Where, you might ask, am I staying in Bangkok? The simple answer to that is Phiman Riverview Guesthouse! But who wants a simple answer?
Off the beaten path, but right near the "backpacker zone" of Bangkok, Phiman Riverview is a convenient and interesting place. It's down a winding alley on a street called Samsen Soi 5, where plenty of dogs, cats, and chickens roam. As someone who has booked an entire month there, I am by far, the guesthouse's most permanent resident! Most people only stick around for a night or two; sometimes they stay an entire week. However, it seems that I'm the only backpacker taking my sweet time at Phiman; I get to meet a LOT of people.
For starters, the location is great. I'm within walking distance of hundreds of street vendors and restaurants, dozens of temples, and the backpacker-friendly Khao San Road. It is in the Banglamphu section of Bangkok, an area which is far less "modern" than some other parts of the city. As a result, it's poorer, cheaper, and dirtier, yet also feels more like "authentic" Thailand.
As you have probably guessed by the name "Phiman RIVERview," the guesthouse is located alongside a river. It's beautiful at night, when you can't see the garbage floating in it. Cambodian workers have been building a wall alongside it since I arrived; the construction can get pretty loud during the day. To get to other parts of Bangkok, I often catch ferries from a dock alongside the river, perhaps a fifteen minute walk from the guesthouse. Price to ride a boat as far as you want? 40 cents.
Jane, the guesthouse owner, is really friendly and helpful. On my second day here, she moved me to a room with a private bathroom/shower stall, even though I had booked one with a shared bathroom. This was done because of the length of my reservation. It has made my stay SO much easier, as walking outside at 1:00 in the morning to use the bathroom or shower is never fun. Jane also throws barbecues every few days, where the guests all get to chip in money and have a communal dinner. For example, about a week ago, each of us ate an entire fish. It was wonderful!
The prolific number of residents is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I get to meet dozens of people, from different countries and walks of life. On the other hand, nobody stays around for very long. It's nice to meet people, but sad when they have to leave so soon. I have truly made some great friends already, learned about other countries and cultures, and had some fantastic musical jam sessions.
My accommodations are meager, especially compared to what I'm used to back in the States. However, Phiman Riverview Guesthoues has a ton of charm and personality, and plenty of friendly people. The only real complaint I have is the insane number of mosquitoes. I've been bitten probably dozens of times, even though I (occasionally) use the provided mosquito netting.
The pros outweigh the cons by a landslide. I'll remember the Banglamphu area and the Phiman Riverview Guesthouse long after I depart!
Three new countries, Belgium, South Africa and Sweden have been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 23!
Before I begin, just know that this article is not about "how to meditate." I know very little about meditation, and pretty much learned to do it from online articles. Such articles are plentiful, and I urge you to check them out. Instead, this article is about my personal experience with meditation, and the benefits one can get out of it. Many of you have probably meditated before, so I don't really need to extol its virtues. However, I want to share my personal story, because it was so powerful. I see it as ultimately having a positive effect on my life.
Something like 95% of Thai people are Buddhist, making Thailand the perfect place to "get in the zone." I left the temple today feeling more refreshed, level-headed, and comfortable than I have felt in months. The air was fresher, food tasted better, and my actions felt more relaxed. When I stepped outside, I realized just how fast my brain usually runs, jumping from thought to thought in an unhelpful frenzy.
When caught up in the everyday stresses of life, we tend to go into autopilot mode. Sometimes our mind tenses up and just plows through whatever task is at hand. We either get tunnel vision or over-analyze situations, both of which stop us from seeing the world as it is. Unfortunately, this can make us forget about the small pleasures life has to offer, and takes us far away from the joy of sensory experience.
Here is where meditation comes in, the beautiful antidote we've created to relax the mind and heighten the senses. By giving your mind permission to calm down, you are doing yourself a big favor. Frantic thoughts, the stressors of the mind, are allowed to roam free. When you accept, instead of fight your usual thought pattern, you take away power from negative thoughts. When thoughts have no power, they cannot cause stress. And without stress, you become clear-headed. Now you can begin taking in the world around you, one glorious sense at a time!
