Wheels Up! Bangkok, Thailand

For three Charlotte women, a layover in Thailand's capital became a three-day odyssey of exotic food, sightseeing, shopping and one unforgettable Thai massage.

Name: Michaela Duckett

Destination: Bangkok, Thailand

Why did you choose this destination?

I visited Bangkok with my sister and a family friend. My sister wanted to visit because she was celebrating her 40th birthday, and Thailand was a destination on her bucket list. I chose to go because I had never been. I had also heard good things about Thailand from people who had been. Many say it’s not the type of place you visit just once. After my trip, I agree. Our ultimate destination was the island of Koh Samui. We had a layover in Bangkok and decided to stick around for a few days and explore the city. I’m glad we did.

What was your most memorable experience(s)?

Overall, my best experience in Bangkok was getting my first Thai massage. It was amazing, and after disembarking from a 24-hour trip from New York City, it was much needed. In fact, the first thing my sister and I did after checking into our hotel room (and taking a hot shower, of course), was to book a two-hour massage with the concierge. It lived up to all the hype.

Thai massages aren’t like traditional or Swedish massages. There are no oils and muscles are not rubbed. The technique is more of combination of acupressure and assisted yoga postures. It’s based on ancient Indian Ayurvedic principles and the notion that good health depends on the balance between mind, body, and spirit.

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Our service started with a relaxing foot bath and 45-minute foot massage with warm towels. I immediately felt relaxed and invigorated. Within minutes, my sister fell asleep. I gazed out the storefront window, taking in all the sights and sounds of life in Thailand’s bustling capital city — the traffic, a haphazard mix of cars and motorized bikes was crazy. People were everywhere. It was loud. It was hectic. It was busy. Yet inside, everything felt so peaceful and calm. Just the fragrance of what I assume was the pleasant scent of some aromatic herb, the hum of a buzzing fan, an occasional breeze blowing through the open door and this talented therapist giving me the best foot massage of my life. It sounds cliche, but I literally felt all my worries begin to slip a way. It’s like my entire body began to relax into a tranquil trance.

Afterwards, we were led into large dimly lit back room with several massage mats on the floor. Each was sectioned off with curtains, which gave the illusion of privacy but were actually quite sheer. Good thing I didn’t have to remove my undergarments. We were given some clothes (pants and a shirt) to change into. The pants were sized more for small-framed Asians than two thick black girls from the South. So I changed my shirt but decided to keep on the linen shorts I had worn. They were more comfortable.

When in Bangkok, you have to take a ride on a Tuk Tuk. Our driver Moe was a lot of fun.

We spent the next 60 minutes having every inch of our bodies compressed, stretched, pulled and rocked. And by every inch, I mean each individual toe, every finger, my head, neck, back, ears, the insides of my thighs and muscles I didn’t even know existed all received careful attention. My therapist twisted and moved my body into all kinds of yoga-like positions. It was nothing sexual, but at times felt quite intimate. There was a lot of contact. At one point, I think he even used a foot, but it felt so good, I didn’t care. And before anyone asks, I didn’t get a “happy ending,” but in the end I found myself in a happy place. I almost felt guilty for only paying 650 baht, which is equivalent to less than $20.

Overall, the best way I can describe the experience is heavenly and euphoric. Just thinking about it continues to put me at ease.

As for sightseeing, the entire city is a sight to see. Even the buildings are fascinating. The skyline is peppered with towering skyscrapers mixed with bronze-covered temples and a few dilapidated dwellings. Billboards are everywhere. My sister and I got a kick out of how massive some of them are.

From the highway, they appeared at least three to five times the size of the average American billboard. Most of them featured LED screens. It was like New York’s Times Square on steroids. (Unfortunately, many of the photos I took on the way from the airport were inadvertently deleted.)

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We also visited MBK Center, Bangkok’s legendary shopping mall. Visiting is a must when traveling to the city. With 2,000 shops and eight levels, it’s huge. Whether shopping for electronics, handbags, anime collectables, jewelry, luggage or something else, you can likely find it there and get it for a bargain. Prices are negotiable. Wear a smile and be kind; it will get you far. Just don’t be a pushover. Name your price and stick to it. MBK is not only a great shopping destination, it’s also a great place for people watching. That alone is an experience. You will see all kinds of people from all over the world here.

When we arrived, MBK was hosting a Hip Hop International Festival, and there was a street art competition underway. Apparently, American Hip Hop has a strong presence in the city, and it was cool to see how Thai artists interpreted the culture. We even saw a “Yeezy for President” t-shirt.

