I was told so many times I wouldn’t like Bangkok. It was dirty, seedy and far too hot. I also had my own prejudices but I wanted so badly to like this city. I decided to keep the negatives to one side.
It started off interestingly. The taxi from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport sped through the city, unfurling huge concrete junctions spiralling above us alongside the dazzling tower blocks and enormous billboards.
I was oddly charmed.
Then we pulled into a side street and our taxi driver announced “Sukhumvit 33, aaah! This road is your hotel!”
My eyes narrowed. The dark street was lit by the signs above dubious massage parlours. Girls in tight dresses and heels tapped on their phone and chatted animatedly. After days of meticulously scouring the internet for a hotel away from the sex tourism of Bangkok, I had seemingly found the one street in the whole area buzzing with trade. I took a deep breath, left the taxi and entered the hotel.The hotel was a welcome respite after twenty one hours of sleeping and eating in airports and a further twelve on planes. Three large and dusty cities clung to my skin and I was glad to get out of my jeans and polo and into a shower. Which is when I noticed our hotel has a Tokyo Sukkuri Toilet. In other words, with a twist of a dial the toilet will gladly wash your ass and genitals. Biggest “thanks… i think?” moment so far. Do be gentle with these things by the way, one rough twist of the dial meant water sprayed all the way to the bathroom mirror. Not fun.
After refreshing ourselves, we headed out for the night into the city. Our hotel was in Phrom Phong, not too far from the EmQuartier shopping centre. It was closed at the time, but the Christmas lights still sparkled and made the place seem magical. We strolled around and found a small bar with Thai food and fun music. As we flicked through the menu we were joined by two middle aged British guys who cheerfully greeted us and began to chat about their life and our plans. Both lived in Bangkok and seemed friendly until their quips about me “spending the entire time with my legs in the air” and better yet, “oh I’d never go back home. I’m not a racist, but all the Lithuanians going over there – it looks nothing like my country any more.”
… a Western man, sitting in a bar in an Asian country that he moved to, bemoaning European economic migrants. Makes sense.
Our tiredness and boredom of these guys led us to an early night. I struggled to sleep, but we forced ourselves out of bed early the next day for a busy day of temple touring and exploring.
The first stop were the riverside wats: Wat Arun, Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. All three are well trodden on the tourist trail, but well worth the visit because the pictures don’t do them justice.
To get there, we took the Skytrain which was efficient and generally fast – but being used to the London Underground I did get a bit impatient. We disembarked at Safan Taksin to get the river boat to Wat Arun – all in all around 300 bht for two.
Wat Arun is a large complex of temples, ornate and spectacular. There are many places to enter, pray and contemplate, as well as places to buy snacks and coffees. It is a very calm place. Be warned – the steps around the wat are very steep. You don’t want to be claiming on your insurance on the first day.
From where we crossed, we had to weave through a market which I suspect was Tha Tien market. There are many things on offer like spices and dried fish, resulting in a very stimulating sensory experience!
There is also a complex of temples around this wat and a lot of free water to stay hydrated in the claustrophobic city heat!
By this time we were beginning to get hungry, but the journey between Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew was very short on places to eat. Because of the King’s recent passing, the streets were packed with mourners in black, ready to pay their respects to the King at the Grand Palace. It is a 10 minute walk, but there are lots of diversions at the moment and our hunger made it that much harder.
Thank God, then, for the Thais beckoning us to a busy stall to eat. Our scam sensors were high, and we were ready to refuse until the lady shouted “Free!”
Our attention was piqued and a box of chicken noodles placed into our hands with a carton and bottle of water. Ravenous, after eating only prawns and a small portion of aeroplane rice the day before, we shovelled the lightly spiced noodles down our throat and walked to the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace has an entrance fee of 500bht, roughly £11.50. This seemed pretty steep to our mind and we were getting a bit tired in our jetlagged haze so we skipped it in favour of resting in a nearby park.
So off we went to discover more of this city. We ended up walking around local areas with no tourists until we ended up at the golden mount – by far my favourite sight.
We descended the spiral stairs and walked some more through streets free of any other tourists. The carpenters stared in wonderment, breaking into smiles eventually, and the street hawkers who had only Thais queuing round the block.
The unusual market is five minutes from Wat Kamalawat. This temple is the most Chinese temple in Bangkok and hosts a monastic school for young monks. We had finally found Chinatown.
Chinatown is busy, fast and full of market stalls selling Chinese food and goods. I loved the bright vibrant atmosphere, even though night was falling and the stalls were beginning to shut.
We ventured onwards towards Hua Lamphong station, where we took the Metro to Sukhumvit station, and headed back home via a small Japanese restaurant, where we ate delicious char siu pork and teriyaki chicken.
Tired, with sore feet, we washed the city dust off our skin and slept.