Naughty Henry Alford exceeds his allowance in the affordable Thai capital—and has a ball doing it
6:45 A.M. When the telephone awakens me, I realize that it's not even 7 a.m. and I've already blown almost my entire budget. How did this happen?First, I'm staying in a good hotel—the newish Conrad Bangkok (All Seasons Place, 87 Wireless Rd.; 66-2/690-9999; www.conradhotels.com), which, for $130 a night, offers boutiquey chic and a wonderful, Rorschach-esque outdoor pool. Second, I've put $100 toward a private guide (Asian Travel Consultant Co.; 66-1/849-2681; firstname.lastname@example.org) who will be taking me somewhere I've always wanted to go—the floating markets outside of town.
Amount Left $20.00
8:30 A.M. I'm gliding down a canal at the floating market with my tour guide, Jeab, a delightfully bubbly, self-described tomboy in her thirties who lightly slaps my arm whenever she wants to emphasize a point. We're in a 35-foot longboat (think of a canoe, and then run that canoe through a pasta maker), narrowly avoiding tens of other longboats heaped with crafts and produce for sale. Summoning my attention—slap!—Jeab whispers, "Only buy food. Then no gangsters, no monkey business." I assemble a delicious meal for a dollar—a big bowl of spicy, cilantro-studded noodle soup, followed by three crisp crêpes filled with coconut cream—but the forces of commerce keep tempting me. I buy a packet of 10 dried spices ($7.69) and a vial of tiger balm ($1.02); I decide that the theme of my purchases is Powerful Aroma.
Amount Left $10.29
1:30 P.M. The lobby of the Conrad is tense and full of bodyguards; the concierge tells me, "A state visit from Singapore." I retreat to the pool area, where I escape the midday heat by plunging in.
Amount Left $10.29
3:05 P.M. Having navigated Bangkok's infamous traffic via both taxi and tuk-tuk ($2.33)and then paid a 51-cent admission fee, I am at Wat Pho temple, staring at a reclining Buddha. It is 50 feet tall and covered entirely in gold: my jaw drops. What's more, there's a massage school on the premises; I pay $4.62 for a half-hour session. Being massaged on the grounds of a temple is the kind of religious experience that would definitely keep this parishioner coming back for more.
Amount Left $2.83
8:00 P.M. I arrive at the stylish Greyhound Café (Emporium, second floor, 24 Sukhumvit Soi; 66-2/664-8663), where Bangkok's media types and jet-setters eat. The level of attitude is New York-caliber. After more taxi and tuk-tuk rides ($2.61), however, I have only about 20 of my allotted 25,000 cents left. I know I am going to topple over the line when I read on the menu that the Greyhound slathers its grilled salmon steak with a black-olive-and-anchovy dressing. Exactly $17.64 later, I am a very happy man—even if my finances have hit, uh, rock baht-tom.
Total Spent $267.42