After what felt like a very long day of travelling we arrive in Bangkok in the early evening, and coming from Kathmandu in Nepal the climate is just a tad different – the wall of hot humid air hits us like a Tyson punch as we walk out of the air-conditioned airport building – although a shock to the system it’s a very nice feeling after living in our thermals for a while in Darjeeling and Kathmandu. We’d planned to go from the airport by bus and started enquiring about the route that was mentioned in the guide (a free shuttle bus to the bus-depot and then bus number 556 direct to Khao San Road). At the tourist office they inform us that the route was terminated about a year ago, but after being in India for about six weeks we’re still wary of people giving misleading information in order to sell you a different ticket of which they will profit from. We decide to go by the guide and the bus, which would save us a small fortune and head towards the bus-depot with the free shuttle service hoping for the best. When we get there we can see all the numbers for the busses at their respective bays, but the one we want is of course missing – the guy at the tourist info was not being misleading… but then again he could have given us the alternative route where we had to do one change of bus to get to Khao San Road. It’s not a quick journey by bus, so after a while we start to regret not taking the Skytrain instead of saving a few more Baht by bus (when I earlier said we saved a small fortune I of course mean a miniscule fortune… but it’s great value as it’s a lot of travelling for your money…). Along the bus journey we meet two fellow confused travellers Ronna and Tibo, and this leads to some fun conversation and exchange of stories and experiences – and it makes the long journey much more tolerable of course. We arrive quite late at Khao San Road but unlike in most of India this is not a problem as this place, it would appear, never sleeps. It’s not far from midnight when we get there and it’s so busy we can hardly get through the crowd with our backpacks – I’m sure I must have knocked some people over as were trying to manoeuvre our way in-between various guest houses trying to find a good deal. We end up in Sawasdee Guest House down a little alleyway off Khao San Road, and although the cheapest rooms are not available we get one with attached bathroom that has a hot shower for half the price of the other guest houses we enquired at. Ronna takes a room here as well and we end up being neighbours. After a quick freshen up it’s time for food and some drinks and we end up people-watching and chatting till about four on the morning before deciding it’s time to get some rest.
We have a relaxed start the next day, as we’re slightly tired after the travel and the late bedtime. We head out to have a look at the magnificent Wat Phra Kaew within the Grand Palace and Wat Pho just down the road. The heat is getting to me a bit as we’re walking about and the sweat is pouring out from every pore in my body – as the Thais put very much emphasis on their clean fresh perfumed appearance I’m starting to feel very self-conscious about my melting-iceberg-look. I try sitting down in the shade for a bit to see if that helps, but to no avail – just have to drink something cold, and hope that no one really notices or cares about my appearances. Thoroughly impressed with Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace – the intricacy of the details and the impeccable condition it’s been kept in is astounding. It’s a crowded place though, so a lot of queuing and patience is needed. Also, they are very strict on the dress code so we both find we need to borrow some garments from the office by the entrance – the really neat thing is that the hire of clothes is free, just a small deposit that you get back when you return them. Also a nice surprise is the free English speaking guided tour they offer – it’s nice to get some of the background history explained, and at one stage the guide even sings a poem to us from an inscription on a pillar – one of several hundred around the grounds, telling stories from the history of the Rama’s, the Thai royal family. The Wat Pho is more relaxed on the dress code and we both pass the guard’s discretion. Although not as intricately decorated as the Grand Palace it’s still a very impressive temple. It also features the largest reclining Buddha statue in Thailand, as well as the biggest collection of Buddha images in the country. Wat Pho is also the oldest, and largest, temple in Bangkok dating from the 16th century.
We head out to get the bus to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market the next day and due to our lovely Lonely Planet guide it takes us close to an eternity to get the right bus out to the Southern Bus Terminus where we can get a bus further to Damnoen Saduak. As a result we get there a bit late in the day which is a shame as it’s very quiet, and many stalls have already closed for the day. We have a nice relaxing trip on the canals though, and our boatman is a really nice – and funny – guy. We get some fruits from one of the market boats at the start and keep munching on those as we glide through the canals past many souvenir stalls. As we’re coming to an end of our voyage we buy some green papaya salad from one of the boats. I’ve never tried this salad before so was in for a treat – really fresh and tasty, and the chillies give it a really nice kick. After our tour the day is more or less spent and we head back to Bangkok for some nice street-food and beers.
