Published: March 19th 2012March 4th 2012
On our first evening we gained an immediate sense of the chaotic frenzy that is Bangkok day and night. The streets around our hotel were teeming with activity, with the colourful street vendors & market stalls, zigzagging tuk-tuks, pink taxis, ear-splitting traffic, and a throng of tourists. The word ‘cacophony’ springs to mind. There are so many cars, motorbikes with whole families clinging to them and taxis – far too many cars for the roads and it amazed me how willing people were to sit endlessly in jams getting nowhere! Motor-bikes weaving in and out – they certainly must have the highest number of scooters per capita of anywhere. The smells overall are pretty bad, with a stench of decaying vegetable matter and ripe sewage all a bit overpowering in the humid heat. It’s notoriously a very polluted place, with areas of dirty stagnant water and masses of litter below unused areas like bridges & flyovers, and poor scraggy cats and dogs wandering everywhere.
However, that all sounds grim, but it certainly wasn’t. The little food stalls on the street are brilliant – sometimes just a motorbike & sidecar with a covered kitchen balanced on the side car! Selling satays,
fresh fruit beautifully presented, grilled fish and curries. It seems everyone eats al fresco on the streets, snacking all day long. One typical favourite of locals is sticky rice with mango which we did try and is good but a little too sweet. Other carts were pushed along selling allsorts - brooms, flowers, sun shades and drinks. It was fun haggling at the street markets for the few things we bought – a pair of flip flops, some souvenirs and some soap. I always felt awkward when approached by sellers, who all had a knack of almost making me buying things I had no call for whatsoever. Things are so cheap for us anyway it seemed wrong to haggle. We drove the next day to China town where we saw an array of shops that were oddly dedicated to selling just one item – one with chicken wire, another with bike tyres, one with tv tables, one with bath plugs and nothing else. I have never seen an area with such diverse small scale industry in one location. There were women sat at tables with sewing machines, old Singers! One area, I am not sure if this was still Chinatown,
was wonderful with one after the other, of flower stalls and shops with people eagerly beavering away to make floral garland offerings for the temples, mainly of marigolds. This was a beautiful scene, it was so bright and cheery.
The Grand Palace left us overdosed on lavish decorations, elaborate and colourful temples, a riot of colours and dazzling beautifications. The most revered figure of Buddha, the Emerald Buddha, is quite small and actually jade not emerald, is in the main hall (Wat Phra Kaew) – so small and diminutive that I missed it and had to return a second time! It was perched on a mound of what looked like treasure from an Indiana Jones film and was wrapped in a shawl to keep it warm as it is currently winter season (! only 37 degrees outside). The King himself usually changes these robes, but he has been in hospital for 2 years now and so I am not certain who carries out this ritual in his place. I got quite annoyed at the number of people trying to photograph it when this was not allowed. For century’s this Buddha had been ‘lost’ as it
was covered in plaster as was common during days of war, and forgotten about. It was only revealed in an accidental fall and the broken plaster revealed the dazzling figure.
There are various temples with towers of different shapes and sizes, quite a hot-potch in fact. Apparently each successive King has felt the need to make his mark by adding another temple in a different style, so there are the pagoda type towers of one King, the Cambodian ‘Pisa tower shape’ of another King and the Sri Lankan shape towers of another King. All surfaces were embellished with mosaics of glass and adorned with gold leaf, all very dazzling and in stark contrast to the poverty surrounding the area suffered by most of the population.
We ventured out one day to Damnoen Saduak Floating markets – we reached them by boat along the canals – canals from a time when the whole city was waterways rather than road. It was a thrilling high-speed ride in a gondala-like long boat which had a noisy engine with a small propeller on a shaft about 12 feet long. The smell of fuel and gurgly roar of the engine just added to
the sense of excitement as we treacherously whizzed along the canals and tilted precariously at any bend. I’m sure some must capsize – not appealing as the water of course was muddy brown, with water lizards and goodness knows what diseases, being lined by homes on stilts that of course use the canal as both a toilette and as the kitchen sink. I have to say that in a link to another film, it was reminiscent of the James Bond, Man and the Golden Gun boat chase! The scene at the market itself was so pretty with ladies with very deeply creviced faces under the traditional wide-brimmed hats, elegantly steering their narrow dug-out canoes, or pulling up alongside the canal to concoct a gourmet noodle & -curry meal on a small kitchen all in the space of their one person boat. It is all wonderfully brightly coloured with fruits and vegetables, hats and shoes.
Further afield from the city we saw coconut plantations, and stopped to see how families make coconut sugar, oil & syrup. The coconut plantations are the families whole way of life –the trunk providing building material, the leaves for thatch, the nut to eat, the
husk to burn into charcoal, the milk to drink, the shells & wood for crafts & jewellery; it is known as the ‘tree of life’. And below the trees are small channels containing fish, carp from what I could make out, to provide meat. We also saw some incredible wood crafts & sculpturing using teak woods, with skilled men and women of the like of which Andrew has never seen before. The same for some exquisite jewellery making we saw in Bangkok itself – I got some lovely earrings from there for my birthday.
Ayuthaya was the former capital of Siam and now a World Heritage Site. Parts are still under water from last year’s floods, and subsidence has unfortunately caused damage to the historical buildings. The city flourished from the 14th
C but was attacked by the Burmese and all treasures looted and removed. The new capital was created in Bangkok shortly after and the Burmese gave up their quest to conquer Thailand. Only some of the prangs (khmer style spire towers) remain but it is an impressive sight, one of great serenity & mystery.
This visit to Bangkok & surrounds was an extreme dose of a
new culture for Ellen, Michelle & Adam and one I think really amazed them, they seemed thrilled and excited, it was all so new and different. But I think we all struggled with the incredible humid heat - time therefore to retreat to a tropical island paradise, so off we went for the final leg of our trip to Koh Samui.
There are more photos below