IndoChina Trip - starting with Bangkok
Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
66Trip End May 29, 2011
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Paul Theroux (American travel Writer and Novelist)
We arrived in Thailand to rain, lots of rain and in contrast to the Malaysia we'd just left. We were picked up from the airport, which has changed enormously since I was last here 12 years ago but then I guess it would have.
On the drive into the city a couple of observations struck me; firstly was the variety of cars on the road. Unlike Malaysia not almost every car was a piece of junk Proton. That said Bangkok is as pedestrian unfriendly as KL. The second observation was the number of tall buildings
Anyway the B&B we stayed at for the first couple of nights, Baan Pra Nond, which looked quaint on their website, was even better than we hoped for. Great service, very friendly and lovely rooms. Not the greatest location, but close enough to the skytrain (known as BTS) and the canals.
As part of the deal with Baan Pra Nond we had a 90min canal tour. Aside from 20mins waiting at a lock we skimmed thru’ the rain around Bangkok’s canals, a series of dirty little channels skirting around wooden shacks seemingly about to sink with a sad finality into the murky waters to plush river-side pads than wouldn’t look out of place in Maida Vale or Camden lock. We were eventually dropped off at Wat Arun, one of the oldest and biggest of the Buddhist temples in Bangkok. After clambering up and then gingerly tiptoeing down the main temple’s ridiculously steep stairs we crossed the river to Wat Pho – home of the famous reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is a large site and we really only managed to see a small part of it but what we did see in the statue of the reclining Buddha – some 46m long and covered in gold paint/leaf was awesome (not a word I’m inclined to use very often).
After Wat Pho we were a bit templed-out and skipped the Grand Palace and instead caught a taxi to Chutachak market. It took three attempts to find a taxi that would take us there without stopping off at a friend’s/relative’s gem shop first but we eventually reached the biggest market in Asia
The Gap Adventures tour started on the Monday so after checking out of the lovely Baan Pra Nond we went to the Siam Mall in the centre of Bangkok. Very upmarket and nothing we could afford – let’s put it this way there was a Lambo and a Porsche dealership on the 5th level – so we made our way to the 'Start’ hotel Hotel De’Moc, a rather drab tourist block where the view from our balcony was the concrete side of the neighbouring building. At the briefing we met up with our fellow travellers; 1 lady from LA, 1 chap from Toronto and 1 chap from Switzerland.
On Tuesday our tour leader, Kakada (Cambodian) handed over to Boon, an elderly Thai. First stop are the mandatory canal tour was Wat Pho. Again. A couple of hours later and we were on our way to the Grand Palace, which we hadn’t done 2 days previous. Our efforts were rewarded with some of the most opulent and ornate gilded buildings I had ever seen culminating in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Not many photos as the rules forbid the taking of pictures inside many of the buildings. Certainly my pictures of the outside don’t do them justice.
The final building we visited was the laying-in-state building were deceased royals are put on display for 100 days to allow Thais to pay their final respects. The building was about 4x the size of our house and 2x as tall. Basically just one room, the walls had all been hand-painted. It looked like intricate wallpaper but when you looked closer you could seen the work that had created this
A brief visit back to the hotel to shower and collect our bags then saw us crawling thru’ Bangkok rush-hour to get to the train-station for the overnight train to Chiang Mai. 13½ hours. In bunk beds, in an open carriage. The carriage itself was relatively clean but had the smelliest toilets ever.
At about 8-ish the attendant came around to make the beds. Within 3mins the seats that Claire and I had been sitting on were transformed into a bunk beds with clean sheets and pillows. The bottom of the two beds was about a standard single size with a window view. The top bed was considerably narrower, had no window and with the roof of the carriage sloping in had a somewhat coffin like feel to it. Claire generously decided to take the bottom bed for herself. I crawled up into it an attempted to sleep with both my shoulders overhanging the mattress.
Not the most comfortable of nights but I must have fallen asleep because at 6am Claire decided to wake me as we were due to pull into Chiang Mai at 7am. Only we didn’t. During the night there had been a delay and we eventually pulled in at 9-ish