We flew out of Tianjin early in the morning and first flew for 6 hours to Kuala Lumpur with Russ and Heather. The flight was horrible, with really bad turbulence in the middle of the flight which left me a wreck. We later found out that there was a typhoon over Taiwan at the time that we would have flown fairly close to, so that was probably why it was so bad. In any case, the Air Asia planes are comfortable and roomy. There’s entertainment but by this stage we were used to bringing our own.
In Kuala Lumpur we only had about a 2 hour stop, which was slightly rushed as they hadn’t let us check all the way through. We had to go through immigration, get our bags then check in again. Fortunately the whole process was very smooth and we had enough time to eat some McD’s before saying goodbye to Heather and Russ and heading off to get back through immigration and to our gate. The flight to Bangkok was only 2 hours and in a smaller plane which wasn’t quite as comfy but we had 3 seats between the 2 of us so it wasn’t too bad. We arrived in Bangkok just after 5 local time (gmt +7) and found a taxi to take us to our hotel.
We got a cheap deal on the Heritage on Silom Road from Hotelclub and it was really lovely. Everything was either white or black in our room (apart from the wooden floor) and black carpet in the hallway was a little strange, but it was very nice and in a great location too.
The weather was a lot nicer in Bangkok than in China. It was still really humid but at least the sky was blue and the sun shining.
The first morning we were sucked into doing a canal tour instead of going on the public ferry into the centre of town but it was quite nice to be driven through the canals in a private boat anyway. It took about 1.5 hours to get to the Wat Pho stop. A guy stopped us near one of the gates of the Grand Palace and said that it was closed this afternoon for a holiday, and then tried to sell us a tuktuk trip to some other temples. We ran away to get some lunch at a nice café nearby, and then realised it was two of the scams warned about in the book – firstly the palace wasn’t really closed, and second that cheap tuktuk rides usually end at expensive shops.
After lunch we went back to the palace and sure enough it was open and full of people, so we decided not to trust any more friendly locals. The Grand Palace itself is a huge complex with a many buildings, including the main wat with the “Emerald Buddha” (really made of jade). The buddha has a costume that is ceremonially changed by the King three times during the year. The complexes were beautiful and had lots of shiny buildings – we’re lucky that it was a sunny day.
The next block over contains Wat Pho, which is another large temple complex. The largest temple houses the huge reclining buddha, and there are many more temples as well as a working monastery and a massage centre there.
We got the ferry back to the hotel and then got ready to go out again – this time to Patpong night market, the infamous girly-bar area. The markets there are actually really great shopping – lots of knock-off shirts, jewellery and bags. We did a little bit of shopping and had nice dinner, and then went to a ping pong show. No, I don’t have any photos of that.
Next day we headed to Khao San Road, the famous backpacker hangout to see what it was like. The Bangkok traffic is so terrible that in most cases it is much better to take the skytrain monorail, but to get to Khao San Road we had to take a taxi, which took a long time. Khao San Road itself is lined with hotels, and covered in markets selling every kind of tourist tat and a lot of clothes. It was good to see but we are glad we’re not staying there – it just looked like any soulless touristy area.
Later that evening we paid 500B each for Thai ladies to beat us up for 90 mins – okay it was a Thai massage, with knees and elbows and everything! Shane enjoyed it but I felt a bit bruised.
We went to visit Jim Thompson’s house. He was an American army man who was posted to Bangkok and fell in love with Thai culture, and had a traditional Thai house built here to live in. The house is actually made up of several separate buildings connected by walkways and is all wooden – it’s very open and has lots of arty objects inside. Jim himself disappeared in the 60s in Malaysia so it’s now owned by a trust. They take you on a tour around the house and then you can look around on your own. It’s very well organised and both the buildings and garden are beautiful.
After the house we got the skytrain back to Siam Square and went to see both Transformers 2 and Harry Potter 6 at the IMAX cinema there. They were in English with Thai subtitles, thankfully, and the HP movie even had a section in 3D at the start which was awesome! Before each movie starts they play the national anthem and you have to stand up for it, which I thought was quite sweet.
Our last day in Bangkok was a Saturday, so we took our bags to the train station and left them with the travel agent people there, and headed off on the metro to the Chatuchak weekend market. The market is enormous, with whole huge sections dedicated to clothes and accessories, jewellery, pottery and handicrafts. We bought a couple of presents but spend most of the time wandering around lost. If we hadn’t had to carry everything home we could have spent a lot of money there.
Bangkok is a really nice city, once you get over the people everywhere trying to get your money or trying to sell you a suit. They are very polite people and absolutely adore their royal family – it was the Queen’s birthday while we were there and there were pictures of her and the King everywhere!
One thing we certainly did a lot of in Bangkok was eating! We found some great places along Silom Road including a little café in a side street that served cheap and delicious lunch. Shane had the most delicious garlic and pepper calamari and he’s been trying to find one as good ever since! The pad thai is also awesome as you can imagine – and we discovered that green curry really is hot hot hot!
A few days earlier, we had gone to the train station to try to organise train and ferry tickets to get us to Koh Phangan. We had mistakenly gone to a travel agent’s info desk rather than the real train station desk, so when we tried to book trains the lady there convinced us that the train was fully booked and we should take a VIP bus instead. Whether the train was fully booked or not we will never know, but the bus cost more than we should have paid and we later read that some people have had stuff stolen out of their luggage during the night. But it’s the only time we feel we’ve actually been scammed this whole trip so I guess that’s not too bad.
For a VIP bus which we paid a lot for it was really very uncomfortable – hardly any legroom at all. We left Bangkok station at about 7pm and stopped at about midnight at a food stall place, then drove on until about 3 when we stopped again. Turns out even though our tickets said Surat Thani, we were actually being dropped at Chumphon and had to wait until 7am for the ferry to leave. We just lay around on the ground out the front of the ferry terminal and waited. Backpacks aren’t the most comfortable things to try to sleep on. There was a nice sunrise though.