The sleeper train pulled into Bangkok at the crack of dawn just as the sun was rising behind the buildings. We disembarked and headed straight to the counter to buy our onward bus/ferry tickets for the coming weekend.
After being onboard a train for 14 hours, we decided it would be good to stretch our legs and walk to the hostel which was to the complete bewilderment and dismay of the many tuk-tuk drivers who approached us. They seemed shocked that people actually wanted to and would walk!
We arrived at the hostel, had a shower and freshened up. Greg and Issy were already there so when they woke up, we hugged, laughed, smiled and then headed out for some breakfast.
It was still a Buddhist holiday until Monday so the streets were empty and everything was closed. It was surreal. There we were picturing crazy manic streets of Bangkok and preparing ourselves to be confused and dazzled, when in fact we walked the streets in complete solitary with barely a car on the roads. We grabbed some breakfast and decided to form a plan for the day. Natalie and Greg (“Team Plan”), being the planners of the group were put straight to work. With Team Plan formed, Issy and I not wanting to be left out appointed ourselves as “Team Blog”. In a strange kind of paradox, I am not sure if we all relied on one another or just thought it would be easy to find things to do in a city like Bangkok but we were all very unprepared. We ended up walking around for the day, really not achieving anything. Bangkok it seemed, on first and perhaps last impressions, is focussed around shopping, pampering, temples and then a little bit of naughty, if that floats your boat. Areas of the city for walking like China Town, were even closed. We were really out of luck.
We decided therefore to cut our loses and returned back to the hostel to actually make a plan for our remaining days in Bangkok. The initial concern was how to spend the following day also, given everything was still going to be closed for the religious holiday.
With the city closed down we decided to spend the evening in Bangkok’s busiest tourist street, the famous Khao San Road. We knew we were guaranteed to find something open! Prior though, we began the evening with a sunset-less rainy drink on one of the rooftop bars overlooking Bangkok. Moving onto Khao San Road afterwards was a stark contrast from the financial section we were staying in. There was an abundance of street food, drinks and even people, everywhere.
We took a seat on the side of the street under a small bit of cover, ordered some Pad Thai from a street vendor and beers and cocktails from another street vendor. We were happy once more. It was lovely catching up and I almost felt like I had verbal diarrhea, I was just so excited being able to talk to someone else. It was fantastic to talk and reminisce about Cayman, making us realise how much we miss it.
We hopped in and out of a few different bars biding our time ahead of the World Cup Final in Brazil which was showing at 2 am, Thai time. After the first bottle of beer, it went to a litre, then 2 litres and 3 litres. It was getting messy quickly. The boys tucked into the beer, Issy was enjoying her triple G & T’s (that’s not a measurement, she just got 3 at once for herself. Buy 2 get 1 free of course), and once Natalie was bored with beer and football she went and spent our pension on copious quantities of fried spring rolls. I think once we tallied it up, during the game, she managed to polish off 21 spring rolls!
Morning didn’t come. We were woken by a banging on the door at 3.30 by Greg telling us that the day was nearly over. Oh, that was PM. We quickly got ready and squinted into the brightness of daylight. I suppose sleeping most of the day deals with the issue of everything being closed!
With not much else to do we headed to the mall to waste some time and have a gander. Hangover was setting in well, so we collectively talked ourselves into a complete binge fest of junk food. The shopping mall was absurd and littered with more restaurant and food places than one city needs let alone one complex. After a successful pig out on Korean, KFC, McDonalds, Krispy Kremes and Dairy Queen just to name of few, we went to the cinema to watch a movie. In true Thai custom, we were requested to stand for the national anthem and pay our respects to the King before the movie commenced.
The following day, and duty called, we actually had a purpose for visiting Bangkok. Natalie and I had to apply for our Myanmar visas. After reading various blog posts, we decided to arrive early at 7.30am and queued behind others. By 9am there were at least 300-400 people queuing up around the block. Following a little wait and Visa application submitted, we made our way back to catch up with Greg and Issy. Bangkok was back up and firing on all cylinders so we made the most of it and headed for the sights which of course included a cumulation of temples. First up was a visit to the Royal Palace which also habitats Wat Phra Kaew within its grounds. We walked through the entrance and were pointed to a building and sign which had illustrations of every kind of permutation of dressing that is forbidden. For everyone, except Gregory, who just zipped on his pant legs, we all had to queue up and borrow some garments to hide our sexy knees and smouldering shoulders.
