Ever since watching the ‘King and I’ on a wet Sunday afternoon, Thailand has been on my ‘To Do’ list. I dreamt of the glittering temples, the spectacular views, and the rich diversity of cultures in this tropical country renowned for its hospitality. So putting another tick in the box of life, we were finally on our way.
The flight was delayed 6 hours and people say make a claim, so that should be an interesting process. Nevertheless, BA009 finally took off from Heathrow heading to Bangkok. It was a long, sleepless flight but after settling into our room, and waking fully rested in the morning it took several minutes for my brain to register that we were actually in Thailand.
The capital is one of the most crowded we’ve visited and that includes places in China and India. There are endless traffic jams, and scores of high-rise buildings but there are some splendid highlights in the Old City.
Our first morning was spent jostling amongst throngs of snap-happy tourists. Due to the recent death of the king, many places are in mourning and thousands of Thai people rushed to the city to pay their respects. We didn’t know whether this was genuine mourning or a feeling of obligation, either way shops selling black clothes were doing a roaring trade. The additional onslaught of people gave us a problem with parking close to the main sights so we had a long walk. It was probably only around mile-and-a-half but in the heat and humidity, it was hard work and we felt as if we needed a month or more to acclimatize.
Still we manged the Grand Palace. The buildings in this complex are an interesting spectacle of form and colour, with glistening golden chedi, glass mosaic-studded pillars, towering mythological gods, and fabulously ornate temple and palaces that reach up to the sky.
Next came several temples including Wat Pho that holds the reclining Buddha 150ft long and 50ft high. This depicts Buddha passing into nirvana but it was almost impossible to get a good photograph, as it was so large. We could have had fantastic photos in Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) as he is only a little guy 30” high but no photos were allowed. When we were almost templed out for the morning we visited Wat Traimit in Chinatown where the world’s largest gold Buddha measuring nearly five metres in height and weighing 51/2 ton is housed. It is unbelievable there could be so much solid gold sitting amidst unconcealed poverty but that is often the case with religion, nevertheless, it is breath taking.
We enjoyed our dinner that evening which was followed by traditional dancing and music even though some in our group put on their own show as we crawled around trying to sit comfortably on the floor.
Floating markets are not only a way of life across the country they are also a fascinating cultural experience. Damnoen Saduak is the biggest and while it caters mainly to tourists is still a must-see. We were picked up bright and early and left the city behind. Along the way, we visited a Thai family farm to see how sugar is made and tried some authentic sweets. Once at the market we clambered into a traditional long-tail boat that took us between boats and stalls selling fresh produce, souvenirs, and food.
We stopped for lunch at, the Rose Garden. The village set in perfectly manicured grounds with a lake as a central feature and offers demonstrations of handicraft skills, Thai boxing, and sword fighting and elephants pose for pictures.
That night we headed to Asiatique a night market unlike the others we had seen lining the streets. Packed with bustling stalls and international restaurants housed in a huge warehouse complex. I’m not a great market person but even I had fun, picking up gifts, haggling the prices and eating durian fruit ice cream before we went to the Calypso ladyboy cabaret. Thailand is well known for ladyboys and some of these ‘ladies’ have features that would make many women jealous. The performers put on a good show if you are willing to embrace their world of glitz, glamour and over-the-top drama, sadly some weren’t prepared to do that and missed a top class performance.
It was much calmer on the other side of the river and much less touristy. We took a tour of the Thonburi canals a network of man-made khlongs. As you venture further down, the waterway becomes narrower and calmer and you can forget the hordes of tourists. It is here you get a real sense of how people in Bangkok live, surrounded by stilted rickety shacks, and dilapidated lean-tos interspersed with some grand modern houses. On our Sunday morning trip, we saw locals selling goods from boats, dangling fishing rods out of windows and kids frolicking at the water’s edge, all reminiscent of a peaceful bygone era.
Tomorrow we move to more sombre times as we take the Burma Railway over the River Kwai.