Kicking off our South East Asian adventure with three nights in Thailand’s capital!
Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 December 2017
Waving goodbye to my parents at Edinburgh Airport, we had a 20 hour journey to Bangkok ahead of us. Landing first in Manchester, we managed to leave the airport instead of transferring so had to go through security again. Our two long haul flights – Manchester to Abu Dhabi then Abu Dhabi to Bangkok – were with Etihad. As far as sitting in an economy airline seat for about 14 hours goes, the flights were pretty good. My mind was blown that Etihad let you use your phone as normal after take-off so I was able to text from the air! Seriously, how can airlines lose planes when this is possible?!
We landed in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport which is massive. After a long wait for passport checks, we were waved through and were happy to find that both our cases had also made it to Bangkok. We headed for the taxi rank and after another long wait, were in a taxi, slowly heading for our hotel through the busy traffic. The taxi journey took about an hour and cost 350 Baht plus 75 Baht for the road toll (less than £10).
We got to our hotel at 8.30pm, about 22 hours after we left Edinburgh. The hotel is pretty basic but nice and clean. It’s on a quiet street of a busy area so plenty of Family Marts etc around for supplies.
We left our cases in the room and ventured out to find food. Just around the corner we found a Japanese ramen restaurant, Yamagoya Ramen. Both big fans of ramen since our trip to Japan, we stopped there for a quick dinner. A bowl of ramen cost about 200 Baht.
On the way back to the hotel we popped into Family Mart. I love a foreign convenience store and enjoyed looking at all the weird and wonderful products on offer, from skin whitening lotions to black jelly mushroom beverage (ew).
Back at the hotel I looked on TripAdvisor to make a plan for the next day and booked us a bike and boat tour of the city with Co van Kessel. It didn’t start until 1pm, giving us plenty of time to catch up with sleep.
I managed to sleep from about 11.30pm, right through until morning (screw you, jet lag!) but David was awake for a few hours so I cancelled the alarm for breakfast and we got up about 11am. Running late (and because they were so cheap), we decided to get a taxi to the tour meeting point and walked to the main road to find one. A tuk tuk pulled up and asked if we wanted a lift. It was much more expensive that the taxi, at 300 THB for a 10 minute drive, however we figured we needed to do a tuk tuk ride at some point in Bangkok! On the way, the driver tried to convince us to go to an ‘international fashion’ shop for David to buy a suit but we insisted that we didn’t have time and he gave up. As we passed by the store there were a few tuk tuks parked outside so they must get commission from bringing customers.
We checked in for our tour and popped to the Subway next door to grab a sandwich before it started. No strange Thai adaptions, it was exactly like the Subway back home with the addition of painfully slow staff!
Just before 1pm we were called to start the tour, along with six other people (from Germany, Holland, Sweden and Porto Rico). Our tour guides introduced themselves as Sandra and…Superman! Sandra would be leading the way while Superman stayed back to make sure no one got lost (hero that he is).
Our tour covered a lot of places we never would have found on our own and mainly stayed off road. We weaved along tight alleys, through shopping streets and along river banks, all the while narrowly missing locals. The tour company is big and there were a lot of tours on the go so I’m sure they’re used rolling their eyes as tourists on big yellow bikes wobble by.
We cycled by streets with people working on old engines and through the markets of Chinatown. We visited the biggest flower market in Bangkok, leaving our bikes outside to have a look around. Sandra picked some fried bananas and fried sweet potato from one of the stalls for us all to try. She showed us the many offerings that were made for people to buy and offer to the Gods, for example a packet of miniature pineapple, banana and sugar cane.
After the flower market, our bikes were loaded on to a ferry and we crossed the Chao Phraya River. At the other side, we visited the Wat Kalayanamit Temple. Superman provided a few of us with scarfs so that we could cover our legs and Sandra handed out flower offerings that she had bought from the flower market that we could present to the giant golden Buddah. We had a quick wander around the temple, each giving our flowers to the Buddah and having a shot at ringing the giant bell for good luck.
We cycled back to the river and got on a long boat, along with our bikes. The boat whizzed along small canals, going by lots of houses on stilts and slowing down to show us some giant lizards lazing by the river. After half an hour, we got off the boat at a different place and followed Sandra as we cycled along narrow pathways with water on each side. We had a quick stop for a drink and were given bread to feed the huge fish in the water.
More narrow pathways, we cycled by loads of stray dogs (and some dressed up – the likes of a Pug in a leopard print jumper) and ended up in an area of banana plantations (though no bananas spotted) for lunch. Lunch had been arranged at a small restaurant and was a Thai curry (chicken or tofu), soup with egg tofu, rice and vegetables. After we were given fruit platters of watermelon, cantaloupe and mango with a salt and sugar dip.
I asked Sandra if they ate here a lot on tours but she said that they have a lot of restaurants that they use. It’s good that the tour company are helping various restaurants and sellers across the city and off the usual tourist track.
After lunch, we cycled back along the narrow pathways by the canals and got on another long boat. This driver absolutely flew along and we could feel every wave in the water as the old wooden boat bounced off the water. We got off the boat back on the east side of the river and cycled back to Co van Kessel’s shop.
I would have liked more information from our guides about the city and places we visited, but the tour was a great way to see lots of places in Bangkok that are off the usual tourist route.
Taxi to the hotel
We weren’t far from the hotel but hadn’t worked out any sense of direction so decided to jump in a taxi back. Just along the road from the bike tour shop, a taxi driver asked if we wanted a taxi and we showed him our hotel’s address. He wandered off and discussed with a few other drivers sitting around and eventually a younger driver said to us he would take us for THB 200. We agreed and took the 10 minute journey with him but later decided it was a total scam as it would probably have been a quarter of the price on the meter and we should have insisted he used the meter. Working out about £4.50, it was similar to what we would have paid for Edinburgh’s expensive taxis so we definitely got ripped off. You live and learn and we’ll insist on the meter next time.
