JOURNAL : Sept. 2004
19 September 2004 :
The first leg of the flight to Thailand lasted about three hours - very good service from the Cathay Pacific crew. There were seven people on the flight who were continuing to Thailand - me included - and we had to stay on the plane at Mumbai, while it was cleaned, re-catered, and even re-fuelled. So, I didn't end up setting foot on Indian soil. Strange sitting in an aircraft seat while 15 cleaners scurry about. And feel sorry for the poor airline crew, as they couldn't leave until their replacements turned up, as they still had us seven passengers "in their care"! In all, I think it took about one and a half hours for the plane to be cleaned and then loaded with the new passengers.
Not sure too much about the second leg of the flight, although I must've slept for a lot of it (bearing in mind it was impossible to nap whilst the plane was on the ground). Apart from a couple of dodgy periods of turbulence, and me having to complete the Thai immigration paperwork, it was all ok.
Arrived in Bangkok at 10.15 local time, and having cleared immigration and customs, took a taxi into the city, and then checked-in to my hotel.
After a brief siesta (!) I took a walk in order to start getting my bearings. Managed to find the nearest BTS station (BTS stands for Bangkok Transit System, but it's commonly known as the 'skytrain' - no connection to Freddie Laker though), so have purchased a Pass ready for my trips into the heart of the city.
Initial impressions - hot and polluted, and full of traffic, but looks an interesting and friendly place to explore.
20 September 2004 :
I decided I needed another day to get my bearings and to work out exactly where I was going to visit over the following days. This turned out to be a good decision, as it rained very hard throughout the afternoon (I found out that it was still monsoon season !).
When I did finally venture out, I took the Skytrain into the main hub of the city (Siam Centre) - saw some elephants in the middle of the road, although these were only topiary!
Apparently, it wasn't uncommon for 'mahouts' to wander round town with their elephants, sometimes even abandoning them there. It's said that there were about 40 stray elephants roaming round Bangkok in 2002 - I'll keep my eyes peeled...
Back at the hotel, I got speaking to a couple of the waitresses in the coffee bar, who were enquiring where I was planning to visit. When I told them that I was hoping to go to the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha, they were pleased to inform me that Bus Routes 4 and 7 would take me directly there from the Siam Centre. Very helpful.
21 September 2004 :
After breakfast, I journeyed into the city, and waited at the bus stop for either a No.4 or a No.7, as recommended yesterday by the waitresses. After a 15 minute wait, I decided to double-check at the Tourist Information booth, only to be informed that routes 4 and 7 didn't pass anywhere nearby ! I needed a '25' instead.
After that initial hiccup, I got onto the next No.25 bus - and travelled for about 45 minutes until we arrived at the Grand Palace area. I can confidently tell you that I inhaled more lead during that journey than I could ever have consumed chewing on 100 pencils !
The Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple complex was a fascinating place to explore. It is reputedly home to some of the most stunning architecture in all Southeast Asia. As it was drizzling with rain, as well as being very hot and muggy, it wasn't a place to be rushing round - if I had, I would've missed many beautiful buildings. There is a dress code that has to be adhered to (i.e. legs and arms covered) - and shoes had to be removed when entering the Chapel Royal, where the statue of the Buddha is situated.
The green-jade statue is the most sacred image in Thailand, and worshippers were in full chant when I arrived. The inside of the Wat (temple) was stunning, with gold decoration all around - tourists weren't encouraged to stay too long, so I rejoined the file of people walking through, exited, and then hunted down my shoes again.
The bus ride back into the main city area took me right through the centre of China Town - at least the smells of the food from the street stalls were a welcome break from the fumes when we stopped at traffic lights.
22 September 2004 :
Took the chance to explore 'downtown' Bangkok today - lots of market stalls loaded with goods of dubious authenticity - and lots of interesting characters (for those of you from the Scottish Widows crowd who received Gillian's last e-mail, I spotted quite a few Germans as well - enough said!)