Following our costume change we wandered through to the Wat and particularly the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The revered Emerald Buddha is one of Thailand’s most famous Buddha images. The history of the Buddha’s epic journey is quite interesting. Initially the Buddha was hidden inside layers of stucco in Northern Thailand but between then and its home now, the Buddha was stolen by Laos and recaptured.
Wat Phra Kaew was a lot more than just the Emerald Buddha with many many monuments, sculptures, and temples dotted around. Many gleamed with orange and green roof tiles, mosaic encrusted pillars and rich marble pediments. It was awe-inspiring and overwhelming all at the same time. Another interesting feature was a replica Angkor Wat which had been given by Laos to the Thai King. Greg took this time to tell me off for using a Google image of Angkor Wat on my blog post of Siem Reap. He advised that he knew it was a fake as when they were there just a few weeks later, Angkor Wat was surrounded with scaffolding so gave the game away… I tried to defend myself but sometimes other people take way better pictures. To capture an iconic image with a point and shoot is hard. I will from now on say if an image is from Google so that I do not receive any further complaints from the blogging police! Apologies Greg. (There is one google image inserted in this post, which I trust is evident, I will say some images were taken by Isabelle, so thank you. Great shooting skills!)
Lost in the beauty of the Wat we made our way through to the Grand Palace. Sometimes you see Palaces and you huff a little, thinking meh? The Palace is no longer used by the Royal Family as residence but there was no denying how special it was. There was no “meh” just a crooked neck and open mouths. It was beautiful.
Leaving the Palace, we walked around the corner to Wat Pho, one of the most famous Wats in Thailand. I am sure you reading this are as templed out as we are, but I must admit that Thailand and especially Bangkok sure know how to build a phenomenal and special temple. They’re beautiful, eloquent and possess something extremely special. We were a little overwhelmed following the Palace so decided that only Greg and I would go into the Wat to take pictures whilst the ladies waited outside. As we have said before, you do get a bit templed out but Wat Pho is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, so we didn’t think we could ignore it completely. Inside, the temple houses the country’s largest reclining Buddha. Wow! This Buddha was massive and I am not sure that the pictures really do it justice. The Buddha image measures 46 metres long and 15 metres high. The pose illustrates the passing of the Buddha into final nirvana.
We walked from the Wat to the boat dock, stopping for some food on route. To provide some context, during our first day, whilst walking around, we were approached by a tuk tuk driver who recommended a boat trip up and down the river. A gentlemen, who acclaimed to work for the government and spoke perfect English assisted the language barrier and recommended that a boat trip was perhaps the only thing to do whilst everything was closed. The tuk tuk driver charged us maybe 10% of what everyone else was quoting, although we actually felt the rate was proportionate and fair. After being dropped off at the river dock and arguing with the company who wanted to charge nearly $60 for an hour boat ride, we decided to leave. It wasn’t until a few days later that the phrase of ‘tuk tuk Mafia’ kept being thrown around. An almost organised Tuk Tuk scamming community.
Knowing what we did about the scams and reading various blogs, we found a way to do the river cruise for less than a dollar each. There is a boat bus/taxi which charges 50 cents for a journey and takes you from one end to the other. It is used by local commuters as a way to get around the city. We rode the boat up, got off and then rode it back down snapping pictures and admiring the views. A sense of satisfaction at having one over the ‘Mafia’ also made it that much more special.
Disembarking our ‘river cruise’ we took a wander around China Town. This China Town is different from what we have seen in other big cities. It was mainly goods and products being sold in bulk to other shops and businesses. There was limited food stands, or market stalls aimed at the everyday Joe Public. The absence of food stands created sadness throughout the group! We were told that China Town was very different in the evening, so after pounding the streets for a little while we found the China Gate before making our way back to the hostel.
