And so part II of our adventure starts. Our flight from Sao Paolo takes us to Bangkok via Ethiopia where we have a 4 hour layover in the aptly named London café of Addis Ababa airport. All our flights were at odd times, and the meals on the plane at even odder times (yes please, chicken pasta at 4am just after I’ve taken a sleeping pill is just what I want), so we arrived a little peckish and curious to try an Ethiopian delicacy. We chose the dried beef with spicy sauce and pita, but what arrived was a fermented sweet pancake, also know as injera, drenched in spicy sauce. Tasty but far too much for 11pm at night.
Anyway, we arrived into Bangkok without any issues, and headed straight to my family friend Delina’s flat, who kindly offered for us to stay at her apartment when in Bangkok. We got there around dinner time and very excited to taste our first Thai meal, so we headed to the nearby Terminal 21, which came recommended for its food court.
Now a mall wouldn’t usually be the first place I’d go for good food, I’ve been to enough American ones to know that, but there is a culture in Bangkok to eat there and thus they have great quality and inexpensive food, so off we trotted (both squished onto the back of our first motorcycle taxi) on a £0.20 ride to the mall.
And 2 hours later left very happy girls after our first meal of pad Thai and noodle soup all for the princely sum of £1 – after three months in south Americas most expensive countries, this was a huge source of excitement.
A 12 hour sleep later we were rested and ready to hit Chatuchak market, one of the world’s biggest markets and only open on weekends so we wasted no time and headed straight there. We were immediately hit by a wall of vendors, overwhelming is putting it mildly. A full exposure for all the senses.
The market is divided into sections – specific areas for clothes, crafts, pets, food etc – but as our map was helpfully in Chinese, we had no clue so just wandered around happily for hours being blown away by the low prices (amazing T-shirts for £2.30!) and re-stocking our depleting travelers wardrobe. We also experienced our first Thai foot massage and the markets popular coconut ice cream. The toppings weren’t what you’d usually expect, but if you like rice, beans or peanuts on your ice cream, I’d recommend it…
The following day my good friend Rebi from Berlin joined us for 2 days on a stop over on her way to Australia. So we moved to a hostel for the next two nights where we met Rebi fresh off an overnight plane, and promptly took her back to the market to do more exploring. Our first try of street food followed, which, as expected, was amazing! Although their washing up system left us a little uneasy (hose into bucket 1 filled with detergent where dishes are quickly washed before heading for bucket 2 where they’re even more quickly rinsed and then put back into circulation) but the food was amazing.
We had heard from Delina that eating out of the home is common practice in Thailand. So much so that very few houses actually have kitchens! They might have a kettle and a fridge, but eating at food carts is daily ritual. She also noted that cooking for yourself becomes something of a treat as it’s just so much more expensive to buy ingredients than a meal on the street. This means that (mostly) the food is fresh as the turnover is so high. Needless to say we experienced no issues eating the street food!
We spent the evening watching the Bangkok symphony orchestra give a free concert in Lumphini park, which started with a composition by the recently deceased King which was met which huge appreciation! Although not the best concert we’d ever heard, the audience was hugely enthusiastic and it was a lovely way to spend an evening. We went for a quick stroll around Si Lom after that as we were in the area – the district is known for Patpong night market and its endless ping pong shows. We wandered around and hated it – the trashy market was 5x more expensive than Chatuchak and the amount of shows being offered truly horrific. We caught glimpses through open doors of very young looking girls, looking half drugged, dancing half naked on tables and we’d seen enough. Back to our safe haven home in Sukhumvit!
On our second day with Rebi we decided to tackle some of the wats. We took a boat up the river (avoiding Bangkok’s mind blowing traffic), got off for a wander around Chinatown’s maze of markets, before heading up to Wat Pho. The three most famous wats (Buddhist temples) of Bangkok are all situated next to each other, so we started here, which is most famous for its 46m long, lying down golden Budda.
We tried heading to the royal palace next door but got there 30 mins before closing time so decided to give it a miss and head to the Koh San Road instead.
Bangkok’s famous backpacker road is absolute carnage, to put it mildly. Not only did we feel like the oldest people there, but it was just tourists, mainly Brits, drinking and yelling. We immediately felt very glad we didn’t book into a hostel around there, and spent the evening wandering around various street food stalls, trying new tastes and drinking beer, whilst all the while trying to avoid intoxicated Brits (God we’ve gotten so old).
The following day, Rebi’s whistle-stop tour of Bangkok was over and Katie’s parents were joining us, so we all headed to our new hotel and said our hellos and goodbyes.
The rest of the day was spent exploring our new neighbourhood, Si Lom, in the day time followed by dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant. Vertigo, on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree hotel, is all outdoors (God knows what they do during rainy season) so the views of the city’s skyscrapers are unreal!
However despite the incredible views, we both awoke the next morning with dodgy tummies (the one time we don’t eat street food!!). I spent the morning in bed before a quick trip to Chinatown’s markets which were just too much for me so had to go home again for an afternoon resting. Katie lasted a while longer but also head home and left her parents exploring the Koh San Road where they enjoyed their first Thai massages!
Our final day meant yet again tackling the temples. It was Katie’s turn to feel ill so she stayed at the hotel and Ruth, Dani and I headed out for a boat trip that would take us to the grand palace.
The boat took us through the neighbourhood of Thonburi, a very local area on a network of canals. Here it really hits home what a city of opposites Bangkok is. A wooden shack barely standing sits next to a beautifully kept, ornate golden Wat. Even when wandering through Chinatown I had noticed these extremes – you’d see an ancient temple right next door to Starbucks.
A particular highlight of the boat tour was the huge monitor lizards basking in the sun every few hundred meters. We also saw a monk feeding a huge school of jumping fish (only in Thailand!) but the real highlights were the almost endless stream of Wats. I couldn’t help feel a little torn that the temples are kept in such wonderful condition, which I understand as a sign of respect, however the poorest citizens are left in disintegrating shacks surrounded by mounds of trash.
We made it to the grand palace, only to be welcomed by chaos. Not only was it the regular tens of thousands of daily visitors, but since the King died in October, every day thousands of Thai mourners (as only Thai people are allowed to visit the coffin) all dressed in black, descend upon the palace to pay respects to the coffin of the King which rests inside. So there are people everywhere.
The infrastructure built especially to help the mourners is astounding; a huge complex built outside the palace acts as waiting area (they wait for hours to be let in 30 at a time to see the King for 3 minutes) but everyone also gets free food and drink as a thank you for paying respect.
We struggled our way in and found a tour guide, Sonny, who gave us a whistle stop tour. It was only an hour but given the huge amounts of people inside, especially large groups of Chinese tourists, we felt this was quite enough.
It’s a shame really. The palace is so wonderfully beautiful, with the most intricate and detailed facades I’ve ever seen, but the atmosphere is just ruined by the hoards of pushy tourists.
My particular highlights were the model of Angkor Wat, built for Cambodians who couldn’t visit actual Angkor as it was closed during the dictatorship and the emerald Buddha, a small green Buddha who gets a different outfit depending on the season!
However my favourite part was Sonny. A hugely eclectic old man who rushed us around, but was full of information!
Our last evening was spent with good friends from London who were finishing off a two week holiday in Thailand!
A fantastic start to our Asian adventure, and looking forward to exploring more of Thailand. But next stop, Cambodia!
Bye for now X