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Thailand 23/02/02 - 09/03/02

Bangkok Day Two

Some wake earlier than others, but breakfast is welcome at 6.30, and is the usual mid-upper class hotel spread. The buffet consists of an omelette/fried egg counter; waffles; a chilled yoghurt counter; chunks of assorted fruit; and a dozen heated pewter roll-lidded food dispensers with everything from scrambled egg to noodles. We steal a plateful of pastries for elevenses.

We return to ready ourselves for the Grand Palace tour, which begins at 7.30 from our hotel. Satta, our jolly, but over chatty guide, greets us in the lobby, and the dozen or so fellow English travellers leap aboard our bus to be thrust into the Monday morning rush hour traffic. Traffic lights are very long in Bangkok, and although this journey seems to make distance and orientation more comprehensible it takes a long time to get to the Crown Plaza.

We plough on downtown to the dulcet tones of Satta, learning a lot more about Thai living than what we're sightseeing, as, like the other rep, he sells Thailand to us. I thought we'd already bought it!

Grand Palace temple, BangkokWe arrive at the Grand Palace gate, after flashing past such gems as China town and the 24 hour flower market and are expelled onto the humid tourist circuit, buying water as we are told to do so before entering the pristine grounds. A lovely open space leads to the confined, tourist swamped area of the inner courtyards, and the amazing sight of intricately adorned Wat Phra Kaeo, whose golden tiled towers signify the pinnacle of Thai Buddhism. This part of the palace is only open to the public on one day of the year, which doesn't really make you want to come back, as you can imagine how busy it might be. Satta's monologue wanders, he has a lot to say. Amazingly this palace is still used by the King (now Rama IX), and gets closed whenever his is in town. One can but imagine the majesty of having the space all to yourself. The sun comes out - the water was needed. We troop in, de-shoed and unhatted, to visit the 'emerald buddha'. Only 66 cm high it is still an awesome sight, but as the Rough Guide says, it has been so garishly adorned it looks like the work of a crazed child. Turns out it isn't emerald at all - it's jade. We sit alongside Buddhist monks, who've made the pilgrimage from God-knows-where, making sure that we don't point our feet at it (bad luck).

The pastries come in handy. The video camera runs out of juice, and onward we go room after room, learning things we can only imagine we are being tested on later! Rama IV travelled to Europe and bought back the functionality of western civilisation in the form of public services, and some of the architecture reflects this, the Chakri Maha Prasat is huge in it's stateliness. We learn that the bodies of dead royals sit up in their coffins for a year before being cremated, when, if any of their ashes are left in the furnace, the crematorium may not be used again.

Grand Palace temple, Bangkok Grand Palace temple, Bangkok Grand Palace temple, Bangkok

Lethargy and heat exhaustion comes over our unacclimatised group, and offers to see more fall on sweaty ears. We return to our coach. Now starts the hard sell, and we are whisked off through other parts of the town to what we are told is the only ISO accredited jewellery factory and shop in Thailand, as indeed it says on the entrance to the place. Offers of welcome drinks bode the inevitable, and we are all whisked into a mini cinema for a naff presentation about what we are surely all about to succumb to buying. The group dissolves into the huge spaces of the militarily organised shop. It is of considerable size, and they have got it right, with a little of an insight into the factory process, before you are greeted by almost as many staff as customers. Mrs A is keen to find a stone or two to set into a new design at home, and we let the polite sales girl troll through a collection of beautifully crafted jems. I, like many other blokes are more interested in the baby black tip sharks doing laps in the main fish tank.

China Town, BangkokThe offer is now on of free lifts to anywhere we want to go in town, and suddenly Satta reappears to bring together a small group of us all keen to see China Town again. We speak briefly to an Isle of Wight couple, who are doing the Chang Mai thing. We comment on touristy things, before deciding to alight after they have got off elsewhere. We are sucked in to an enticing alleyway, and the senses are instantly bombarded with scents, some heavenly, and others offally. We see brains and pig's face, and the smell of fresh fish drives Mrs A on through. We stop at one of the stalls, drawn in by servings of fresh duck noodle soup, and are treated with a deliciously cheap lunch in this bustling little Chinese canteen, splashing out £2 to have 7up also. The lane crosses a madly busy main road, and we decide we must experience the joys of the tuk-tuk, despite not having the masks a lot of people seem to be adopting to combat the smog of exhaust fumes. The journey is truly far eastern as we break into mad laughter overtaking a tourist coach at high velocity. Must have been all of 40 mph, but to us it was life threatening!

The lure of the speed of the express canal boat entices us to complete our journey once again sprayed with stinky canal water, but travelling by day makes disembarking no easier, and despite the fact that we now have a card with 'please take me to the Amari Atrium hotel' in Thai, with a map on, we rush to get off when we recognise our stop coming.

a tuk tuk, BangkokExhaustion sets in and we sleep for two hours, waking at 7, confusedly thinking it was the next day. We intend to get the 8 pm shuttle to the night market, but it's already full, and decide instead to go by meter-taxi to a restaurant we been recommended - Cabbages and Condoms. A charitable foundation we dine outside below the pretty fairly light laden spread of mango and custard apple trees, the full moon not far above the tips of the skyscrapers all around. Dinner of spicy fish soup, spring rolls, cotton fish and banana leaf wrapped chicken is good, but service lacks. We eventually pay by card, you can't deny the breathtaking setting. Strolling back to the main drag we pass the Ministry of Sound - must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. We were under the misapprehension that the Patpong night market was nearby, but were told to get the skytrain to the downtown district of Silom, where, as soon as you get of out the station you are swamped by stall-lined pavements selling fake whatever, and some genuine bargains are there to be had. The watch sellers always amaze us - their multi-dialled watches have their second hands glued to their faces! It's a long walk before we turn right into Patpong proper, and are greeted by sleezy bars with sexy girls spilling from every orifice. Or are they? We get the first glimpse of the odd lady boy. And that's enough. After practicing bartering by purchasing souvenirs we return to the main drag and leap in a taxi, at this time of night with a prearranged journey price, which we get down to 200 baht (£3). It's midnight, the streets are clearing. We travel back swiftly to sleep.
Summary | Bangkok | Bangkok Day Two | Khao Lak Bay Front Resort | Khao Lak Day Two | Ko Similan Islands
Turtle Conservation Festival | Leaving Khao Lak for Pimalai Resort, Ko Lanta | Ko Rok Snorkelling
Pimalai Resort and Ko Lanta Driving Tour | Leaving Thailand
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