My younger brother went and got engaged, and organised a wedding in Byron Bay, Australia. It was a long journey home from London, but we couldn’t not go! We looked at several flight options, and we found one with a competitive price, and the opportunity to have a quick stopover in Bangkok. The original flight as booked had us arrive in Bangkok at 6AM, and then fly to Brisbane at midnight, giving us the best part of a full day. This changed once when we received a notification from the travel agent that the onward flight to Brisbane was now going to depart at 9AM the next morning. It was a little annoying, but we accepted the change.
But, things changed for the worse after we checked in, on Christmas Day no less, and found that the flight was delayed – it ended up flying 7 hours later than scheduled. This meant that our full day in Bangkok was now the best part of an afternoon and an evening. But, at least we received a £10 meal voucher, and I got to finally eat at Heston Blumenthal’s (the burger was decidedly average).
Bitching and moaning about air travel over, we arrived and were smacked by the heat and humidity. It wasn’t particularly cold in London when we left, but it was still the middle of winter. It didn’t take long for me to break out in a sweat.
Lacking in time, after check in, we jumped on a water taxi and head in to the centre of town. The taxi was an experience, and I’m really glad Risa did the research and found out about it! Long boats pull up, and are held against the dock just long enough for the passengers to jump out. The ticketing system consisted of a staff member that walks around the outside of the boat, collecting money as new passengers arrive. I kind of liked it, as it felt a bit like a game – the price of losing was a destroyed camera and phone, and who knows what kinds of infections.
The boats raced up and down these narrow canals. The engines were dirty, and the noise was incredible – in a bad way. But still, it felt fun! Something about the lack of safety barriers/precautions tickled my primate brain in just the right way. It wasn’t entirely without creature comforts mind you – they had curtains that could be raised to protect from splashing.
The rough plan was to take the water taxi as far as we could, and do the rest on foot, visiting as many temples as we could in the time we had available. The first of which was Wat Saket (Golden Mount). The name was fitting, as there was a large golden stupa perched upon a small (man made) mountain. It was a few baht for entry, and then a short walk up past all manner of interesting decorations/paraphernalia.
The view from the top was a shock, as I honestly wasn’t aware just how many skyscrapers were here in Bangkok – I personally loved the one that looked like pixels were eroding in a spiral around the outside of it. The breeze was welcome, even if the trade-off was the roasting sun. It has been some time since either of us have needed to wear sunglasses (or sunscreen)!
The trip the Grand Palace and to the temples of Wat Pho took a detour via Khaosarn Road. The detour was intentional – Risa wanted to visit a highly rated Tom Yum Gun restaurant, which turned out to just be a small stall that only opens in the evenings – it was just unplanned to go through Khaosarn Road. The area felt full of the kind of tourists you associate with Thailand. It’s a weird judgement to make about people, but it feels like there is a ‘type’. It was an interesting area, and unquestionably the most western focused area we visited in Bangkok.
Anyway, there was no shortage of street food to indulge in – and we happily snacked away on anything that took our fancy.
On the way to the Grand Palace, we noticed large crowds of people, all dressed in black, heading to a large park, with large tents erected. We assumed it was people morning for the King who died a few months back, but we weren’t quite prepared for just how many people were gathered. There was a steady torrent of people walking around in lines inside, there were buses and buses of people coming and going, and giant camp-style kitchens serving food. We entered the park (coincidently we were both dressed in black), as we were curious about exactly what was going on. The police happily let us inside, but we clearly weren’t welcome, and eventually made our way out.
One benefit was the empty roads, allowing us to safely walk around the enormous streets around the Grand Palace, including a rather magic roundabout – which wasn’t really a roundabout. We sadly arrived too late to enter the Grand Palace, and had to settle for the tantalising glimpses we could see peeking over the top of the large fence.
We luckily made it inside Wat Pho before they closed entrance to see the giant reclining Buddha. Sure enough, it was exactly as described – a giant, reclining golden Buddha. The detail and the scale were impressive, from the mother of pearl inlay in the soles of the feet, to the thousands of hair particles, each a tiny little spiral.
