Bangkok in Two Days

Bangkok reminds me of New York. The skyscrapers aren’t as tall, but there are rolling hills of cityscape that sprawl out for miles in every direction. There’s a river, and a little ways away, there’s an ocean. You can take a bus to the ocean and a ferry to cross the river, although the smaller boats are almost certainly a scam. They’ll charge you more than you can afford to get on the boat, and then again to leave it. If there are enough Chinese tourists crowding on the pier when you land, you can try to skip that second fee.

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Our time in Bangkok wound outward from that regretful river trip, where we were forced to sit scrunched between 4 Spanish tourists so we wouldn’t destabilize the tiny boat. As the noxious fumes of the boat’s motor wafted behind us, we cringed as waves carrying garbage threatened to drench us. It was our most anxious moment of our stay in Bangkok, but we found our way out of it.

After shedding our sea legs and getting some food, we went to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which was beautiful but too large to take in more than a single body part at a time. The Buddha, 40 feet long and looking very pleased with himself, lies on his side. The tourists circumnavigated him, snapping photos and dropping coins into prayer buckets. If they weren’t dressed conservatively (covered knees and shoulders), they were required to wear a shawl. Then we got massages at the temple. They were done in a dark, air conditioned room, and afterwards they gave us a plastic cup of juice to drink with a straw. Tired from the day, I felt almost tearful sitting in the dark, so I went outside while my boyfriend finished his juice.

We take a taxi back to our hotel, where we nap and spend time by the rooftop pool. Inside, the knot of anxiety unwinds further. We eat dinner in our neighborhood at a nice but pricey restaurant, and I feel guilty for not eating street food. I was told, repeatedly, that the best food in Bangkok is sold by street vendors, but most the vendors I’ve seen have been selling fruit or sausages. I’m not sure if I’m missing out, or if street food is a category reserved for carnivores.

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The next day, we get sim cards in an enthusiastically air-conditioned mall just a few blocks from the hotel. After, we wander through Lumphini park, which is a green reprieve from the city. Then we have a dash of coconut icecream before taking the subway, which feeds on unmarked, black plastic coins, to Bangkok’s chinatown.

The chinatown is denser, but not dissimilar to New York’s chinatown. There are the bags of foreign foods available for sell, the enticing smells of sweets and savories. There are some differences. As with the rest of the city, Bangkok’s chinatown has more cats, napping on pillows in spaces between stalls. an entire block of sidewalk is impeded by woman in plastic chairs with white powder covering their face. Older woman hover over them, running a circle of wound thread across their faces to remove unsightly hairs. Motorcycles weave through areas that should only be passable on foot. I search google for recommended restaurants and find a hole in the wall that sells only fried muscles and oysters. My companions are skeptical, but I convince them to order and we all eat. Nobody died.

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Next we run through a market adjacent to chinatown that can only be described as steampunk. On stalls the would look much the same two centeries ago, merchants are selling all manor of modern technology. From radios to car parts, Khlong Thom Market is a visual explosion of niche buyers’ catalogues. Just past the market, people were machining metal with lathes, mills and other machines that I hadn’t seen since college. There, the machines were locked safe in a basement where only people which proper training had access. Out here, men were using them in garages exposed to streets with heavy foot traffic.

We kept trudging through coffeeshops, wats (temples), and public monuments to the king. We arrived in the hip Banglamphu neighborhood, which was defined by another market-a more tourist facing one. But we were exausted, so we  ended our day there.

Bangkok seems like a well that opens up to an enormous aquifer. It’s hard to find an entrance to the city that is not curated and tourist focused, but beneath there are endless options of travel. We didn’t see any of the famous malls, or wander into the calmer, eastern neighborhoods. What we experienced was like a tourist visiting time square, and in getting turned around finds herself stumbling into the upper west side. There she’d see a glimpse of what New York could really offer. But by then her trip would be over.

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Obscured and Off-Kilter: My Time in Ketchikan, Alaska

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Ketchikan is a small, touristy town in southern Alaska. In the summer, it’s a bubbly hub for outdoors enthusiasts. There’s boating trips to catch salmon, hiking trips to peak at wildlife, and flights in rickety little planes to take it all in at once. I wasn’t there in the summer, but in May, when it rained every day and the sun set at 8. Southern Alaska is made up of hundreds of tightly huddled, mountainous islands, and Ketchikan is squished between the water and the hills. While the town has less than ten thousand people, it manages to stretch out over 34 miles of coastline. With the rain and the low density population, it’s impossible to get around without a car. I had a black rental that I’d often retreat to when I felt frightened or unwanted.

Ketchikan is accessible only by boat or plane. I arrived on a Saturday, flying in from Seattle on a plane that acted like an airbus, touching down temporarily at several coastal towns before continuing on to its final destination. The airport is on a different island than the rest of the town, so I took the 15 minute ferry that connected the two. My hotel was less than a half mile from the drop-off point, but I could not walk the distance. It was pouring rain and, as I later discovered,  there was no sidewalk to walk on. Luckily there was a hotel shuttle.

I checked in and was informed that there would be a high school prom happening in the hotel that night. I asked about a grocery store, and was informed that the only one in town was a block away, and that I should take the shuttle. I chose to walk. The fruit wasn’t as overpriced as I expected, but the pickings were slim. At least half the shelves were empty; I wasn’t sure if they were ever filled. I was dressed in full rain gear, and several other shoppers stared at me as I picked up groceries for the few days I’d be in town. Nobody else was wearing rain boots or holding an umbrella, even though it was still raining.

