Published: March 15th 2011March 12th 2011
I woke at 6am and caught up on my writing as I sat in my sleeping berth. We arrived in Bangkok
at 8am and caught a taxi to our hotel. Bangkok is an enormous bustling city, and a taxi trip in peak hour morning traffic certainly confirms this. Our hotel room wasn’t quite ready, so we headed out for a fruit shake while we waited. We checked in around 9am and settled into our room. This was the last day of our northern trip, so we needed time to re-organise our packs.
We headed out at 1pm to look for a place for lunch. We were interested in a place along Th Tanao, so we started walking in that general direction. Within a few minutes we found ourselves right in the middle of a Red Shirts protest, but we kept moving down the street - lunch beckoned, and we were hungry. We eventually found the restaurant we were after (based on advice we had read), but once inside we soon realised it wasn’t really the place for us (no-one was eating and it smelt mouldy). We made a hasty exit and decided to retrace our steps back to
the hotel. This of course meant crossing the Red Shirts protest. This didn’t worry us, but when we arrived at the protest a pack of riot police with shields suddenly appeared in front of us, blocking our path across the street. This was a strange experience - the riot police didn’t seem interested in the protest, and the protesters didn’t seem interested in the riot police. We certainly didn’t feel threatened in any way - Ren had her camera out and the riot police were beckoning to her to take their pictures. However after a lifetime of being subjected to subjective media coverage, we decided it was not really the place to be loitering as a tourist, so we kept retracing our steps to the hotel. We found our favourite food stall and sat down to mild and very hot versions of kaeng phed gai normai
(chicken curry with bamboo shoots), gai pad khing
(stir fried chicken with ginger) and stir fried vegetables. Having satisfied our appetite, we decided to freshen up back at the hotel, but on the way Ren found a young guy selling ice cream sandwiches, and she just couldn’t refuse. For 15 baht (30 cents), he
piled sticky rice, five scoops of ice cream, carnation milk and chocolate topping into a soft white bread roll. It didn’t look or sound appetising to me, but Ren loved it.
We headed out for our farewell dinner on the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River. The place was upmarket compared to our typical choice of restaurant. We started with a som tum moo
(Thai spicy green papaya salad with grilled BBQ pork), and then we shared a gaeng khiaw-waan khai mang kon
(fish balls stuffed with salted egg in green curry), and gai thot takhrai
(deep fried chicken with lemongrass sauce). It was good, but it couldn’t match some of the food stalls and local restaurants we’d been eating at for the past fortnight. The setting was magical though - we sat right on the river and watched passenger boats and floating restaurants come and go during the night. We finished at 9pm and headed back to the street of our hotel. Our Guide organised a private balcony above one of the many bars in the street, where we kicked back and watched the churning world of Thai tourism surge by for a couple of hours. By 11pm it
was time to go, so we farewelled our travel companions and headed back to the hotel.
I woke late at 7am to catch up on my writing. It had been an exhausting two weeks in northern Thailand, and we needed to prepare for the next two weeks in southern Thailand. I headed out at 10am to drop 2.5kg of dirty clothes at a local laundry for pick-up that afternoon. We then headed out for fruit shakes and caught a taxi to Wat Saket and the Golden Mountain. The taxi driver had no idea where Wat Saket was, but he continually repeated the name and smiled in an attempt to convince us he knew what he was doing. He couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Thai, but between us, a map of Bangkok and numerous stops to chat with locals we eventually arrived. The climb up the many stairs of the Golden Mount in the morning heat was well worth the effort - the view of Bangkok from the top was fantastic. We descended the stairs, jumped in a tuk tuk and headed back to the hotel at high speed - such high speed that my cap went flying
from my head and under the wheels of the taxi behind us. It now lies somewhere on Tanao Road. We walked through the markets of Khao San Road looking for hats and then retreated to our hotel room to escape the midday sun. Every hour or so we would venture out, look around the market stalls and head back to our air conditioned room at the hotel. I had a pla gaeng lueng
(fish curry) for lunch, and Ren had a pad ped moo
(stir fried pork with morning glory). Unbeknown to us, a fire broke out in the hotel opposite us during the afternoon, and we had no idea until confronted with fire trucks and water everywhere on one of our afternoon outings. We picked up the laundry at 5pm, packed our bags for the following day and headed down to a group meeting in the foyer at 6pm for the southern part of our trip.