If you've never meditated before, and perhaps don't understand any of what I just wrote, that's okay; I find meditation very hard to describe. However, do it properly, and it will put you in a unique mindset, one you are not likely to forget.
Although I have meditated a few times in the past, it's never been easier than today's session was. I give credit to my environment. There are literally hundreds of Monks walking through the streets of Bangkok, and dozens of temples to visit. I find it so much easier to meditate inside a temple, where everyone is in the same, relaxed mentality. You don't need to become a Monk or Buddhist to meditate. It is more of a mindset than it is a religious practice, and can be beneficial to those of any religion (or lack thereof). I consider myself to be quite irreligious, but still see benefit in the practice of meditation. Not to mention, there have been numerous studies lauding its effects on mental and physical well-being.
After today's session, I've decided to turn meditation into a regular habit. It looks like I've come to the right place!
Thai food is renowned for being cheap, plentiful, and (best of all) delicious. Well, I can certainly back up all three of those claims, as they happen to be true!
If you were to order a plate of Pad Thai from an American Thai restaurant, you'd be paying anywhere from $5-10 for a plate, maybe even more! On Khao San road, the "backpacker's ghetto" of Bangkok, prices range from $1-2, depending on what you'd like in it. Chicken or shrimp tends to cost a few cents extra, as do side dishes. Just the other day, I ordered a big plate of Pad Thai and three spring rolls, cooked right in front of me, for roughly $1.85! I had enough food for dinner that night, plus enough leftover for breakfast the next morning. Thailand is a perfect destination for budget travelers; you can eat three square meals a day for the price of one.
Now don't get me wrong; I looove Pad Thai. But you don't need to eat it every meal of every day. There are so many dishes around here, you could feasibly eat something new at every meal. I often eat meals at a local restaurant down the street, and usually just pick something random off the menu. There is so much variety here. Want a breakfast of pancakes with honey, mango, and banana? Sure. Lunch of fried chicken and rice with basil? Check. For dinner, a dish that you've never heard of? You bet!
If you head down to Khao San road, you'll have even more choices. Competition is rampant because of the sheer quantity of backpackers. It's certainly home to some of the more exotic dishes, such as deep friend insects. Why, just the other day, I challenged myself to eat a scorpion. Sounds disgusting, until you have a couple of Chang beers in you!
If you hear about the prices and think "you get what you pay for," you're wrong. My first meal in Thailand was a nondescript bag of chicken and rice, and wow! It was like an explosion had gone off in my mouth. It took eating Thai food for me to realize how bland some American food can be. Thai people have spice use down to a science; every bite is a majestic symphony of flavor. Is that enough hyperbole for you?
Another great thing about the food is how fresh everything is. You can rest assured that your fruits, vegetables, and meat were recently picked and slaughtered. I have yet to see a freezer anywhere, and plants, fish, and chickens are abundant.
On a side note it's moderately easy to practice a vegetarian lifestyle here. Back in the States, I keep a mostly vegetarian diet, but opted to lose it for my trip. There is actually a large amount of chicken and seafood here, so keep that in mind if you ever want to travel to Thailand. However, there are certainly enough meat-free dishes here if you do want/need to eat a restricted diet.
Come on out and have a bite! We can share some scorpions or something.
Let me first say that tourist scams are very common in Bangkok. They include anything from overpriced tuk-tuk (a type of taxi they have here) rides to knockoff jewelry and clothing. My goal was to keep a low profile, never buy any souvenirs, and always insist on metered taxis (as most flat rate services will rip you off). However, on my second day in the city, I was scammed by a plot so intricate it deserves to be written about. So here it is, the story of how I was scammed.
I wake up in the morning with the intention of going to MDK, a giant shopping mall, because I have to buy a phone for my trip. Unfortunately, MDK is far away from where I'm staying, so I need to catch a boat to the train station, then a train to the mall.
Here I am walking aimlessly around, trying to find the ferry where I can take a boat. Suddenly, a man standing near a bus stop asks me what I'm looking for. I tell him I'm looking for the ferry. He tells me it's a Thai holiday today, and the ferries and malls are closed. Instant excitement on my part: a holiday on my second day here? Bingo!
