We are not going to lie to you, Bangkok wasn’t for us. We didn’t like it and were really glad to leave it after few days. It’s a modern city withtout any charm, crowded, with a horrendous traffic and full of prostitutes. Cherry on the top, it’s the first place since we’ve started travelling where people have been rude to us.
However we weren’t alone. By a stroke of good luck we arrived in the city at the same time as 2 of our friends, Nico and Elodie, who we met during the Rinjani trek in Lombok. We decided to rent an AirBnB with them for 5 days and discover the city together. The flat was a little bit too far away from the city centre and it took us a good hour every day by taxi or public transport. But with this we also avoided the “trap” of Kho San Road, the ‘backpackers den’ where loud music plays late in the night and the only bit of Thailand you get to see is its night life.
The King died a year ago and we managed to arrive just at the end of all the official ceremonies for his funeral (yes I know, a year after...), which put the whole country on slow mode for a good week. Ceremonies over, but some roads around the grand palace were still blocked, creating even more traffic jams. Tired of being stuck in the taxi, and not far from our final destination, we decided to jump out and walk the rest. As we exited the car, a “tourist adviser” abruptly told us that we were very stupid because the taxi would have to drive down the road anyway, so why would we walk if it wasn’t for the fact we were just stupid tourists?
Nice introduction to Thailand isn’t it?
To avoid any confrontation, we bit our tounges and got back in the car; but the bad feelings were there and we were starting on the wrong foot with Bangkok. But that day we still managed to see a very unusual amulets market, find some good food and freshly cut pineapples. Chinatown gave us a pretty show at night time with all the lights and the food stalls.
Bangkok was also for us our first meeting with Buddhist monks, more than that: tourist Monks! They were visiting the temples, ringing the bells and the gong AND taking pictures of them doing so! I don’t know for you, but in my mind “monk” and “smartphone” don’t fit together. One of the famous temple in Bangkok is the Golden Mount (see below a picture found on internet as we forgot to take one ...). Apart from the great 360° view of the city, the temple in itself is not incredible and it felt more like an attraction than a spiritual place. When you reach the top the even play on the speakers “Do NOT remove your shoes”, which is completely anormal in a buddhist temple. It really gave us the feeling that the place was so orientated toward the tourists that they couldn’t even care to respect the customs.
Before leaving England we went to a Thai restaurant in Petersfield for one of our farewell diner and the food there was absolutely divine! So when we arrived in Thailand our hopes were high and we were already dreaming of coconut milk and lemon grass tastes. To make it short the food in Thailand for a vegetarian is at least a disappointement, at worst a punishment. I think the concept of vegetarianism is not in their culture and if you don’t really like pad thai, you’re done.
Part of the fun in this country is to go to street markets and try all sort of different food on the little stalls. Unfortunately everything is made out of meat or sea food - or you just can’t identify it and the seller can’t tell you what it is either. Oh and everything is fried. EV-ERY-THING. It’s not like if I was watching my weight and counting my calories, but just looking at the spring rolls I could feel the stream of fat rolling down my throat... We told you we didn’t start on the right foot with this country, well it seemed like every thing was “against” us. (But we must admit, the fruits freshly cut and sold in little portions for you to pick and eat on the go, are pretty cool).
After a visit to one of the rare museums in this city (the Jim Thompson’s house), we went for a stroll along one of the canals that intertwine themselves throughout Bangkok. Don’t expect something like Venice, with a peaceful and romantic atmosphere, slow rowing boats, here it’s all about crazy boat drivers, trying to go as fast as the safely can, and create the biggest wave along the walls. The river looks like a bubbling magma of mud and it’s a wonder how 2 boats can cross at this speed without crashing; but from the safety of a bridge, it’s quiet a show! People are living along these canals (I don’t know how they cope with the noise - hopefully the boats stop when it’s dark so around 6pm) and it’s a nice walk, seeing this everyday life: a TV in a bare living room and an old lady sat in front of it, aromas of cooking, kids chasing each other, ... And our feet (or our stomachs) led us to a tiny “café” where a lady sold crèpes and drinks. We discovered that in Thailand they have a very similar ice milk tea than the one we fell in love with in Malaysia! Ok, everything is not so bad after all... We even had the chance to observe the lady making Richard’s coffee by decanting the black mixure from one jug to the other one, at least 10 times. You can see how happy our sunglasses are 😉
After listening to some friends’ advice (and seeing the small society of Chinese flooding through the gates), we decided to pass on the Grand Palace, and instead go to Wat Pho, the little sister next door. That was a clever move, and one of our very good experiences in Bangkok. It’s never been a royal residence but it was instead the first public university (teaching religion, sciences and literature) along with being the main place for a monk’s ordination. You can still find the traditional university of medicine and the training center for masseurs (apparently it was be the birthplace of the traditionnal thai massage!).
