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  • Writer's pictureAlta's Oyster

I Spent Two Weeks in Thailand to Celebrate My Birthday

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

In January, I visited Thailand to celebrate my birthday. Truly, this trip was almost five years in the making, starting with a dream my friend Rebecca had in 2018 where we, you guessed it, visited Thailand! We decided then and there that we would make this happen one day.

We began planning the trip in August 2022. My birthday was the perfect opportunity for us to go to Thailand, because I'm usually outside outside for my birthday. Because the flight to Thailand is horrendously long (34 hours and 55 minutes from Denver, Colorado!), we decided to spend two weeks there to make the journey worth it: one week in Bangkok and one week in Phuket.

Bangkok: Bustling with People and History

Bangkok is busy. There's foot traffic, motor traffic, and railway traffic. While New York has the official moniker of The City That Never Sleeps, I think it's fair for Bangkok to share the nickname. It's hard to imagine quiet roads devoid of shoes slapping on pavement, the whirl of wheels, horns honking, and the sound of speed. Once in Bangkok, we quickly integrated into the bustle. We got around by foot, the BTS Sky Train, the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT), and Grab (Uber's Thai cousin). Coming from a car-dependent city like Denver, being part of a pedestrian and railway transport community was fun, despite the all-consuming heat (see my sweat-soaked shirt below).

We had a packed itinerary to maximize our week in Bangkok. We first visited The Erawan Museum, a religious cultural museum known for the giant three-headed elephant culture that looms over visitors. This was a low-stakes activity for our first official day. Meaning, we didn't have to wake up early to be picked up by a tour company. We were on our own schedule, navigating the BTS Sky Train by ourselves to get to Samut Prakan Province. Although in a new country, neither of us were strangers to the processes of reading a train map, buying tickets, validating them, or locating the correct platform. That by no means kept us from boarding the Sky Train heading in the wrong direction at one point, but I think that's a rite of passage when taking the train in a new city! You get too comfortable and boom, you're twenty minutes in before you realize you're being taken in the opposite direction.

The museum cost 400 Baht, about $11.48. There are guided tours, but we chose to guide ourselves. In order to get an audio guide, we had to give a form of ID as a deposit. If I remember correctly, you could also give a cash deposit, but don't quote me on that. My brain remembers giving a form of identification. Also, make sure you're dressed modestly when visiting the museum, or you'll need to be given a cover up. It's a holy site, serving as a temple for believers to pray.

A Black woman sitting on the stairs inside of Erawan Museum
Alta sitting inside of Erawan Museum

Erawan Museum is a feast for the eyes. We entered the second floor (the first floor is actually basement-level) and were greeted by two grand, gleaming wooden staircases, a large stained-glass ceiling, and a lot of pink (my favorite color!). This floor features creation stories from multiple religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, to name the few that I remember. The staircases lead to heaven, which is located on the third floor. Pay attention to the wall as you climb up as it depicts the cosmos and its inhabitants. On the third floor, you'll find many statues iterating the Buddha. There, too, the ceiling is painted to make you feel like you're indeed standing in heaven. No detail is spared in Erawan Museum.

There is a walking path outside of the museum that cuts through a serene garden where you can take a breather and settle in the present. You're in Thailand!

On the second day, we took a deep dive into Bangkok history. We booked Tour With Tong, and our guide Onn led us to the Grand Palace, where we saw the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho, where we saw the reclining Buddha, and so many more temples. It was a maze in there. I learned so much: about the Buddha (I never knew He was a prince or that His feet are completely flat!) and about Thai political history. For example, Thailand was first called Siam, and the capital was called Sukhothai (and was in a different location than Bangkok). This tour also features a nice ride in a long-tail boat in a canal near the Grand Palace. I love to learn a little bit of history about the places I visit, so although I received a lot of information, I ended the tour feeling fulfilled. There's just something captivating about the ever-complicated journey of a place and/or people.

Two women standing amid temples at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand
Rebecca and I at the Grand Palace. Despite the long dress, I was less hot on this day than when we went to Erawan. The type of fabric matters!

In all, the tour cost 7,348 Baht or $215, including what we tipped. Although Thailand doesn't have a tipping culture like the U.S., we did tip a few times. Some guides have come to expect it, as in they'll ask for it, especially from Americans, because they know how we are. Others don't ask. Tour With Tong also requires a 1,000 Bhat deposit before the tour through the secure international money transfer app Wise. This was the first I'd heard of it, so I did some research before proceeding. It's legit and very easy to use!

Rebecca and I are not morning people, yet we scheduled back-to-back early morning tours. On the third day, we were picked up at 6:30 AM for our Private Tour to Kanchanaburi Erawan Waterfall and Elephant Care. This day was brutal for me, because the car ride was so long. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Kanchanaburi Province is two hours away from Bangkok. In light traffic. And we certainly ran into some traffic on the way there. It was a weekday after all.

The highlight of this tour was Erawan Waterfalls, a seven-story waterfall located in Erawan National Park. Yes, seven stories of aquamarine waterfall. You read that right! It's a bummer that we only got maybe an hour and a half to spend there. It wasn't enough. We spent time at one waterfall and quickly visited another, as in looked at it and took some pictures, before it was time to go. Please spend more time at Erawan when you go. Do it for me! It's the definition of picturesque.

