BANGKOK Tuesday 31st December 2013 to Friday 3rd January 2014:
After a long flight with very little sleep and a slightly dodgy entertainment system, we finally arrived into Bangkok airport at around 11.45am. Despite Nick’s dire warnings of long queues and lost luggage, we sailed through customs and baggage claim and made our way into Bangkok. Following Nick’s advice (again!), we took the fancy sky train to Phaya Thai station where we changed and took a taxi into town. The sky train is quite amazing and the modernisation that there is in Bangkok is quite striking as you enter the city; it really reminded us of Tokyo with large skyscrapers, modern buildings and flashing neon lights. The taxi ride was our first taste of the Thais’ inbuilt love of trying to scam tourists. Once again thanks to Nick, we knew that the cost of a taxi to the famous Khao San road shouldn’t cost more than 100 Baht. Of course we were quoted 200B. After some haggling, the driver agreed to turn his meter on and the journey came to 109B even though he did drive in the complete opposite direction to actually get to where we needed to go!
We checked into our hotel (Erawan House) and literally passed out for a couple of hours with some severe jet lag. Then at 6.30pm we headed out to experience the wonders of Bangkok on New Year’s Eve. After finding some grub, we headed to the Khao San Road but ended up on another much nicer street full of tourist bars, street vendors and lights. We also bumped into some crazy American guy who ate a fried scorpion and said it tasted like ‘good fried chips’ – on our return to Bangkok Matt has vowed to try one (or at least another insect!). The rest of the evening was spent wandering out the old city, soaking up the atmosphere and knocking back some beer (well for Matt). We managed to stumble across a park where thousands of people had gathered to carry out a public Buddhist prayer as part of the New Year’s celebration. People were letting off paper lanterns with flames inside which filled the night sky – it was quite special. Until one came down crashing and burning as people ran away – that’s probably why it isn’t allowed back home! We also ended up at another celebration near the Democracy Monument where there was live music and some market seemingly associated with the current political protests. In true traveller tradition we headed back to the Khao San to experience the countdown which was quite an experience – thousands of people crammed into one street, loads of music, booze, partying and a fantastic atmosphere.
We had a shock late wake up at 12, so must have really needed the sleep! Although there was some creature running around the room during the night and Susanne needed earplugs to ignore the fact that it was there! After getting ready, we headed out to take in some of the sights of Bangkok. We stumbled across an old fort called Phra Sumeru. But the most interesting part of the day was discovering a massive temple complex (Wat Bowon Nievetwihan) where a New Year’s Day celebration was going on. The place was rammed with locals and foreigners, with many locals praying and bringing offerings, and monks chanting – it was a beautiful first experience of Buddhist practice in Thailand. The experience was slightly rocked by a bit of free food we had (you all know how we like free stuff!). Following a nice refreshing cup of (free) water and nice ice tea we were smacked around the face with the spiciest paste thing we have ever eaten in our lives. We couldn’t taste anything anymore, only the taste of burnt mouth! Susanne suffered quite a bit and so chewed on the ice from the tea and a chewing gum! It was if someone had lit a camp fire in our mouth!
After our mouths had returned to normality, we headed off to get a taxi boat along the river to the modern part of town, the Siam shopping centre. It was quite bizarre stepping inside such an ultra-modern shopping centre in the middle of Bangkok – this is obviously where the well-off Bangkokians hang out and shop. After a beautiful Thai salad (yum yum) we headed off to pick up Susanne’s mum from the airport. We showed her around a bit where she of course headed straight to the market stalls (just like her daughter!) and then was introduced to her first pad thai experience which she loved. (For those of you not in the know, pad thai is a typical noodle, veg, egg, peanuts and lime dish served everywhere in Thailand – yummy!).
The majority of this day was spent in the absolutely stunning Grand Palace complex which houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, perhaps the most revered Buddhist statute in Bangkok. Matt was a bit cranky to have to pay nearly £10 for an entry ticket, but by God was it worth it. The temples and buildings are simply stunning, with elaborate and ornamented architecture, bright colours and gold coverings everywhere. It really is a breathtaking place. It is akin to a mighty Cathedral, where reams of money are pumped in to create a grand place of worship. It was quite a departure from the idyllic, simplistic and minimalist imagery people often associate with Buddhism. We wandered around for a couple of hours taking in the sights and taking far too many photos! Afterwards we headed to the iconic Wat Pho which is home to a massive lying-down Buddha (46 meters long) and took far too many photos! Once again the grandeur of this object was a reminder of the shear importance of Buddhism in Thailand. We weren’t quite sure if the temple or the Buddha was built first, as the Buddha literally filled the entire place!
Today we went on an organised tour to the floating market. It was perhaps the most touristy thing we have ever seen in our lives, but was still a nice experience. After a long bus and freezing journey (the Thais love their aircon), we arrived at a small town which is basically one big market with various canals running through it. We took a long boat around the canals where vendors (both in boats and on shore) try to sell you all manner of tourist souvenirs and snacks. The canals were rammed with boats – it was like the M25 on a river! After a wander around the market on land, we then took a speed boat around a village which was quite nice to see. The young and cool driver introduced us to some Thai pop music in contrast to the old tranquil village. When we arrived in Bangkok it was a case of killing time before our bus left for Ko Phangnan. I’m now writing this entry as I’m sat on the bus, which took about two hours to leave Bangkok – stopping every minute and the horrendous traffic. But finally we are on our way to sun, sand and turquoise waters! Oh yes!