Before we arrive to a new place, we love to picture in our mind how that place will look like, don’t we?
I have imagined Bangkok as a dirty, smelly city, hot and humid, crowded and very polluted. Well, this time I was right.
As soon as I arrived in Bangkok I had a feeling of deja-vu. Its grey buildings, the noise, the traffic jams reminded me of Hong Kong, Denpassar or even Lima and same as back then, I had an overwhelming feeling of happiness for living in the laid back country of Oz.
Hiring a taxi in Bangkok is very cheap, but quite exciting, mostly for the passengers. The drivers change lanes constantly without signalling and it is not unusual for 2 drivers to decide merging into the same lane at the same funny time. But there is always luck in the air and right before the collision one of them decides quietly, with no fuss and no honking, to move over. So, relax and enjoy. The thrill is included in the price.
If you would like to rent a car, well, you’ll be happy to know that there are no traffic rules one must obey, no traffic lights frightening enough to slow you down and no verbal abuse by fellow drivers. I finally found an explanation for my personal horror of driving in Melbourne: far too many rules for me and far too many impetuous Aussies always happy to call me names at the slightest inconvenience I might cause.
From the airport to the hotel of my choice, Galleria 10 Hotel, the taxi cost me 350 Baht which is about 12 AUD. The hotel was very nice, cozy, clean and quiet and guess what? The first thing I have seen in the morning when I looked out the window was a huge vasectomy centre. Oh well, I always said that all the information we gather on the road, one day might come in handy. For now, it just made me laugh.
First day in Bangkok
I decided to see the Grand Palace, The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho, famous for the giant reclining Buddha, all in one big place.
Once I arrived, I was quite impressed by how many jobs can be created out of nothing. At the gate, one person invited me to go in, at the ticket office one person handed me the ticket for the palace, the museum and the Emerald Buddha, at the entrace to the museum another person made sure I do have the ticket, then another one checked again I still had the ticket.
The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 and it can take about two hours to see properly, half of the time being dedicated to trying desperately to take a photo without tons of people in it. It is very touristy and at some point I was more focused on trying to avoid the crowds than on trying to absorb the beauty of it. Over all, it was very beautiful and impressive. The entrance costs 1000 baht, which is about 35 AUD.
The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles is located to the right of the visitor’s entrance to the Grand Palace and displays textiles of Her Majesty. Despite being quite an impressive building it has a small number of textiles and the only thing which I found interesting was the story about the life cycle of the silk worm. Thank you, dear worms for saving my day!
Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha were impressive. Here, you can also get a professional massage for around 10 AUD per hour. Quite a bargain.
In the afternoon, I went shopping and I had a bite in one of the food courts. The paying system was quite interesting and efficient. Payment for all the food stalls was done by prepaid card, which could be bought/ topped up at a central location.
My second day in Bangkok started promising. On my way to breakfast, at the elevator I saw a Thai lady on high heels, dressed extremely flashy coming out from a room. A shy Caucasian man waved to her and closed the door rapidly behind her. I smiled thinking now I know I am truly in Thailand.
Today was a big day. I wanted to see the largest golden teak palace in the world – Vimanmek Mansion, once home to Thailand’s King Rama 5. As there is no sky train or metro close enough the best way to reach it is by taxi. The entry is free for those, smart enough, who keep and can present the ticket for the Grand Palace. Not my case!
Inside, long pants are a must. And, if at the Grand Palace you could borrow a pair for no extra fee, here, if you do not have one, you must buy one from their shop.
As in all Thai houses you must leave the shoes outside. This made perfect sense in my mind until I have realized that from the place where I was “compelled” to leave my shoes until the actual entrance to the house it was a 2 minute walk on a wet and dirty footpath. Only after this arduous and exquisite journey, one is ready to step on the carpets inside the house… Oh well, you live and learn.
Unfortunately, there were no explanatory signs inside the mansion and I had pretty much no clue what was the meaning of different objects. Everything was in Thai which made me think that it must be a popular place with locals and definitely not a must see for tourists. You could hire a tour guide, but their English was so poor that it was better admiring the rooms at my own pace. You are not allowed to go inside the rooms and all you do is walk on a long hallway taking a peek into the ones open to the public eye.
Each room is fiercely guarded by 2 to 3 Thai people earning their living by keeping their prized possessions away from preying eyes.
