Bangkok, Thailand – We loved it!
Well, firstly, I’m annoyed that an enormous post covering loads of what we got up to in Bangkok was lost by Blogsy, the app I use to write this blog on the iPad. I’ve emailed the developers and there seems to be no way of retrieving it. So, this post may now seem a little curt as I’m basically doing it all again. Apologies.
Bangkok more than kept us busy while we were there and I think by settling down for a while we really got a feel of the place, rather than just rushing in, seeing a few big sights and rushing out again a few days later.
So, where did we stay? Our major bases were Chinatown, Thonburi and then Sathon. Each good for a different reason but if I had to leave one out in the future it would be Thonburi.
Our first base was Chinatown, selected quite at random when we arrived at the airport with nowhere booked and went to a government run accommodation desk requesting the cheapest hotel. On the way to the city in the taxi (after missing a whole night of sleep due to a very early flight from Mumbai) we started to worry what “the cheapest hotel” would be like but we needn’t have. The New Empire Hotel was great; it felt really luxurious after the places we had stayed in in India, there was a bathtub, new fitted furniture, a mattress with springs (brilliant after the very hard beds in India) and air con cold enough to use the big fluffy quilt that had been provided.
The hotel is on Yarowat road, the heart of Chinatown in Bangkok which is one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. One of the first things that struck us was the difference in traffic: Yarowat is a major, 4 lane, one way road but because of the complete absence of horns and the modernity of the vehicles it made a noise like a gently purring cat. Such a contrast to India. The taxis are all brightly coloured, new cars which make for a good picture:
Yarowat is a busy road by day and by night. It has hotels, shops, restaurants and street sellers during the day who are joined at night by what can only be called outdoor restaurants. They pop up with table and chairs and are all busy, every night. At night there are also fortune tellers, more snack stands and market stalls selling everything from fruit to socks. We ate there a few times enjoying duck and rice, pork and rice and some spring rolls but it was not too easy to identify a lot of the food due to language difficulties and, me being allergic to seafood (which was the mainstay of most of the dishes served) meant I could not just pick randomly and hope for the best. One evening we saw what we thought was a lump of normal meat but we discovered, through a mix of broken English and sign language that it was actually tongue, heart and brains on offer. I’m afraid we did not indulge.
Wat Tramit – The Temple Of The Golden Buddha
Just around the corner from our hotel this newly built temple houses the largest solid gold Buddha in the world. The story goes that for years it was encased in a type of concrete to protect it from invaders and lay unloved for so long that the fact it was actually solid gold was forgotten. One day it was being moved and was accidentally dropped, revealing some of the gold. After that the temple was built to house the restored Buddha for the people to once again enjoy.
It was a busy temple to visit (I think a coach load of tourists had turned up at the same time as us) but it was still impressive and a good start to the many temples we would see.
Wat Ratchanadda and the Loha Prasat
The second major temple we saw was the Loha Prasat, unusual because of the design of the building and the wooden roof. It had completely different atmosphere to the last temple because there was hardly anyone there. The calm, quiet surroundings added to the whole experience and we really enjoyed our wanderings around the building and the grounds. I think this is how temples are supposed to be.
China town is not linked so well to the rest of the city by public transport routes so we engaged the services of a few taxis during this time. Most of them were really very smart like this one and some even had karaoke machines installed!
This is a picture based competition based on a sticker we saw in one of our taxis, no prizes I’m afraid except the glory. The question is, what does the fourth picture on this sticker mean…?
So far we’ve decided that … 1, no smoking, 2, no vomiting or farting (pooing?) 3, no exposing your bottom and 5, no farting…. But what about number 4… Suggestions welcome, it is still a mystery to us!
After Chinatown we moved south west into an area called Thonburi. Chosen mainly because it was a bit cheaper, the area does not offer half the sights and sounds of Chinatown but the hotel did have WiFi and a washing machine so we were happy there for a few days.
I washed our backpacks and all our clothes, it was the first time since Christmas they had been near a machine; although I’m fine washing our small number of clothes by hand it was a treat.
One big bonus is that it was near to a BTS (sky train) station, Kron Thon Buri and so we were able to use this amazing system to get about. It is super clean, super fast and super cool (air con, and image wise!). We loved it and used it almost everyday. It was very reasonably priced and so safe. I would travel on my own without a worry anytime of the day or night (it runs until midnight every day.) This is what our first local station looked like…
After returing from Pattaya and Ayrutthaya (see previous posts) we rented an apartment in the Sathon area, in the south of Bangkok proper. It was so much more cost effective to stay put for a while rather than paying daily room rates and we had a large room (not really an apartment) with a fridge and a microwave, a TV, air con and a balcony. It was a really good base to further explore the city as we were so close to the BTS and just a short walk (or 1 BTS stop if it was raining) to the river ferry.
It was a lovely place with lots of long term residents and really friendly staff. As an added bonus we had a washing machine and WiFi again, there are bonuses to leaving India! There was also the luxury of a swimming pool on the roof!
There were loads of food stalls in our area, in fact all over Bangkok, and we rarely ate in a restaurant.
