The humid heat of Thailand hit us in the face as we stepped off the aeroplane; it was like walking into a sauna. We changed our leftover Australian dollars into Thai baht and then wandered outside to find the bus stop and the local bus that would take us near our hostel. The bus journey was a bit hairy; the bus driver an expert at weaving in and out of the chaotic Bangkok traffic. We stumbled off the bus feeling hot, sticky, car-sicky (well, I was) and very tired. It was a short walk to our hostel. When we arrived the friendly young woman on the front desk was surprised that we had used the local bus, rather than pay about five times as much for a taxi. She seemed impressed that we had managed it!
We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and then went to a restaurant not too far away for dinner. The women in the hostel, who we found out were called Daowny and Gun, recommended the restaurant, and said we must eat the award winning pad thai encased in egg. She said it was a bit more expensive than street food vendors (90B, just under £2, instead of about 40B, about 80p), but it would be a good introduction to Thai food. It was absolutely delicious, and we’d just preempted the rush, as when we left there was a queue spilling out onto the street.
The next day, once we were well-rested and fed, we ventured out onto the streets of Bangkok. We visited our first temple, the Golden Mount, which was just a short walk away. It seems to be undergoing some construction work, so it didn’t look as fancy as I think it usually does, but it was still very gold and shiny, and it offered some good views of the city as it’s up quite high. We then went to Wat Pho (also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), which was absolutely stunning. It’s a complex of several buildings and towers, with intricate archways and courtyards. The walls are mosaic tiled with beautiful patterns and there are stone sculptures of animals and dragons all around. Inside one of the temple buildings was a huge reclining gold Buddha. The were lots of Buddha images all around the Wat, but the reclining Buddha was the main attraction. A reclining Buddha represents Buddha entering into nirvana and the end of reincarnations. Wat Pho was fantastic and a brilliant place to visit on our first sightseeing day in Thailand. In the evening we ventured into Chinatown for dinner and a variety of street food.
On the second day we got the boat across the river to Wat Arun. We stopped on the way for some coconut ice cream and some mango and sticky rice (which has become my favourite). Our time in Bangkok so far was very much dominated by how much new food we could try! After we visited Wat Arun, which again was very pretty but not as impressive as Wat Pho the day before, we caught the boat back over the river for lunch. We got some fried rice and stir fried noodles from a street vendor next to the jetty. We returned back to the hostel to real for a few hours before heading out for the evening. Walking around in hot Bangkok was very tiring as we hadn’t acclimatised to the heat yet.
In the evening, from the recommendations of Daowny and Gun, and also my half Thai friend at home, Jasmin, we went to the huge JJ Green market outside the city centre. We took the Skytrain to the market, and just as we came out of the station, the heavens opened. It was about time we got a real taste of the Thai rainy season. We waited under cover for about 15 minutes, and as it was showing no signs of getting better, we decided to run to the market and hope it was undercover. We went to one of the many cafe/restaurants for dinner; the waitress smiled amused as she saw four drenched tourists sit down. We had an array of stir fried fish, vegetables, rice and meat. It was a lot spicier than anything we’d had so far, but it was also delicious. We then walked around the market, which was full of cheap food and cheap clothes. We then followed the sound of live music, and found a large bar in the middle of the market. We settled down and enjoyed some cold beers before heading back home.
The next day we went out with Daowny and Gun. They had recommended so many places for us to go, and they knew the area so well, there was nobody better to go out for lunch with. We went to a street vendor and Gun ordered all the food for us. We had ‘suki’, noodles with vegetables which you can have either in a broth or dry. She ordered them not too spicy for us, so we didn’t get out heads blown off. It was delicious, and was really nice to find out about them both. They’re both the same age as us, and studying at university in Bangkok. We then went further down the road to a nice cream place (that looked nothing like a nice cream place), and we ordered a load of ice cream to share. It arrived in a steaming pot, and we had some fairly normal flavours like chocolate brownie and mango, and some more unusual ones like beer, and ‘Thai fruit’ (Gun wasn’t sure what it was called in English, so we haven’t a clue what flavour it actually was, but it was really tasty). Later, we went out to a bar near Chinatown, whose DJ was a fan of the likes of Blondie, The Cure, Joy Division and David Bowie, so we were happy with that!
On our last full day we visited Wat Tramit, home to a 3 meter tall gold Buddha, that weighs 5.5 tonnes and is worth over £20million. It was uncovered 40 years ago, up until then it was covered in a thick layer of plaster. It was discovered to be made of gold when it was being relocated and it was dropped from a crane. The plaster cracked off to reveal the impressive gold Buddha on display today. It was thought that it was covered up so it wouldn’t be stolen or damaged when the city was under siege by the Burmese. In light of this story, we enjoyed visiting the Buddha. It sat in a beautiful room with intricate hand painted walls with a golden door and window frames.
On one hand, Bangkok is beautiful, with the golden Buddhas, mosaic covered buildings and hand painted walls, but on the other hand it’s also quite ugly. At night the streets are dominated by cockroaches, much to my discomfort, and it’s not unusual to see piles of rubbish on the cracked pavements. It’s a city of two extremes. However, there was an abundance of excellent food and drink and there was plenty to keep us busy. After a few days we were quite pleased to leave, even if it was just to get some fresh air!