Decided against buying lunch from one of the pavement stalls - instead, opted for a lunch in one of the typical Thai chains - all went well until I got to the chicken noodles - underneath the surface were lurking three chicken feet, which to be honest don't have the most appetising look about them ! (Could it have also been the demise of the world's first three-footed chicken?)
I saw a couple of signs for the 'Siam Discovery Center' - well worth a look I thought, to give me a greater insight into the history of the Kingdom of Thailand. I was duped - it was just another one of the numerous shopping centres dotted all over Bangkok. Still, the air-conditioning gave a welcome break from the stifling heat outside.
One promise I made to my nieces in England, as well as to little Jeremy in Belgium, was that I would send them a postcard from each country I visited. I didn't think it would be the most difficult of tasks, but this was already Day 4 in Thailand and I hadn't spotted any. But I wouldn't panic ....
23 September 2004 :
Another day of exploration - having previously got to grips with the BTS, it was now time to try out the MRT (I can't escape those TLAs - three-lettered abbreviations) - the new underground train system opened at the end of July. Brilliant. As well as benefiting from excellent air-conditioning (phew!) it was well signed and litter-free. Perhaps a message here for the London Underground .... you WILL have a litter problem if you allow fast-food and drink to be sold within the underground system.
Talking about food and drink (seamless link, eh?), I was minding my own business in the Greyhound cafe when a man approached me and enquired "Are you Jerry?". In hindsight, I should have just said "No". However, many of my ex-Bank friends knew me as (and still call me) "Jerry", and I was taken off guard ... news must've travelled that I was in town ! I explained that whilst I often answered to "Jerry" I was certain that this was more than likely a coincidence. I think he thought I was winding him up, as he repeated the question, with a "you are Jerry, aren't you?" added. Very strange - and very insistent - he wouldn't tell me what line of business he was in (after all, I should know, shouldn't I ?!) It took the showing of my plane ticket to convince him I was a tourist ... but I thought about this afterwards, I wasn't even wearing a business suit, I was wearing an England top ! Perhaps he was in the sportswear business ? I'll never know ....
At least later that afternoon I found a package and parcel shop selling postcards. Yippee! They arranged dispatching of parcels etc all over the world. Unfortunately, what they didn't do was sell stamps! "No sir, you'll have to go to a 7/eleven shop for stamps".
So, having bought a couple of postcards, I then spent the next half hour tracking down the elusive 7/eleven shop. The shop assistant was very kind, although as he didn't understand English I had to show him the postcards (I didn't stick my tongue out) to illustrate what I wanted. I ended up buying a book of 10 stamps. Looking at them later, I realised each stamp was valued at 3 bahts, which is about 5 pence. Hardly enough I would imagine to get to Europe. Rats! So, somewhat frustrated, I decided the easiest option was to place a row of 5 stamps on each postcard - with just enough room for the names/addresses and brief message. As you can probably guess by now, it had been a very long and hot day !
I expect the extravagent stamping will give them a laugh at the Thailand International Sorting office ! It'll be interesting to see how long the cards take to arrive at their destinations (or whether they arrive at all ?!)
24 September 2004 :
Bags packed and then unpacked (I moved hotel).
I then journeyed across the city to the Baiyoke Sky Hotel - at 84 floors, it's the world's tallest hotel. (Well, this was probably going to be my 'Everest' moment - if it's there ....climb it).
So, in the spirit of climbing and adventure, I took the lift up to the top - a trip lasting just over 60 seconds. Great views (objective of the trip) and great vertigo (not the objective!).
I got back to my own hotel just as it was getting dark, to find that only a couple of the lights were working in the hotel room (No.2215). Went to Reception to sort out the situation - the upshot being that I moved to a new room.
Bags packed and then unpacked (I moved down two floors to Room 2017).
Took a shower, and did a bit of reading, before deciding to pop out for a walk - help to get fresh bearings.
