The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

So, after our adventures with the pachyderms in Pai we returned to Chang Mai for a couple more days before heading back down to Bangkok. We went via bus this time which bizaarely took less time than the train had going the other way. We also had the pleasure of watching the film 'Street Dance' featuring George Sampson and Diversity in Thai!

Upon arriving at the bus stop in Bangkok we were hounded by the usual pack of taxi and tuk tuk touts but it was with a little smugness that we navigated through them all to get a meter taxi for a third of the price. Needless to say we are definately getting into the swing of the way things work in Asia now, even as far as pronoucing our destination with enough authenticity to be understood by our taxi driver first time! It was one week until our friends Marissa and Joe were coming to meet us so we used the time to get some 'chores' done such as some LONG overdue laundry, and more importantly extending our Thai visas.

Our visa extension was actually a suprisingly painless process. The new offices are very swanky and run like a well oiled machine, just a bit annoying that they're miles off the public transport system so we had to get a taxi both ways. (Esp. as the engine of the one we got to take us there kept cutting out on the motorway!)

Before we knew it a week had flown by (a scary yet regular occurance since we've been away) and suddenly we were meeting Marissa and Joe outside our hostel! It was so exciting to have 'visitors' as Mark and I had been travelling alone for some time at this point. Reluctantly, we let the two of them rest from their long flight and settled for a few drinks and a quiet catch up that night while their jet lag settled down.

The next day however, we jumped straight into tourist mode! Despite spending several weeks in Bangkok Mark and I had yet to visit the famous Grand Palace, so this is where we headed to first with our new travel buddies! Needless to say the moment we reached the large wall surrounding the palace we were told it was 'closed', that we 'couldn't enter in shorts' and that suprise surprise we should 'get a tuk tuk to somewhere else and come back later'. I've already ranted about these scam artists in previous blogs so I won't bore you all with it again. Anyway, this particular chancer barely succeeded in wasting any of our time as, knowing better, we just rolled our eyes and continued on to the entrance with him shouting behind us!

As it turned out he was actually right about one thing, exposed shoulders and legs are not permitted in the palace grounds. Therefore Mark, Joe and Marissa all in shorts, had to go to a set of changing rooms to be provided with hire trousers and a skirt to cover their modesty!

All looking very stylish, we then proceeded into the palace grounds. The palace was bulit in 1782 and was home to the Thai king for around 150 years. It's a massive complex of ornate buildings including courts, reception halls and many temples.

One of the temples, Wat Phra Kaew is known as The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which contains the small and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century. The robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by HM The King of Thailand, and forms an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar.

It was definately an impressive place to visit, everywhere we turned our eyes were met with the glittering of millions of gem-like tiles reflecting the sunlight into a kelidoscope of colours. The decadence of jewls and gold everywhere was almost as overwhelming as the sheer maginatude of the architecture itself.

After several hours taking in the ornate grounds, hot and exhausted, the others reluctantly handed in their hired clothing and we dragged ourselves back to our hostels before we collapsed! After a quick seista we spent the evening chatting, catching up, and after one too many beers, the boys got conned out of 200 baht a piece to buy some roses from a young boy on the street who challenged them to thumb wars!

The next day we decided to visit Chatuchak Market, all 35 acres and 8000 stalls! Apparently on an average weekend up to 200,000 people visit the market so that Saturday we thought we'd add four to the number and boldly ventured in! The market sells everything from knock-off clothing, to furniture, art, handicrafts and even pets. In fact the pet section was one of the first we came across. The sight of lots of tiny puppies (often bizaarely wearing dresses and/or fairy wings) was pretty exciting at first, and we spent a long time cooing over them. However, it soon became aparent the further we wondered into the market that animal rights are not high on the Thai people's list of requirements when looking to purchase pets. The brightly lit shops selling cute puppies gave way to dirty stalls, cages stacked high with everything from baby hedgehogs to enourmous bearded dragons covered in sores from their small holdings. One cage no bigger than an average microwave housed two fully grown macaws who appeared to have plucked all their feathers our from stress, another had tens of squirrels tied up with rope laying motionless and dejected on top of their cages. 

Unsurprisingly we didnt stay in the pet section for very long and tried instead to stay amongst the more 'touristy' handicraft stalls. I even bought a couple of nice cusion covers but I think the sight of those animals stuck in everyones minds becuase we all decided to leave a short time later.

Spirits picked up however, especially for the boys, that evening as they went to watch a Muy Thai fight. I dont know anything about martial arts but from the excited recounts upon their return it seems they had a great time, even getting ring side seats where they could 'actually get hit by the sweat from the fighters!' Marissa and I gathered from their drunken banter that various bets had been made (which Mark won) and also that apparently we would have loved it(!) Alas we chose to sit and have a civilised chat with some ice-tea instead, a decision neither of us regretted after seeing the state they came back in, and especially after we heard about the sweat!

The next morning was a slow one as the boys felt a little tender, and it wasnt until mid afternoon that they began to feel human enough to venture out to Lumphini Park. We had a sedate stroll around taking in the pretty surroundings, feeding the fish in the lake and trying to avoid the enourmous monitor lizards! In the cool of the late afternoon many Bangkok-ians use the park to excerise and in addition to all of the joggers (some of whom looked ANCIENT) there were also a few mass excercise classes going on. Marissa and I tried to join in with one but got stumped a little by the coreography and were consequenty laughed at by several policemen walking past. In fact, we had noticed a heavy police presence around the park, and as we left we walked by a big group of riot police lined up! Then we saw a large gathering of people all wearing red shirts with megaphones and panic alarms began to sound in our heads! Despite the relaxed atmosphere we made a quick exit, not wanted to get caught up in any headlines.

That night we strolled around in infamous Patpong district. It was as seedy and depressing as you would imagine, women lined the streets for business many holding 'menus' from which you could pick a numbered escort by picture. Various men approached us with offers to shows, the content of which I won't go into on this PG-rated blog but needless to say, Bangkok got it's reputation for a reason(!) The walk around Patpong was a quick one, invoking the same feelings of pity and exploitation of its residents as we'd expierenced the previous day in Chatuchak market.

However, the night didn't end on a sad note, as before bed we decided to swing by a famous wholesale flower market. The sights and smells that greeted us were breathtaking! The streets were lined with a technicolour of countless flowers, many enourmous clear sacks containing nothing but tens of thousands of rose buds, or orchid heads, or marigold petals. We walked up and down the street absorbing the hustle and bustle of deals being made and the amazing fragrance that hung heavily in the thick humid air. The intensity of the vivid colours that surrounded us reminded me of standing in the Grand Palace a few days before with a jewl-like tiles glinting from all directions. Amazing that standing in a working-class night market could bring to mind visions of a royal palace! The only difference was that here at the market locals didnt need to dress or act a certain way as they sat behind their stalls on the pavements, their children playing under tressel tables. However the lack of formailty certainly didnt detract from both places' equal grandeur in my eyes.

Alas, I eventually had to be wrenched away from the flower market as it was very late in the evening and we had to get some sleep for our trip south to the Island of Koh Samui!
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