Back to Bangkok & returning home 21-27 May

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Flag of Thailand  , Bangkok,
Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday 21st May

I flew with Bangkok Airways from Phuket - the airport is only 15 minutes from uncle Barrys'. Arrived with about half an hour to spare. Flew on an A320 - 160 capacity but probably only a quarter full. We had food and drinks and then that was it was time to land. I had to wait a while for my bags, and then I got the airport train into central Bangkok - 40 baht one way - which took me straight to Phaya Thai - I then took the BTS to Ari. Walked down to Jan’s and was back in the apartment two hours after landing. Maybe I should have just got a taxi back which would have cost about 300 baht. Sometimes it seems like a good idea to save money, but then the journey takes more than double the time. Won’t be doing this again, definitely getting a taxi to the airport when I leave next week.

Sunday 22nd May

Spent a hour or so lazing and swimming by the pool and at long last made our way to the infamous Khao San Road. Jan and I got a taxi from Ari - there is no direct BTS which takes you to Khao San Road for about 100 baht. We then met up with Rachel - a friend of Jan’s and we treated ourselves to massages and pedicures for 8 - 400 baht. We were there for a total of 2 hours. As it was Sunday the area was pretty quiet, apparently at the weekends the streets are jam packed and you can hardly move. But today it was just right. Khao San Road is one long street with stalls and shops either side selling clothes, dresses, shoes and jewellery and full of backpackers. There are also street food stalls selling food like Phad Thai - noodles and vegetables, fried fish and locust dishes. And if you need any fake id - a degree, driving licence or passport well this is the place to come - really not sure how they get away with it - but apparently you can get it here. Rachel left but Jan and I enjoyed a couple of be and then did some shopping. In the evening we had some food at a Irish pub on the main strip watching the world go by and a young Thai guy with pretty good ball balancing control who was entertaining the crowds. We got a taxi back which was just under 100 baht 2 and 30 mins. Earlier in the day I booked two day trips for 500 baht each to the Floating Markets and Kanchanaburi (the famous River Kwai) and Ayutthaya (old Siam capital) looking forward to seeing more sights.

Monday 23rd May

We’ve been experiencing some amazing electrical storms, the like I have never seen before, anywhere in the world. The flashes of lightening are what you imagine seeing in a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings type film, but the sky is eerily quiet with no thunder just the night sky lighting up every couple of minutes. Another Icelandic volcano has erupted with ash clouds heading towards UK airspace….hope that doesn’t mean my flight will be disrupted?

Tuesday 24th May

Today is my trip to the floating markets and Kanchanaburi - River Kwai. I got a motorbike taxi outside Jan’s at 6.30am up to Ari station - which means a one minute ride instead of 10 minutes walking - and only 10 baht - as I was worried that I might be late getting to Khao San Road for 7.30am. I got the BTS sky train to Phaya Thai then at Jan’s suggestion I attempted to flag down a taxi on the corner of the main road which takes you to Khao San Road. It seemed that every taxi was full with kids off to school. In the end I decided to ask one of the motorbike taxis to see if he would take me. He said 100 baht and I was happy with that. I didn’t ‘t realise thought that the bike riders are only allowed to take passengers in designated areas…apparently if you stray into another’s territory you get beaten up I found out later. Anyway to avoid detection he took off his orange, numbered bibs and I rode side saddle all the way to Khao San Road…no helmet, weaving in and out of the cars, taxis, tuk tuks and other bikes, and alongside fathers on their motorcycles taking their children to school. It was good fun although I did worry a few times what would happen if we crashed as we must have been going at around 40 kph at some points, but luckily we didn’t. It was a quick ride though as we weaved in and around the stationary traffic and we got to Khao San Road much earlier than I had expected at just gone 7am. A number of cafes and stalls were open at that time but it was still very quiet with just a handful of backpackers and locals. Although Khao San Road is an actual street, there are roads and side streets leading off of it with similar type of shops for tourists - it is more a district/area. I waited with a group of students from Singapore for maybe an hour or so waiting for our mini bus to arrive. As in Peru lots of minibuses congregate in the same area at the same time and you get assigned to one of them…ours was stuck in traffic but eventually turned up and off we sped along the highway to Damnoen Saduak - Floating Market - which is about 60 miles from Bangkok.

