Tuk-tuk, Taxi, Helicopter?
After a deep, if somewhat short, sleep we woke with the alarm at 4am, got ready, travelled down the 2 escalators to the airport (that was convenient!) and checked into our Scoot flight to Bangkok. To say space was at a premium on our flight may have been an understatement, as Craig's knees left an indentation in the seat when we disembarked. Like the true locals we clearly aren't, we took the skytrain into the city and then switched lines to get to our hotel, Citichic. Walking along the street was like stepping onto a different planet. Taxi's, mopeds, motorbikes and Tuk-Tuk's weaved and hurried their way up and down the roads as we dodged people on the narrow pavements. The smell was an assault on the senses, a mix of spices, petrol and an odd sulphur smell that just seemed to take you unawares every so often. The most remarkable sight were the vast quantity of overhead wires that seemed to weave together and create a maze at the boxes, a sight that would give the fear to any electrician!
As per the theme of the trip, our room wasn't ready and so we went for a wander and landed in the Coffee House where we had our first Pad Thai, and it was amazing! The vegetables were so fresh and we could tell that the noodles had been freshly made. Finally checked in, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the room, it had been a long 24 hours to get here and we were fit for nothing. We ventured out in the evening (after a trip to the rooftop), however the streets were busier than they had been in the morning. The neon signs had flickered into life enticing us into restaurants, bars and tuk-tuks alike, with music thumping from the bars and vendors punting their wares atop stalls along the street adding to the chaos of the city. For dinner, we had more Thai food from a bar but the alcohol was a near instant sedative, and so we headed for the hotel, bed and an early night.
Sunday morning (it was almost afternoon by the time Craig woke up), and after a grab and go breakfast we headed to Siam on the skytrain to the shopping malls for a wander and, to pick up a couple of things. The priority was a pair of temple trousers for Katy (or pyjama bottoms, same thing really). The malls were a maze of brightly lit, white shops and corridors over countless floors and buildings. With both of us a bit fed up (okay, it was just Craig being a grump) and nothing bought, we headed back to the hotel. However, on the way back Katy noticed some trousers for sale on the street and, after literally no haggling, Katy had her pyjamas! (It should be noted that after one days wear Katy's temple trousers completely came apart at the seams and she is now onto pair 2, she did threaten just to wear her pyjamas bottoms if it happens again!)
For dinner on Sunday (we beg forgiveness) we went to Sportsman's and both had a roast dinner. To be fair, we had both been pining for a Sunday roast and, to the restaurants credit, it was pretty good! However, we also witnessed the very obvious legal prostitution whilst at the restaurant. One gentleman asked for one of the girls that was working to come and play pool with him and then head 'back to his hotel'. There was also an American sitting with a Thai girl behind Craig that was asking the poor girl if she was into BDSM before moving the conversation seamlessly onto how you should have English mustard in cauliflower cheese, in the same sentence. Prostitution was legalised in Thailand when the Americans stationed troops here during the Vietnam war and is still ongoing today.
On Monday morning we again had a quick breakfast before getting the metro to Sala Deang and then spent the morning exploring Lumphini park where we hung out with the wildlife, trying to stay in the shade as far as possible.
After the standard trip to the Hard Rock Hotel for Katy's ever expanding pin collection, we headed to MBK Shopping Mall, amazingly we had missed it yesterday. The mall is a maze of floors and hundreds of independent stalls separated only by narrow corridors that were plagued with vendors trying to draw you in to see their wares. Unfortunately, Craig had decided to wear his Sydney t-shirt today and this meant every vendor could shout 'Mr Sydney; at him! However, if we had stopped at every stall this was shouted, we would have 15 new custom made suits, 27 mobile phones, 36 headphones, 101 t-shirts and the very best Schmolex watch money can buy! It was definitely an experience, not sure it was for us, and we ultimately didn't buy anything but felt it was worth seeing if nothing else. After some R&R in the room, we had Italian for dinner from Pomodoro. I know, you're thinking what's with all this western food, well, we booked a hotel in Sukhumvit which unbeknownst to us is popular for its international restaurants.
The next morning we got up early and, after some breakfast, we headed to Wat Traimit, a 700 year old Buddhist Temple housing a 10 foot high, 11,000lb, golden Buddha. We were in awe at the size of Buddha and the building with its ornate golden carvings that travelled from it's base to the high vaulted ceiling.