Bangkok by night
After chilling at the hotel for a while, we went out in search of food at about 9.30pm. Walking past the ramen place from the night before, we spotted a bright side street which looked hopeful and heading along it. We had definitely wandered into the dodgy side of Bangkok! All along the street were groups of girls sitting outside clubs. We turned down another street to find lots of bars and clubs. Lured in by the promise of over 100 types of beer and vegetarian food options, we decided on a German/Thai combo for dinner. Sitting outside on the terrace I felt like we were having dinner on the main strip in Magaluf – pretty classy! Food was pretty good but I doubt it was the best example of Thai food on offer.
We used our second (and last) day in Bangkok to visit the usual tourist attractions. First up, Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, which is on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and instantly recognisable as ‘Bangkok’. We got a taxi from our hotel (by the meter!) as it would have taken a long time by public transport.
Wat Arun is made up of an ordination hall, a few smaller temples with Buddha statues, one large prang (spire) 70 meters tall and smaller prangs around it. I covered my legs with a large scarf I’d brought with me, we took off our shoes and went inside the ordination hall. At the top there was a big Buddha statue and there was a monk, dressed in bright orange robes, sitting to the side. The monk threw some water on you and tied a string bracelet around your wrist for THB 20. There was an old lady who had brought an offering of a basket of cleaning and laundry supplies who got an extra blessing. There was another big basket sitting to his side with toothpaste and mouthwash. I wonder what they do with all the gifts received.
We wandered over to the prangs. There’s steps up the sides and it looked like you could walk up to the top but the steps were blocked off after the first level. The main temple area if free to enter and then it is THB 100 per person to enter the prang area. I had my legs covered with the scarf but was stopped going in by a lady who hired me another scarf for cover my shoulders (THB 20 + THB 100 deposit). Between my pink floral top, gold floral scarf covering my legs and leopard print scarf covering my shoulders, I was looking pretty colourful!
The prangs were beautiful and different to Buddhist temples that I had visited in other countries. We spent about half an hour having a look around. A man started chatting to me and said that the prangs had recently reopened after being closed for refurbishment. He was from Italy so I told him David and I had got married in Amalfi the year before. Turns out he is from Amalfi – small world!
Next stop was the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which is across the river from Wat Arun. We grabbed an ice lolly and waited for the ferry which cost THB 10 to cross the river.
At the other side of the Chao Phraya River, we followed the crowds to the entrance of Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), which is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. There was a queue to buy tickets for THB 100 each and then another queue to get into the building with the reclining Buddha. After a 10 minute wait, we put our shoes in plastic bags provided and I covered my shoulders with a coat I was handed (fetching lime green this time). We shuffled with the crowds into the building to see the enormous golden Buddah, lying on his side. Much busier than the Wat Arun temple, we shuffled along slowly, down to his huge toes and behind him, back to the entrance.
We had a look around the rest of the area, walking through the courtyards of sitting Buddhas and going into another ordination hall with a big golden Buddah sitting at the top with lots of people kneeling on the carpet in front.
After the reclining Buddah, we planned to visit Grand Palace, official residence to the King of Thailand. The former King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, died in 2016 and was succeeded by his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn after 50 days of mourning. All over Bangkok, there are large portraits of both Kings.
After a quick detour through Saranrom Park (slightly lost) we found security which took us onto the street of the Grand Palace. Shut off to the majority of traffic, it is a long street with the Palace on one side (behind a wall) and the Ministry of Defence on the other side. Beside the road was a big portrait of the new King (no one beside it) and of the old King (groups of people getting their photos taken in front of it). I think the old King was much more popular, but there’s a hefty prison sentence for anyone speaking ill of the royals.
We walked around the wall until we found the entrance. At 3pm, there was only another 30 minute’s for people to enter (it closes at 4pm) and it was super busy. We walked up to the entrance and were told no so I covered my legs with my scarf and tried again. Still no – David wasn’t allowed in wearing shorts. From across the wall we could see that it looked similar to the other temples we’d seen that day. There was a shop across the road selling trousers (no doubt making a fortune from all the short-wearing tourists) but we decided that we were all templed out anyway and moved on.
Our final stop for the day was to find a mall and get food and we had decided on Siam Paragon. We’d planned to jump in a taxi but the traffic was grid lock around the Grand Palace so we walked down to the river and caught the ferry along to Central Pier which was rammed and took about 30 minutes. From the pier, we got the sky rain five stops to Siam and the mall was one of the exits there.
We had a walk around the many many food options on the ground floor, from McDs to IHOP, in the search for sushi. We didn’t spot anywhere so asked the information desk for a directory of food places. The directory was a thick brochure and there must be over 100 places to eat in the malls. There was a few sushi options on the 4th floor so we got the escalator up and decided on ‘The Sushi Shack’. There was a conveyor belt but not a lot of choice going around so we ordered a few things from the menu. I converted the price back to pounds and it worked out about the same cost as back home. The service was rubbish and the food was average so we paid the bill and left.
We decided to have a look in the gourmet hall we’d seen on the ground floor to get something to eat in the hotel later. Of course we found an amazing sushi counter with lots of cheap boxes to take away. We bought some to eat later and it was much better than the over priced sushi from the Sushi Shack.
Traffic was gridlock again when we left so we started to walk back in the direction of the hotel. It took about an hour and when it started to get a bit seedy, we knew we were nearly there!
Onwards to Krabi
Our flight left for Krabi at 6.40am this morning from Don Mueang Airport so we booked a taxi at 3.45am – at least the traffic was much better at that time!