Bangkok – First Stop in SE Asia

From Mauritius we flew to Bangkok. Actually, we flew from Mauritius to Reunion to Bangkok including a six hour layover in Reunion. Upon arrival at the airport in Mauritius we hit a snag. This is the first time this has happened to us on this trip… and in fact ever. The Air Austral check in lady would not check us in without proof that we had an onward ticket out of Thailand. Needless to say we did not. Our plan was to wing it a bit. We had planned to go from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then into Laos. However, we had no set dates organized. So, we made a change on the fly and decided to go from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We went online and bought two bus tickets after six days in Bangkok for about $20 each. However, the tickets did not get emailed to us right away. We stood there in a panic because she would not let us check in until we could show her that we had tickets. Luckily we had come to the airport early, but we were within five minutes of the check in closing by the time the tickets came through on my email. We were already starting to think about what we would do.

We landed in Bangkok at about 6am. We took a cheap shuttle from the airport to our hotel. It was a few blocks from Khaosan Road, the famous street for backpackers and travellers like us. We dropped off our bags at the hotel but could not check into our room until later in the afternoon… so, we had a day to kill. We wandered around frankly in an exhausted haze. We had jet lag and just an overall lack of sleep that was affecting us. We got offered a cheap taxi ride to the floating market (300 Thai Bahts = $13 CAD). I asked the guy if there would be any other costs. He said only if we want to do things like ride an elephant or other shows. The floating market is supposed to be one of the sites to see in the Bangkok area. So, we agreed.

Caveat Emptor: The drive was a long one. It took more than an hour to get to the floating market. As it turns out, they dropped us where we would have to pay for the boat to go through the market. We thought that was part of the cost or that we could walk around. We suspect there are many places where you can go for different costs. In our case, they brought us to a place where the cost of the boat alone was about $140 CAD. We were suspicious during the drive but knew for a fact we had been taken when they started showing us the packages. We decided to make lemonade from the lemons and do it even though it was extremely expensive. We added on the elephant riding. Our advice to others is do not trust the guys on the street in Bangkok. They know there business well and know how to get you. We are sure they make a big commission from this. If you want to go to the floating market, then book it through your hotel or a travel office in Bangkok. It will cost a fraction of what we paid. It may still be expensive but not nearly what we paid.

We booked a couple of day tours through our hotel. The first one was to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was a city about 70 km from Bangkok that was capital of the Kingdom of Siam from about 1350 for about 400 years. It was built in the mid-14th century by King Ramathibodi I. It was burned down in the 18th century by the Burmese. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. During the day tour, we went to five different temples (Wats) including: Wat Phu Khao Thong, Wat Phra Si Samphet, Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit, Wat Lokaya Sutha and Wat Phra Mahathat. The tour cost 750 Thai Bahts (about $33 CAD) which included lunch and all admission fees. It was definitely worth checking out.

The other tour we did was to the Bridge on the River Kwai. When I was growing up, my dad always called the old bridge across the Welland River in Welland, Ontario, Canada the Bridge on the River Kwai. A reference to the 1957 movie of the same name, a historical movie about WWII POWs who built the famous bridge for their Japanese captors. The Japanese were building the bridge to connect Thailand to Burma. Many of the POWs died of illnesses related to malnutrition, malaria, and accidents. When the bridge was bombed by the Allies, POWs were lined up across the bridge when the bombs hit it.

The tour first visited the JEATH War Museum (JEATH stands for Japan, England, Australia, America, Thailand and Holland) about the Bridge and then we walked across it. From here we went to the cemetery where the thousands of POWs are now interred. The POWs were from many countries including the Netherlands, UK, Australia, American and more. Next we had lunch and then went on a river raft followed by an elephant ride. We stopped briefly at Erawan Waterfall. Those who did not do the river raft and elephant ride stayed much longer at the waterfall. Finally, we went for a ride on the Death Railway. It was about a twenty minute ride across one of the most spectacular and scary areas of the railway.

During the River Kwai tour, we met Terry from British Columbia. She was travelling on her own and we ended up hanging out with her a bit more in Bangkok. In particular, she came with us to the Calypso Cabaret Show. We had thought about going to a Ladyboy bar but instead decided to see a Ladyboy show. It was not really cheap but from what we had read, it was the best one in Bangkok. It was amazing how female they look. I could really see how some guys could think they were really women. The show itself is just okay in my opinion. It is really bad lip syncing. For such a popular show, you would think they could perfect their lip syncing more to make it better.

One day, Nic and I wandered around checking out the major sites in Bangkok. I had plugged them into Maps.Me and routed ourselves around by foot to see as many as we could. In particular, we went to the Grand Palace which is a spectacular palace and temples ordained largely in gold. Nic had brought a scarf to cover her shoulders as she was wearing a tank top. That was not acceptable so she had to buy a t-shirt to get in. We saw a group of guys who had to buy pants to get in so they looked quite funny as they all had the same pants on. The admission also gave us admission to a cultural show.

From there we went to Wat Pho, another temple. There are four main positions for Buddha statues: sitting, reclining, standing and walking. Reclining Buddha represents his final illness before he is about to enter parinirvana. Walking Buddha represents grace and beauty and depicts his return to earth after delivering a sermon in heaven. Sitting Buddha often symbolizes a state of meditation and concentration. A sitting or standing Buddha with the right hand up representing a shield is often called a protection Buddha. It signifies courage and offers protection from fear. The laughing or happy Buddha represents happiness and good fortune. The meaning of a standing Buddha depends on the mudra (hand position). Many temples have multiple large Buddha statues often depicting the four positions at the four cardinal directions within the temple grounds.

A post about Bangkok would be incomplete without some discussion of food. To be honest we ate many times in the Khaosan Rd area. What used to be one street seems to have expanded into many streets now. We did not typically eat on Khaosan itself but in the area. I think my favourite Thai food will always be Pad Thai. I had it multiple times including from nice restaurants and from street food vendors. Frankly, I think my favourite was from the street vendors. The flavour was amazing, the portions were plentiful and the price was better. I bought it a couple of times from the same lady who was close to a street bar with cheap beer prices. Of course there is always curries but they are typically too spicy for me. We tried other dishes like cashew nut chicken, sweet and sour chicken, and more. I am not sure we had a bad meal come to think of it. I don’t have any bad reviews to share and felt completely safe eating street food. That is a change for me from many places. But in Bangkok, it really seemed like the thing to do.

I will mention a couple of places more because of the entertainment. We had drinks a couple of times at one bar, Suk Sabai, because of the musician. We really enjoyed his singing and the songs were our style. The other place is Max’s Magical Thai Food. He did some up close magic for his patrons that was quite spectacular. So, apart from cheap drinks and food that is all pretty good, the entertainment really drew us in a lot. We did eat some other street food that we liked such as bbq meat on a stick and coconut ice cream.

Another highlight for me was getting massages. I think I had three of them at least in Bangkok. A Thai massage is quite different than many other massages I have had. There is a lot more stretching and body manipulation. My body is not very flexible. They also stood on my back and the back of my legs. That said, with my sciatica, a Thai massage feels really good. A typical one hour Thai massage cost me between $10 and $12 CAD. Nic is not much of a fan of massages but I love them.

From Bangkok we are off to Cambodia. But we will be back in several weeks when we go from Laos to Chiang Mai. More about Thailand then.