Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Last Day in Bangkok

Bangkok from the Skytrain
A rainy night and early morning which gave way to cloudy skies and no confidence that it wouldn’t start again, but it was still very warm (but manageable), so we set off towards the Old City and Chinatown. We’ve seen the Grand Palace before and, to be honest, all those Wats (temples) and Budda images don’t excite us much, so we decided to head for the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, best accessed by the Skytrain from our hotel (all air conditioned trains!) down to the river and then take a river taxi.  
(I had no recollection at all of being on the river last time we were here, but looking at the blog, we did make a trip, and when we got to the pier it was familiar, but that’s really scary, we could travel forever at this rate if I forget what we’ve done!) We’d read about the touts trying to get people to go on private boats and longtailed boats at inflated prices, so we were aware when we got off the train, but it’s really hard to find the river taxi behind all the touts, but we did and paid our 15baht each (£0.30) to go as far or as little as we wanted.

We decided to go to the end, just to have a look at the full length of the river – and it was quite a long way! Eventually we got off at the end, well out of the tourist part of the city, but still in the city, turned round and caught the next taxi back to Chinatown. Cleverly avoiding another downpour, though Jackie did get a little damp before the plastic screen window was lowered.
Bangkok is a really lively city and full of contrasts, our hotel is located to the east, which is in amongst some high class hotels (ours isn’t) and close to some big malls with all the well-known upmarket outlets like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Bvlgari etc, by the river is the Old City with its Grand Palace and numerous Wats, slightly to the north is the Kings residence with its wide boulevards, south is Chinatown and in amongst all this are red light districts, girlie bars and all the things that make Bangkok famous.

It’s a city you love or hate, although there are interesting buildings there are no real ‘statement’ buildings that you can say identifies the city amongst others. It seems to have grown up without a plan as modern high rise hotels and buildings of quite interesting design are scattered in amongst relatively plain, older buildings and temples giving a very hap-hazard skyline.

Traffic is a real problem here, so fumes are a constant problem, but they have tried to overcome it by building the Skytrain, which is a railway on stilts over the roads and also sections of subway. It works very well, all trains are air conditioned and you get quite a good view and it’s very inexpensive, even a long journey probably won’t be much more than 50baht (£1). It does mean that the streets below are crowded with hawker stalls and closed in, keeping in the fumes, so it has a certain character all of its own, being really bustling and vibrant.

The guy we spoke to yesterday who owns Lambert Industries moved here from New York 7 years ago and absolutely loves the place. He has lived in Singapore and describes it as a nice city, but too clean and ordered for him, he likes the spontaneity and vibrancy of this hap-hazard place and I know what he means, but it hasn’t really got to either of us. We like it, but maybe it’s a place that grows on you. On the river taxi today Jackie was speaking to an English woman from Leicestershire who has been here for two years and is about to return home due to the end of her husbands contract, but she really doesn’t want to go, she also loves the place. It’s certainly a cheap place to live and we’re loving the low prices that allows us to keep within budget, so we’d be happy to spend more time in Thailand, but probably outside Bangkok.

The river is a great place to spend time, although it looked quite muddy with lots of weed growing in it, we wondered how polluted it might be, but we did see loads of quite large fish swimming about, so it can’t be too bad. There are so many boats plying up and down, from small longtail boats (a boat with an engine, that looks like a car engine and gearbox in the back with a long propeller shaft with a propeller on the end. The driver tilts the whole engine so the propeller dips into the water and off he goes), interesting little barges that look like house boats, the larger river taxis we were on, even larger pleasure boats and huge barges being towed in 3’s and 4’s roped together by a tug. How there are no accidents we just don’t know, there are boats zipping in and out and missing each other by a few meters all the time, it’s fascinating (and worrying) to watch, but it all seems to just ‘happen’.

BBQ squid anyone?
After our trip back down the river we walked into Chintown and what a place that was, just as fascinating. Tiny little alleyways stuffed full of stalls selling everything you could imagine, clothes, shoes, jewellery and food. There was hardly enough room to walk, but quite often motorcyles and even cars and van’s made their way through all the people. It really has to be seen to be believed, but the hustle and bustle (I know I keep using that phrase) is just great, we loved it. We stopped to get a snack lunch from one of the hawker stalls and got a bag of crispy wanton type things and a bag of small pieces of toast with a seafood and vegetable mix on top all deep fried for 50baht (£1), followed by a bottle of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, all natural, nothing added, for 40baht (£0.80), absolutely delicious.


Tempted to try some of this fish...

The shops in the Siam area
We got totally lost in the narrow streets, but it didn’t seem to matter, eventually we found a street that led to the river and went to look up and down to get our bearings, headed off and got back to the river taxi and back on the Skytrain and back to the hotel in time for a swim in the pool to cool off.
I think the temperature has been a bit more bearable and perhaps we’re getting used to it now, the thermometer by the pool read 31⁰C at about 16:30, which is still hot, but we’re getting into the swing of it now. Tomorrow we’re off on the train heading south, so new experiences await…

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