Weekends in Bangkok

Sunset at Wat Arun
eco-friendly candy wrappers
When I go to Bangkok on the weekends, I feel it must seem strange to the Thai students. I do weird stuff. I only eat vegan food. And I carry all these things with me: water bottle, lunch box, metal straw, ice tea mug… When we’re at a local market, I don’t want the plastic bags, the plastic straws, I always show the vendors my own bowl, bag, mug,…

Baiyok takes me to the Wat Sothon Wararam temple east of Nong Chok and I normally feel uncomfortable going too close to the people in prayers. I’m not Buddhist, so what am I doing here? I can admire the beauty of the architecture, the Buddha statue and the lotus flowers from a bit further away. But Baiyok takes me all the way to the front of the people and teaches me to say a prayer. She lets me buy flowers and incense sticks to sacrifice and old coins to give to the monks. Like she shows me, I put one coin in each bowl. Apply the gold leaves to the statue so that I’ll get my hopes fulfilled. We try coconut candy and fried banana, only the free samples, and then go on to the next market stand. 

Wat Sothon Wararam

It is also Baiyok and her friend Pi who accompany me into the city for an entire day, and I think they only do it because they don’t want me to be alone. When I tell people that I went to Bangkok, everybody always asks me who came with me. First I meet up with the Belgian people from Zero Waste Thailand to stock up in bar shampoo and bamboo toothbrushes. As they live very close to one of Bangkok’s biggest malls, we have lunch at the food court of “Terminal 21”. It has taken us two hours to get here from the dorm, first by car to the Airport Railway Link, and then from the Railway Link’s last stop on by the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) skytrain. I’m overwhelmed by Bangkok once again. All the cars, the big roads, the train above it all, the sheer size of the skyscrapers, and all the impressions from the mall – everything is big, loud, and bright. And while outside it seems dirty, smells bad, trash everywhere, cracks in the sidewalks, smog and heat of by now more than 30 degrees Celsius, inside it’s always clean, shiny, air-conditioned. Sparkling. Fancy. Bangkok seems rich inside the malls and coffee shops, but like a third world country out on the streets.

We take a boat to cross the Chao Praya river to visit the famous Wat Arun temple. Some people came here to pray, some for sightseeing, some are having a picnic outside, and anyway, the temples never have this quiet, almost depressing air that churches usually have. It’s always a place where you’re allowed to have fun and talk to people. As I read that it looks prettiest in the sunset from across the river, I suggest we go back to watch it, but it’s not yet time for the sun to go down. So we take a stroll over the flower market that is not far from here. Oh, the scents and the colors! Oh, all the plastic that ruins every picture of the flowers!

After witnessing the sun set in the smog behind the temple, we take a Tuk-tuk close to Khao San Road, where we meet even more farang than the rest of the day. Of course, all the young tourists and those who feel young, stay in Khao San Road. A small street parallel to the Backpackers’ street offers three vegetarian restaurants next to each other, and I had picked one beforehand. The Ethos has an extensive vegetarian and vegan menu, and I order fried tofu, spring rolls, a main dish and a gluten free vegan pancake with coconut milk and fresh fruit for everyone to try – but it turns out that Pi has eaten so much during the day and Bayiok a dinner date waiting, that neither of them want to share and I put all the leftovers into my lunchbox. The menu is in English and comments on almost all of the dishes, encouraging you to order loose tea and healthy food instead of Lipton tea of Coca Cola. The prices, of course, are also made for tourists – what I pay for this dinner is the equivalent of six meals at Kesineeja ( you know, this restaurant by the dorm, whose owner makes me vegan lunch and dinner almost every day, it’s just a lovely place to eat and hang out, everybody loves taking to Kade).
On Sunday, I try it on my own: Cab to the Railway Link station, taking the skytrain, and by motorbike taxi as close to my destination as the driver finds the way: The Zero Moment Refillery bulk store. All the plastic is making me crazy, so I’m really grateful for the opportunity to refill my bags and bottles with soap, cereal, tea and dishwashing liquid. If only this store were closer! 

The area around it seems pretty rich and “green” in mind – the coffee shops have soy or walnut milk for my milk tea, the houses have yards with trees. The closest vegan restaurant that Happy Cow suggests is just a fifteen minute walk away, and after lunch I think I can walk back to the skytrain station as well. It’s only twenty minutes according to Google. But this is Bangkok. Walking from A to B involves crossing busy streets (feels like a suicide mission), following equally busy roads that have no sidewalks, and ending up in construction sides under dark bridges. 

My next “victim” is Ae, who wants to go shopping anyway. I persuade her to go to Siam Paragon instead of the mall closest to Nong Chok, as it was suggested to me. In Bangkok, people mainly go to the malls to hang out with their friends, eat, drink coffee, the shopping is secondary. The Siam Paragon is supposed to be the most beautiful mall. As it turns out, we can eat for city prices there, but not shop – it’s all fancy brands that we can neither afford nor like. So Chatuchak Market it is – the biggest market in Thailand, and probably Asia, where you can get literally anything: Jeans for one euro, food, massages, upcycled IKEA-bags, tie-dyed skirts, sunglasses, phone cases, purses made from crocodile leather, and probably much more. We stick with the coconut candy and people watching… And of course, I want to visit the second bulk store in Bangkok, the Better Moon Refill Station. It’s more of a café, really beautiful, and with lots of vegan options, but we can’t possibly eat any more. Unfortunately, they are out of cereal, so on the way home, we stop at the Zero Moment again. I hope that with all my “avoiding plastic” quirks, the Thai students will not only talk about me, but also start thinking about it. On Monday, I hand out reusable bamboo straws to them. 

A small success in my war against plastic


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