We knew we were up and out early the next morning and out for drinks in the evening therefore decided to go snooping rather than a big night, again. I personally expressed my feelings, as I can be a little pervy, that I wanted to see the seedy nature of Bangkok. We had seen the backpacker ‘vibe’ on Khao San Road and saw glimpses but nothing much else. We settled on PatPong Night Bizarre. We browsed the markets, had some fun haggling, then settled down on the side of the road for some dinner at a street food vendor. Greg and I ran across to the 7/11 grabbed some beers. Dinner with drinks, sorted. On the table next to us a kind Thai guy, now working in Vegas, and the first person in Southeast Asia to have actually heard of the Cayman Islands and even have been there (he worked the Disney cruise liners), gave us all his local recommendations and advice for what we should do with our remaining time in Bangkok.
With some space left after dinner we went seeking some more street food and inadvertently stumbled into the main street where, perhaps at the beginning of the night, I was seeking. We were approached by guys offering us Ping Pong shows with an extensive list of their acts’ finest talents including darts, razor blades, writing a letter and of course Ping Pong (this is Ping Pong without the paddles – please be careful when googling if you are unsure of the term!). My humour was wasted when I tried to explain writing letters was old hat. If she could do emails with touch screen, I’d be impressed.
Further down the street we passed ‘shops’ with 10-30 women outside. One ‘shop’ had school girls, another nurses, another maid’s and on it went… Guys stood out front with a catalogue for you to choose which woman you would like. We didn’t go closer, just peered from a distance. Sometimes it’s easier to observe from a safe distance. We couldn’t find any food so decided one final beer (on a different street) and home.
In the morning I was woken up with a big kiss and a cuddle from my lovely wife and firmly told to get showered and ready. Now smelling like rose petals and clothed, she sat me down to wish me happy birthday and to go through my birthday ‘cards’. She handed me the tablet and we opened my emails. The first ‘cards’ were from Sasha (clever puppy), my mum and my dad, and an email gift from my in-laws. I listened to voice messages and singing from my nieces and sister. Great start. Natalie then asked me to open her present. She past me an email titled ‘Who is the best wife in the world?’… She also answered it too! Then I was shown another e-mail of Marina Bay in Singapore and the words “F1 Grand Prix Singapore”. She only went and got me weekend tickets to the F1. Grandstand tickets too. Wife did well. Very well.
After the excitement of my birthday present, and loving messages from home, we met with Greg and Issy and jumped in a van taking us 100km outside of the city to explore the Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak. The historic and iconic images of wooden canoes laden with multiple coloured fruits and vegetables, paddled by women wearing indigo-hued clothes and wide-brinmered straw hats is a sentimental piece of Thai history. Like most nations, Thailand replaced canals with roads and boats with cars so over time the markets which once dominated the main city providing lively trading posts for farmers have crawled ashore. This was something we knew we wanted to do before we started travelling, hence making our wedding gift registry!
Unfortunately, and what seems to be the case with tours lately, it was pretty poor. We were basically transported to the floating market but the tour itself didn’t actually include time on a boat. I mean, WTF?
Our friends, Gary and Kayleigh selected this item of the floating market tour and we were not letting it be ruined by another badly run tour operator. We quickly rectified matters and got our own boat and headed down stream. We paddled passed boats selling everything from souvenirs to BBQ meat, fried spring rolls, noodle dishes to fresh fruit. We grabbed some mango as we passed by and returned with a fresh coconut. The fresh fruit is amazing here. The floating market was touristy, but done in a way that was still interesting and fun. We didn’t feel cheated in any way. Well by the experience, the tour left a lot to be desired.
Again, Kayleigh and Gary, thank you for this very thoughtful present. We had such a fun day and it was interesting to view and imagine what life was once like amongst the rivers. We loved this as much as the bike tour in Buenos Aires you also got us.
We returned back to Bangkok early afternoon, collected our visas and got ready for the big birthday night ahead. Birthdays are just another day to me,really, but I was excited to have company.
The plan was to head to a different area and away from the main stretch of Khao San Road. Natalie decided we should venture to Soi 11, and experience another popular street of bars. To my surprise, the majority of the bars were converted VW campervans on the side of the road. We started at one end and worked our way down enjoying copious amounts of Samsong Whisky and Thailand Red Bull (banned everywhere else in the world – oh dear). It was so much fun and after lots and lots of buckets, we were well and truly sozzled. Looking back, it wasn’t best idea to drink on a busy road! Luckily we all left unscathed.
