In Korea they celebrate two new years’: Solar New Year, the traditional western New Year, and Lunar New Year, an exciting double New Year you get to celebrate if you live and/or work in East Asia. For Lunar New Year, Nicole and I had two days off: Thursday and Friday. We both additionally took off Monday through Wednesday giving us an awesome 9 day holiday from Friday night to the following Sunday night.
Before you read
If you haven’t read about Solar New Year, check it out here. If you have read it then check out my trip to Thailand below!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Getting to Bangkok
I left work at my usual time around 10pm and hailed a cab over to Nicole’s apartment. From her apartment we both grabbed our bags and took another cab to the bus station. Our bus left for Seoul at 11:40 and we arrived in Seoul at about 3am. From the Gangnam, yes that Gangnam, Station we took a cab to Seoul station to take a train to Incheon where the airport is.
[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: The first train to Incheon is at 5:20am.[/box]
What’s a person to do at the Seoul Train Station between 3 and 5am? If you guessed wait inside you’re wrong. Unfortunately the station is closed until about 4:30. Nicole and I waited at a crowded Lotteria immediately adjacent to the train station. Clearly we were not the only people waiting for the station to open. Almost every single seat in the joint was taken. Many patrons were sleeping on tables or waiting impatiently, luggage in hand.
Finally 5am rolled around and we went into the train station to purchase our tickets and head to Incheon. The train left promptly at 5:20 and an hour later Nicole and I were on a moving walkway slowly making our way towards the airport terminal.
Arriving at Incheon International Airport
Beware the “Retort” section
Look “only with your eyes”
Check in was quick and we made it to our gate with about an hour to spare, about 8:30am. Since we were sitting in row 58, a row so far back, on most planes you would be sitting behind the plane, we got to board first. It was neat.
Let me say this about the flight, Thai airways is fantastic. If you get a chance to fly Thai airways, I strongly encourage you to do it. There are touch screens in the back of every headrest and remotes in the armrests. The touch screens have dozens of movies, music, and tv shows to choose from. The food was pretty good too and there were free potent potables for consumption. Nicole and I indulged in celebratory gin and tonics and then Nicole fell asleep again and I watched a ton of movies because I can never sleep on transportation.
We touched down, or landed, in Bangkok at 1:30pm due to a two-hour time change. It was hard to believe that we were finally in Thailand after traveling almost nonstop since 10pm the previous night. Customs was a breeze, just like it was entering Korea and Japan. In a matter of minutes Nicole and I had our bags and were on our way to meet a man I would later come to call Pimon, his name.
Pimon, or possibly Simon
Our air BnB host, Bee, offered to have her father pick us up from the airport and drive us directly to the apartment all for $20. Considering Nicoleand I had zero idea of how to get to the apartment this seemed like a great proposition. We met up with him in front of the airport and we walked to his car. He introduced himself as Pimon, at least I think that’s what he said. He was difficult to understand.
Pimon was an interesting fellow. I would say he was in his late 50s. He loves his family and kids, his wife died of cancer, he enjoys hiking in Canada, and he is very proud of his daughter, Bee. That was all I understood of what he said. On an unrelated note, for some reason he reminded me of what Dave Thomas, of Wendy’s, would look like if he was born in Thailand instead of the US.
[box type=”info”]Fun Fact: People drive on the left side of the road in Thailand.[/box]
Getting to the Apartment
From the airport we hopped on the highway and he drove us the 30 minutes or so to our apartment. We took the highway over much of downtown Bangkok. It was a view to behold. Bangkok is such a modern and futuristic city at its center, but its antiquated and poor just about everywhere else. In the center of downtown there are designer boutiques and multistory shopping malls. Meanwhile only blocks away people live vastly different, and poorer, lives.
Pimon drove us past a nearby plaza area called Asiatique and a few other sites in our neighborhood. Afterwards he brought us to the apartment and gave us the key. Nicole and I had booked a studio apartment for our stay for about $300. The apartment was incredible and much nicer than both of our apartments in Korea.
It was nice to finally be done traveling, almost a day after we started. We both passed out on the bed from exhaustion and probably slept for an hour.
Waking up in Bangkok
Delicious Thai Soup from the Cafe near our Apartment
The “Cafe” is the cart in the bottom left.
I woke up with one of the worst headaches of my life, probably from not eating and drinking enough while traveling. Luckily, there was a “café”.
The soup we shared was just enough to tide us over as we walked towards Asiatique and dinner. Along the way we got to see our first taste of Bangkok, outside of downtown. The buildings were old and run down, but lively and bustling on the first floor. Most of the buildings were concrete block and maybe 3-4 stories. The first floors of most of the buildings were shops. There were lots of internet cafes, hair salons, and little cafes selling that same soup we had near our apartment.nearby where we could get food. By café, I mean there was what looked like a hotdog-cart parked on the side of the road with several plastic tables and chairs. Nicole and I split a delicious soup that was one of the best meals I had on the trip. There were bits of beef and spices in it and it was the right balance of spicy and flavorful. A few bites of soup and I was good to go.
The soup we shared was just enough to tide me over until dinner. Nicole and I stopped at a small restaurant that Pimon had recommended to us. We ate delicious fish and steamed octopus in a lime chili sauce. It was amazing, but also amazingly spicy. I thought I knew what spicy was, living in Korea and all, but Thai spicy is on a whole other level.
This walkway connected us to the otherside of the street, and more importantly, dinner.
Nicole enjoying some of the spicy octopus.
After dinner Nicole and I walked down to Asiatique, the market that Pimon told us about in the car earlier. Asiatique used to be a derelict warehouse park on the water. However the area had been renovated and each of the former warehouses were converted into hip outdoor markets with various shops and stalls. Nicole and I bargained a bit with a few shop keepers and bought some gifts for our family. We also got some dairy-free coconut ice cream, served in an actual coconut and sprinkled with peanuts. It was amazing and it quickly became a staple of our Thailand trip. I probably ate it everyday.
Nicole modeling the delicious coconut ice cream
The ferris wheel and fireworks at Asiatique
Next to Asiatique was a giant ferris wheel, I believe the third largest in the world. As we were walking over to it, fireworks began to go off and the two of us decided to watch the fireworks from the edge of the river instead.
This was a spectacular end to a very long and very eventful day. We rode buses, taxis, trains and planes. We traveled almost all day and all night. However, at the end, it was all worth it. We enjoyed delicious foods in a variety of venues and got to experience a new and interesting culture.
The best part of all, this was just the first day.