What Stop Do We Get Off At?

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March 1st 2013
Published: March 1st 2013
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Bangkok to Kanchanaburi

We have passed our first 10 days in Bangkok learning a new way of life. After travelling around Mexico and Central America for a year and a half by car, we have spent a good part of our time in Thailand busily learning subway, Skytrain, ferry, bus, shuttle and train schedules and times. Connecting their routes are taxis, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks and of course walking. We have become quite good at using each mode of travel despite not knowing any language (either written or oral) and at times even struggling with the new currency. While at times it has seemed to slow us down a little, I think that the tradeoff of convenience has also helped us to get out of the car and see things at a slower pace than just passing by on a highway.

Surprisingly one of the most challenging trips we make is getting to the market. We have to take a taxi both ways as the market is located about 2 miles from the huge condominium development we live in. As we can only say the name of the market and the road it is on, we have to rely on the cab drivers knowledge
Chinatown StreetsChinatown StreetsChinatown Streets

They were moving when David took this picture!
of the area and his ability to understand our probably mispronounced name of the road (it’s spelled Phetkasem) to get us there. It’s always comforting when they start off in the right direction. Traffic is quite congested in Bangkok and if the taxi driver decides to take a short cut on a road we haven’t been on we tend to have a moment of fear that perhaps our directions were misinterpreted. Even worse is waiting at the store with melting ice cream and trying to explain where we need to bring our many bags of groceries to. We have to rely on giving him the name of the complex and the road it is on, again hoping that he understands our pronunciation (we live on Kallaprupruk).So far we have made it each time and as the taxis are inexpensive and air conditioned, the rides have generally really been fun except for the one time a taxi died about ¼ mile to the market in the middle of a busy intersection. We felt terrible leaving the poor guy with his broken car but we were glad it happened on the way to the market instead of on the way home with the groceries.

Speaking of challenges, the market has been a bit of an awakening also. We generally cook quite a few meals in the house to save a little money, and shopping in Southeast Asia has proven to be a bit of a new experience. The food is completely different and it seems to be difficult to find things we need to make meals. We have virtually no experience cooking Asian food and the ingredients available would be great if we could cook them correctly. Luckily we have found some prepared food that is easy to make and quite tasty. Also as all travelers know, pancakes can be your best friend.

We have had opportunities to go out and see quite a few things so far. We followed a guidebook and took a great tour of Chinatown. We especially enjoyed walking through the back alleys of Little India and the Pahurat cloth market that is located in Chinatown. Within a block of Chinatown, we seemed to have moved to a different country as everyone was dressed in Indian clothing and the smells of the food cooking in the stalls was quite different. I think our favorite part of Chinatown was walking along the famous Sampeng Market which is basically several streets that have been taken over by all kinds of small stores selling everything imaginable. The stores have spilled over onto the sidewalks and what area was left in the street has been filled in by stalls selling all kinds of products from roasted nuts to children’s toys.

On our first weekend we visited the famous Chatuchak Market. Over 8,000 stalls selling everything from pets to food to the latest in fashions make up what claims to be the biggest open air market in the world. We don’t really have room in our luggage for any souvenirs but we did pick up a new pair of “Ray Bans” for a little under 5 dollars. What was the best part for us was the plethora of delicious food being prepared in many of the stores. There was everything from beautiful buffets spread on linen to small cubbyhole restaurants preparing wonderful smelling delicacies with marvelously fresh looking ingredients. It was difficult to choose a place for our lunch but we finally chose a small stall that seemed to be very popular. We weren’t disappointed by our delicious Thai Soup (Tom Yum Goong) and a nice plate of Pad Thai.

We had to visit at least one of the beautiful Wats (temples) along the river and chose Wat Po for our first stop. Wat Po is famous for having the largest reclining Buddha in the world. The architecture of the buildings is incredible with green, gold and red being the dominant colors of the roofs and decorations of the blindingly white colored buildings. Many golden Buddha statues decorate each building some as high as 35 or 40 feet high. While we thought the reclining Buddha was the highlight of the visit, we also enjoyed listening to all the languages being spoken by all the visitors that seemed to be from nearly every region on earth.

Our biggest adventure and the first true test of our transit riding ability was our first journey out of town. We decided to visit the “Bridge over the River Kwai” made famous in the movie from the 1950’s. The bridge was built by Allied prisoners of war and virtual slave laborers from Southeast Asia. More than 70,000 people died building the railway from Burma to Thailand through the mountains and jungles between the two countries.

