‘Bangkoken’. It’s what they speak in Bangkok according to Amy and Oliver. I didn’t know what to expect of Bangkok. I thought of it as a great big dirty city swarming with people, smelly and generally unpleasant to be in. Cities are not normally my/our thing. Add to that a general lack of preparation, we had not the faintest clue what was there or where anything was, and it really was a leap into the unknown.
Oliver thought the overnight train from Lang Suan was ‘cool’ as soon as he spotted his bunk and after discovering that when you did your business it fell straight through on to the tracks whizzing by below. Emma and I equated the train ride to the Perth – Canberra red eye. Fluoro lights blaring all night made the rocking and clickety clacking of the train less sleep inducing than it might otherwise have been and we emerged in Bangkok a little bleary eyed.
Upon arrival at the suitably hippy Shanti Lodge I whipped out our laptop and held it up in front of the whirring fan while standing upon Oliver’s bed, hoping in vain that it would dry out and the trackpad would start working again. It had given up the ghost during a torrential downpour and probably 90% humidity back at Pak Song. It didn’t get wet, at least not directly, just not designed for the jungle it seems.
Putting the laptop temporarily aside we ventured out into the city in search of a temple or two without really even knowing whether to turn left or right out the hotel door. I tried asking at the desk but got the distinct impression our presence at this particular hotel was a bit inconvenient for the staff. So we went left.
Those of you who have been to Bangkok will know that the streets are a jumble of sights, sounds and smells. It’s hot and humid and aromas, good and bad, waft past like invisible clouds. There are people everywhere, traffic whizzing by, cars, busses, taxis and scooters, scooters and more scooters. Tight little laneways disappear between buildings packed with people and an uncountable number of tiny businesses.
Food markets seem to be around every corner selling weird and wonderful things. The electricity network looks as though every resident has their own individual power cable and the guy that set it up couldn’t be bothered cutting the wires to the right length. People sit on gutters on the edge of roads selling… stuff, and at no point anywhere are you more than 15 metres from someone selling something to eat or drink. Drinks are served in plastic bags and then carried off to be drunk with a straw sticking out the top… of course… why didn’t we think of that?
Rather than hating all of this I found myself reveling in it. Emma on the other hand felt a little off colour and I don’t really know what Amy and Oliver made of it all. Amy seems to go with the flow, taking it all in, her hand never to far from mine or Emma’s. If she is concerned about anything it seems to be primarily about how we will get to where we are going and what we will do if we end up in the wrong spot. Fair enough. These thoughts, they go through my head too. Her hand will slip into mine and she’ll look up and ask how we know where to get off in a way which just makes me want to squeeze her tight and never let go.
Oliver seems to bumble along, laughing and silly one minute, soaking something in the next and occasionally grumbling about something after that. He seems to love it when we sit for more than 10 minutes and he can stick his head back into his book. Or better still we sit for twenty minutes and I read him some book in which case he snuggles in, rapt, in a way which makes me want to squeeze him tight and never let him go.
We navigated our way to Tha Thewet (Thewet Pier) on the main river where the chaos and buzz shifted from land to water. Long tail boats of all shapes and sizes along with barges, junks and speedboats ran up and down the choppy river. It was a calm day, but there was a three-foot swell on the river as the wake from all the boats bounced back and forward off the concrete river edges. Rows of huts made from bits of boards stuck together lined the banks with massive concrete bridges and tall buildings sitting behind. The boats themselves are crude, colorful and noisy. Overpowered engines roar and churn the dirty water as ferries pull unceremoniously into piers before ploughing on.
We boarded a long tail with monks robed in saffron, locals heading who knows where and 20 or so of the 26 million foreigners that visit Bangkok every year. Amy quizzed me on how we would know when it was time to get off and I pointed the camera at everything that moved but couldn’t capture what was going on.
We picked, almost at random, Wat Pha Pho to visit. It was, as far as we could gather, established 400-500 years ago and is most famous for its 48 metre long golden reclining Buddha. I was wowed by it. It barely fit within the massive surrounding building. The hall the housed it was scarcely big enough and there are only a few spots you can get an uninterrupted view. The broader temple complex contains the largest single collection of Buddha’s in Thailand and it wasn’t too long until we had collectively had our fill.
We retreated to a park down the street looking for some space to decompress, but instead watched a tree snake make its way from tree to tree, probably staying away from the huge goanna like critters that also made the park home. Remnants of the jungle in the concrete jungle. We soon found ourselves inside a ‘Gloria Jeans’ coffee shop. More for the air-conditioning than the drinks and ironically left after half an hour to warm up!
That evening Emma and I reluctantly conceded that our laptop was not going to come good, which was bad. We just can’t do this trip without a laptop and Wi-Fi. So began an epic trek through the malls of Bangkok.
Six kilometres from where we stayed is Bangkok shopping central, though the trip can take up to an hour! The malls seem to be organised according to the depth of your pockets. MBK is the everyday persons mall, bargains abound but the computer repair places seemed dodgy. Think pawn shop. Siam Central is a step up and Siam Paragon a step up again. Think Gucci outlets, Rolex watches and the like. Why, you could even buy a McLarens car if you wanted too. A step up again takes you Central Embassy where the shoppers are few, the malls large and super schmick.
At MBK, we were pointed to Siam Central. At Siam Central to Siam Paragon. At the Paragon we were directed to a repair shop back next to Central. We got lost, then found, and finally found the I-Service centre. Here, predictably we found out that it would take days just to diagnose exactly what was wrong with our machine. So we bit the bullet, decided to buy a new one and made our way back out into the malls, where we got disoriented again before making our way back to the Apple store that had sent us to the repair shop. It was epic, but we headed home after a celebratory game of ten pin bowls (you know – as you do), the proud owners of a new 11 inch MacBook Air.
The next day we were booked on a tour of the Bangkok floating markets. For a while Emma and I thought we had made a classic blunder, signing ourselves up to something which we had not researched sufficiently. We boarded a mini-van for an unexpectedly long and totally uninspiring 2 hour drive out of town. I thought it was a ‘Bangkok’ floating market?
But then we arrived at the markets and despair turned to elation. What a hoot! The floating markets sit amongst a seemingly massive canal based irrigation area and I can only assume they were at one point a genuine exchange point for agricultural goodies. Today however they exist solely for the entertainment of tourists like us. But that’s ok, cause we were well and truly entertained. It was madness, as we were shuffled along onto our own traditional style market boat and shown around up and down canals while having clothes trinkets and food foisted upon us from all sides. It was great fun, see photos cause there is just no way I can adequately describe it.
Day three and we retreated to our hotel room for some R&R before heading down town to see my older brother Paul who just happened to be here for work. Paul’s accommodation was on the opposite end of the comfort scale to ours and we reveled in a swim in the swanky hotel pool.
We had such a great time, we caught up with him again the next day where he led us on a merry chase through yet more malls in pursuit of necessary laptop accessories. Amy and Oliver called him the locomotive cause we could hardly keep up as he strode through the Bangkok masses.
He also showed us around Lumphini Park with its painted elephants, massive monitors, running hordes, and catfish which make the water boil when thrown bread scraps. Lumphini is a bit like Sydney’s Centennial Park, or New York’s Central Park. Except the whole place comes to a complete standstill at 6pm each evening while the play the Thai National Anthem.
Paul sent us off with the following well wishes (posted on facebook). Paul it was great to see you.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sunshine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields and
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.