We weren’t all that hungry at dinner, but we couldn’t resist roast duck with steamed rice from a small food stall on the corner of our street. It was so succulent and sweet, and only 40 baht ($1). We finished the meal
with fresh pineapple, strolled around the market stalls, picked up two matching bracelets, found a cap to replace the one I lost earlier and settled in front of one of the many pubs to people watch and listen to cover after cover by one of the many performers. It was a fantastic atmosphere - Bangkok had finally got under our skin. This is a vibrant city, and there’s nothing better than roaming a city at night to discover its secrets.
We woke late at 7am. We had a fairly relaxed day ahead in Bangkok before leaving on an overnight train in the late afternoon for Krabi, so there was no need for an early start. We walked to the river around 10am and caught a ferry to Wat Arun, which was one of the most striking temples we have seen so far. The steps up the main stupa were very steep, so coming back down felt like stepping off the top of a tall building. The view from the top was fantastic, so the climb was well worth the effort in the intense morning sun. We jumped (literally) on a ferry back across the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River
to wander the Amulet Market, where we picked up two amulets as gifts. This place had caught our attention when we first arrived in Bangkok, and it captured us again. There was something very alluring about these dark narrow alleyways where monks, locals and tourists alike navigated the tiny stalls selling thousands upon thousands of amulets.
With the morning heat intensifying, we jumped into a taxi and headed back to our hotel street, where we found a new street stall that looked interesting for lunch. Ren ordered a pad kee mao gai
(drunken rice noodles with chicken, spicy vegetables and green peppers), while I opted for pad pak bung fai daeng
(stir fried morning glory) with steamed rice. The taste was sensational. Ren also ordered a mango smoothie which was virtually a liquefied mango - it was incredible (and almost a meal in itself). We then walked around the various market stalls, picked up a pair of thongs for Ren to use on the southern Thai beaches (for her feet!), and then headed back to the hotel to shower and freshen up for the long overnight train trip to Krabi.
We caught a taxi to the train station,
where we stocked up on food for the trip. Chinese steamed pork buns, pumpkin chips, donuts and beer - what a feast! We all stood for the national anthem at 6pm, then settled onto the train at 6.15pm. This was a different experience to the northern Thai trains. The sleeping berths were much smaller and the cabin space smaller still. However, I love train travel, so space becomes insignificant when you can sit back, relax and drift into the rhythm of the tracks beneath you. We left at 6.30pm. SHE SAID...
The train was supposed to arrive in Bangkok
from Chiang Mai at 6:30am, but arrived at 8am instead. It didn’t matter at all, as we had a very relaxed day ahead of us, plus our rooms were not guaranteed to be ready until 12pm anyway. When we flocked into the familiar streets of Banglamphu and checked back into the Viengtai Hotel
, it was like coming back home in a way...as much as a mega Asian metropolis can feel like home to us. Having been in the cooler climes of the northern hills, the Bangkok heat seemed more ferocious than it was two weeks ago. Our rooms
were ready in the time it took to have two fruit shakes and visit the 7-11. We showered and re-packed our poor groaning packs that had been put through their paces in the last two weeks.
