Hurrah I am finally heading for Thailand, which is apparently known as 'The land of smiles'. I have wanted to come to Thailand for years. My friend Lucy has lived here for about 10 years and has had 3 children in that time, and my uncle moved out to Phuket a couple of years ago. But every time I thought about coming out there seemed to be some kind of dispute/conflict in Bangkok which kept putting me off. However, when I decided to have my year ‘off’ Thailand was one of the first places on my list to visit. Now another friend Jan has moved out and is working as a teacher in the city, so I am very excited about seeing my friends and family.
My flight was with Jet Star. Not impressed by Melbourne airport, there was little duty free shopping and only a small selection of cafes
. So I ended up sitting on the internet for an hour wasting time before departure. As I was a actually supposed to be on a Qantas flight, I was given a complimentary blanket and a eye mask. I also got two free meals. But as it was a 9 hour flight I decided to pay for the upgraded and more comprehensive in-flight entertainment so for $15 AUD or £10 I got my own mini dvd screen and was able to watch a couple of movies The Tourist and The Fighter. Plane arrived on time just gone 8.30pm.Got through customs fine, and was automatically given a 30 day tourist visa. Jan met me at the airport. Jan has been in Bangkok since October last year. We only met each other about a year ago in Worthing through a mutual friend Becky. Now Becky is living in northern Spain with her partner Jesus, Jan is teaching here and I’m having my year out - all change. Jan gave me directions to meet her at the ‘Meeting Point’ area at the airport - it was clearly signposted as I exited customs and came out into the airport arrivals. So I followed the signs and waited for about 5 minutes before she turned up which was a relief as I think Bangkok is one of the busiest airports in the world so wouldn't want to get lost. Anyway all good and we jumped into a taxi and were back at her apartment in the area of Ari around 10pm.
Friday 29th April - the Royal Wedding
Jan is at work today and watch the Royal Wedding, but not sure if any pubs are showing it around here
. I logged onto the royal wedding official You Tube site which was all up and running until about an hour before it was due to start which was 11am GMT and 5pm Thai time but as the clock timer ticked down the minutes so the display screen stopped working - ah. We went on the internet to check out for bars nearby which might be showing the wedding but they were mostly ex pat type club houses charging a fortune to watch it. In the end I got the BBC website up and running on my netbook and watched it live. However, I had noticed a TV in one of Jan’s cupboards so, jokingly, I said why don’t we set it up and just see if they are showing it on any of the local stations and low and behold one of the Thai channels was showing it live too. So I had two screens! Jan was totally not into it and went off to have a massage instead.
Jan has a lovely apartment, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a lounge and kitchen. She rents it for around 28,000 baht a month so that’s about £500 so not bad for a central Bangkok location which is close to the train station. She also has a little balcony which overlooks the pool. Not got my bearings yet of the city - will do so over the next few days. The apartment has 24-hour security so all feels safe.
It’s great that Jan is living in Bangkok so this can be my base whilst in Thailand
. She left her teaching job in Chichester and then took some time out in the south of France last summer…whilst I was in Peru she started applying for teaching jobs overseas, she was thinking about Africa but then found this job and luckily it was already on my planned itinerary so it‘s so nice to see her again. She is absolutely loving life here. The school where she works is very sociable and she is enjoying a high standard of living. She is earning the equivalent of UK salary and the cost of living is a fraction so it’s a great opportunity to save money but enjoy life at the same time. That is the beauty of being a full qualified teacher - you can literally work anywhere in the world.
So back to the Royal Wedding - all the pomp and ceremony began about an hour before the actual wedding. I love it and it makes me proud to be British - again! I loved seeing the union jack bunting hanging from the street lamps, we don’t celebrate our culture and heritage much any more and it’s good to see everyone embracing and enjoying the day. The weather wasn’t great but at least it didn’t rain. Westminster Abbey looked beautiful they actually had full size trees adorning the aisle - very English country garden. Then as the time grew closer so the Royal Family made their way from Buckingham Palace the short distance to Westminster drawing huge cheers from the crowd
. And then finally at just before 11am, Kate Middleton got into a 1900s Royals Royce lent to her by the Queen and left Goring Hotel where she has spent the night with her family. Once she got to the Abbey we were able to see our first glimpse of the dress. It was rather understated, but simple and elegant, and was made by a designer at Alexander McQueen. It reminded me of the dress that Grace Kelly wore at her wedding. Kate or The Duchess of Cambridge as she will now be known looked beautiful and graceful as she walked up the aisle on the arm of her father.
Us Brits really do know how to put on a show. The wedding itself was a bit long and overly religious but most are like that. And finally it was over and William and Kate walked back down the aisle as man and wife, what a fairytale. They and the royal family then made their way back to Buckingham Palace in open top horse drawn carriages waving to the thousands of people lining the streets of London. Once they had arrived then the crowds were able to make their way up the Mall so that they could have a prime position to watch the ’kiss’ on the balcony. The Mall opposite Buckingham Palace was jammed packed it must have been a wonderful atmosphere, party like. I remember almost 30 years ago watching the ’Charles and Di’ wedding on the TV. I was 10 and my friend Joanne came to visit, mum baked a cake and decorated it in red, white and blue, very patriotic
. Mum would have loved this wedding too.