A Black woman sitting on a log at Erawan Waterfalls in Thailand. She's twisting to look behind her.
This is in my Top Three pictures from the entire trip

Unfortunately, I didn't take full advantage of the falls. Ya girl isn't comfortable swimming in the deep end yet and still can't tread water, so I settled for dipping my feet in, sunbathing on the rocks and looking cute. And avoiding the fish. Yes, there are fish in the water, and they're hungry for feet! The moment your feet touch the water, the small ones zero in on the dead skin you're carrying. I've never had one of those fish pedicures, so the tickling sensation was strange and almost knocked me over. It's not painful at all, though.

We booked this tour on Viator, so the cost was in USD: $202.90, to be exact. Part of the tour was a stop at The Bridge On the River Kwai. Also known as the Death Railway, the Japanese project was forcibly built during World War II by Allied Prisoners of War (POWs) and Southeast Asian laborers to connect Thailand to Burma (now called Myanmar). Up to 100,000 POWs and laborers died on the project, and the reconstructed railway now stands as a reminder of this painful and inhumane history. You can read more about it here and here.

We also visited Tham Kra Sae Bridge (told you it was a long day), which is another section of the Thailand-Burma railway. This section features a large cave that served as a camp for the POWs during the construction of the railway. You're allowed to go inside, and though it is large, there isn't much to see. It's a cave. And there are some Buddha images inside, and believers do pray on site.

To cap off the long day, our guide took us to Elephant Haven Thailand. This was the closest I'd ever been to elephants, so I had a grin on my face a majority of the time. They were huge, adorable, yes, but also intimidating. We got our hands dirty preparing lunch for some of the elephants, fed a few, which was such a cute experience, and then we got the opportunity to bathe one of the elephants. This part gave me pause, because I could've sworn I saw a tourist before us scrubbing the exact same elephant, which made me wonder how many times these elephants may get scrubbed down in a day. Later on, one of the staff people pulled the elephant's ear to make it sit, because it didn't obey direction the first two times, which again made me question if any leeway was taken when this place ended up on a list of ethical elephant sanctuaries.

Those two observations dampened the elephant portion a bit, so I don't enthusiastically recommend this place or this entire tour as a result, but I do encourage you to find an ethical way to spend time with some majestic elephants. It was an awe-inspiring encounter for me.

We were on our own schedule again on Day 4, and we wasted it by going to Safari World. I'm not kidding. Safari World was a let-down. I'm not the type of person that fawns over animals. I don't think I've ever gone to a real zoo (went to an alligator outpost in Florida once, and that was great!). But I was hopeful! We attended a sea lion show that I think we were both too old for. Then we did the Jungle Cruise, which is a safari/cruise combination (take the word cruise with a grain of salt) that allows you to see "the animals of Asia and Africa from your boat."

Friend, this exhibit was all out racist on top of being confusing. I didn't know what time period we were supposed to be in.

Every African, for, yes, there are mannequins in this section, are standing in front of huts, and the men are wearing "traditional" attire, and there's "traditional" jewelry. Some are just wearing the "traditional" skirt and are bare-chested. The small Black children are depicted wearing a piece of cloth around their waist by way of clothing. And the Africans have spears!

Oh, but further along, there are fully clothed White people. Since we were discovering the animals of Asia and Africa, we were surprised to float by a random White man. He was hanging upside down, a rope tied around his ankle, apparently caught in a trap and in distress. There were two, fully clothed, trespassing White men in distress, in fact.

It gave Indianna Jones. I don't know.

I think at one point during the ride, we thought we might have been in South America? There was also a mine shaft situation.

Even if you go to Safari World because you just love zoos, avoid the jungle cruise. It's lazy and racist. When you're not Black/African, and you have the option to depict Africans, and you go for barely clothed (I can't vouch for how accurate those "traditional" clothes are, which is why that word's in quotes), huts, and spears, I'm not asking many questions. I'm labeling you for the impression you give and moving on, because I know the negative stereotypes about Africans heavily persist to this day.

On the big day, my birthday, we got a soul-melting Thai massage (you knew it was coming) and had dinner at Sirimahannop. I can't recommend this restaurant enough! The vibes are immaculate. Sirimahannop is a permanently docked replica of a Royal Thai Navy Ship on the Chao Phraya River. It was both beautiful and peaceful, a nice breeze inspiring reflection as I listened to the water and took in some of Bangkok's skyscrapers. It's located at Asiatique the Riverfront, which contains shops, a Ferris wheel that we rode, and (at the time) a haunted house that we also went into, so there's plenty to do before or after dinner. I don't know if it's normal to have haunted houses in January in Bangkok, but that ride scared me good.

I always make time to consciously experience the moment on my birthday, and the atmosphere at Sirimahannop was perfect for that. There was also a very kind and talented waitress who gave me a photoshoot right there on the ship. The staff sang me happy birthday, and then a couple paid for our dinner. It was perrrfect!

And that's how you spend a week in Bangkok, folks! That night, we packed our luggage, because we were heading to Phuket the next day.

Have you been to Bangkok? How did you spend your time? Have questions about anything I shared? Comment and ask!

Wonder what Thailand was like for me as a Black woman? Oh, that's coming in a future post. In the meantime, head over to Tiktok to see my Bangkok experience in motion.

Share and Subscribe! See you in Phuket!

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