8 Days in Bangkok
26.01.2010 - 03.02.2010 95 °F
Another long day of travel began in Ko Tao were we waited all morning at the AC2 restaurant for the time to head to the pier to catch the ferry. The ferry was much more pleasant than the night ferry. Calm sea, and almost empty boat to spread out in, and a much shorter ride to the main land at three hours. We arrived in the fishing village of Chumpun at about 6:00 in the afternoon and had to wait at the pier for about 45 minutes for the bus to the train station. We had a good wait until our 11:30 train came so we sat down on a bench and played cribbage. While playing we took in the scene at the station. A large group of people prepared food and when a train was arriving they loaded up a bunch of trays with soups and baskets full drinks or snacks and hop on the train. It looked like quite a few rode the rail out one station and then came back on the next train. As we played the call of these hawkers and the cry of the passing trains set the score to what would be a long wait as the 11:30 train did not show up until 1:40. The rhythm of the rails put me almost instantly into a hypnotic sleep were the passing stations were all but a far off dream. Meghan woke me up at about 8:00 to a bright morning and bright green rice paddies in the passing countryside. The bunks folded up smartly to two comfortable chairs facing each other with plenty of room to stretch out. As we approached Bangkok the rice patties gave way to increasingly dilapidated and polluted trackside hovels. The filth that we saw people living in was more shocking here than anywhere we had been yet. Polluted canals lined the tracks and people had built up shacks on stilts. Having the means to afford a 1 year trip however meager it might be must be unimaginable to these people and I was confronted by feelings of guilt in the presents of such poverty.
Not our Train
Meghan enjoys the morning on the train
We pulled into the countries largest train station. and easily made our way on foot through the busy streets of Bangkok to the River View Guest House. The walk was interesting and a look into Bangkok’s crazy roads. We had to make our way through a maze of narrow alleyways too small for a car but still supporting thriving commerce, each one more narrow than the next and haphazardly strewn together. Just when we thought it was not possible to find our way we started seeing signs for the guest house and made our way in. The main entrance to the River View Guesthouse is on a lane about 4 feet wide deep in the heart of Bangkok. Not in the downtown area, not in the busy travel center that is Ko San Road, not in the shopping district, but in a village within the city. Something Bangkok is famous for. Here in a city of 9 million we are in a quiet nook were kids play in the street, dogs wander freely, there is a common coin operated washer and dryer in a courtyard, and everyone seems to come together.
Our first afternoon in Bangkok we decided to treat ourselves to a bit of an escape from the world tour, the heat, and the blustering madness of Bangkok. Something we had been wanting to do for quite some time. We went to see Avitar in Imax 3-D! First we needed to figure out how to get from point A to point B in the imitating cluster of Bangkok. We made our way back out the alleyways we came in on and out to a pier on the river Mae Nam Chao Phraya which serves as a major artery to all the maddens and an efficient mode of transportation. You need to be on your toes though! We let the first boat pass us by in a split second of indecision, no second chances for the ferry, we had to wait for the next one. We kind of laughed at ourselves and figured the locals probably loved leaving wide eyed farang on the pier. From the boat it was onto the sky train to the mega shopping mall district were we rose to the top floor and to the Imax. Movie going is a big deal in Asia and other than Imax there are many different classes of movie theatres from the basic theatre which is about the best of the best back home to full blown luxury were you are catered two hand and foot. Literally… they will give you socks if your feet get cold in the arctic AC. Avitar in IMAX 3-D was amazing and I felt completely immersed in it. When it was over I almost thought we were walking outside to the cold Colorado winter!
All bug eyed in the Imax Theater
The next day our mission was to get our visas for India. This took us out back were we saw the movie the night before and to the official visa service to the embassy of India. It was actually a really easy process and we were in and out within ½ hour. We had got up early expecting to have a long wait and a horde of people and it was quiet, quick, and easy. Unfortunately this was only the application and we would have to wait in Bangkok a week for the actually visa to come back from the embassy. From here it was on to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Consecrated in 1782, the first year of Bangkok rule, this large complex of ornate buildings crates an almost fantasy world of gilded temples and spires. The center piece of the whole compound is the Emerald Buddha. This is just a small jade Buddha, but it has a rich history and is set atop a massive golden alter.
We were really tired after this but still decided to walk a busy market lane that cuts through almost the entire length of china town en route to the River View Hotel. Before we even got their we came across a huge fresh flower market and strolled amongst more cut flowers than I have ever seen in one place. It was fantastic. From here we picked up Sampeng Lane. This was a long narrow ally way that was overstuffed with shops spilling out into stalls and vendors. Add a ton of people and the odd scooter or handcart trying to push threw it all and their you have it! As with almost everything for sale on the street in Bangkok it was rife with pirated, imitated, and counterfeit goods for pennies on the authentic price. It was fun to see and turned out to be a real entertaining walk and we returned to the guesthouse completely spent.
Pushing Corn on Sampeng Lane
It is now Saturday in Bangkok and time for Weekend Market Madness! We got up early and headed out to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This is one of the worlds largest open air markets and truly did impress. Somehow we wound up spending 7 hours here browsing the endless shops and stalls picking up new clothing for ourselves along the way. It was incredible how large it was and that it only operated on the weekends.
The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent relaxing and taking in a few more sights. Wat Pho which was home to the enormous reclining Buddha and a more less ornate temple compound than Wat Phra Kaew. We saw a few less tourists here and more monks and school children running around. We took in a bizarre Museum of Forensic science with stomach churning displays, visited the American entrepreneur Jim Thompson’s house, and visited the backpackers Mecca of Khao San Road.
We also made the big decision to leave Thailand for India without going to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. We did this mostly for the weather. We figured waiting to go to India would be a mistake and the heat and rain would push us out before we wanted to leave. We may come back after we volunteer in Nepal during April if we feel the need to. So, after collecting our visas from the embassy and 8 days in Bangkok we are going to head out for a quick tour of Northern Thailand before returning to Bangkok to fly out to Calcutta on the 14th. India here we come!!!
More Bangkok Images
Great your Street Meat
China Town Fish Heads
Scrutinizing Amulets in China Town
Monks waiting for a boat
River View Guesthouse, View from River
Live on the Canal just minutes from Downtown Bangkok
American Entrepreneurs Jim Thompson’s House
Thai Flags over flower laden tuk tuk