"Because it's a government holiday today, you can hire a government tuk-tuk to bring you to some temples and government buildings. Only 20 baht for the day!"
In my head, I've just hit the jackpot. 20 baht is roughly 60 cents, and I've been meaning to see some temples anyway, so...
I ask him how to find a government tuk-tuk, and he helps me flag one down. "The one with colors like the Thai flag!"
I thank the man, wave goodbye, and step into the tuk-tuk. We're on our way. Let me tell you, this driver is one of the best drivers I've ever seen. He's weaving in and out of cars, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles, speeding the entire time. There are several moments where I'm sure I'm going to die. But there's Bangkok's insane traffic system for you.
First he takes me to see the "Lucky Buddha." This is my first temple experience. A guide brings me inside, I take my shoes off and stare at the Buddha. The guide speaks English well, and tells me all sorts of things about how the Lucky Buddha brings luck to people. I take a photo, then walk back to my tuk-tuk.
The driver then brings me to "Thai Factory," a suit shop. He tells me that he gets free gas vouchers for bringing me to various government owned shops. "None of these shops have tax, because they have a special deal with the government!"
I have no problem with this guy getting free gas vouchers, but I tell myself that I won't buy anything. I figure that the government cuts deals with companies to bring some extra tourist dollars into the economy. So I go to the suit shop, ignore the aggressive salesman, and am on my merry way.
Next, he brings me to the "Government Tourist Office," where I can talk to people who will give me any travel information that I want. I step in and am immediately seated by an intense looking fellow. He tells me I need to get out of the country immediately, because of political instability caused by the military coup. I've heard that things aren't really that bad in Thailand, so I tell him I'm going to stay. "Three people have already been killed, you have to get out immediately!"
I mention that I've already booked a full month's stay at a guesthouse, and don't want to leave. His response? "What's more important, your money or your life?"
Then he holds up photos of the three aforementioned people who were killed. "They were trying to have a good time, just like you."
Shaken, but maintaining a sense of calmness about the situation, I refuse to buy a ticket out of the country. With a final assurance that I will be killed, he bids me good day, and I leave.
By the time the tuk-tuk driver brings me to the second temple, my mind is racing a million thoughts per minute. Is my life really in danger? Was it stupid to take my chances in such a serious situation? Anyway, I arrive at the next temple, and peacefully look up at the Buddha. Another man is there kneeling. We talk about various things, namely travel. He recommends that if I'm already on my government tour, I should check out the Baan Thai Gems Co., a jewelry store where they cut jewels. Oh, and they have one of those government deal things with no tax.
Well, where do you think the tuk-tuk driver brought me next?
So I'm in Baan Thai Gems Co. Ltd. and damn, it's a beautiful shop. It looks like a very expensive upper class jewelry store, and although I've decided not to buy anything, I'm enamored by all the beautiful rings and such. A well-dressed shop worker shows me around, and I finally decide to buy the cheapest ring I can find. My eyes land on an amethyst ring cast in silver, valued at 1,600 baht (like $50). I hesitate, but then I've been having such a great day...I need something cool to remember this trip by! The man fits my finger for the ring and I buy it. It comes with a stamped certificate of authenticity.
Fast forward like five more shops, and the driver drops me off. I pay him the 20 baht, and leave, beaming. What a day! For only 60 cents I got to ride around Bangkok in a super fast tuk-tuk, saw some temples, and now have a classy ring!
When I get home, I flop onto my bed, exhausted. On a whim, I decide to Google search the Baan Thai Gems Co. It's never a good thing when the word "scam" shows up as part of your suggested search phrase...
I do some research on the internet, and find out exactly what has happened to me. The entire thing was a scam. Every single person was in on it but me: the guy who gave me instructions, the driver, the shop owners, the travel agent, even the temple guides and the fellow I spoke with about traveling! Thankfully I only paid $50 for a ring that most certainly is worth a fraction of that. It could have been much, much worse.
If I'd done my research beforehand, I would have immediately recognized a gem scam, one of the most common scams in Bangkok. However, I'm glad that I had to learn about it the hard way. Very little damage was done, so I now have a great story to tell, and a badge of shame to wear on my finger forever!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.