We make a huge mistake when we leave our hotel our first morning in Bangkok: we fail to bring a map. Anyone who has ever traveled with me is probably unsurprised by this – we would all think I would stop continuously failing at maps by this point, but alas, after all these years traveling internationally, I remain perpetually map-less. We also neglect to look up the opening hours of the tourist sights we intend on visiting.
So, we quickly find ourselves lost, sweaty, and staring at multiple closed signs. In all fairness, we are also quite distracted with the art of “catching up.” It has, after all, been months since we have seen each other, so we toss away our original plan of a heavily-packed day of tourist attractions, and decide, instead, to have a beer on Khao San Road, infamous for its backpacker party scene, and focus on being sisters instead of being tourists for a bit.
It is here, amongst the ticky-tacky tourist shops, massage and tattoo parlors, tuk-tuk horns, and crowded open-air restaurants that Susan experiences her first Chang beer.
It is also where she first tries Pad Thai in its homeland – only one of the many times she will enjoy the dish on this journey – and where she experiences her first Southeast Asian torrential downpour. The first two she loves; the later, she loathes.
When the rain finally stops and we finish our third round of Changs, we stroll through the city, eventually discovering Wat Chana Songkhram, a Buddhist temple, crafted during the Ayutthaya period.
The buildings within this Wat are all intricately decorated; tiny angular patterns of gold and jewels rim the windows and doorways and countless gilded Buddhas line the interior walls. I often find I could stare at the faces of temples for hours and notice a million different artistic wonders. This one proves no different.
Visiting the temple marks another first for Susan, a detail I find humorous, as this element has become so ordinary in my current life, I hardly notice them anymore.
At night, we opt for a cruise on the Chao Phraya River. Admittedly, this is a huge tourist activity with overpriced drinks and a cheesy atmosphere, but we find it an easy, lovely, and relaxing way to spend our first evening in Bangkok. Traditional music and dancers serenade diners and the performance is quite mesmerizing. The dancers are dainty and beautifully adorned in colorful costumes, gold jewelry and gold head pieces, their tiny fingers bending rhythmically back and forth, almost as though they are not fingers at all but rather flames dancing atop a candlestick.
After dinner, we watched the sights of the city come and go from the upper deck of our boat.
The Royal Grand Palace, bridges, skyscrapers, and Wat Arun, now lit, create a path for us down the darkened river. The sight of the thousands of lights reflected into the water is beautiful and soothing.
As the evening draws to a close, we climb off the boat, very much ready for bed, and for a new day of adventure and sisterhood.