I have just boarded the train in Bangkok station…..destination Chiang Mai. A happy chappy has taken my order for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast. I’ve opted for sweet and sour chicken with rice tonight. And tomorrow morning; ham, egg and sausage sandwich with fruit.
So…..the last time I began to write I was hovering over the Arabian desert. This time I’m on land, on an overnight train having been in Bangkok for two nights.
Bangkok is a strange place. That’s my initial thoughts having just departed. Upon arrival, I made my way through the airport, which, like Dubai was quite big. I made my way to the taxi rank and jumped in a taxi to my hostel which was about a 30 minute ride away and cost 500 baht. Think this is about £10. The driver didn’t really know where the hostel was. Once in the vicinity, he sought advice from a local. Over the last few days I’ve learned that asking for directions in Bangkok is like asking someone what the meaning of life is. Everyone you ask will give you a different answer. Today I asked three tuk tuk drivers directions to something which turned out to be very close to where I was and all three pointed me in a different direction.
I eventually arrived at my hostel and checked in. The man behind the desk was happy that I’d arrived, so he could go to bed. It was about 1.45am. He had been waiting for me. He showed me to my room which was up two flights of wooden stairs. Before ascending up the stairs, I was asked to remove my shoes. Something I’d be doing quite a lot over the next 48 hours or so. Unlike in Dubai, where you do it to avoid wet shoes, here it is customary practice and a sign of respect to remove one’s shoes upon entering a place, particularly temples.
Having journeyed for nearly 8 hours, I was keen to shower and get my head down. The room was small, squared shape complete with a bed, stool and desk. Six metal hooks hung from the stain induced wall. The rooms were separated by thin walls with a net at the top, meaning next doors’ smokers’ fumes floated unchallenged around the place. My immediate thought was….. ‘It was a fiver a night, what do you expect.’ I would only be sleeping and showering here anyhow. Showered and shattered, I lay my head on the tough mattress and caught some shut eye.
The next morning, I entered the small side street on which my hostel was situated. Map in hand (100 baht), I tried to navigate my way to points of interest. The tuk tuk drivers could smell me a mile off. Many stopping and asking where I wanted to go. I was happy to walk for a bit to get my bearings. An older gentleman stopped me on the streets and asked where I was from and where I was heading. He took control of my map and with a pen, began circling things to see, before saying he would get me a tuk tuk and negotiate a good price for me. What a nice chap. He agreed a fee of 40 baht with the driver to take me around various temples. My naivety towards tuk tuk etiquette was about to be exploited. He did indeed drop me at a few points and waited whilst I went in, looked around barefooted and took some pictures. He then turned to me and asked if we could stop at a suit shop. If he takes me there, he will get a coupon for his fuel, he tells me. I said I wasn’t interested in buying a suit and he said this wasn’t a problem, but it would help him out if we stopped off. So I agreed.
Upon entering the shop, I was greeted by a man who’s English was perfect. He asked if I wanted a suit. I said I was just looking. Him and his friend both began a tirade of insults about the English being ‘cheap skates’ because of their insistence on buying suits from Tesco. I laughed this off. He persisted. His friend questioned his colleagues’ tenacity, asking ‘Why you bother with this English cheap skate?’ It’s the kind of thing I’ve encountered many times in Turkey, but the assistants in Turkey usually smile, wish you a nice day and shake your hand…..even when you don’t buy anything. I thought the same may happen here, but the facial expressions of both suggested otherwise. They weren’t happy I wasn’t buying. The first man kept on with the Tesco line of questioning. I wanted to inform him that I’d never bought a suit from Tesco in my life, but one time did buy one ‘off the hanger’ from Matalan, the same day I was attending the John Smith’s Grand National. That’s what happens when you leave your suit buying to the day you need it. As a quick side, that suit served me well and was OK given the money I spent. Here in Bangkok though I tried to put my case forward that I was travelling for a while and didn’t require a suit. When the persistence continued I said my backpack was too small. He had heard all this before and said he would send it to England and tailor it all for £150. On another day I might have been tempted, but not today pal. No suit bought I ventured forth.
The driver dropped me at the next stop and once I’d been in and seen that temple (in the words of one of my mates ‘Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’) I came out to realise the tuk tuk driver had gone. I wandered around the street for a bit, not wanting to disappear because I hadn’t paid him the 40 baht agreed yet. I feared he may have just went to the shop and if I began walking away he would come back, would shout one of the onlooking policemen over and have me arrested. I imagined becoming the subject of a Channel 5-esque ‘Banged Up Abroad’ documentary. The Birkenhead lad, jailed for 27 years for absconding from a 40 baht tuk tuk fare. Thankfully a man selling ice cream and drinks called me over and said the driver had left because I’d not bought anything from the shop he’d stopped off at. Fair enough. I was 40 baht better off…..and had gained some insight into the tuk tuk world. Negotiating prices with these boys is bizarre. They stop and ask where you’re going, you tell them and they say 200 baht no matter where you’re going. When you say no, 100 baht is magically dropped off the price. You continue to haggle and they say no and disappear.
