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Published: June 15th 2006
The Royal Barge
with the 60th aniversary of the King of Thailand this year Bangkok was gearing itself up for a almighty celebration, part of this was getting the boatsmen on the royal barge up to speed.
We arrived at Bangkok airport at around midnight and after finding out that the airport hotel listed in the travel guide as $50 US is now $300US we set to finding somewhere else to stay. We booked a place with a guy at the airport - overpriced but the transfer and everything was sorted for us and it was only for one night. At 1am after the 9 hr flight and a few beers with Jon and a few more on the plane we just wanted to get into bed.
We awoke suprisingly refreshed the next morning and set out on our mission to go to our desired hostel - Shanti Lodge. How bloody diffuicult is it to get a taxi or tuk tuk to where you want to go. I don't want to go to another hotel, I dont want to look at a temple along the way, I dont want to go to a tourist booking office and I don't want to go to buy a suit or some cheap jewellery I just want to go to the place I told you! After all this we still ended up going to a tourist booking office which Andy got
out the tuk tuk walked in the office and then came back out to satisfy the driver as he wasn't going to take no for an answer and we finally get dropped at the YHA which isn't where we wanted to go but not far from where we wanted to be, but we were glad to get there and really couldn't be bothered with anymore hassle. So we also paid way over the odds at 200bht but we are learning and now know what the prices are meant to be.
After checking in to our lovely air con room with a balcony and ensuite squat toilet we headed out around town again with more hassle from Tuk Tuk drivers, we saw the standing buddha Khao San Road (the main touristy area) and a few other places.
Bangkok is manic, it is dirty, busy and the air very polluted. Cars, Tuk Tuks, motorbikes and buses and stalls on wheels jostle for space on the overcrowded roads churning out fumes. Your senses are bombarded with different smells the whole time, as you go along a different smell hits you all the time from the stomach turning and pungent smells of
sewage, stale fish and unpleasant cooking smells to fragrant aromas of lemon grass, corriander and fresh flowers.
That evening we ticked off our first 'must do' in Thailand and that was a visit to Ratchadamnoen stadium to see Thai boxing. When we got there, there were two ticket counter sections - one for the Thais and one for the faragi tourists. The local prices aren't listed for the locals tickets but I am sure they dont pay the 1000bht minimum price the tourists pay. The prices for which are clearly shown as 1000, 1500 or 2000bht. As we were going to get our tickets the touts offered us the special price knocking it down from 2000bht to 1700bht for ringside seats - "but this is a special price dont tell anyone!" but you soon find out all of the tourists paid the same. All of the tourists were sat at the ringside as for the 700bht extra as compaired to standing at the back it was a bargain, the seats were prime location and if it had been a boxing match we probably would have been sat next to Don King. The boxing was interesting but one of the
main things was watching all the locals betting. There was a big crowd and they really get behind the fighters and between each round there is frantic shouting and hand waving as bets are placed. With whom I dont know. I couldnt get how it all worked as through the fights you dont see any money changing hands or who is taking the bets.
We spent a few hectic days in Bangkok doing the typical tourist things. It is hard work though. The temperatures are in the high thirties and it is sticky and humid. The majority of places you go you are hassled by touts and tuk tuk drivers and then there is the language barrier. A lot of Thais speak basic English, so convincingly sometimes you think they really understand all you are saying but sometimes they dont. For example after waiting for a boat for 30 minutes (That was never going to come because the services are suspended due to the Royal Barge procession later in the day - we later found out) that the guy you spoke to actually didnt understand what we said or more likely didnt know the English for the reply so
they say yes and smile.
We visited the Grand Palace which is absolutely massive and very impressive, this is the home of the very famous Emerald Buddha. The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 and in addition to housing t6he Temple of the Emerald Buddha it houses the royal residence and throne Hall and some government offices. The complex is walled and covers an area of 218,000 square metres. It is an oasis of calm (if quite a few tourists), colour and cleandliness in a grey concrete and hectic city. Many of the buildings and temples are brightly colourted and decorated and adorned with gold and the internal walls are covered in paintings showing scenes from history and mythology.
We also visited Wat Po temple, the home of the famous and very large reclining buddha and also where the official main school of Thai Massge is. The reclinging buddha is huge and the base is covered in inlaid mother of pearl patterns and pictures. There are also pots along one side of the room, you collect a little pot of coins (donation for it) and have to put some of the coins into each of the pots
to bring good luck.
We had previously had a Thai massage at our hostel, but at this Wat Po it was the real thing. A thai massage is very similar to visiting the Osteopath. It is a combination of deep tissue massage and pressure points as well as skeletal manipulation. You feel slightly beaten up afterwards but you feel fantastic after a while. They really do work on any muscle pains you have.
Looking for a little calm and a different perspective to Bangkok we hired a long tail boat for a couple of hours to take us through the khlongs (canals) of Bangkok taking a look at the royal barges and the most intersting thing is peering into peoples lives along the river to see how the locals actually live.
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