I left the place disappointed and happy to be on my way to the popular public boat to see the skyline from the river.
But getting to the pier can quickly turn into quite an adventure as the taxi drivers can be quite fussy if you travel short distances. Some asked me for 200 Baht, others for 150 Baht and just when I was prepared to let them rip me off, an oldie but a goodie charged me only 45 Baht. Finally a starving but an honest taxi driver.
The boat trip was fun. At each stop, the mooring was done with the help of a high pitch series of whistles from the guy at the back to the captain at the front. Considering the bumps at quite a few stops, the system wasn’t the most efficient. In fact, it was terribly annoying. So much so that by the end of the trip I was willing to do almost anything to shut his mouth.
On the bright side of things, from the water you could see traditional water villages or what was left of them. They were in a terrible state of disrepair and it was quite a contrast with the high rise buildings found on the other side of the river.
My next stop was at Madame Tussaud at Siam mall. The price of the ticket varied on the floor you were buying it from. On the 5th floor you could buy the ticket for 720 Baht, on the 6th floor for 800 Baht or if you had internet access you could buy it for 500 Bath from www.hotels2thailand.com which, by the way, is the best site I have found in terms of pricing for all the trips and shows around Bangkok.
Somehow I seem to be fascinated by the way the toilets are decorated all around the world.
And Bangkok made no exception.
At Siam’s mall toilet, if you are depressed, you just have to look up and start reading:
If you cannot be the best at least be different.
Then the signs for men and women toilets were just to funny to miss taking a shot at.
At Terminal 21 mall there is a complicated water cleaning system attached to the toilet with multiple setting for different jet speeds, temperature, direction and so on. Oh well, life is complicated in Thailand. I wonder how complicated it gets in Japan…
After such a long day, I came back to the hotel exhausted and ironically I ran into the same Thai girl who made me smile in the morning, wearing the same high heels shoes, flashy clothes, as freshly looking as she was in the morning, taking the elevator to the same floor.
I looked at myself in the mirror and all I could see was a tired face, dressed in long trekking pants, wearing my favorite Keen sandals. I guess, some choices are easier to explain than others.
3rd day started with a visit to the pharmacy. A real pharmacy with all kinds of medicines which you could buy over the counter, including antibiotics. No more appointments to the family doctor. Goodbye long waiting times. Here, I could buy an antibiotic with no fuss and as easy as buying an aspirin. While I do not contest that some people might abuse the use of antibiotics which made countries such as Australia or Canada to overregulate their prescription, I am clearly against all of us getting the same treatment as a bunch of irresponsible people. There are places where you do not have a doctor 24/7 or a pharmacy and times when you need an antibiotic. So, I will never understand why if a crazy guy decides to jump from the balcony, the Government decides for the safety of us all that no balconies are allowed anymore. What happened to the natural selection process, where the strongest, smartest one survive?! Should idiocracy be encouraged?
One funny sign in the pharmacy was depicting the erection hardness score, starting from the tofu stage until the cucumber one. Hmmm? I always loved cucumbers, didn’t you?
Later in the day, I went to visit Suan Pakkad Palace Museum. It is a collection of seven traditional Thai houses and it was the residence of a Thai prince and his consort. It is an off the beaten path attraction and I was really impressed with it.
The central piece was the Lacquer Pavilion dating from the 17th century. Inside the Pavilion there were magnificent mural paintings, with gold and black lacquer depicting the life of Buddha and stories from Ramayana, the Indian epic.
Also there, you could see the Khon Museum, displaying masks and puppets. Khon is a masked dance telling stories from Ramayana.
There was also a display of traditional Thai musical instruments which belonged to the royal family. Particularly rare were the drums, gongs, idiophones and chordophones.
The houses were surrounded by beautiful gardens. You could actually enter the houses, escape the crowds at the Vimanmek Mansion and really go back in time. There were signs in English explaining to you the history of each house. It was a beautiful authentic Thai place, an unknown gem in the heart of Bangkok.
My next stop was at The Snake Farm. Despite its humble name, the place is impressive. It has a large collection of snakes, live demonstration of venom extract and handling snakes, and lots of information about everything you might want to know about snakes.
I loved it.
One more day was gone.
Back at my hotel, things were quiet and my Thai lady was nowhere to be found.