Having seen a lot of temples, I decided to head for the zoo. Writing this, I remember my temporary guilt and shame at having gone to the underworld zoo in Dubai. I was unable to recollect this guilt and shame with enough force to deter me in Bangkok and headed for the Khao Din (Dusit Zoo). It was quite impressive. They had many animals; white lions, giraffes, elephants, seals, penguins, birds, wombats and many more. I wandered round for a few hours and got some good pictures. I’d resorted to that level of zoo-goer I’d snarled at in Dubai. What have I become? You can check the pictures out if we’re friends on Facebook. There’s a select few on Instagram and Twitter also. Look at is little thing. Seems disappointed in my change of attitude to taking a picture. However, upon closer inspection, it appears to be inspecting its nether regions.
The zoo was done and I headed to the food court for a quick bite to eat before making my way past Anantasamakhom Throne Hall. This was a grand building, belonging, I think to King Rama (maybe the VI) who’d initially built the zoo for royals and their guests, but then later opened it up for the public to enjoy. Thoughtful Kingy. Readers; I hope your thirst for knowledge is being quenched here. Making my way down past the King Chula Longkrow Statue (Google it, I’m not making it up) I came to the end of a road which reminded me of the one which leads up to Buckingham Palace. Is that called Pall Mall? My knowledge of English sights is not as good as that which I’ve picked up in the past 5 days or so internationally.
Here I continued walking to my hostel. It was a good walk and enabled me to take in more of Bangkok’s streets. One thing you notice about the streets of Bangkok is the smells. Some pleasant, others not so. It’s not unusual to be greeted by the aroma of cooking (not always pleasant itself), drains, piss and petrol in the space of 30 seconds. Believe me this is possible.
I showered and had a quick power nap, before heading out to Bangkok’s famous Koh San Road, which was about 10 minutes away on foot from my hostel. In a video I posted on Facebook, I described this as being like Conway Street on a bank holiday Sunday. Those from the region I’m from will understand. Those who hail from further afield, I can only recommend you visiting. It was chaos. A drinking me would have lapped this up, but being sober, it becomes monotonous. There’s people dancing in the street, people being propped up due to their overindulgences and people trying to sell you everything from sex to fridge magnets. I imagine Magaluf to be like this.
Both sides of the narrow road offer dozens of bars, shops, stalls and alleyways. There was some decent little venues with singers in, which appealed and I got a foot massage, having already had a Thai massage earlier in the day. Spoiling myself I was. I happened upon a music stall, selling counterfeit CDs and purchased 12. Having seen enough of this notorious spot, I headed down an alleyway in search of a place called ‘Jazz Happens,’ one of Bangkok’s smaller jazz venues. To my dismay I was informed by a local that it had shut for the evening. Disappointed I headed back to the hostel. The backstreets provided a challenge in finding my hostel. I eventually stumbled upon it having walked up and down Soi Samsen 4, where it’s situated and its adjourning streets.
This morning, I awoke and had a plan to see Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), which is Bangkok’s biggest temple, as well as a question one might pose to Aaron if they misheard him. It is supposed to be an amazing site, particularly after the sun sets. The other place I was keen to see was Wat Phrakaew (make your own name pun up if you must, a never ending game in Thailand as Wat means temple), home to another of Bangkok’s famous sights; Reclining Buddha. Basically a massive statue of Buddha chilling on his side, like one would back home, on the couch, at 5.30pm watching ‘The Chase.’
Filling up with an English breakfast, map in hand, I hailed a cab which took me first to Reclining Buddha. The driver turned to me as we got closer, tapped my leg and said I needed long trousers on. My cultural ignorance still at large. Fortunately, there was a stall outside selling trousers. I bought a pair (below) for 250 baht.
I thought I’d be stopped at the door in my shorts but I was allowed in. There were signs displaying information about how to respect Buddha, which included; wearing longer sleeves and trousers, not buying anything with Buddha’s head on and not placing Buddha below the waist. The shorts/shirts rule isn’t really enforced. I had gone half way through the tour unchallenged. But having bought the trousers, seen the signs and feared people judging me, I went to change into my newly bought keks. Whilst changing, I thought of the routine the comedian Stewart Lee performs, when talking about the show he worked on called ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera.’ Stew says that he faced a backlash from over 60,000 Christians for his part in the production, with the BBC pulling the plug on the screening scheduled for fear of reprisals. Stew goes on to say, that even though he’s an atheist, the idea of offending a super being is quite intimidating. I didn’t want to tempt fate by keeping my legs on show in front of Buddha.