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The next day I woke up early with prom anthems still ringing in my ears. My hotel was a couple miles out of town, so at noon I drove downtown and had lunch at the only well-reviewed place in town, which served salmon tacos. Downtown Ketchikan is a cluster of houses sprouting off a mountain side, overflowing onto docks above the water. The houses are painted brightly to offset the gloom and constant rain. Although they are mostly hidden by fog, on clearer days snow-capped mountains frame the town in all inland directions. The town is mostly composed of small museums and tourist shops, where a passing visiter can buy a keychain or hunk of overpriced vaccuum-sealed salmon. I bought some and then later opened it up in my hotel room. It had a strange aftertaste of ammonia that left me nauseated.

Outside the town the Tongass Highway stretches out about 30 miles heading either North or South. In the offseason, this road is the only way to access wildlife sightseeing, if you aren’t willing to pay for a boat tour. These are the sights I saw that stayed with me.

The road hugs the mountain, so there is often a shear cliff face to drive alongside. The constant rain creates waterfalls that stream down the incline into the ditch next to the road. The larger waterfalls are too big to run off into the ground, so there are drain pipes that run beneath the road to let the waterfall drain into the ocean. These waterfalls are pretty and occasionally terrifying. I stopped my car beside one of the larger ones to watch it roar. It was unnerving to watch thousands of gallons of water pass by in such close proximity, and even though the rain had let up I was quickly drenched by mist coming off the falls. I only stopped for a minute. I was scared of the roaring water, but I was also uncomfortable with the idea that another traveler could find me there, alone and so close to a monster.

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Traveling alone on that road was strange. I would stop at sightseeing points but quickly leave if another car pulled up behind mine. Being 20 miles out from civilization alone made me jumpy and on edge. Once I stopped at a fishing dock with some boats and a restaurant. The restaurant was closed, so after taking a few pictures I headed back to my car. I passed a couple men on my way back who both smiled at me. A minute after I passed them, I twisted my ankle on the asphalt. I stumbled, but did not fall or shout. From behind me I heard “Careful!” I did not look back or stop walking. My stumble had been noiseless, and yet they had known I’d fallen.

To the north, the landscape looks much the same as the south, but there is one destination in particular to make it worth while. 26 miles north of downtown is the Knudson Cove Marina, which is famous for whale sightings. I saw no whales there, unfortunately, but after I returned and started googling I discovered that a whale had breached spectacularly just a day before my visit. Five feet from the dock, the whale had surfaced, opening a mouth wide enough to swallow a truck whole. While I missed this sight, I did see a few seals pop their heads above water.

Ketchikan is a strange place. The wildlife, when not veiled in fog and rain, was stunning. The prices for room and board were less impressive. From the men wearing Trump shirts at the taco stand to the woman that screamed at me while I was parked in front of her house, I felt generally unwelcome by the locals. I’m not sure if that’s a general feeling towards tourists, or if by traveling as a single woman I put a target on my back. In contrast, the hospital employees I met through my job were very nice to me. They also seemed to believe that they were living in paradise, and asked me if I’d be willing to live there. By the tone in their voice, they seemed to think the answer was obvious.

Greener Grass in Portland

Where: Portland Oregon

Length of stay: 3 days

Season: Summer

Why: Vacation

We went to Portland for the gardens. Coming from the midwest, we were used to well groomed yards stocked with tame bushes and run-of-the mill flowers.
In Portland, the front yards seem almost carelessly vibrant. Succulents and roses twist up freely, bushy lilacs slump onto the sidewalks. There is just enough room two walk up from the street to the front porch, where a cat will calmly wander out to greet you. You reach down to pet her, only to dirty your hand. She’s covered in dust from the road. She rolls around in it, lazy and safe. In the back yards there are chicken coops tucked away. Three tawny hens will cluck hungrily at you.The neighborhoods we saw were Alberta, Irvington, Hawthorne/Belmont and Division.

Front yard flowers
Our hosts 3 sweet hens



Even the whole neighborhood smells fresh. If you walk long enough in any direction you’ll come out on one of the bustling streets that slice through these burrows. There you’ll find plenty of bars and chic restaurants, and when you’ve had your fill, those quiet jungles will be waiting to welcome back.
We also went downtown, which was perfectly fine if not particularly memorable. We walked across the Hawthorne bridge, which holds a great view of the Columbia river. This city is known for its breweries, and we stopped at three of them. The Japanese tea garden was pleasant and the best spot for a view of Mount Hood.
Portland is a wonderful city, but if you’re looking for transcendence, breeze past the tourist traps, the local haunts, and take a walk through the neighborhoods.

How to get around: Public bus, uber, or just walk

 Great session ales from Hair of the Dog

Mount Hood from the Hawthorne Bridge

Blue star doughnuts

Flights at Rogue, their original IPA is the best

Where we stayed: One night in the Alberta Arts District, two nights on the South East side

Restaurants: ¿Por Que No?, Whiskey Soda Lounge, Sizzle Pie

Breweries: Rogue, Base Camp, Hair of the dog

Doughnuts: Blue Star (forget Voodoo)

Bars: Doug Fir Lounge (best atmosphere), Aalto Lounge (2 dollar cocktails at happy hour!), Hedge House (biergarden)