And there almost on the dot of 1.30pm, as was scheduled in the wedding timetable, was the couple and the Royal Family on the balcony as is now tradition with weddings. As Kate came out of the balcony first and you could read her lips as she said ’wow’ and wow it surely must have looked. Can you image having a million or so people waving at you, cheering and wishing you good fortune on your wedding day - no I don’t think many of us can! Almost immediately William turned and kissed his bride, and a few moments later again and this time Kate blushed - ah bless. They look truly happy.
Saturday 30th May
Jan and I visited Wat Benchamabophit - Marble Temple which is near Phaya Thai station. Phaya Thai is on the Bangkok Sky Train also known as the BTS and is the nearest stop to Jan’s school. The temple though was a fair walk and it really is a killer walking such a long distance in the midday heat. It is though as quick to walk as it is to drive here in Bangkok, as the traffic is so bad. Anyway we finally arrived, picking up a lone female traveller from America along the way who asked us for directions to the same temple
. This was a beautiful example of a typical Thai temple. It houses one of the biggest collections of Buddha’s in Thailand. I’ve read that Bangkok, as well has having on of the world’s largest populations at some 12 millions, it is also home to over 400 temples. Someone said to me before I started on my travels that Bangkok would be a culture shock…well so far I’m not feeling that way at all. It all seems very civilised and much more developed than I had expected. I’m sure there is squalor and poverty not far away, but from what I can see Thailand seems more advanced than some of the other developing counties that I have visited on my travels. I also think when you have travelled extensively and seen poverty in India and Peru, nothing else can really be such a culture shock.
Sunday 1st May
Jan’s brother Chris has come to stay for a few days. He has been living in Thailand and Cambodia since the beginning of the year, living on a pretty meagre budget of a couple of thousands of pounds. I wish I knew his secret, I have spent quite a bit more than I expected whilst travelling. My budget was sort of on track back in South America, but somewhere along the way it has gone a bit array! But hey life is for living so I try not to scrimp too much on things, as I am here to experience life, however I have to be careful and ensure I don’t totally overspend and end up with nothing when I come back to the UK
Jan and I treated ourselves to a pedicure. The street where Jan lives has a handful of massage parlours offering anything from Thai massages, to nail extensive, pedicure and manicures etc all for around £5. Jan had a pedicure and manicure, I decided to go for a relaxing foot massage - or so I thought. OMG it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. The salon was very nicely decorated - very western and air conditioned - but this was not relaxing - it was a very intensive and rigorous massage with the masseur pressing down very hard on my calf muscles in particular - it brought me to tears. But I’m sure it was good for me!
Monday 2nd May
Latest news flash Osama Bin Laden has been killed. They found him in a compound just 65 miles from the Pakistan capital of Islamabad. Well better late than never I suppose, but let’s hope there isn’t an escalation of terrorist attacks now in revenge?
Jan was back at school today, so I decided to visit Suan Pakkad Palace museum which she had recommended
. The name means Cabbage Garden and is the site of the residence of Prince Chumbhot - grandson of King Rama V. The palace is surrounded by a group of traditional Thai houses dating back to the 19th century. These houses were reconstructed on the grounds of the palace in the 1950s and now display extensive collection of artefacts. It was 100 baht to enter, £2. It is located on Sri Ayudhya Road near Phaya Thai station. The highly esteemed Royal Family are very prominent throughout the City, their image adorns the side of buildings and large hoardings on every major road intersection and even along the river. The King has been on the throne nearly as long, if not longer, than our own Queen - they are about the same age. However if you dare speak out and say anything negative against the King, then you could easily find yourself dead…apparently a western man wrote a book that painted a rather unflattering picture of the King and prompted got bumped off! Literature has been banned for many years, talk about freedom of speech - not…better keep my opinions to myself then - just in case he reads my blog!
After the palace I stopped off at Victory Monument briefly to take some pictures of the memorial war statute and walk around the plethora of market stalls selling food and clothes which surround the large and crowded roundabout and then headed back to Ari on the BTS. I am really impressed by the BTS - it is reasonably priced 350 baht will give you 15 one-way journeys so roughly 40 baht £1
. The longest I‘ve waited for a train is about 5 minutes, they are clean, spacious and lovely and cold with the air conditioning making it a very refreshing ride and a welcome relief from the heat and the humidity outside. It is heaven having spent a day in the sun I could quite easily spend my day just riding around on the BTS. Unlike the tube, the BTS it is actually above ground level. It was built around five years ago and you can get great views of the city.