Andrew and I decided that we were going to take it easy and not rush around, but there were still a few things on the ‘would like to do’ list. Saturday held not much more that looking for a Lonely Planet
recommended restaurant not far from our hotel on Tanao Road, but unfortunately it was not very inviting when we got there. The walk there and back was interesting though - we had to walk through Red Shirt Demonstrations and riot police blocking our path. However as intense as the situation could have been, we felt perfectly safe and realised that the riot police were there more as a deterring presence and were not about to spring into action. I was discreetly taking photographs of the protesters when I realised that about three riot police were smiling and waving at me to take their picture, but I decided not to take happy snaps of them after I saw that their big leader was
not that impressed with their behaviour. Pity, it would have made a hilarious photo. So having lucked out on that recommended restaurant, we came back to our old haunt Pen Thai
just down from our hotel, as we knew that their kaeng phed gai normai
(chicken curry with bamboo shoots) and gai pad khing
(stir fried chicken with ginger) dishes were outstanding. I even managed to squeeze in an ice cream sandwich for dessert. I saw our hotel doorman buying one from a small mobile cart, and he highly recommended it...so of course I couldn’t say no. It tasted exactly as it sounds, ice cream in white bread with sticky rice, carnation milk and chocolate topping.
That night we had the final night's dinner for the northern part of this trip, and apart from Julie-Anne who continues with us on our travels south, all the other five travellers were leaving to go back to their homes in England and Canada. We will miss them and the easy travel style we have shared over the last two weeks. Golf took us to Navalai Hotel’s posh riverside restaurant for our farewell dinner, and the setting was gorgeous and romantic -
a big open garden setting by the river with tea light candles on the tables and fairy light lit trees. We had the som tum
(Thai spicy green papaya salad), gai thot takhrai
(deep fried chicken with lemongrass sauce) and gaeng khiaw-waan khai mang kon
(fish balls stuffed with salted egg in green curry) dishes. However, the meal itself was not that brilliant for the cost (by Thailand standards).
After dinner, we wandered back to our road - Rambuttri Road - and had the group’s last drinks on the private balcony of Bar Lampu. The delicious Long Island Iced Teas went down very quickly and we were soon singing along to the live music wafting up from downstairs. The rest of the group decided to go and explore Pat Pong and take in a show, but Andrew and I declined. We said sad goodbyes to them and went back to the hotel for a well-deserved sleep.
We must have been tired as the next morning was the first morning of the holiday that I woke up later than 8am! This being Sunday, we had two tasks - to do a laundry run and visit a temple. We had
a breakfast of banana fruit shakes at a street stall, and it was a nice relaxed morning atmosphere with a funky cover version of Bob Marley’s Legend album floating down the street. We decided to find the music stall that was playing it and bought Bossa N’ Marley - the electro-bossa songbook of Bob Marley
. It is hilarious that we reconnect with our love of Reggae in Thailand.
We then caught a taxi to Wat Saket (Golden Mount). The temple itself is not that different or noteworthy, but the setting certainly is. Many winding stone steps snake their way to the top of a hill past a sacred cemetery and canopies of old knotted trees…but there were also tacky waterfalls, fake flowers in pots and gilded animals frolicking in the water. At the top of the 300 or so steps, our elevated heart rates and hot feet were well rewarded with a gorgeous but slightly hazy 360 degree view of Bangkok. The chedi
(stupa) at the top is open to the elements and after walking up in the shade of the trees, the sun was merciless up there. We didn’t stay longer than it took to walk around
(stupa) twice. We caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel and experienced the well documented ‘mad Bangkok tuk tuk driver’ who cut in and out of traffic and drove so fast that Andrew’s cap flew off! We then retreated to the air conditioning of our hotel for a while, only venturing out for a lunch of pla gaeng lueng
(fish curry) for Andrew, and a pad ped moo
(stir fried pork with morning glory) for me. Later that afternoon as the day started to cool down (this was probably more wishful thinking than fact), we walked down the surrounding streets looking for a replacement cap for Andrew.
We had our Group Meeting for the next part of the Intrepid Trip at 6pm that night. Ae is our new group leader and comes with high praise from Golf. She seems very efficient and friendly. This is a full trip of 12 people and the other travellers have all been travelling in Thailand before this trip, so the briefing was short and to the point. We had no group dinner that night as some people seemed to have other plans. The travellers all seem to be very different
and it will be interesting to see how group dynamics work out in the coming week. The group consists of Julie-Anne from our earlier trip, Julie from England, Del from Wales, Nadine and Jessica from Canada (who didn’t join us that night because they were still flying), Rick also from Canada, Thomas and Astrid from Germany, and Gerda and Irene also from Germany.