The next stop on our self guided walking tour was to Chinatown, past the gate and onto Yaowarat road. The 5 lane, one way road, was packed with lorries, buses, cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks with the pavement providing a similar challenge to us as we dodged stalls, vendors, shoppers and, abandoned cars and motorbikes. The smell of creosote was near overwhelming and we couldn't seem to shake it, so we decided to get lost in the heavily marketed streets and lanes of Chinatown. It was a maze of brightly decorated store's, dazzling red draped everywhere, a heaving mass of humanity that was in constant flux with motorcyclists taking a chance as they wove in and around the tightly packed pedestrianised streets. The cooking carts, housed massive woks that sizzled with garlic, oysters, walnuts, onion, baby octopus, squid and a host of other unidentified vegetables, fish and meat. The petrol from the motorbikes seemed to overwhelm everything in the narrow, covered streets but occasionally the cooking would overtake it and, most of it, smelled amazing. This is a place for local people, not westerners, and we both feel this was the first time we had a taste of real Thailand.
Craig loved the experience however, Katy had had enough after half an hour of wandering and so we headed to our final stop, the Golden Mount (or Wat Saket). It is a smaller temple to Buddha than Wat Traimit however, a more impressive location giving fantastic views over the city.
Afterwards we got the metro back to Sukhumvit and stopped at the Terminal 21 shopping mall for lunch, where we finally got back to Thai food with Craig having the fried pork with spicy rice and Katy the soft shell crab with rice.
With experiences aplenty today, we decided to walk through the famed Soi Cowboy, a lane lined with bars, clubs and go-go bars, on our way to dinner. The place was lit up by neon signs covering both sides of the street but there was no atmosphere and so we carried on. We also stopped on our way back, when the atmosphere had picked up however the barely dressed girls were now out patrolling the streets in front of their bars and the whole place just felt a bit more seedy.
An early start on Wednesday morning as we were off to see the old city. We took the metro and then walked to the Grand Palace first of all as we knew it would get much busier later in the day. The palace however, was still heaving when we arrived, with tour groups streaming in one after another. We began by walking around the shrine and then the temple of the Emerald Buddha. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take a picture of the Emerald Buddha however it was a bit of a disappointment as he had been robed in gold, and the only emerald left, was his face.
We were then corralled along to see the grand palace itself. The palace is still an official residence of the king however, it is only used for the occasional ceremony with the royal family living at Dusit Palace.
After we had left the palace, we headed to Wat Pho, a temple to Buddha that is also home to the reclining Buddha. To be honest, we don't really have words to describe the size and scale of the sculpture. Buddha's have different poses for different days of the week and it is said people relate to the pose of the day they were born on. It will come as a surprise to no one that the reclining Buddha is Tuesday's position, the day of the week Katy was born on...
After wandering the temples, we walked to the river with the hopes of catching a ferry across the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun however we encountered a scam we had read about (and warned about - thanks Lindsay!!). A gentleman approached us and asked us where we were going, when we said Wat Arun, he said it was actually closed today for a local festival and tourists could go tonight but he would be able to take us to other sights that were open on his tuk-tuk. The scam being he takes you to his brother's tailor or sister's gem shop and gets paid a commission or petrol vouchers to get you in the shop along with us paying him for his time driving us around. Brilliantly for us we saw it coming and so, after he had shown us where to go for the ferry 'tonight' we could walk away, because we knew it was open. We have to wonder how successful these people are with the advent of travel forums and networks on the internet but it makes life easier when they don't change scams. After crossing the river we walked to Wat Arun and this was definitely Katy's favourite. A Buddhist temple that dominates the skyline around, and manages to shine and sparkle without the gold adorning the previous locations.
We were both knackered from walking all morning in the humidity and so we headed back to the hotel via lunch for some down time. Although we both threatened to nap neither of us did, and, after a shower and change of clothes, we headed out to dinner, back to the Coffee House. Katy had the chicken with cashew nut and Craig a massaman curry, both of which were delicious.
Our last full day in Bangkok started with Craig waking up with a rotten cold (even Katy said he sounded awful), so the morning was spent lazing in the room. In the afternoon, we had tickets booked for Star Wars and so headed to the palatial Paragon Cineplex at the mall, on the 5th floor. Craig had unwittingly booked the 4DX screening and we spent the entire film being chucked around in our seats, having air blasted at our feet and behind our ears and, water splashed at us, it was like being at Disney! We both felt however, it really added to the experience of the film and, although odd, we would do it again. After some dinner on the way home we headed back to the room and packed, we aren't quite sure where the time has gone but we head to Kanchanaburi tomorrow.
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