As you can see, the pants are those very loose fitting ones…..purple with elephants and flowers and stuff on. They’re cooling and allow a welcome breeze to the lower half of the body. I have them on still.
Whilst talking about fashion (were we?); another purchase I made last night was a small man bag. It’s one of those that go over the shoulder and across the chest. I can’t decide if it’s a touch of genius or a massive fashion faux pas. It enables me to carry my wallet and phone with me, without being weighed down by having these items in my pockets. The practicalities, at present outweigh my fashion insecurities. I am undecided if this is an item I will continue to utilise when I eventually return to the cosmopolitan streets of CH41. Likewise, these loose fitting trousers would certainly turn heads in Grange Precinct, I imagine. I would undoubtedly be called a hippy in Birkenhead bus station if I gave these an outing, whilst simultaneously being asked for a light by a man with a bulldog.
The Reclining Buddha was intriguing. A massive gold coloured statue of Buddha lying on his side was housed in a temple just about big enough to fit him in. There was a viewing area around the perimeter. Amongst this temple was dozens of other temples, all with statues of Buddha, incense sticks and flowers, which you could buy. People were also rubbing bits of material on various statues, I presume for luck.
There was a stall by an organisation who were campaigning to educate people about Buddha and stop the sale of anything with Buddha’s face on, including tattoos. I was invited into an 8 minute film detailing the benefits of meditation and further informing the viewers of disrespectful things Buddha-related. These included showing images of Buddha on a mat (on the floor…..below waist), Buddha statues used as fashion accessories and Buddha’s face plastered on a toilet seat. All not respectful to Buddha. It made me think…..imagine seeing Jesus Christ or the Prophet Mohammed on a toilet seat or rug in the middle of the floor. You don’t see it. The closest thing I’ve seen to this is on Father Ted. Ted has a hideous, tacky throw over his couch with Jesus on the crucifix on. In one episode, an annoying priest, thinks he’s talking to someone, turns to see no one is there, sees the throw and says ‘Ah, it’s yourself.’ Or something along those lines.
Better informed about Buddha, I went on my way, making my way to the pier where a boat took me over to Temple of Dawn for 3 baht. This is literally a five minute boat ride over to the other side of the Chao Phraya River. The temple didn’t look as impressive at first due to it being surrounded by scaffolding. It was under construction. I was able to climb the steep staircase to a certain level. I had read that the views from the very top are supposed to be brilliant, although this was a luxury that, on this occasion was not afforded to me.
A quick look round the grounds and then back on the boat for the return journey. Despite the attempts of the organisation to discredit anything sold with Buddha’s image on, there is a phenomenal amount of stalls selling little figurines and little Buddha heads. Getting off the boat, the street food sizzled away. I opted for a nearby small restaurant which had Bob Marley playing and a dog barking, for my fill.
With time ticking, and me conscious that I still needed to pick my train ticket up, I headed back to the hostel to pick my bags up and head to the train station. Feeling a bit peckish I decided to try a Thai omelette (obviously) in a little cafe next to the ticket pick up office. It was just egg. No filling. I was able to upload some pictures from my time in Bangkok to social media. Despite sharing pictures of the great architecture, the stunning animals and the city landscapes, my hair is what caught people’s attention. ‘Is it permed?’ ‘Have you took your flat cap?’ ‘Get your wool cut.’ No, yes, no. In that order. Until I last looked, no one had actually asked on this occasion if it was permed, but it is something I’ve been asked a few times recently. It isn’t. I don’t need it permed. It’s natural. A friend suggested that anything I post on my travels should be accompanied by the hashtag #meamdmybarnet. Someone else suggested a more direct instruction of hashtag #sortyourswede. I’m happy to go with the majority. Another friend alluded to the possibility of getting beat up for wearing these pants. I have caring friends.
And that’s where I’m at. I’ve been on the train for about an hour or so, have been fed and I’m sat here en route to Chiang Mai…..with curly hair and baggy trousers.
Bangkok, as I stated, was strange. Not somewhere I would rush back to but I’m glad I have seen it. Two nights was certainly enough for me. There was undoubtedly parts I have not seen, but my journey continues. Heading north to Chiang Mai, I hear this place is more chilled than the capital. I am spending two nights here and then I have no plan from then on. The idea is to head to Laos. This would entail a mammoth bus journey. I shall see what presents itself.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this latest instalment of my ramblings. It’s nice reading your comments. Thank you for getting involved, it makes me smile that I can still connect with you all. Keep reading and commenting. I promise more education, some entertainment and more important…..drivel.
Nan, don’t worry, I’m alive.
Just a quick update to say I’ve arrived in Chiang Mai. The 13 hour journey wasn’t so bad but the bunks did resemble something either from a morgue Oran episode of casualty. They were comfortable enough and my iPod got me through.