The highlight of this complex is the HUUUUGE reclining Buddha (45m long for 15m tall). The digits don’t give justice to the gross scale of the statue (and no pictures can capture it). The temple hosting the Buddha seems a decent size, but we couldn’t imagine the giant we would find inside. It’s only after having removed your shoes (you never walk with them on in a Buddhist temple) and crossing the small entrance door that you bear witness to the sheer size of what layeth before you. It’s just indescribable. Oh and for your culture lesson today (and not look stupid like I did), the image of the reclining Buddha is not showing a sleeping Buddha (“Oh look it’s funny, he looks like if he was tired and he needed a quick nap”) but a dying Buddha, about to enter the Nirvana.
Nevertheless it would be a shame to go (like many tourists...) only to this temple, as the rest of Wat Pho is really pretty. Super colourful, especially with the reclining sun making everything glow, quiet (as most of the tourists don’t bother after having seen the buddha) and full of things to see: 90 chedis (the pointy things you can see on the pictures bellow - also called stupa or pagoda - where remains of kings have been burried), a gallery full of sitting Buddhas and funny/scary statues of the guardians in charge of the Wat’s protection. For 100 Baths/pers (£2,25), it was really worth going and spending a good 1h30 there.
One of the advantages of living far out of the city centre is being able to visit and enjoy the different entertainment around the outskirts area (which the majority of tourists staying in the centre won’t even know about). That’s how we ended up, one evening, in the Old Train Station Night Market. If the second half wasn’t that crazy and the same stuff aisle after aisle, the first half was just amazing! It was a kind of vintage market, with antiques, old cars, old school bars and live music everywhere. Very cool. Elodie even took a leap of faith and (following my advice) went to the hairdresser, at 11pm, and cut short her hair. I think she should have drunk a bit more before going, it would have avoided her the cold moment of panic: “Oh my god, what have I done?!”. But it really suited her.
If you remember your story about our train journey form Malaysia to Bangkok, I was telling you that we met a French couple and that the guy was travelling with his guitar. Sure enough, when Richard saw how many malls Bangkok hosted, he started looking at me like a desperate child before Xmas, begging for THE best toy ever, which would make his whole life different and worth it, and you understand it’s only £150. Please, please, pleaaaaaaaaase!
So off we went, hunting for a good (and affordable) travel guitar. After few shops, the 4th was the good one, and Richard left the room, happy owner of a small but powerful, Veelah 3/4 electro-acoustic guitar.
During our stay in Bangkok we realised that we would be there for Loi Khratong, the Thai Buddhist celebration of light (largly inspired by the hinddu Depavali celebration). Elodie started being very exited and telling us it would be amazing with all the little flower boats released on the river and the floating lanterns slowly rising in the dark sky. Wait a minute, you mean like in the Disney Rapunzel (Raiponce in French) when she is on a boat on the river and it’s like the river is on fire with all the candles floating in the sky????! OH MY GOD IT’S GONNA BE AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In reality though, we saw nothing of the sort... because the lanterns do exist and they do give an incredible show for a whole week, but not in Bangkok... Damn Rapunzel, without her I wouldn’t have been so disappointed!
Instead we did see the little boats, which were made of a section of banana tree, cleverly decorated with banana leaves, flowers, candles and joss stick. Thai people cut their nails and hair and put them on the boats, symbolising their anger, bad thoughts and sins they wanted to get rid off, to then enjoy a fresh new start.
So to conclude about these 5 days in Bangkok:
- we did have a good time thanks to our friends
- It’s too busy and polluted, and the city doesn’t have a vast cultural offer, so if you are not there to have sex and drink alcohol, it quickly gets boring
- We are impatient to leave and get a proper look at some old historical place. New destination: Ayutthaya!