Bangkok was once a city of canals and nicknamed the ‘Venice of the East’. Damnoen Saduak is in the province of Ratchaburi, and is set amongst a series of canals which suggest how life was in Bangkok in the past. There is a brisk trade carried out amongst the side of the canals with food and souvenir stalls lining the sides filled to teh brim with all manner of things that you would find in the markets of Bangkok and need to be bartered down.  I actually bought a very useful item, it was a wooden fan that opened up into a hat…so two-in-one…for about 3. All the produce is local: fruit and vegetables, fish and meat. The majority of the gondolas (which are similar to those in Venice) are skilfully rowed by women, with the larger power boats driven by men. We paid 150 baht each - four of us in a boat. One larger craft with a roof and engine chugged by and the passengers all westerners had paid 1,500 baht each for the experience. So to save on the pennies choose the normal gondolas and not the motorised version.

After lunch of rice, vegetables and chicken, which was included in the price of the trip, we headed to Kanchanaburi to see the Bridge over the River Kwai - well a replica. The original was blown up during the war or after not sure. This bridge cost the lives of hundreds of men, Burmese, Thai, British, Australia. We didn’t visit the war graves, but I spotted them out of the side of the mini bus. We stopped off at the war museum which was interesting - it cost 40 baht and provided great views of the bridge and a bit of historical context. We had two hours in total to look around and walk across the bridge. Jan has visited Kanchanaburi a few times, there are hotels and restaurants and it looks like a nice place to come back to, to relax and spend a few days.

We got back to Bangkok around 5pm and were dropped off just around the corner from Khao San Road, I jumped in a taxi that said he’d take me to Phaya Thai station. The meter was switched off he said 180 baht so I agreed as so tired just wanted to get home as soon as possible and couldn‘t be bothered to barter. He said the traffic was bad hence the higher cost…what do I know….met Jan for a drink at the Greyhound at Ari. We had another torrential downpour - the rainy monsoon season isn’t supposed to start until July, I think it might have started early. But as a result we ended up eating there to avoid the rain. Jan warned me not to get in a taxi if there is no meter…bit of advice - they are just going to rip you off.

Wednesday 25th May

Another early start. Out the door by 6.30am, got BTS to Phaya Thai again hoping I’d get a bike or taxi to Khao San Road. I did stop a bike but he wanted 150 baht, a rise of 50 in a day….then a taxi pulled up and I just jumped in. The traffic was busy but we still got there in plenty of time by 7.15 and only cost 70 baht, so advice is never trust a taxi driver who turns off his meter…unless the price agreed is good value.

Looks like ash cloud has drifted towards Germany so has avoided the south coast well for the time being.

This day trip is to visit the ruins of Ayutthaya (the old Thai capital, and impressive ruined city - which is UNESCO rated). It is about an hour and a half drive from Bangkok. The city once had 1,700 temples and over 4,000 golden images of Buddha, but the Burmese destroyed the city in 1767. We visited a number of sights during the day. First on the itinerary was Chedi Phu Khao Thong. Another impressive temple which has a 50-metre Buddhist tower which we climbed and provided views of the surrounding rice fields. The only negative was that there were lots of stray dogs wandering around and hence a lot of dog poo poo - not so nice - you had to watch your step. Next it was onto Wat Lokaya Sutha. This is a reclining Buddha which is 42 metre long - it was ransacked by the Burmese in 1767.

Then onto Wat Yai Chai Mongkon which was built in 1357 under king U Thong and renovated in 1982. There are countless number of headless buddhas, the heads were cut off by the Burmese, another reclining Buddha and interestingly a Buddha’s head carved into a tree. This sandstone Buddha’s face is encased in the roots of a bodhi tree. It is one of best examples of a bell shaped chedi (bell tower) here and was built in 1592, the temple was established in 1357. Some of the smaller chedi have fallen down, if you walk it on clear day you can see Wat Ratchaburana in the distance.

Finally it was the impressive Wat Phra Mahathat which it is said was built in 1384 by King Ramesuen. I met a young guy called Lae from Laos, who said I could come and visit him - how sweet. We also got talking to a Japanese guy that was travelling by himself for the first time and he regaled tales of being ripped off by Thai so was not having a good experience.