Found then that the safe in the room didn't work. Aargh ! Went to Reception to sort out the situation - the upshot being that I moved to (yet another) new room.
Bags packed and then unpacked (I moved down two floors to Room 1801).
Fingers crossed that it would be a case of third time lucky !
TRAVEL TIP : If you're contemplating coming to Bangkok for a holiday, please note that I DO NOT recommend the Royal Parkview Hotel.
25 September 2004 :
Spent the day messing about on the river (the "Chao Phraya"). Not the cleanest waterway in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but the Tourist Boat made a great way of seeing the city from a different perspective. Great value too, as the day ticket cost just 75 Bahts (just over 1 pound .... keyboard with no pound sign again !). And extra bonus - a free bottle of drinking water was thrown in, but not literally.
Made about 8 stops in total, and although it was named a Tourist Boat, the locals use it just as they would a normal bus. Saw many of the key attractions on the trip, including great views of Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), as well as a lot of the poorer side of Bangkok life - many people still live waterborne lives in stilt-houses and on barges.
If you've read my previous notes, you'll be delighted to know that I discovered that the cost of a postcard to Europe is 15 Bahts - now that's what I call lucky !
26 September 2004 :
A day for recharging batteries (mine and my camera's).
Went along to the local cinema - not much choice in the early screenings, so plumped for "Thunderbirds" ! (Harmless fun - FAB)
After lunch, went to see Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "The Terminal" - a film I wanted to see before I left the UK. I just hope I don't find myself in the same predicament as the character Victor found himself in at any of the airports I arrive at. It was bad enough feeling that I lived at the airport with all my trips between Gatwick and Edinburgh over the past three years.
Before the start of both films, we all had to stand while the Thai National Anthem was played, during which pictures of the King (Rama IX) were shown. I was prepared for this, as most of the tourist books emphasise that (whatever you may think of monarchy) it is one of the biggest insults if you do not show respect to the Thai Royal Family.
The King of Thailand is the world's longest serving monarch, having succeeded to the throne in 1946. At least the Thai national anthem is stirring stuff - not like our 'durge'.
By the way, did you know that the film "The King and I" is still banned in Thailand ? Seems as though the Thai authorities weren't happy with Yul Bryner's portrayal of King Rama IV (perhaps the real King had more hair, or had a better singing voice?)
Finished off the day with a visit to the night market of Silom and Patpong. Lots of stallholders wanting you to stop, haggle and buy. Lots of fake watches, fake DVDs, fake t-shirts and fake women. And the aroma of food was inescapable (Does this paragraph remind anyone of Chatham ?!) All part of a traveller's education.
27 September 2004:
Have reached my final full day in Bangkok. Still very hot and muggy outside.
Today was the first day that one of the taxi drivers tried to rip me off. He wanted to ignore the meter, and quoted me a rate of 100 bahts - the cheek of it, as I knew the fare wasn't going to be even half that amount. He then had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to use him when I needed to go to the airport. Methinks not!
It was a shame that happened, as up to then I hadn't felt as though I was at risk from being taken for a ride (excuse the pun).
Bangkok is an exotic city (known as the 'Big Mango') and visitors soon know whether they like the place or not. It is an amazing mix of old and new, rich and poor.
I have felt comfortable walking around, just taking normal precautions in avoiding pickpockets etc. The Skytrain and the MRT Subway are fantastic. The temples are inspiring.
It's easy to get around - most signs have an English translation... although it took me a while to realise that many street names are not visible or simply don't match what the map says.
Having now seen most of the capital, I would definitely concentrate on the coastal areas if I was to return to Thailand.
The only major downsides I've really felt are the oppressive heat and the traffic pollution.
I'm just sorry that I missed seeing Gillian Gallagher in Thailand. Gillian had already left Bangkok by the time I arrived. So near yet so far. She'll soon be back in the UK having completed her adventure.
My own adventure continues, and am now turning my thoughts to tomorrow's flight across to Hong Kong.
LAA GORN (goodbye)... for now.
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014