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Published: October 23rd 2006
The Grand Palace
The upper Terrace seen from Sanam Luang.
© L. Birch 2006
No matter how prepared I thought we were Bangkok was still a shock to the system - particularly after the cool, leafy confines of home in Cornwall. The temperature is the first thing you notice. You feel it the moment you step outside the air-conditioned halls of the airport: it’s like walking into a solid wall of wet heat. Within minutes, you’re sweating profusely and wondering if you’ll ever get used to the humidity. As if that isn’t enough to contend with, you quickly realise that you’ve somehow got to cope with Bangkok as well, no mean feat when you’re lugging a backpack that suddenly feels like it’s full of bricks.
Bangkok is somewhere you either love or hate. Home to around 6,000,000 inhabitants, the city is noisy, polluted and choked with traffic day and night. Having said that, I love all that’s different about it; huge advertising billboards written in curly Thai script, gold encrusted temples and shrines, Thai pop music blaring from roadside shops and garages, bowls of noodle soup being dished up at pavement food stalls with traffic roaring past: such are the first impressions of one of Asia’s busiest cities.
But our first job was
The Infamous two-stroke taxis that go everywhere.
© L. Birch 2006
to get into the city centre. There are several ways of doing it and we had tried most of them in the past. It all depended where you wanted to go and knowing that was half the battle won. On our last visit we had by-passed the city altogether by jumping on a northbound train outside Don Muang airport. This time around we were thrown completely. In the intervening years since that last visit, someone had moved the airport to the other side of the city and given it a new name. But we weren't unduly perturbed, a short hunt round soon turned up a shuttle bus that took us into the city centre, dropping us close to the Chao Phraya River in Phra Athit Road.
We were staying at a guesthouse on the edge of the fray and after dumping our packs, made our first foray onto the Khao San Road just as the sun sank over the rooftops. If anything, it was even more crazy than I remembered. It had become a neon-lit circus filled with street vendors where every step was heralded by an invitation to " Look in my shop. No charge for looking!" First
Khao San Road at Night
Brash, neon-lit and filled with travellers from all over the globe. Is there anywhere else quite like Khao San Road?
© L. Birch 2006
impressions aside, there’s no denying that Khao San has a real buzz to it that is hard to describe. The street is lined - on both sides of the road - with vendors offering all manner of goods and services from fake brand name t-shirts and Thai fisherman's trousers to wrist watches and student ID cards. Dread locked travellers in ethnic clothes and students in ‘Ripcurl’ knock-offs weave carelessly among the clutter of stalls or lounge in kerbside bars watching videos. Money changers and email facilities only just outnumber restaurants showing the latest films and as you wander the length of the road, music washes out onto the street from traveller’s hangouts where you can knock back a beer and a plate of Pad Thai to the sounds of reggae, chillout or rap music. It really is another world but it isn’t Thailand. For now though, it was a good starting point: a place to prepare for journeys further afield.
Fighting the urge to sleep at unusual hours, we spent the next couple of days getting ourselves organised. In amongst the business of sorting out transport and visas for onward travel, there was time to explore - revisit some
old haunts and check out some new ones. But we tire quickly of Bangkok; the fumes, heat and press of humanity soon have us wishing for green fields and open spaces, or at the very least, paddy fields and less congested roads. There are brief moments of respite - a city park or garden, the contemplative grounds of a temple (known as a wat in Thai), an unexpected corner where you can stop and watch children playing or catch the muted song of an oriental magpie robin, rising above the discordant sound of traffic and blaring car horns.
A few days later, having written a few postcards and read through a discarded copy of the English daily newspaper, the “Bangkok Post”, we really felt it was time to get going. The trouble was, deciding where to go first. North to the mountainous provinces of Mae Hong Son? Or East toward Cambodia and the lure of rest on a tropical island? It was a tough decision but since I still had a (virtually redundant) fleece with me, we settled on heading north for a brief respite from the heat and a quick entry into Laos.
A big "Thank
pose for a photo at Wat Inthara, Bangkok.
© V. Birch 2006
You" to all those who have sent us well wishes and messages via the site so far, keep 'em coming, they're much appreciated! Bangkok Info
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