Once I got back to Khao San Road, I asked a tuk tuk man how much to Phaya Thai. He said 200 baht I said no, then he flowed me and we agreed on 150. But he was tugging at his shirt and saying 5 minutes, I thought he wanted to change it, but then he took me to a shop - similar to the types I got taken before when the Grand Palace was shut. Apparently if I stayed there he would get petrol coupons. But I just wanted to go home, and I know what I’m like I’d probably have spent more money even if I didn’t want to. I said no then he took me to a tailors, again I said no, he got all funny and dumped on a main road, I refused to pay of course. I had no idea where I was but luckily it didn’t take me too long before I flagged down an honourable taxi man who kept his meter on and got me to the station for 80 baht. Not impressed by tuk tuks…they all seem to want to rip you off.

Thursday 26th May

Spent the day up-dating my blogs and watched the film the Kite Runner which is adapted from the book by Khaled Hosseini. I have only just read the book, which was fabulous, and then watched the DVD. I think I have seen it before, I especially remember the poignant scenes at the beginning with the two Afgan boys flying their kites over Kabul. But it was all the better the second time round having actually read the story - I felt much more of a connection.

Then I met Jan at Prohm Prang station on the BTS just before 6pm to meet Emma, a friend who is also living out in Bangkok with her husband. Emma is actually more a friend of a friend. She lived in Prague at the same time as my old mate Ali. Emma and I have met a few times at Ali’s Hen Night and Wedding…in Prague. She’s a lovely lass originally from Scotland and it was great to catch up with her as not seen her for oh a good eight years. She is also loving it in Bangkok. We had free cocktails in the Coyote bar, Sukumvit Road…until 8pm which kept us going, and a meal all for 200 baht, bargain. On the way back to the BTS there was a flower stall with an array of beautifully coloured flowers and bouquets, I wanted to buy one for Jan to say thank-you for letting me stay with her. She choose the one I thought was the best - it was only 500 baht, 10 but the lady actually replaced all the wilted flowers with newer fresher ones.

Jan thinks I should do a PGCE in English when I go home, it would only be nine months and it would be my passport to live abroad, just not sure that a) I’d be any good as a teacher b) that I’m passionate enough about teaching and the subject - even though I like to read and write. Maybe though I will look into it when I get back home. But I really like Bangkok and realise that I much prefer city life to that of the country life.

Friday 27th May

Well today is the day - it is just over nine months since I touched down in Cusco, Peru - I’ve travelled tens of thousands of miles, across 5 continents, visited over 20 cities, numerous time zones, taken 21 flights and 6,000 photos!

I have really enjoyed my time in Thailand, but there is lots more to see so I must come back and visit again. I’d also like to do more of South East Asia, this is definitely a place I will return to for sure. I like it because if has a bit of everything from the history and culture seen in the temples that scatter the whole of the country, the amazing city life of Bangkok, the greenery of the paddy fields and countryside and the silver sand beaches and crystal blue seas. Something for everyone.

But now I have packed my bags for the last time. The weather was dreadful today and rained for most of the day with more electrical storms, claps of thunder and flashes of lightening. My flight was not until 00.45 but I wanted to get there three hours before and not knowing what the traffic would be like on a Friday night decided to leave the apartment around 9pm. Jan had left a little earlier as she was going out for the night with a whole bunch of teachers from school. The security man from the apartments got me a taxi and as we drove off to the airport so the heavens opened and it began to rain with more lightening flashes. Surprisingly it only took half an hour to get there - he charged me 400 baht - and I checked in immediately. Had two hours to spare. This is a new airport, spacious with lots of duty free shops. I had phad thai and a beer at one of the food stalls and considering I was on my own the time went by quickly and before I knew it we were boarding the plane. It’s a long flight - 13 hours with Qantas. But it’s a pretty popular flight and good as it gets you into London in the morning and is mostly a night flight so hopefully no jet lag at the end of it. Unusually for me I did manage to get some sleep and before I know it touch down.

Saturday 28th May - Back to the UK

Arrived home on time, the flight came into Terminal 3 at Heathrow, it took about 15 minutes to walk from the plane to passport checks, the two queue for both UK & EU and other passengers was long but eventually through in about half hour, and as I came into the baggage reclaim area so there was my backpack moving along the conveyor belt. Once out of customs I rang Claire (my sister in law) on an old fashioned call phone, and they had just arrived at the airport. Good timing. So my travels have now ended until the next time. Was it all a dream, no it was an exciting experience and one that I am so thankful to have done. But it feels like the right time to come home, especially as we are now moving into the English summer so hopefully there will be some sunny days ahead of me.

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