Our day began early at 5 AM so we could catch the first shuttle bus leaving the apartments. We caught our shuttle bus at 5:45 which took us the couple of miles to the Skytrain that would be the start of our journey. The Skytrain is an elevated railway that runs through much of the downtown area. Trains leave every 6 minutes and are air conditioned and very comfortable. We caught our Skytrain and took it across the Chao Praya River that winds its way through central Bangkok. Large ferries that can carry perhaps 100 people comfortably (and frequently carry 200 or more people very uncomfortably)run up and down the river and would be the next leg of our journey. The ferries move quickly but make frequent stops, so our ride to the train station would take about 35 minutes this early in the morning. Unfortunately the ferries don’t stop next to the train station anymore, despite being listed on our map, so we had to scramble when we got off the ferry. We quickly found a taxi to take us back to Bangkok Noi train station. Taxis seem to be everywhere in town and are quite inexpensive compared to most places we have traveled. Our ride cost less than a dollar and was a small price to pay for our mistake with the ferry stop. We still made it easily to the train station with time to spare.

Trains still run nearly everywhere in Thailand and are also very inexpensive. We decided to take a 3rd class train, which in most countries probably wouldn’t be a great idea, but in Thailand even the 3rd class trains are pretty good. Although not air conditioned, the trains are clean and the breeze from the open windows kept us nice and cool during our 3 hour ride to the town of Kanchanaburi where the famous bridge is located. Vendors get onboard at the frequent stop and sell cold drinks and food and an assortment of fresh fruits to any passengers who didn’t have time for breakfast. We were told that we would be passing jungles on the way, but didn’t really see any jungles. Instead we did pass many rice and sugarcane fields with farmers doing their early morning chores. We saw papaya and mango trees and even fish farms along the way. Many beautiful Wats were visible in each town that we passed. Lots of egrets, storks and mynah birds were easy to see in the fields as the sun came up and the day came to life.

We finally reached the town of Kanchanaburi almost on time at 10:30 in the morning. The return train was scheduled to leave at 2:40 PM so we didn’t really have a long time to see all the sights. We decided to first visit theThailand-Burma Railway Museum which is located not far from the train station. The museum is very nice and tells the story of the building of the railway during World War II. We spent about an hour reading the history and viewing the many pictures and displays that helped to understand the hardships the men went through while constructing the railway under very difficult circumstances.

Across the street from the museum is the Allied cemetery that holds some 7,000 graves of some of the soldiers who perished during the work, many from disease and poor food supplies. The cemetery is well kept and is visited by many British and Australians who made up the majority of the lost men.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and grabbed a motorcycle taxi from the train station to the site of the bridge. This was Nanci’s first trip on a motorcycle taxi, but it seemed she adjusted quickly and thoroughly enjoyed her 10 minute ride to the river.

The bridge was crowded with tourists, both from out of Thailand and from within. Even some local school groups were visiting which was nice to see. We walked across the bridge and seemed to get a lull between tour buses because at one point we seemed to have the bridge all to ourselves. The bridge has been rebuilt from the original that was built during the war and never really did look much like the bridge from the movie, but it was interesting to see a part of history after learning so much at the museum.

We had an hour to the train and decided to check out some of the area around the bridge. Lots of restaurants and museums related to the bridge were nearby. We saw several of the original train engines from the time period nearby. We decided to have a cold Chang beer in one restaurant overlooking the bridge. We were entertained by the many floating restaurants carrying tons of singing tourists passing by while were enjoying our cold beer.

We decided to catch the train from the train station located at the bridge, but unfortunately were told the train would be delayed by 2 hours. We waited by the train station and talked to some of the other travelers that were also waiting. Everyone has interesting stories of all their travels in Asia and as we are new here we are interested to hear about their journeys.

We finally caught our train and had an uneventful ride home. The sun set during our ride and the train was quite cooler. We were too late to catch the ferries once we arrived back in Bangkok. We found a taxi but could not explain well enough to get him to take us all the way to our apartment. We decided the best bet would be if we could get him to take us to the nearest Skytrain stop and we could catch that to our shuttle bus to the house from there. We finally arrived back at home about 9:30 PM after a long 16 hour day.

All in all it was an adventurous day that we really enjoyed. As much as enjoying the bridge and museum, we were proud of ourselves that we had taken every type of transport possible and even though we had a few difficulties, we overcame them and had a good story to tell of our travels.

We have lots of things planned in the upcoming weeks. We are enjoying ourselves so far and look forward to our further travels!

Additional photos below
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2nd March 2013

It's wonderful to read a blog...
from someone who is not just passing through. Your details of day to day life bring back so many memories of my life in Thailand...and Bangkok. The picture of the watches at Pat Pong brought back a recent memory...I bought my son a Rolex...didn't last long. I really look forward to your future blogs of life in Bangkok and both day and longer duration trips.
2nd March 2013
Thai Soup - Chatuchak Market

thai food...
is one of our favourite cuisines and this tom yum looks utterly divine!
2nd March 2013
Thai Soup - Chatuchak Market

re: Thai Food
Thanks - that's our absolute new favorite!

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