First stop in Asia - slightly crazy Bangkok

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
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Trip End Apr 01, 2012


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Where I stayed
Niras Bankoc

Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, January 23, 2012

And so on to Asia. We arrive at Bangkok to an air conditioned airport and a very organised taxi system, and so we are smoothly whisked into a taxi and to our hostel about ten minutes walk from the infamous Koh San Road.  Everything is so easy, and the taxi driver and hostel are so honest regarding money that I will have to wait for my Asia culture shock until the next day.  The hostel, Niras Bangkok Hostel, has a coffee shop at reception, is clean, friendly staff and most importantly it has fans and air conditioning.  During the day it's about 30 degrees and very humid.

Our first day we take a little while to collect ourselves as we have no guidebook for Bangkok and so it’s a little daunting to get started.  After a nice breakfast at the hostel we finally venture out for a wander around Bangkok.  This isn’t the best idea as it’s not made for walking – the streets lack pavements but do have plenty of fumes and crazy driving, this coupled with the heat makes walking quite exhausting.  But given that our hostel is about ten minutes walk from most places it seems lazy to get a taxi, I’m not ready to try the mototaxis and the tuk tuks just get stuck in the traffic so you get to inhale fumes for longer.  So we choose walking which we decide to be the lesser evil.  We walk down a street which appears to be gold Buddha and life like monk shop street, past the Grand Palace, a large ornate temple complex we plan to save for another day, and down to the river.  By which point we need a break and decide to sit by the river and watch the river which turns out to be entertaining enough as they drive boats just as badly as they drive any other vehicle.  At the riverside there are market stalls that sell just about everything and the locals seem to be going crazy for little old charms – we make a mental note to work out what that is about.  We quickly realise that all that monks seem to do when they are out and about is shop as we see several wandering around the stalls.  We walk onto Chinatown and spot a 7-11 which we dive into as it’s air conditioned.  Then rather that get too adventurous we have lunch in a Chinese chain restaurant which is also air conditioned.  I think you can see the common theme here.  Chinatown is bustling with tourists, market stalls and locals all going about their daily business, it is all decorated with lanterns for Chinese New Year and so nice to see.  After about four hours of walking around we head back to the hostel for some quiet time to recover from our first day in Bangkok.  Later on we hit Koh San Road which is the traditional backpacker area and is pretty hideous (the first thing you see is the KFC sign) but on the other hand, this is where there is a big collection of bars and restaurants and it always has a buzz to the place.  We opt for a happy hour drink away from the main strip at River Lounge where we sit on bean bags and relax under fairy lights, they even bring out the insect repellent when the sun starts to go down (which was pretty handy for us as we forgot).  Then we head to Hemlock, a thai restaurant just off the river for some food.  We realise quickly that we are going to like Thailand a lot as the food is delicious and the beer is cheap.    

Next day we head to the Grand Palace but it is actually closed.  This is slightly amusing as a guidebook warning tells us that taxi\tuk tuk drivers will often tell people that the palace closed in order to charge them to take them round several different temples.  Well I see now why they believe them if it just decides to be open at random.  Instead, we jump on a boat across the rather dirty river and hope it’s going to where we want it to.  We got to see Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) which has a large ornate tower decorated in tile mosaics.  We like this one as it’s a bit more rough and ready rather than meticulously restored.  Girls aren’t allowed to way short skirts to visit the temple and I can see why given how steep the steps are (even if there wasn’t religious reasons it would not be advisable).  We also see the locals burn paintings as an offering.  This helps us understand why street sellers have been so keen to sell us five or ten prints without us even looking at them – we just thought that they were persistent at selling.  We do feel a bit bad for the tourists we saw cave as I doubt they worked out what they were for and probably paid a whole lot more for them.  After we explored the temple we crossed the river again and found a little cafe for lunch.  The food was again very good and we’re pretty sure that this cafe will crop up in the guidebook if it’s not already given the care taken into preparing the food.  When we emerge from the air conditioning back into the street we discover that it is about to start to rain and the even the street sellers have started packing up.  So we jump in a taxi as it begins to pour and by the time we get back to our hostel there seems to be a couple of inches of water sitting in the streets.

Feeling adventurous we go for street food as we have been recommended a place for pad thai.  We sit in the buzzing cafe, a room full of locals apart from a couple other tourists and order by pointing at the menu.  As it only sells pad thai we reckon we are pretty safe.  Sure enough we get pad thai and its very tasty but comes wrapped in a fried egg which is a bit random.  We then go to Koh San Road and sit on a bar on the street and watch the strange mix of people that pass by – from young families, backpackers, American tourists, rough ex-pats – Koh San attracts a mix of people.  Then add to that the street sellers selling all types of thai food, people getting massages on chairs on the street (maybe in an effort to make getting a massage a bit more transparent and clean up the image of the industry) and the touts for dubious clubs it definitely is a strange and interesting place!

Our last day in Bangkok we head to see the Reclining Buddha which is a very large golden Buddha lying on his side and many people were praying or making offerings to him.  There are also a few temples in this complex to explore and I think the monks may have a good way of life as the temple complexes are so peaceful compared to outside plus they have a good city centre location!

We then head back to the hostel to be told by hostel staff that we should have left for the airport half an hour ago due to the traffic at this time of the day (contrary to what we were told in the morning) and so jump in a taxi to get to the train station as at least that shouldn’t have to deal with traffic.  After crawling around the city stuck in traffic we make it to the train station and get a train to the airport.  The airport is ridiculously overpriced for everything – even thai food and so we opt for a pizza before our flight to Hanoi.
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