 100 °F outside and walking around in the humidity made me sweat like crazy.

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After two hours, I returned to the spot Pet had dropped me off and thankfully he was there waiting. The boat ride was just as fun getting back. Once I got back, I took a Grab to another weekend market that is well known in Bangkok, the Chatuchak Weekend Market.  

The market had so many stalls that it felt a little overwhelming. Some stalls were in the sun, while others were under a shared roof. With no air conditioning, it made it difficult to spend much time there. The vendors sold everything from clothes, food, and household items to essential oils. I mostly purchased cold beverages.

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In the maze of shops, I found a tiny room with sliding glass doors with air conditioning and just enough space for five people to sit down for a massage. I paid $6.50 USD for a 45-minute foot, neck, and back massage.

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The massage was good, but the woman was really digging into my foot. Two minutes after walking away, the top of my right foot was hurting so bad that I started to limp. I forgot that a bad massage is worse than no massage.

The Sky Train was nearby, so I bought a ticket and stood in line for the Siam Center. It was taking a while for the train to arrive and then a man came by and said it was broken, but should be up soon. After 20 minutes, the station was packed. I squeezed my way inside and made it the Siam Center.

I had a coupon for a 15 minute massage that was part of the movie theater package I purchased days before. I sat in the cool, comfortable plush chair while the woman painfully massaged my neck and shoulders.

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After the massage, I walked a few blocks to the Hard Rock Cafe to buy a shot glass (I collect them). My limp was more pronounced now, making me look funny. When I arrived hot, sweaty, and limping, the woman told me that they had a happy hour special – two for one drinks. That sounded appealing, so I sat down and enjoyed mojitos and a salad. Nothing makes you look more pathetic eating alone at a restaurant than enjoying two drinks at the same time.

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After Hard Rock, I walked around for what seemed like an eternity, trying to find a Boots pharmacy. I finally found it at the bottom level of the food court of the huge mall. I asked a pharmacist for help with my toe nail. I told him that maybe it wasn’t a bruise under the nail, maybe it was a fungus. I also needed an antihistamine cream for some bug bites. The pharmacist was helpful, but it turned out it was just a huge bruise under my toenail and the antifungal cream didn’t help any.

To get back to my Airbnb, I was going to order a Grab, but there was nowhere for them to pull up. The Tuk Tuk drivers offered a ride for $20 USD and didn’t know where I was going. A Grab would cost me around $4 USD, so I kept walking.

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The busy streets were insane. At one point, I needed to cross a large intersection, but they don’t use crosswalks. I waited for five minutes with a large group of people. The cars didn’t stop. Multiple lanes of motorbikes, cars, Tuk Tuks, and busses raced by. Eventually, some people started to cross. I took advantage of their numbers and joined them. It was wild! We formed a group and slowly crossed while vehicles passed in front and behind us. The stop lights have a digital display that counts down how long until it changes colors, mostly starting from 40 seconds. That helped to know when the light was going to change.

I continued walking while attempting to find a place where a driver could pick me up. It was like the Las Vegas Strip – multiple lanes with a divider in the middle of the street. I passed “love massage” places and lots of tourists. Finally, after a mile of walking, I ordered a Grab. When the driver pulled up, it was on the opposite side of the street.

I had waited 15 minutes for him to arrive in the traffic and I knew there was no way that he could get to me. I took a deep breath and ran across the multiple lanes as fast as I could. I got to the divider and once it was clear, I ran across those lanes to my driver.

Bangkok is an exhausting city. I am glad I was able to see and experience it, but the crowds, heat, humidity, traffic, and overall insanity made me want to get out. I was headed to Phuket the next day, and I decided I needed to spend some time relaxing on the islands for the next few days.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 33: Airbnb and Plastic Bags in Seattle

I wasn’t ready to leave Seattle, as I hadn’t been able to see as much as I wanted, like the nightlife. I had to check out of the Airbnb I was in and stay a few more days. I booked another Airbnb that was available nearby. The Airbnb I checked out of was a little studio that had been built inside of a garage at the back of a house. My next Airbnb was more economical and was going to be just a room in a large, old house near the University of Washington.

When I arrived at check-in time, the owner of the place greeted me outside. Tina was in her 50s, and stood at only about 5’3” tall so I towered over her. She had shoulder length gray hair, was fit and spunky, and talked a lot. She enthusiastically told me all about the property.

She rents out several rooms, mostly to college students, but during the summer she rents out rooms on Airbnb. She works from home and I assumed she rents rooms on Airbnb for the income and to meet people. Upon entering the front door, we passed a room that was being rented to a guy for 10 days, but she explained that he was in Portland for the weekend.

