Category Archives: Arriving in Thailand

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…

Finally: beyond the airport…

In Mid-April I finally got beyond the transit lounge of Bangkok International Airport. I’d been in the airport several times, but always on the way to someplace else. I’d been preparing for several months for this visit to the family of a friend in North-West Ang Thong province. But I still had misgivings. Could I cope with Thailand in the hot season after a New Zealand autumn? Could I cope with the food? The bathrooms? Would anyone understand my Thai?

A short flight from Hong Kong, but a world away in atmosphere. Just boarding the Thai Airways plane had a soothing effect. The runways and the transit lounge looked familiar. There’s an annoying space on the immigration form for a visa number. I don’t need a visa but I hate leaving blanks on a form! Looking at the “Address in Thailand” box I realised that I didn’t know where I was going! “Just write ‘Bangkok’” my friend advised. The immigration officer made no comment.

Out of the building and into a pickup. The heat was not as bad as I feared; it might be 35C but at least it’s not particularly humid. The expressway could be anywhere: are we in LA, Beijing, or Brazil yet? Bangkok was out there in distance somewhere, but this is the closest that I got on this trip. Next time…

I did a lot of research for this trip, including watching a lot of movies, and I drove a little in Malaysia in the 1990s. So once we got beyond the expressway the towns and roads were much as I expected. The drivers seemed a little crazy at first, but nothing as harrowing as I’ve seen in India or China.

My halting Thai at least made a good impression on my hosts. But I started to realise that just knowing a few greetings does not allow much exchange of information.

Since it was late afternoon we stopped at Ayuthaya for a little sightseeing and dinner. One thing that struck me was how small it was. And it hadn’t registered that brick would be so prevalent in the old ruins.

We spent some time at Wat Phanan Choeng, which, according to the guide book, features a 19m Buddha. It’s certainly neck-straining and stunning. I was pleased that I’d spent some time at the local Thai wat back in New Zealand, so I knew what to do with the incense and gold leaf that were thrust at me.

The next stop was a restaurant on the river, opposite a mosque (right-hand picture), which I didn’t anticipate. The food was even better than I expected. I’ve had good Thai food in Hong Kong but there’s nothing like being in the right place, with the right ingredients. My hosts were impressed that I didn’t pass out from eating the tom yam. Luckily I’d been practicing for this for months by cooking with lots of chilli.

One of my overwhelming impressions of Thailand is the amount of food I was persuaded to consume and how wonderful it all was. I eventually developed a self-defence response: the command “gin” would trigger “im laa-ou” from me.

We planned to come back and do the dinner cruise when the city is lit up at night, and I wanted see a few more temples, but in the end it didn’t work out. “Next time” was a recurring thought during my ten days in Thailand.

It was dark by the time we got “home” and I remembered that this was the tropics, and this was countryside. It was nice to see stars, even if they were somewhat unfamiliar.