The Chinese Cemetary
From our balcony in the Sathorn Saint View appartments we could see what we thought was a temple so early one morning we decided to explore. It turned out it was actually a Chinese cemetery and the areas around the graves were pretty overgrown and had become a sort of nature reserve, it was beautiful in a strange way. It was also used in a very different way to how we use them at home.
There were people running about all over the place, cycling, walking, doing weights, playing basketball and badminton and generally keeping fit. It was a very well used open space. Despite the heat (about 34 degrees in the sun, even at 8am) they were really going for it. We thought that perhaps the location was quite a good motivator!
These ladies were doing karaoke in the there and were more than happy to pose for a snap. They invited me to join in but my Thai had not advanced so far as to be able to read it!
Many of the people would stop their workout to pause at the shrine in the centre and light some incense…
Phu Khao Thong at Wat Saket (The Golden Mount Temple)
Another temple saw which was quite memorable was the Golden Mount temple. It is basically a temple on top of a large mound of earth created when another temple collapsed during the building phase. There were quite a few steps to get to the top but it was worth it. There were bells to ring all the way up and several massive gongs to sound. It was quiet there and the notes rang out splendidly!
The Chro Phraya River
The Chro Phraya river runs all the way through the west and then the south part of Bangkok and is fed by numerous canals all over the city. People live all along the canals and the river in what look like sometimes pretty haphazard buildings, balanced on stilts.
Shopping – The Markets and The Malls
As I may have mentioned before there is plenty of shopping to be done in Bangkok and the markets were our favourites. We visited dozens altogether, too many to detail here but I’ll just go through some of the biggest and most memorable…
Chatuchak (or JJ) Market
Chatuchak is a weekend market easily reachable on the BTS. It is enormous. We went 3 times together and I went once on my own and I can honestly say I still don’t think we saw it all. It covers 35 acres and is one of the largest in the world. It is estimated that over 200,00 people visit it each day. We read these numbers before going but it does not prepare you for the actual size – you have to see it to believe it. We got some gifts, clothes and souvenirs from there but we could have also taken home a puppy, a kitten, a garden’s worth of plants, food to feed thousands, any sort of clothing or household item you can imagine and many fake goods. Just about anything really. I would highly recommend a visit to Chatuchak if you are visiting Bangkok.
The market in Chinatown covers a large area around the streets of that part of the city and because the Sois are so small it can be very crowded. There were several parts to it, some areas selling items like headbands and jewellery at wholesale prices, many food stalls and many places selling ingredients – some a little weird and wonderful. (see the gallery soon for more of this type of thing)
The Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talad)
The flower market starts in the evening and runs all night. It is quite large and has a beautiful array of blooms to choose from. Bags of flowers sold to make the little garlands used as gifts to shrines were everywhere, as were orchids, roses and ready made arrangements. I loved it there but we were rained off rather so didn’t stick around really late into the night to see what happened in the small hours. We went the day before my birthday and picked up a big bundle (45) pink roses for just 82p, bargain!
The Amulet Market
There were loads of other markets we visited, big and small. Pratnum, which specialises in wholesale clothes, would be good if you want to buy several of anything or on a rainy day as most of it is indoors. Patpong night market is a small night market just off Silom (near Sathon) and this is the place to go for fake watches, bags etc. (it is also surrounded by go go bars though so you have to put up with constantly being asked about sex shows.) and well, really if you are in Bangkok long enough you will find many little markets that are not listed anywhere, they are just there like the one where this lady sold her sticky rice, off a backstreet in Silom.
How could I do a post on Bangkok and not mention the food specifically? As I said before we ate mostly from stalls which are everywhere in the city. I read that they are all regulated and we never got ill from eating anything once. There was always some meat-on-a-stick around every corner as well as fruit, noodles, rice dishes, curries, omelettes, bbq bananas all sorts really and usually it was quite well priced. Henry was often disappointed with the portion size but the Thai people seem to eat little and often.
We also ate some fast food. Mcdonalds provided a few breakfasts (they have 24hr delivery!) and we also had to try such delights as a double big mac and double fillet o fish (I can’t comment on the fish but the double big mac was massive, hard to eat and a bit too meaty really) pineapple pie (nice) and some rice dishes (OK) All delivered hot and fresh and with several bows if you tipped the driver even 1 baht. We also had a Pizza Hut which was probably the same as Pizza hut all over the world but seemed expensive next to other options. We did eat in the coffee shop of our hotel a few times as that was reasonably priced and had a few good steaks and congees. Congee or jokee is a rice porridge which is served all day on the street but is the nearest we got to an actual breakfast food. If we were out and about really early we had chicken or pork and rice for breakfast (all with some great spicy sauces). I thought I was getting used to hot food in India but all the curries I tried here were REALLY hot, a different kind of hot I think. We do not make Thai curries at home anywhere near as hot as they actually should be.
Just before we left Bangkok we were on one of our walks and came across a protest outside the Myanmar embassy (formally Burma). The protest was in support of all the Muslims in the Rohingya province who have been killed by Buddhists, calling for urgent UN intervention. Nothing turned nasty and they were very keen for me to take pictures. Travel really does open your eyes to issues all over the world you were not even aware of before.
Mass workout in Lumphini Park, there were hundreds of people doing aerobics together.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, our last glimpse of Thailand before heading to Kuala Lumpur
Bangkok 2nd May – 23rd June 2012