Artists working on pieces for the Hip Hop International Festival’s Street Art Battle at MBK Center. It was interesting to see hip hop’s influence on culture across the world.

Another great experience about visiting Bangkok was the people we met. While visiting the city, we didn’t encounter any Americans. On our final night, we took a riverboat dinner cruise. It was really cool to see all the buildings lit up as we cruised along the river. We met a family from Iran — two sisters traveling with their mother. The sisters correctly guessed that we were from America and could tell by our accents we were from the South. One of the sisters went on to say she had a major crush on Barack Obama and loved watching episodes of “Sex in the City.” She had traveled all over the world but said the one city she wanted to visit was New York. Unfortunately, she can’t because of new travel restrictions enacted by the Trump administration.

What was your best food experience? What did you eat, and what made the experience special?

Bangkok definitely earns its reputation as one of the best cities in the world to experience street food. It’s everywhere, and it’s delicious. Thai food is known for being hot and spicy, which I love. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well Thai cuisine mixes a variety of flavors from sour and bitter to sweet and salty into one dish. Honestly, I did not have a single meal that wasn’t delightful. However, I’m not a super adventurous eater. I’m not eating any bugs, intestines or mystery meats (at least not on purpose).

Street food was everywhere, including outside the entrance to MBK Center, Bangkok’s legendary eight-story shopping mall.

I was also cautious with my choices, particularly when eating street food, because I didn’t want to risk any bad experiences with rancid seafood or catch a food-borne illness that would ruin my trip. In many ways, Bangkok felt like one big cookout — grills on every corner with vendors offering everything from chicken on a stick to squid, various sea creature eggs, crab and some of the largest prawns I’d ever seen. I couldn’t get enough of the spring rolls. They were divine, especially when dipped in the sweet and spicy red dipping sauce that accompanies almost every dish. I could put that stuff on everything!

One of my favorite restaurants was a place called Feuang Nara, which I believe translates to “White House” and obviously references the fact that the restaurant is literally located in a white house. My favorite dish was the spicy fried chicken with peppers and cashews. (I liked it so much that I returned and ordered it twice.) We also tried the prawn rolls, curry mackerel, pad thai, and some other stuff. It was my first time trying Thai curry, which is made with coconut milk. It’s a lot different from the curry sauces I’ve had in Caribbean dishes, but very tasty indeed.

What did you like least about your visit?

I wasn’t crazy about our hotel. We stayed at the Heritage Hotels Bangkok in the city’s Silom business district. The hotel was clean and in a great location, close to plenty of options for dining, shopping and enjoying the nightlife. The downside is that it was very basic with absolutely no frills. They charged for everything, including guests or extra pillows. There was one pillow per bed. If there were two people in your room, you were given two towels. If there were three people in your room, you would still probably get two towels and maybe one washcloth. Luckily, I travel with my own. But at 1,100 baht per night, the equivalent of about $30, I can’t say that it was a bad experience, just my least favorite part of the trip.

Any advice for making the trip a better experience?

My advice is to book a tour of the city. Since Bangkok was not our ultimate destination, we took a laid-back approach to exploring the city and just played it by ear with no plan. But the city is so rich in history, with so many fun places to visit, so I think we missed out on a lot of it simply because we didn’t know or found out too late. Venturing out with an experienced tour guide would have made a major difference. Still, I have no regrets. It was great to spend three days doing what I wanted, when I wanted to do it. What I didn’t do the first time simply give me more reasons to return.

Aside from airfare, how much should a visitor budget per day, including hotel?

Aside from airfare, visiting Bangkok is relatively inexpensive. The rate of exchange for American dollars was good. You could easily spend less than $20 a day dining out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The price of a hotel depends on your preferences. We found our hotel on Hotwire. For $32 a night, it was decent but basic. On the way back to the States, we had an overnight layover in Bangkok and found a two-room suite with a full kitchen, two full bathrooms, a living room, dining area and balcony for $50 a night. As for transportation, Uber is your best bet, considering many of the cab drivers cannot speak or read English. It makes it easier to get around because the app translates locations and directions for them. Our most expensive ride was the 45-minute commute from our hotel to the airport, which cost about $12. Most trips around the city were less than $5. Other than that, you just need some extra cash for entertainment and shopping. You can find several options for both on any budget.

Would you recommend Bangkok to a friend?

Yes

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