I shuffled off a sleeper bus in Bangkok at 5.30am, sore and grumpy from a cramped and bumpy night on the road. I really wasn’t in the mood for another big city, and certainly not the tacky Khao San Road area, a backpackers enclave full of cheap souvenirs, neon lights, beer-swilling westerners and burger joints. My frazzled brain was too tired to make a good decision about breakfast, so ended up having a soggy croissant in Burger King and wishing I was back by the sea. I had a long wait until check-in at the (grubby but cheap) hostel I’d booked, so there was six hours of shuffling about trying to stay awake to do. Bleeeergghhhhh.
Luckily, things got better and better.
Once I escaped the Khao San Road and ventured out into the city centre I immediately woke up to the excitement and charm of this amazing place. Bangkok is the epitome of a modern city… but with temples, shrines and monks thrown in. There was no point trying to blend in amongst the young, hip crowd who hang about the ultra-slick fashion malls sporting achingly-trendy clothes and haircuts. My tatty travellers clothes didn’t quite cut the mustard (even after a visit to the hairdressers, where a young guy in skinny jeans with a heavy metal-meets-neo-punk-Asian haircut gave me a trim). The girls all look like they’ve stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine and everyone seems to be worshipping at the temple of fashion here.
Oh, and the temples! What an amazing site, to ride a river taxi by night and see the golden temple roof tops along the banks sparkle and glimmer with gold. They are inlaid with small pieces of glass which catch the light, giving a fairy-tale effect. I loved riding backwards and forwards along the river, leaving behind the insanity of the Bangkok traffic jams for the cost of a few Baht.
On my second night in the city I moved to a new guesthouse, tucked just behind the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre, for peace and fluffy pillows. This was more like it! I could step on and off the sky train here and had a great time exploring the city and enjoying the Bangkok buzz. It’s vibrant here but at the same time it’s not at all crazy. I was surprised by the low-level of hassle I got from rickshaw touts (I felt like shouting back ‘is that all you’ve got? I’ve been in Delhi mate…’) and it seems like a perfectly safe place to wander round alone.
Yesterday I visited ‘Jim Thompson’s House’, which was the home of an American entrepreneur / silk merchant who disappeared mysteriously in the 1960’s. During his time in Thailand he joined together several traditional wooden Thai waterside houses to make a beautiful teak home, full of antiques and surrounded by a gorgeous jungle garden. I loved this place and wanted to move in immediately!
This morning I woke early to go in search of some of the famous Bangkok Buddhas. The stunning (and HUGE) reclining golden figure at Wat Pho was an awesome site and the temple grounds there were serenely beautiful. I’m so glad I went early as I practically had the place to myself, except for the chanting monks (making an amazing sound). I also visited the solid gold, 3 meter high, 700-year-old Buddha at Wat Traimit. He was once covered in stucco to protect him from looters and it wasn’t until he was moved and got cracked that they realised what a treasure he was.
My ‘too-much-Indian-curry’ belly is being further enhanced by my ‘oh-my-god-the-Thais-can-cook’ obsession. As I tucked into my flat rice noodles with fresh prawns, chilli, holy basil and delicately spiced vegetables this afternoon I decided that diets are off the cards for the coming weeks and I’m just going to have to live with an extra spare tyre. The food is worth it.
I have to tear myself away from Bangkok now and catch the sleeper train north to Chang Mai. Will let you know how it goes!