The next room was being rented to a woman who would be checking out the next day. We passed through a shared living space with a TV and two couches and continued down the hallway. The set-up was definitely for college students.

There were an additional two rooms being rented out and we ran into one girl who was doing laundry in the basement. Tina opened the door to the basement to point out the laundry and the washer/dryer that were right at the base.

As we stood at the top of the stairs, a large girl doing laundry at the bottom seemed upset and told Tina that “someone” pushed her quarters into the dryer again. Tina said she was the one who had done it because she saw the clothes were ready to be dried.

The girl said, “Well, I like to line-dry a lot of my clothes. And now I don’t have enough quarters to use the machines.”

Tina apologized and said she’d give her more quarters to use the machine. Feeling the tension, I just stood there in silence.

We walked into the shared kitchen and Tina explained I was welcome to use anything there and could put food in the fridge, wherever I could find space. Just past the kitchen were two bathrooms – one labeled “men” and the other labeled “women”. It felt like an actual dorm, although it was mostly women in the house.

Tina asked me about my travels and I explained I was headed up to Alaska next. Tina’s sister lives in Fairbanks and she said I should reach out to her and stay with her while I was there.

She said, “She’s just like me. You’ll love her.” She showed me pictures of the house and the new garden her sister just planted. While I thought this was a nice gesture, I sometimes want my own space, and staying with a stranger for free would have made me feel obligated to hang out with her all the time.

Finally, Tina walked me to my bedroom – a twin sized bed was against the windows, there was a small desk and a table that each had their own chair, and a little nightstand. It was extremely hot outside (in the 90s) and there was no air conditioning. All four windows were open, but only two windows had screens on them. The room would do just fine, but not having air conditioning was going to be miserable.

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Tina then walked me back outside and showed me which direction things were located. She pointed out where the bus stations were and described the neighborhood as “very walkable”. She also said most of the houses nearby had been purchased by Chinese immigrants and how it “became Chinatown overnight.” She seemed annoyed by that.

Tina told me that later that evening she planned on taking the bus to downtown Seattle to attend a festival. She seemed very excited to be dancing around and having fun. It seemed like something she did often. Tina also told me there was an annual parade in two days and it’s a big deal. It was also in downtown Seattle and I could take the bus. I thought about going, but wasn’t sure I wanted to go alone.

Tina gave me a parking pass, which would allow me to park overnight (otherwise the parking was limited to two hours). I unloaded my car and carried my things inside. I noticed an elaborate spider web in the corner of one of the windows, that took up almost half of the window. The spider sat there in the corner, waiting for its prey. I hate spiders, but I didn’t want to mess with that guy and figured maybe he’d eat some of the bugs that were making their way inside because of the lack of screens.

My bedroom sat in a corner where the sunlight hit in the morning and continued blasting the room all day. It was definitely the hottest room in the house. I wanted to cool it off and I decided to go buy a small fan so the room would be more tolerable.

I went to Safeway about two miles away and bought some food items and a fan. As I checked out, the cashier asked me if I wanted a plastic bag for $.28.

Surprised at the high cost, I said, “Wow! $.28?!”

A middle-aged woman behind me in line with her reusable bags yelled at me, “Good!! Ha!”

Pissed off, I said to the cashier, “In Los Angeles, they’re only $.10”.

She said, “I love it. You gotta pay $.28”.

I bought one bag and the cashier seemed to agree with me that the price was ridiculously high.

This pissed me off for several hours. That woman didn’t know anything about me. She didn’t know that I usually use reusable bags, but it’s a little harder when I’m practically living out of my car. I use the plastic bags as trash bags because most Airbnb’s don’t have a trash can in the room.

This incident got me thinking about her approach and why our country is divided. I love the environment and want to protect it. I love hiking in nature and it’s where I find peace. Of course I don’t want it ruined with over-consumption, but I’m also a human being trying to live in this world and sometimes that means using plastic bags.

That woman was so rude and so judgmental in her assumptions of who I was, that it made me want to buy 10 plastic bags to spite her. One thing is for sure, treating people this way will never win them over to your side of an argument. If her goal was to look superior in her quest for saving the environment, she succeeded. If her goal was to show awareness and reduce plastic bag usage, she failed miserably.

I went back to the Airbnb, blasted the fan, and lied there thinking about this incident. It reminded me of a short video I had recently watched explaining the effects of putting disposable contacts down the drain. They break into microscopic particles and end up in our drinking water. After watching the video, I stopped putting my disposable contacts down the drain. All it takes to change the behavior of people is to give them information in a factual way and let them decide. Being judgmental and belittling people will not win them over. It’s a good lesson. I don’t want to be that angry lady yelling at people for their choice of bags.

Post Edited by: Trisha Harmon