WARNING: This is a long one!! Please feel free to read as much or as little as you like!
So we’re here, we’re doing it – I can’t remember how many years I’ve been thinking about travelling the world and visiting south-east Asia. At least 29!
We’ve just spent the last 3 days in Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok. We arrived at 5.00 a.m. having had no sleep, for our bodies it was only midnight! We had a hotel booked just out of the main central area of Bangkok, but central enough. We made our way through immigration and customs, found an ATM to withdraw some cash and found the signs for the airport rail link that heads right into the centre – it was so easy to navigate I was almost disappointed! The boys were excited and amazing, taking it all in their stride. I’d like to say that I was super excited at this point, or experiencing a massive culture shock, but I think the overarching feeling was bewilderment mixed with tiredness.
We had looked at the route to our hotel beforehand and taken a couple of screenshots from Google maps on our phone, so we knew where to go (handy travelling hint there). We took the rail link and then changed to the BTS sky train to. BTS sky train…tick one of things to do in Bangkok and we hadn’t even been here for 2 hours!
After paying for an early check-in (worth it after 10 hours on the plane!) we found our room and slept for about 4 hours. We set the alarm and made ourselves get up, trying to beat the jet lag, so we would get to bed at a normal time that night!
Then it was time to soak up the atmosphere of Bangkok. Knowing we only had 3 days we didn’t waste any time. We decided to walk the 4km from our hotel to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, one of Thailand’s most important religious sites, stopping for lunch along the way – our first foray into authentic Thai food. Noodles, pork and beef were on the menu.
I can only say that first walk was…emotional! Bangkok is a chaotic, noisy city and our boys, used to the quiet life of Abruzzo, tired from very little sleep and starting to get hungry were a little overwhelmed by the traffic rushing around us at every turn and stifled by the intense humidity. I admit, at a certain point I did have a moment of “have we done the right thing? Perhaps this is too much for them”. I also remember having that same thought almost exactly six years ago to the day, when we had moved to Abruzzo and Jake started school. Well, we all know that turned out ok, so I decided to keep the faith. And it was just a little blip. Once the stomachs were filled and contented life seemed much rosier.
The Temple of Dawn was fascinating – and at only 50 Baht/£1.25 per person entry fee an absolute bargain. The main prang (tower) stands over 80m tall and is the highest in Thailand. It predates the founding of Bangkok and is decorated with small pieces of Chinese ceramics and is one of the most visible landmarks along the river bank.
After our visit we meandered our way back through Bangkok’s streets, we stopped for dinner at one of the hundreds of street food stalls lining the roads everywhere you look – pork and rice this time – and headed back to the hotel. By 9 o clock bed was definitely calling…
Day 2 Bangkok
We did not want to get up…so much for beating jet lag, ha! But we did manage to drag ourselves out of bed in the end and we decided to head to another of Bangkok’s famous landmarks – The Grand Palace. The spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom. And, boy, do the Thais love their King – he is everywhere you look from small pictures in taxis to gigantic posters adorning the sides of even bigger skyscrapers.
The Portuguese built church.
We took a traditional ferry boat up the river (another tick) to the Grand Palace and just managed to disembark before the heavens opened with a mother of a tropical storm – it is the end of rainy season after all! After watching the spectacular lightning show over the river for an hour, the rain went off and we made our way to the Grand Palace, only to find that we wouldn’t be admitted as we were all wearing shorts…rookie travel mistake, we should have known better, we won’t be making that mistake again! The boys and Dougie soon got over the disappointment, I have the feeling they weren’t that fussed about going in the first place! So, we did some more walking and we found another street food vendor and we did some more eating. We then headed to Lumphini park, what for the boys was a far more tempting offer, in search of monitor lizards.
We arrived at the park amid festivities for the start of a charity run in aid of a Thai heart foundation – which meant we got to see people dressed up in traditional Thai costumes and a group of young boys with what I would describe as a chinese dragon on poles, but I’m guessing it’s also part of Thai culture too (school research project?!), and hundreds of people running in 30 degree heat, at 85% humidity – bonkers! And we got to see plenty of monitor lizards (I think the count was up at around 14) so the boys were happy!
Heading back to the hotel, we then went out to a restaurant where we chose and were served all the dinner ingredients at the table, with a big cook pot in the middle full of stock and we cooked it ourselves. The waitress obviously detected that we were novices at Thai food and feeling sorry for us, proceeded to give us all a cooking lesson at the table – she then kept a very close eye on us throughout the evening, correcting our technique where necessary – I never knew cooking noodles was such a delicate art! Stomachs full after a successful day of exploration bed beckoned once more.
Day 3 Bangkok
Our final full day in Bangkok and my plan was to head back to the Grand Palace appropriately dressed. The rest of my cohorts, however, had plans of their own. So I ventured off alone and agreed to meet them later in the day. With no Thai SIM we had to actually make arrangements in advance – do you remember those days?!
The effort was well worth it, but knowing my family, it was probably a good move to go it alone. The grand palace and temple complex was large, fairly crowded, very hot, very humid and again incredibly fascinating. The Buddhist art gold paintings are incredible, the 14th century emerald Buddha was much smaller than I had imagined but a must see as one of Thailand’s most revered artifacts. It was also here I really started to get a full appreciation of how important the King of Thailand and the Thai Royal Family are. The exhibition dedicated to the current King and his achievements for progress for the Thai people was my favourite part – a fantastic Thai history and culture lesson .
After spending a few hours wandering the palace complex I met up with the boys back at the monitor lizard park, having picked up our tickets for our overnight train to Chiang Mai at the end of the week. They had visited the Erawan Shrine and seen some religious dancing before lizard counting in the park once more and a 5km run around the park for Dougie.
That evening we took our first tuk-tuk to go to Patpong Night Market. Flying along Bangkok’s streets and seeing the river skyline at night was an unforgettable experience. The way we swung round the corners had me on the edge of my seat a couple of times!
The market stalls were filled with an array of knock offs and tacky tourist paraphernalia, the dancing girls in the bars lining one side of the street were fairly discreet and so no uncomfortable explanations were necessary, we had a wander through the market and then found ourselves a little street food seller with tables and chairs on the corner for dinner. The tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel was just as fun as the first one with smiles and laughing all the way back.
And so ends our Bangkok experience – hot, humid, chaotic, full of wonders, sights, sounds smells. And despite all the chaos one thing that struck me about Bangkok is how incredibly clean and well looked after the city is. I think we could all learn a little something from the Thai people about taking pride in the environment around us.