Everything started out so promisingly. We got up on time. We caught the airport limousine bus. We found our check-in counter. We checked in. We cleared security. We cleared immigration. We found our gate. It was clear from the weather that the typhoon was looming. We were confident however that our flight would be unaffected, the board didn't say we were delayed and everything looked promising. Until our plane never showed up. This small delay of forty five minutes lead to a much longer delay of five hours. Most of which were spent sat on the plane waiting for the weather to improve. We finally took off at around two thirty and despite a rather turbulent ascent we had a pleasant flight down to Kuala Lumpur. We sped through the airport in Kuala Lumpur, we changed our flight, we got some dinner and before we knew it we were boarding our flight to Bangkok. Finally.
We landed in a rainy Bangkok airport at about 11:30 and by the time we had cleared immigration and picked up our luggage it was coming on midnight and we were very tired. We approached the taxi counter (something very necessary in this part of the world due to scams) and we got a taxi to our hostel. My first impressions of Bangkok as it flew by my window were that this place was very different from Seoul. It was blurry though. I was tired. It was raining. We pulled up at our hostel and got our bags, there was nobody around when we arrived but with the help of a lovely European couple we figured out that the owner had left a key for us, so we settled in for a well deserved nights rest.
We awoke at about 9am the next day and got freshened up, started the daily routine of sun-cream and insect spray and headed outside for our free hostel breakfast (which is outstanding, we've eaten it everyday). It wasn't raining anymore and it was hot. Really hot. Despite being rainy season Bangkok manages to stay at around 30 degrees with about 60% - 70% humidity. It's sweaty to say the least. We went for a morning stroll to get acquainted with the area we were staying in.
Our first stop was the grand palace and despite it being overpriced we had an amazing time there. The sun was ablaze as we walked up to the gates and we were about to experience our first Bangkok scam. We were ready for it. Somebody wearing an ID tag told us that we couldn't enter the palace because Natalie wasn't wearing appropriate clothing. She was wearing shorts and you're not allowed to expose your knees inside. He said not to worry and that we could come back at 1pm and it would be fine. "Huh." I thought. Before we know it the ID tag man had walked away and another man (a tuk-tuk driver, tuk-tuks are little buggies that parade the city streets weaving in and out of traffic and beeping their horns) took over and started telling us about other sites that he could take us too whilst we couldn't enter the palace. I called bullshit on the whole affair and we entered the palace anyway. Low and behold they had clothes inside that you could rent for free. So, Natalie put a sarong on and we entered the palace. We read signs scattered around the entrance that said not to trust anyone you meet outside the palace. It's disappointing that a tourist industry can do that to a country, turn people into dis-honest money grabbers. It's inevitable in the poorer parts of the world I suppose.
The Grand Palace was beautiful and we spent a good hour walking around looking at all of the temples and shrines and golden pagodas. Once we had had it with the palace we moved onto Wat Pho (the most famous temple in Bangkok). Wat is Thai for temple so all temples begin with Wat. Wat this and Wat that. This particular temple is famous for its giant golden Buddha which was truly breathtaking. Photo's were taken but it was starting to get unbearably hot so we bought a drink and sat down to watch the city go by for a while.
There is a huge tourist industry here, bigger than I expected it to be. You can't go anywhere without seeing backpackers, families or people with expensive cameras around their necks. Well, unless you go to Siriraj medical museum. We jumped in a taxi and headed over to a museum that Natalie had read about and wanted to see. I was dragged along for the ride. The museum is situated in a working hospital and we spent a while walking around trying to find it. It was interesting in a mentally disturbing, disgusting kind of way, and there's no real need to go into detail so lets just say that they had things on display in that museum that they could never have on display in the UK. We'll leave it at that.
On our first night we went and had Pad Thai on the infamous Khao San Road, a backpacker paradise, glorified in Alex Garlands novel and Danny Boyle's movie adaptation 'The Beach'. It does what it says on the tin. It's a cesspit of debauchery and overly expensive food marketed to the tourist who doesn't know any better. It's everything a back packer wants to avoid all on one road. It was worth seeing for the experience but we haven't walked back down that road since. I guess at the time Garland wrote 'The Beach' in the late 80's / early 90s, Khao San was still a hip place to be, a place where backpackers could commune and share stories over pints of Chang. It gave them a place in the city that was their own, but not anymore, now its just a commercial train wreck.
We enjoyed the pad Thai and settled in for the night. The next day we headed over to the modern side of Bangkok. Bangkok is divided in two there is the old city on one side, this is where all the historical buildings are and most of the tourist industry, then there is the business side, where the high rise buildings and shopping malls live. We started out by heading to the train station to book tickets for our Saturday trip to the South. Then we went to Lumphini park and spent some time watching all of the monitor lizards running around. In the UK we have squirrels in our parks, here they have giant lizards. I've seen an array of wildlife since being here, beautiful tropical birds, giant poisonous millipedes, elephants, loads of street cats and stray dogs, cockroaches the size of my hand, beautiful butterflies. We're definitely in the tropics.
After the park we headed over to Siam Square, we had lunch in the Paragon (a huge shopping center) and then we walked around the streets checking out upper class Bangkok, a stark contrast to the old city, you could be in any metropolis here if you didn't know any better. It's very modern and very exciting. We must have spent the whole afternoon around Siam before catching a bus back to our hostel. Up until that point we had been getting taxis everywhere, but we decided we should give the public transport a shot, well the ticket was cheap only about 15p to get from one side of town to the other but because of Bangkok traffic (oh my god don't even get me started) the journey took just short of two hours. We did meet a lovely family on board though but they got so fed up with being stuck in traffic they got out in the middle of the daily storm and walked. I say daily storm because that's all we've had so far, most of the day has been cloudy and hot, or sunny and hot and then at around 5pm the heavens will open for an hour or two and then it will go back to clear skies again, something I can live with, the evening showers have actually been rather refreshing.
I tried my first Thai curry that night which was delicious, and we had some fruit on a street a few blocks away from Khao San. On our third day we booked a mini-bus out of central Bangkok to go and check out the ancient city Ayutthaya (the capital of Thailand until the late 1700's). Ayutthaya is basically an island with a load of ruins upon it. It was a very interesting place to spend the day. It felt more quintessentially Thai than central Bangkok, elephants walking around, and huge plants lining the sidewalks. The ruins were spectacular and there were still loads left. Inside one of the temples there was a small group of bats which stunk the place out. We spent all day here really walking around the various ruins and seeing the Buddha head which had been submerged in a tree. We got a three o' clock bus back to Bangkok and low and behold it started raining again, right on cue. No matter, we headed out for dinner and had rice and pad Thai and then came back to the hostel and chased a cockroach around the room.
That's been Bangkok so far. I've enjoyed it here immensely and I think it's a great start to the trip and a good introduction to Thailand. I think we stayed for just the right amount of time. Cities can get a little overwhelming. We're taking the train south tonight and we're hoping for good weather down on the Thai beaches. I'll miss our kooky little hostel, we've been sleeping in a small shed, with great air conditioning, beautiful paintings and very friendly staff, we hope our next hostel will be just as good and just as friendly. I have so much more to write about but I won't keep you any longer. I'll blog again soon.
The trip is going so fast, already!