Andrew and I had a very satisfying street cart dinner of roast duck and Chinese broccoli with steamed rice and a side serve of duck broth; and a small bag of fresh pineapple for dessert. We then walked around taking in the utter chaos that is Khao San Road at night. This was our last night in this part of Bangkok (when we return from the southern beaches we will be staying across the river), so we wanted to make the most of the experience. We finally found Andrew a replacement cap and in honour of being in Asia, we also bought ourselves matchy-matchy leather bracelets.
Finally, we had drinks back at our favourite bar - Bar Lampu - and enjoyed the live music before crawling into bed to rest up for an early
temple visit the next day.
The next morning we checked out (as we were catching an overnight train that night), and headed out to visit the magnificent Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). Apparently it is called that because when they moved the capital from Ayuthaya (which was in ruins after the war with Burma), the King at the time got in a boat and proclaimed that their destination at dawn would be the new site of the Capital, and this temple commemorates Thonburi as the third capital of Thailand. We walked from the hotel to Tha Phra Athit pier on the Chao Phraya River, caught a water taxi to Tha Tian pier, and then caught a ferry across to Wat Arun. Wat Arun is very eye-catching with its 79 metre Khmer style prang chedi
(stupa). The temple complex is made up of a many chedi
all of it adorned with pieces of broken porcelain (just like Wat Pho), which also reminded me of the Forbidden City complex in Hue (Vietnam) in its elaborate detail on porcelain clad pagodas. We climbed the very very steep main chedi
for brilliant blue sky views of the city and the river.
Coming back down the steep stone steps of the chedi
was a little tricky. As we slowly shuffled down the steps I wondered if these steps were ever made with ‘seeing the nice view’ in mind. I also noticed that there weren’t many people praying here…
As we crossed the river back to the Bangkok side, we realised that we were very close to the Amulet Market. We had planned on going back there as we had loved it so much the first time, so we walked along the wall of the Grand Palace until we reached the market. It wasn’t as packed this time but it was still extremely atmospheric. I just love this place. The rest of the afternoon was spent having a gorgeous lunch of pad kee mao talae
(drunken rice noodles with seafood, spicy vegetables and green peppers) and pad pak bung fai daeng
(stir fried morning glory) with steamed rice; enjoying a mango fruit shake that was so thick that the straw was useless and I had to devour it with a spoon!; buying Havaianas for the beach; and showering and packing at our shared day rooms in preparation for a long travel night
that would not conclude until about midday the next day.
That evening we boarded our last overnight train on this trip. We bought a quick dinner at the station of freshly steamed Chinese pork buns, pumpkin chips that the chemist in the quickie mart recommended, doughnuts and Chang beers. We were headed on a 12 hour journey to Surat Thani in southern Thailand from where we go beachside to Krabi and beyond. We were in soft sleeper class trains again, which are air conditioned multi share compartments with seats that were converted into bunk beds. The southern overnight train is much smaller and not as clean as the northern trains we’ve caught so far. However it was still comfortable enough to sleep in, except for when the driver was hooning around corners. I’ve scored the top bunk three times in a row now.
We have picked up a few Thai words in our two weeks here, and I think the most commonly used words we’ve heard go a long way to explaining the Thai mind-set and attitude to life, and also typifies the Thai culture very much: sawadee ka
-an all-purpose greeting accompanied with a wai
(palms together at chest or face height), and it has to be said with a big happy smile; sabai
- happy, relaxed, all is well...and therefore sabai sabai
is as good as life gets!; sanook
- fun; mai bpen rai
- it doesn’t matter; ruk
- love; gin
- eat; aroy
- delicious; and kawp khun ka
- thank you.
See you in Krabi, hope the hammocks are strung up and the cocktails are cold!