In Bangkok we mostly eat at street stalls, some with seating and some where you just have to walk-and-eat. The food is amazing and very cheap, and it’s prepared right there in front of you, so you can’t really get it fresher than that. Because it’s so cheap and amazing we end up eating and eating an eating and eating… it’s dangerous.
Next day we head off by train to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand. We hire some bicycles and wiz around on those between the ruins of the ancient temples. It’s a brilliant way to get about as there is little traffic on the nicely asphalted roads, and it’s a very flat place. It’s another impressive site, although much of these temples are in ruins you get a feel of how grand they once were. After a few hours of light exercise we go back with our bicycles and get the tickets for going back to Bangkok. The train is conveniently delayed which gives us time to have some fried rice and a fruit-shakes before the journey back.
From our room at the Sawasdee guest house we’ve had the entertainment from one of the bars across the road for free every evening (thanks to it being played very loudly, and our guest house having paper-thin walls). There is a guy on his guitar churning out popular tunes at very high volume – some sound OK, some half good, and some should maybe not be attempted at all – and he can’t blame it on lack of practice as he plays the same tunes every evening… We decide to have a look at the bar where the music originates from as it sounds like the atmosphere could be good. If not the best musician in the world, at least he knows how to get the crowd going – the bar is absolutely heaving and it’s difficult to stand still anywhere enjoying a beer due to the place being completely ram-packed – we get pushed and shoved around a lot as people try to get to the bar, or more people trying to cram themselves into the place. After saying – to the audience’s disappointment – “this is the last song” about four times he finishes the show and we head off to the next place… There are so many bars and restaurants to choose from on Khao San Road that I can’t remember any names of the ones we’ve visited – we just pop into them as we meander down the road back and forth from one end to the other.
We go out of town again on our second last day and the journey takes us to Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge over River Kwai and the Death Railway that was built by prisoners of war under the Japanese during the 2nd World War. There is a very good little museum next to the Allied War Cemetery called the Death Railway Museum and is a must to visit if ever in Kanchanaburi. It explains the history behind the building of the railway and the suffering of the prisoners of war. It tells many a touching story that will bring tears to your eyes. The railway would link Japanese occupied China with the coast through Burma and Thailand to help with supplies for further conquers of Chinese territory. Altogether about 116000 died building the railway, the majority portion of the people dying were from neighbouring countries and doesn’t seem to be as recognised as the people from the Allied side. Some were in the beginning brought in as normal labourers but found themselves forced to work longer and harder hours, and if they tried to object would be severely punished. We go from the museum further along the river to where a more recent Bridge over River Kwai is situated, about 100 meters down from the wooden bridge featured in the film “The Bridge On The River Kwai”. We of course have to do the mandatory walk across the bridge together with tons of other tourists. With so many tourists up here by the bridge I’m surprised of how few actually visit the Death Railway Museum down the road. We’re also surprised to see a large number of Japanese tourists visiting the bridge, posing for their photographs by the replicas of the Japanese watch-towers and entrenchments. The sun is setting and it’s time to scramble to get back to the bus station in time for the last bus to Bangkok.
Our last day in Bangkok before we head up to Chiang Mai with the night-train in the evening – we store our bags in some massive lockers down by the reception of our guesthouse. The staff is their usual grumpy self, but there seem to be an under-laying smile that tries to break through, and we’re wondering if it’s just for show that they seem so grumpy and miserable – this theory is also strengthened by the fact they were very cheerful sitting drinking the local whiskey when we returned from being out bar-hopping the night before. We go to do some errands before leaving in the evening and the trip takes us to an area called Bangrak for the central post office where Hannah sends back some of the overflow from her backpack. To get there we try out the river-boat service which is a really nice way to travel. There is even a running commentary for tourists in English explaining a little bit about some of the sights we’re passing along the route. It also reminds us very much of the Thames Clipper back home in London. On the way back we decide to have a bit of a walk and disembark the boat half way in Chinatown. From here we make our way to the Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount). This amazingly shiny golden temple on the top of a hill has great views of Bangkok and the stupa on the very top is glowing like a beacon in the evening light. Afterwards we walk towards Khao San Road to collect our bags before the night-train to Chiang Mai. The train is ready for boarding when we get to the station and leave more or less on time, so we’re surprised to hear that we’re two hours delayed already as we head out of the station – maybe they can see into the future at Thai Railways?