While we were admiring the sculpture, we could hear a constant, but quiet, metallic crashing sound. It almost sounded like metal a large metal roof expanding/contracting, but was just too loud, and too constant. Walking around the back of the statue, we saw a long row of brass containers, filled with small change. They sold small cups, which you could drop into each of the containers, setting off a tiny metallic snare sound, amplified by the dozens of others doing the same.
Also, isn’t Risa’s coat dashing? She had a shirt she could have worn to cover up, but chose to wear this instead – shame they didn’t sell them as souvenirs!
We were now left to wander around the grounds, looking at all the intricate buildings housed here. The detail was truly incredible, with countless number of flowers, each with individual petals.
It was nice that we caught the afternoon glow as the sun dipped low on the horizon, making the golden tiling really glow. However, it was a shame that we’d already run out of time.
We had booked a tuk tuk night tour, and we had to make it across the busy river to meet with the tour guide and our tuk tuk drivers – which meant one more busy water ferry trip!
We were paired with a tuk tuk driver, and the local guide gave a quick outline of the evening, visiting markets, eating street food, visiting some temples, more street food, and finally the 24/7 flower markets. In retrospect, we wish we’d just done our own thing, as not only would it have been (much, much) cheaper, we’d also have had more freedom.
We had fun zipping around in the tuk tuk, again, that primal part of my brain loving the apparent lack of safety. It was an overload watching the colours of the neon lights just blur past as we buzzed our way through traffic.
One of the special stops was a restaurant that is said to have been the creator of the famous pad thai – Thip Samai. There was a queue out the door, but they walked us straight through to a table in the air conditioned comfort at the rear of the restaurant. Now, I’m not saying the meal wasn’t good – because it was unquestionably so- it’s just that I had expected something extraordinary. Something impossible. Something that caused a shift in the way I thought about Thai food. The expectation was unrealistic, and it caused a little bit of a disappointment. We bought a couple of packets of their special sauce, so when things get a bit depressing in London, we can try and recreate.
The other major sight was the Pak Khlong Market (Flower Market), and again, the name couldn’t be better put – it was a market, selling thousands, and thousands of flowers – and only flowers. There were petals, flowers on stems, and flowers in wreaths – bags and bags of flowers in wreaths. I’m fairly confident that I have never seen quite so many flowers on sale in the one place before.
This was the official end of our tuk tuk tour, but the driver agreed to drop us off at infamous Soi Cowboy. It was now close to midnight, we’d been more-or-less awake for 36 hours, and now we were being visually assaulted by the over-the-top neon in this tiny little street! I think if you saw it from a plane, it would be a bright red glow compared to the rest of the city.
It was an interesting place, full of women in bikinis doing their best to drag people in off the street for a drink. As a spectator, it was quite an interesting sight, but neither of us were in the mood for touts in bikinis. It was interesting though how many of the shops were written in Japanese. Oh, and the ladyboys at Cockatoo were a bit of a surprise!
Instead, we hopped into a taxi and made our way to the Octave Rooftop Bar. I felt a little rough to be going to a fancy bar, dressed in shorts, and dirty hiking boots and honestly expected to be turned away. If we were unwelcome, we certainly didn’t feel that way. We found a nice seat by the edge of the terrace and ordered a fancy bottle of European sparkling water. It was now a little after 1AM, and a combination of fatigue from the heat and walking, combined with the comforting breezes worked with the jetlag. We could have fallen asleep in those chairs, staring out over the skyline of Bangkok if we were allowed.
Somehow, Risa still had an appetite, so we found a table at the still bustling 55 Pochana restaurant and ordered some tom yum goong. I’d enjoyed the pad thai earlier, but didn’t get a life altering experience. This, however, changed my perception about soups. Neither of us had experienced anything like it before, with such a symphony of perfectly complimentary flavours. I have a rubbish sense of taste/smell, but even I could appreciate the varied flavours that were in this little bowl.
It was now after 2AM, and we’d been in Bangkok for 12 solid hours. We’d crammed in as much as we could, but in the end, it was just the mildest scratch of the surface of what the city had to offer – and we desperately needed to sleep.