As we were drinking, we could spot a rooftop bar in the distance. We decided what better place to make our final establishment, as we crawled from bar to bar in that direction. When we got there, and I still can’t remember all the details, the lift in the apartment building didn’t work to the rooftop bar on the 32nd floor so we decided, in our non cohesive state, to walk up the fire exit stairwell, all the way to the top. I will hand on my heart swear that at no point did I not put two and two together that the lift didn’t work because it was a private bar, and going up a fire exit and sneaking in was going to end in trouble. Anyway, when we did finally stumbled to the 32nd floor and opened the ‘door’, tired, sweaty and out of breath, we were met by some less than friendly bouncers and one complete knob (sorry mum) of an owner. After some exchanges, and the owner chastising Greg for trying to bring his ‘pink child’s bucket’ of drink with him, we were ‘kindly’ told, no flip-flops and no bucket. Greg picked up his bucket and we left after a few not too nice words. We of course insisted on the elevator down.
As we arrived back onto the street, and again my memory is a little hazey, the next 15 minutes were spent muttering rubbish and plotting plans to get back into the bar to “show him”. As it was my fault, wearing flip-flops, I ended up with a group of local men huddled around (clearly laughing at us) but offering me their shoes to try. After a pair of battered leather shoes and some converse, all of which were way too small, we decided to cut our losses. They were cheap too at 400baht!
We had a great night, with lots of fun. Greg and Issy pretty much paid for everything which was extremely generous. A great birthday! Thank you so much.
For our Last day in Bangkok and a little hungover, we headed back to Wat Pho based on the guy from the street food stalls recommendation, to experience the original Thai massage. Wat Pho is the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage. This was the place where the heritage of Thai’s wisdom in relaxation started and it’s massages now are one of the most world-wide recognized therapeutic and relaxing massage styles. We almost felt obligated to experience this first hand. I mean how could we not! I am not sure that it was completely relaxing but it felt good. Damn good. We returned to the hostel for a few hours to get ready and sorted before heading to the train station.
Bangkok was a nice city, although if being perfectly honest, didn’t wow or shock us in the same manner as we were expecting. Maybe we were being over expecting and perhaps watching Hangover 2 with elephants walking amongst thousands of tourists compounded that. I expected almost the scenes you see in movies, plus chaos of India and countries alike. In fact, excluding the first few days where the city was sleeping, it didn’t offer too much for a backpacking tourist. Circumstances obviously change perspective of a place so maybe our location wasn’t the best but I don’t think being stuck right in the middle of Ping Pong show, hookers and drunken tourists would have made it any different.
I think we would now consider ourselves as experienced travellers. We have been going a little while and are in our 13th country, of this trip. However, Bangkok can be a baptism of fire for travellers, and it’s shocking how far some people will go to part us from our hard-earned money. Yes, on the grand scheme of things 100 baht ($3) wouldn’t ruin our trip and the difference to a local person is like apple and oranges but its the principal. While it never ended in serious danger, without some street smarts we could have been scammed a lot, and often. Travelling as a group definitely has its advantages, we were all able to work together and be acutely more aware.
In the end, it was exhausting. Tuk-tuk drivers are the worst! They say a price of like 300 baht, we say no or try to haggle, when we walk off they shout to every other driver around who then blocks us. As I said it became exhausting. If in Bangkok, the best and by far the cheapest way to travel is by licensed taxi or sky train.
I literally could write for days about the scams but there’s no point. Do your research before travelling, don’t be naive and generally, you’ll be as good as gold!
Looking back objectively, the portrayal of Bangkok’s image as aforementioned perhaps takes away from the old-fashioned village napping in the shade down the narrow lanes of a now fast paced city. I would go back to Bangkok, not necessarily on this trip but with a different perspective and different expectations going in. We sought one thing because maybe we expected the city to be like that when in fact, if you went searching the back ally’s for food stalls etc, you’d find some right gems. Cities and backpacking are always so difficult.
From Bangkok to the South. It’s Island hoping time.
Pictures on Flickr. Enjoy…
If you want to also hear what Greg and Issy thought of Bangkok, from their perspective, check out their blog. So far its been amazing however, depending on what they say about us, I reserve my right to change my opinion 😉 http://gregandissy.travellerspoint.com