From the gold of the Grand Palace to the grime of Chinatown

I’m feeling pretty tired still today – now equipped with a hangover too thanks to our stint on Khao San Road last night – but Mike and I have booked the Landmarks of Bangkok and boat ride tour along the River of the King and I’m feeling a bit more at home in this city of complete pandemonium.

We head to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew first, which is full of head-to-toe gold buildings and temples, adorned with diamonds, intricate murals and Buddhas. Most entering Thai visitors – our guide, P.A., included – are wearing black even in the sweltering heat as they are mourning the king, who died a few months ago.

The Grand Palace. (Photo by Jenna Intersimone)

Continue reading “From the gold of the Grand Palace to the grime of Chinatown”

The City by the Bay.

After rendezvousing through Chinatown, we hiked down Market Street once again to the corner of Powell street, where the cable car, the only National Historic Center icon that is mobile, picks up its passengers to take them up the famous hills and to the Bay, where Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf lie. Apparently, the reason San Fran loves cable cars is because back in the day when horses would pull people up the hills, some of those poor ponies toppled down the hill with the carts and people attached. Ever since, cable cars have been the go-to mode of transportation around here.

San Franciscans seem to treat the cable cars like their own cheap taxis, and to them, it’s no big deal to hold on and hang off the side as the cable car winds up the hill like a teetering roller coaster for only six bucks a pop. For the rest of us tourists, we were left sliding back on the benches, holding on to our cameras for dear life.

When the cable car stopped, we got off at Lombard Street, known as the crookedest street in the world. So crooked that it has to zigzag across the hill, which is dressed up with pretty mansions and manicured flowers. After trying to navigate down the street hillside, we wandered down past the old Victorians and followed the Bay in the distance to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Lombard Street

Fisherman’s Wharf is like a more old-school and genuine version of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, minus the dumb carnival games and unenthusiastic teenagers selling air brush tattoos. The beginning of the Wharf is lined with seafood shops, where you can get fresh shrimp sandwiches for five bucks from a stand and you can walk along the water and by the five-or-so piers that dot the water. At the edge, you can see Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, lit up when night comes along.

Alcatraz Island

We also stopped at Musee Mechanique, a classic game arcade with games as old as from the 1800’s. The games feature machines where you put in a quarter and see puppets dance or carnivals light up and move and “x-rated movies,” where a man puts his arm around a woman. Ah, the days.

Down Pier 39, we spotted the sea lions all laying about like sleepy dogs, barking at each other and enjoying the warm weather as they sunbathed on the rocks. Wandering into the middle of the pier, you can ride the carousel, see puppet shows, and literally eat the best salt water taffy of your life.

Pier 39

Unlike many other “famous” cities, this place doesn’t reek of tourism in the slightest. Instead, to me, it has the scent of locals making their living selling freshly caught fish and people kissing in front of the Golden Gate before strolling to Pier 39 for candy. Not a bad life.

The Town Within the Town.

Yesterday, I took my study-abroad self-touring skills to the test and, equipped with a map and a 2011 Frommer’s guidebook I got for four bucks on eBay, I somehow convinced everyone to trust me enough to let them allow me to lead them around this wondrous little city.

First, we all headed off to Union Square, or what we thought to be Union Square. Union Square in itself, was, or so I thought, little more than a commercial hub where stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Juicy Couture, and Coach were gathered about for rich citygoers and tourist moms to stop by when they got bored of sightseeing. However, today I quickly realized that in actuality, Union Square is a physical green square, as it appeared on my map, where a few restaurants line the grass and artists gather to showcase their abstract works.

Anyway, quickly bored of Union Square, we walked the few blocks up Grant Avenue to San Francisco’s Chinatown, where one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia harbor. After walking through the touristy Chinese gate right on Grant, we walked down the avenue and in and out of the many clothing stores, kite shops, and tea stores. Around the streets, even on structures such as the Bank of America building (ironically enough) you can see all sorts of Chinese architecture trademarks such as gold dragons and peaked tops. It’s kind of cool too that it’s clearly not just a tourist attraction- Chinese people are all over the place; walking with their children, playing music, manning their shops, eating their lunches in the park.


Once again, being shocked that anyone chooses to listen to me, I followed my guidebook in bringing everyone down a sketchy alley to the Fortune Cookie Company, so Frommer’s instructed me. The alley smelled like dead animals and flies swarmed the place where most of the shops were barred up. Even still, it gave me some hope that although no tourists were around, Chinese people were still walking up and down the alley like it was common traffic.

The tiny sign that read Fortune Cookie Co. was just as little as the shop itself, which felt pretty full with the machinery lining the floors and three little woman sitting in a corner, folding fortune cookies and placing fortunes inside.


After we escaped the alley, we strolled down Stockton Street, which is supposed to the main food market full of things like armadillos, frogs, and other not-so-appetizing creatures. However, this seemed to be pretty empty to me, mostly just stuffed with more tourist shops.

Even still, Chinatown seems to be its very own locale, located within San Francisco even if only by name. The few streets it takes up seem to have residents that have no reason to leave. Why bother when everyone you need is already in picturesque San Francisco?