July 6-8, 2009
Pnina and I needed to hustle out of Laos and reach Bangkok in time for our July 9 flight to Japan. We decided to get to Bangkok a few days earlier because we had a few errands to take care of: getting the Japan rail pass, arranging our flight and visa for Myanmar (which we planned to visit after Japan), getting tailor-made clothes, and so on. Pnina and I had both visited Thailand before, so this time we had no plans to do any touristy things. We just used Bangkok as a convenient hub from which to visit other places.
The taxi cabs in Bangkok come in various bright colors:
There’s a neighborhood in Bangkok called Khaosan (named after Khaosan Rd), which is like Mecca for backpackers. The street is full of backpackers from all over the world, and local vendors trying to make a buck selling food, clothes, pirated travel books, pirated music, and other useful traveler gear. Last time we were here we remember getting fantastic Pad Thai (noodles) from street vendors for $0.25. The food stalls are still there, but the price is higher and the food is not as good as we remembered. Memories, both good ones and bad ones, tend to get exaggerated with time, don’t they?
A full moon over a crowded Khaosan Road:
It’s pretty simple to get fake ID’s on the street. I was surprised to see these goods advertised so openly. The vendors who ran this business did get annoyed when I took this photo:
Is it lame for us to spend our time in Bangkok going to a mall? Yeah, we think so.
There’s a shopping mall in Bangkok called MBK. From the outside it looks like a fancy upscale mall. Inside, it’s a totally different story – a maze of booths selling the same fake brand-name clothes, cellphones, and so on. I didn’t know about MBK on my first visit to Thailand, but apparently this is where everyone goes to stock up on gifts before heading back home. Pnina and I didn’t want to buy too much because we still had a few months of backpacking ahead of us, but it was still fun to rummage through the mall.
The MBK mall looks clean and upscale from the outside:
Across the street there’s some pretty cool modernistic art (note how huge this statue is compared to the people walking by):
Inside it’s a different scene altogether. Here’s an awesome shirt I picked up in one of the stands:
Is it funny? Or terrible? Or both?
All these Mr. Men references gave me the inspiration to create a t-shirt for my friend Eric, who has a cat named Mr. Man. I got some help from my friend Tyler (who has a graphic design business: http://www.generaltheoryofcreativity.com/). Here’s what we came up with:
(…and after I had the shirt printed I learned that Eric spells his cat’s name with two n’s…crap!)
Anyhow, back to MBK…
Some cute salt-and-pepper shakers:
You don’t find a lot of Engrish in Thailand, but this is priceless 🙂
Add another strange mannequin to the collection:
I was starting to get antsy for some of the creature comforts of life in America, like, for example, going to see an independent film. We found a movie theatre by MBK that was playing a movie called Departures. This was the movie that picked up the Oscar for best foreign film. We thought it would be an appropriate film to see because a couple of months earlier we saw the movie Waltz with Bashir, which was also nominated for the best foreign film prize, and also because we were planning to reach Japan in a couple of days. Well this movie was also awesome. It’s hard to say which one was better because they are such different films. This one was a drama about a cellist who loses his job and ends up, accidentally, getting a new job in a mortuary, which is considered an “untouchable” sort of job in Japanese culture. The movie was both sad and funny, and just really well made. We’re not surprised it won the Oscar. Oh, and seeing a movie in Thailand is always an interesting experience. Before the film started everyone in the theatre stood to sing the national anthem while images of the monarch flashed on the screen. People in Thailand seem to like their king (although many of them don’t like the government – only a few months earlier the Bangkok airport was shut down by protesters demanding the prime minister to resign).
Poster for the Japanese movie “Departures”, that we saw while in Bangkok:
Pnina still enjoying the wide variety of inexpensive tropical fruit — mangosteen, rambutan, and others:
Dried fish arranged in concentric circles in platters on the sidewalk:
Getting tailor-made clothes is one of the “things to do” while in Bangkok. There are tons of tailor shops all around the city, and they use various annoying marketing tactics to get people in the door. Most tuk-tuks in the city will offer to give you a free or discounted ride if you’re willing to make a pit stop in their friend’s tailor shop (in exchange for bringing customers in, the drivers get gas or meal coupons). Some tuk-tuk drivers don’t even bother asking; they just pull up to the tailor shop and argue if you refuse to go in. It can get frustrating.
Anyhow, being as tall and skinny as I am, I have a hard time finding dressy clothes that fit well. When I buy a suit off the rack in America, the jacket gives me the “shoulder look”. So I figured while we’re in Bangkok I may as well use the opportunity and get a suit. In fact, why stop there? I decided to basically get a new wardrobe – one suite, 3 pants, 3 jeans, 6 long-sleeve shirts, 6 short-sleeve shirts, and a wool winter coat. Naturally I wanted to shop around and get the best price, so I didn’t mind when tuk-tuk drivers offered to make a quick stop here or there. I figured the store owners would be thrilled to receive me; normally they have to use pushy sales tactics to convince the customer to purchase just one suit, and here I come saying I want to buy so much more. But that wasn’t the case – a lot of them ignored me or basically told me to piss off. They probably figured I was totally bullshitting – nobody buys that much. 🙂 Well, after investigating a few places we settled on a shop on Khaosan Road called Khaosarn Collection.
Shahaf getting fitted for a suit at Khaosarn Collection:
The store owners were friendly and they had the best price: 18,000 bhat ($546). It was a hefty price to pay, another one of the splurges of our trip, but certainly much cheaper than all these clothes would cost at at home even if I bought them off the rack, let alone the fact that every item was custom made to my measurements.
All these clothes together weighed about 11 kg, nearly as much as either one of our big backpacks. Luckily Pnina and I were planning to meet my parents in Japan and the plan was for them to carry these clothes back home for us. So we only had to lug around these clothes for the next couple of weeks (which itself was a bit of a pain). We did have an option to just ship these clothes back home, but that would have cost at least $200.
So was it worth it? Yes and no. The dress shirts and the winter coat are just awesome. Now that Pnina and I are back in Seattle I wear them every day to work, and I’ve gotten some compliments about them, especially the coat. The jeans didn’t work out at all. After one wash they shrank so much that I had to give them up. I think these Thai tailor shops don’t work with denim very often so they don’t know about the importance of using pre-washed fabric. The dress pants are also unwearable now, not because they shrank but because I fattened up 🙂 Also, the dress pants have a slim-fitting design. They look great and they feel OK if you’re standing up, but if you sit at a desk for several hours a day, it’s just not comfortable.
So in my case I had something like a 50% success rate, which still makes it a pretty good deal, but not quite as good as I was hoping.
What about Pnina? She couldn’t be bothered with these tailor shops. She doesn’t have the patience for bargaining with Bangkok store owners. She still has her suit from her last visit to Thailand, and in her case it still fits. She was mildly interested in getting a dress or two, but most of the shops only had fairly stiff fabrics, nothing flowy, very little that she liked. So she decided to skip it altogether.