A train official in a smart uniform came and made up our beds, pulling out bunks, tucking in sheets and clipping on curtains. Hey it was only 9pm but we were excited to be on our overnight train to Bangkok and seeing ‘The Big Mango’, so we got into the spirit and our comfortable births for the night. The only hazard of the overnight train is the danger of rolling out of the top bunk with the bumpy journey, but we survived, arriving to early morning Bangkok before 7am. To our surprise, only a few days after the military coup, there were no soliders to be seen at the train station so after a strong coffee we made our way to our accommodation in Silom.
Now you’ve probably heard about the mayhem of Bangkok, traffic jams and the crippling humidity. Well its all true, even though things were no doubt quieter with the curfew in place. Street vendors fill the streets calling out there wears, everyone crowds onto the ferries with no room to move and mopeds wizz through stationary traffic so close you can bearly look! Noise, movement and energy everywhere. And yes lots of sweat! It would be hard to fit all we did into one post, so we’ll give you some edited highlights and maybe a few things to watch out for which we encountered.
So the best bits…(we did anyway)
1. Wat Pho – right beside the Royal Palace this is one of the most famous temples in Thailand and also birth place of Thai Massage. Using the guide book recommended southern entrance, we managed to bypass the bulk of the tourists and made our way to the elaborate but beautiful display of thai-buddist temples accompanied by dioramas of hermits showing the origins of massage and the biggest reclining Buddha in SE asia (its very shiny). We happened to stumble across the daily alms giving to the monks, were we watched locals bring food in return for blessing… we later found out that this was the monks only meal of the day, which explained the ravenous looks in their eyes. After a stressful morning of temples we finished our wat-pho visit with a 30 minute massage. We felt distinctly bruised after the experience… but almost sure we were better for it.. maybe…
2. Seeing (free) traditional dancing at the Erwan shine – This surreal but brilliant scene epitomises Bangkok; an elaborate golden shine, clouded in incense and surrounded by serene elephant statues set in the middle of Bangkok’s busiest intersection, with cars and mopeds at ground level and the sky train clattering from above. People come on their lunch breaks to make offerings including, paying for traditional dancers dressed in full costume to dance and sing, which tourists can watch for free. There is noise, incense and flowers everywhere, right in the heart of a concrete city, but all centred on buddism. So Bangkok!
3. Great street food – This wouldn’t be a blog post if we didn’t talk about the food right… and as usual, we sought out some of the best places for it in the city. The list of dishes we tried is long but included some delicious pork/chicken rice, filled pancakes, roasted spiced sweetcorn and an ice cram sandwich… literally. A bread roll filled with ice-cream, jellies and peanuts – sounds strange, tasted fantastic.
One of our favourite spots was Yarowat road in Chinatown at night. With our lovely new friend Stacey we wandered the busy street looking for the busiest stalls that our noses lead us to, finally settling on some wanton noodles followed by a mouthwatering plate of mango with sticky rice. This is the road you imagine to find in Bangkok with lights everywhere, roadside vendors filling up the streets and tuktuks dashing past. little tip… head to the stalls without menus, you just know they’ll be better and cheaper too!
4. An evening on Khao San Road– the backpacker travel hub of the entire country if not continent is centred on one road, apparently with everything you could possibly need. Tattoo palours, massage spas, baggy hippie trousers and anklets galore. We felt we had to experience this mecca at night for ourselves and we weren’t disappointed. Within seconds we were offered pingpong shows, scorpions on sticks (to eat) and illegal copies of any ID you could imagine. We settled down for a drink at one of the many bars with live music and watched the world go by. There are probably few better spots to people watch, but I think one night was enough for us!
5. Eating the best phad thai in Thailand…well so they claim – When you google “best pad thai in Thailand” there is one restaurant that keeps popping up, thip samai, and we weren’t disappointed. A plate of perfectly friend saucy noodles with an occasional juicy prawn all wrapped up in a beautifully delicate omlet, tasted amazing and we got a free sticker to commemorate the meal.. wooo.
6. The JJ weekend market (held on sat and sun 9am-6pm) – it is huge. Thats the most remarkable thing about this market, with more than 8,000 stalls I think you could buy almost anything, from puppies to porcelain. We just stuck to some 50 baht sunglasses though.
7. Muay Thai or Thai boxing- Usually an expensive outing for tourists in Bangkok we found ourselves at a free show outside the MBK shopping centre (every wed at 6pm). I think you could say its closest to kick boxing but apparently with fewer rules and more potential for bloody eyes. It was hard to watch but harder to look away. This is a truely loved sport in Thailand though as you could tell from how excited and involved the crowd became.
A few things to watch out for…
Our first full day in ‘The Venice of the East’ and like all good westerns traveling to Bangkok we had not one, not two but four attempted scams played on us! Luckily we didn’t fall for them but it would be easy to. A kindly, well spoken Thai comes up to help you out and practise their english, they know where you should go and did you also know its a special day in Thailand where you’ll get free things and discounted entry to lots of attractions. They all ended with them wanting to take you in a tuktuk somewhere for a super cheap price to see all the attractions. We were a little too sceptical. When we got back to our hostel and googled it, it was called ‘the lucky buddha’ scam. They would have in fact taken you to shops and tour agencies along the way and that lucky buddha temple you should really visit doesn’t exist. So be careful around the Grand Palace and touristy areas…they had good back stories I can tell you!
Even with a couple of scam artists we had a blast in Bangkok, the food, atmosphere and intensity were really addictive. But it was time to move on this time to the river Kwai…