Finally Bangkok

My first visit to Thailand was in April of 2006. For that visit were missed most of Songkran due to other commitments, and also missed Bangkok. This time we were going to take in both.

The Gulf Air flight arrived from Hong Kong early evening. The service was poor and some of the (non-Thai) passengers were grumpy, but the flight was cheap. The new airport is huge compared to Don Muang, but it didn’t take long to get oriented, buy a Thai SIM for one of our phones, and find our way to the bottom level for the meter taxis. But wait! Travelling with a Thai means having a meal every five minutes, so before taking a taxi a trip to the food hall was required. The food hall was fine, but you have to leave your luggage outside, which made me a nervous for about ten seconds, but I figured that if someone really wanted to make off with my clothes they were welcome to them!

Eventually we caught a taxi to the Royal Hotel, which had been recommended by a friend. It was conveniently located for my purposes near the Grand Palace at the end of Rachdamnern Klang Road. Lonely Planet claims it’s the third-oldest hotel in Bangkok, which I realised was not necessarily a positive thing, but it was pleasant enough, in a slightly run down sort of way…

After a rather late night with friends I found myself setting out for a day of sightseeing by myself. My first stop was Wat Nak Prok, southwest of the river, to see some of the monks that I knew from my Wat back in Christchurch. I arranged to come back to stay for a few days at the end of my trip, so I will say a little more about the Wat in a later Blog.

After lunch at the Wat I headed off to see some of the more famous Bangkok sights.

First stop was, of course, Wat Pra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Though I’ve visited a number of Wats in Thailand and elsewhere this place is stunning. The room containing the Emerald Buddha literally took my breath away. I could have sat in the room for hours and just soaked up the peacefulness which is only mildly disturbed by the attendants attempting to educate the westerners to not sit with their feel pointing at the Buddha images.

After that it was on to Wat Pho. Again, spectacular, but a disappointing number of buildings were closed for renovation. Wandering back to the hotel I came across a cultural show in Sanam Luang park and had a pleasant stroll back to the hotel past the old canals.

That night we decided to venture out to Kao San Road, a short walk north. High concentrations of Farang don’t usually appeal to me, but I must admit that there is a certain energy there and we found some acceptable food down one of the alleys.

The next day we checked out some more sights. First up one of our friends led us to Wat Chanasonkran Ratchoworamahawiharn, which doesn’t seem to be on any of my maps, but was somewhere near Kao San Road. There are so many Wats in Bangkok that in a sense it doesn’t matter what you visit. They all have some particular appeal and there is some advantage to visiting a few less famous places where it is easier to do the more “normal” things like making an offering to the monks.

The final sight was the boat-trip across the river to Wat Arun. Like Wat Pho, a disappointing number of buildings were closed, but it certainly is spectacular. As we arrived I was approached by a group of female students who seemed to have a requirement to talk to a few foreigners to practice their English. Typical Thai questions: “What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you?”

I experienced my first case of attempted ludicrous overcharging at Wat Arun when I attempted to buy a book of postcards. Across the river these had been about 40 Baht, but the price here was initially quoted at something like 400, which quickly came down by a factor of 10 when I pointed out how much I had been charged elsewhere.

That night we headed off to Ang Thong where I’ll take up the continuation of the trip later.

Bangkok was an enjoyable and reasonably straight-forward place to visit. After reading Richard’s excellent blogs about the airport and the highlights I had no particular difficulty figuring out what to do.

Obviously there is much more to see. I spent all my time in the old, western, part of the city, and saw nothing of the modern high-rise areas in the east, except from the windows of taxis. And finally, I regret that I never ended up in one of the taxis with an “I Love Farang” sticker…

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