Ciarán & Elaine's Travelog

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bedlam in Bangkok!

After 9 brilliant months in Australia it was time to move on to somewhere new. So after a flight to Singapore and a 6 hour wait in Singapore airport we eventually arrived in Bangkok.

Immediately we were blown away by the bedlam and noise on the streets outside the airport, they drive like complete lunatics over here but it's kind of exciting, feels great to be somewhere 'foreign' again! We headed straight to the backpacker mecca 'Khao San road' where the fashion seems to be fisherman pants and sunburn with the obligatory Chang beer in hand.

We spent about a week exploring Bangkok, it's a fantastic city with so much to see but even just wandering up and down the streets and laneways (Soi) is an experience in itself. With food stalls every few steps, the smell of pad thai, spices and curries pervades the air and in the evening drink stands set up in every available piece of street. It's been great fun trying out all the different food from the stands. Sitting down on an upturned crate to enjoy a delicious stir fry and a beer which cost a grand total of about 50 baht which is only EUR1 for both food and drink!!

Soi Rambuttri is one of our favourite little laneways with so much happening, a constant chatter in the air and the rattle of the tuk-tuks racing down the laneway, jumping out of the way before they run us down becomes more difficult after a few Changs.... one of the drink stands on Soi Rambuttri is a converted old VW van with the roof taken off and the side windows removed to serve drink through - very funky. We watched the FA Cup final in a Shell petrol station which becomes a bar in the evening. They just put a few seats and tables in amongst the petrol pumps, set up a big tv screen and hey presto you've got a bar!

Khao San road and the surrounding soi's are swamped with market stalls selling pretty much everything you'd ever need to buy and lots more including a giant cigarette lighter about the size of my head, it's hilarious, who on earth would ever want to buy something like that?! And the 'Frog ladies' who walk along the street rattling sticks over wooden frogs are brilliant, always trying to catch your eye and entice you into buying anything they can sell.

The Thai people are just lovely, really gentle people, always smiling and friendly. Although they're always trying to sell something too so maybe that's why they're so friendly..... They're pretty much all devout Buddhists and are full of respect for their religion and their king with even the taxi's decorated with symbols of buddhism and one day a week they all wear yellow t-shirts in honour of the king.

As a city of nearly 10 million people it's got the pollution to match with the air so bad it's completely normal to see people going about their business with smog masks on. The heat doesn't feel too much after the last few weeks in Australia but the humidity is quite stifling.

Nobody walks anywhere, it's taxi's and tuk tuks all the way which might explain why the air is so polluted and the traffic so crazy. The tuk tuks are great fun to get around town in. They literally zoom in and out of traffic and pay no heed to lanes, indicators, traffic lights and without a doubt never ever stop for people crossing the road. You take your life in your hands as you make a mad dash across the roads. Everyone drives like there's no tomorrow with one particular taxi driver reaching 120km on a completely congested stretch of road, he just kept moving in and out of lanes, speeding up and slamming on the brakes. We couldn't believe how fast he was going. By the time we were getting out we were both feeling as sick as anything and Ciaran looked like a ghost but the driver turned around laughing saying 'Schumacher Schumacher!', he thought it was hilarious! When we eventually arrived at Soi Cowboy our guts were turned even more to see the locals eating fried cockroaches and giant beetles at the side of the road. We did discover that night though that the ping pongs have been replaced by darts which held a particular fascination for Ciaran...

But Bangkok has more to offer than just mayhem and madness. Mixed in amongst all this are some beautiful Buddhist temples and and palaces to rival anything we've seen anywhere else.

We hired a Tuk Tuk driver for a day to bring us around to some of the temples and tourist sites and we were amazed at how many ornately decorated places there are. We went to a temple with an image of Buddha outside that stood about 20 metres tall and after that it was on to the Golden Mount where we climbed up to see the giant golden chedi with views over the city. After that it was off to the Marble Temple where a lot of monks live. There were monks everywhere and we waited outside the temple admiring the oriental style roofs and many Buddha-lined courtyards while they chanted and prayed inside.

We've seen so many monks wandering around the place. They stand out from the crowd in their bright orange garbs and the ones we've seen vary in age from 10 years old to about 80! There is something odd about seeing them on their mobile phones though - the picture doesn't quite fit!

We'd been warned about being 'scammed' in Thailand but naturally we don't listen to warnings, so when our driver decided to bring us on a detour on the way back, stopping off at several tailors and jewelery stores to try and earn some commission, we just sat there and laughed. He looked a bit disappointed dropping us off at our guest house, though he should've known that us stingy backpackers are never going to buy a diamond ring on a whim.

Another way of getting around the city is on the river ferries along Chao Praya and the next day we took a ferry and visited The Grand Palace, which is the kings old residence. This place blew us away, with all the little altars of worship decorated so colourfully and huge demon warrior statues at the gates protecting the way.

Beside The Grand Palace are Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho. Wat Phra Kaew is the temple of the emerald buddha which is one of the main tourist attractions in Thailand and completely mobbed with people. The decorations are so detailed and ornate you can understand why. Wat Pho houses the biggest reclining Buddha in Thailand and we've been told that it shows Buddha as he is achieving enlightenment and entering Nirvana, he certainly looks fairly happy! It is absolutely massive - 15 metres tall and 47 metres long - they take their images of the Buddha very seriously over here!

So all in all we've loved Bangkok, I didn't really expect to but we'll be travelling through here again in about a month and we're already looking forward to a pad thai and chang beer on soi Rambuttri....


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