When I got back to Ari I decided to have a back massage. I‘ve had backache for months now I think due in part to carrying around the backpack, and being old! Anyway I chose a parlour - there are dozens on every street corner - but this looked nice and was around the corner from Jan. They had private areas separated by curtains and you had to put on traditional thai cottons long pants and a top before the massage began. I didn‘t realise it was going to be a full-on tradition Thai one I just asked for a back…anyway it was an hour of elbows into all the crevices along my back and spine and shoulders - my god it was painful and it actually brought tears to my eyes much like the foot massage yesterday - I must be a sucker for punishment. But I have to say my back feels much better.
Tuesday 3rd May
I headed off on my own into Bangkok for the first time
. I wanted to go and visit the Grand Palace, a must see, although apparently not according to friends of Jan. Well I still wanted to see it for myself. I got the BTS from Ari to Siam and then crossed platforms onto the Silom Line to Saphan Taksin (Central Pier). I then got the tourist boat ferry. I was told it was 40 baht per journey but for 150 - £3 you could have an all day pass. Thought that was the best idea as I planned to visit a number of places along the river. However that didn’t quite turn out to be the plan. Once I got off at the stop for the Grand Palace I wasn’t quite sure where to go, the directions I had were to turn right at the market so I followed the crowds but there didn’t seem to be a main entrance anywhere. When I asked someone standing by what looked like an entrance or exit they said it was closed - it was about 11am - for Buddhist monk prayer time and wouldn’t be open again until 2pm. He told me that there were special shops open today offering discounts to tourists and I could hire a tuk tuk for 50 baht - £1 for the afternoon and would be take to some temples and back again when the palace would be open. I believed him and so off I went. The driver took me to two temples, one was very small with no tourists the other was Wat Indraviharan which is home to Luang Phor - the public name given to the huge Buddha image standing on a lotus petal base. The statute is 32 metres high and 11 metres wide. It was built in 1869 in the reign of King Rama IV. We then went to three duty free/government run shops. Selling everything from silk scarves to wooden artefacts and jewellery. Well I ended up spending a small fortune... I bought not one, but two sapphire/silver rings - a treat to myself. The other things are gifts for friends and family.
Anyway after about three hours of winding in and around the back streets of Bangkok we eventually made our way back to the Grand Palace
. But at this point it was nearly 3pm and the palace actually closed at 4pm. I was already melting and tired from the heat of the day and I didn’t want to rush, so decided to come back another day. I made my way back to the river ferry and caught the boat only to be literally pushed off at the wrong stop…they don’t give you much time to decide if you are getting off or not! So I had to get another tuk tuk to take me to the nearest BTS station and eventually walked in the door at 4pm shattered. The heat and humidity certainly takes it out of you. I’m sure you would get used to it after a while, but not sure I like the melting feeling every day. I’ve also got a few mossie bites and one in particular has flared up pretty bad around my knee so have had to get more spray, cream and anti-histamine tablets which do seem to be working thankfully.
Wednesday 4th May
A day of relaxation and contemplation….basically did nothing but update my blog!
Thursday 5th May
I officially melted in the midday heat today
. I got the BTS down to Saphan Taksin again but this time decided against a day ticket and just went for single journeys which cost just 14 baht about 30p. Went out at 8.30am so I’d get to the Grand Palace early only to find out it was closed again! This time it was because the King or Prince not sure was visiting - the traffic was stopped as we watched his Rolls Royce and cavalcade of cars drive by - so will let him off. But instead visitors were able to see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha - Wat Phra Kaeo for free. Not sure if I should have paid but no-one asked for a ticket. The Temple actually adjoins the Grand Palace. It was consecrated in 1782, two years after Rama II ascended the throne. The 94,000 sqm compound encompasses over 100 buildings and is quite simply stunning. This is Thailand’s most important and sacred temple. It houses a tiny Emerald Buddha…well it’s actually made out of jade I’m told but I didn’t get to see as a) its tiny and very high up and b) I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for it - that’s the problem is you are travelling without a guide book - I should have done my background research doh!
Next I got the ferry to Tha Tien Pier to visit Wat Pho the oldest temple in Bangkok built in the 16th century and almost rebuilt in 178 by Rama I. It features the largest reclining Buddha and largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand
. After walking around the Buddha I got a water taxi across the river for 3 baht to Wat Arun. This temple was founded in the Ayutthaya period - it means temple of the dawn. It’s impressive tall tower is one of Bangkok’s famous landmarks and a must see.
In the few days I have been here one of the things that has stuck me about Bangkok is its smell. The concoction of aromas that fill any street such as the one leading down from Ari station to Jan’s apartment are typical of many in the city I imagine. The pavements are narrow and slabs uneven. Street vendors sit along the side opposite the shops and you have to squeeze and jostle weaving amongst the local people as you walk by. The street aroma is a concoction of smells - with a hint of hot and fried or boiled meat, fruit and fresh flowers all mixed into one. So one minute there is the strong stench of boiling meat that turns your stomach and the next second you catch a whiff of the fragrance of fresh flowers in the wind. It’s noisy on the streets, the roads are busy and full of tuk tuks, motorcycle and taxis. The taxis here are very colourful though, my favourite are the bright pink ones, different colours apparently denote different areas of the city.