0037 You’ve got to love Bangkok (Thai 004—new)

Bangkok Travel Blog

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Day 022: 20 hours, 33.5—total 66.8 kms

I arrive in Bangkok at night in the pouring rain.  Undaunted, I set out, determined to discover Bangkok the right way--  on foot and without asking for directions. 

The bus station is on a busy boulevard in a fairly active commercial area.  But as I head east towards what I think is downtown, the activity quickly fades out, and I am just trudging alone in the rain.  I try following another main road going north, but that direction looks even darker and drearier… No cheapy looking hotels anywhere either…

Finally the rain stops, and I find another main road heading north that I decide to follow.

  I know the clock is ticking--  soon it would be too late to catch city buses… but I’m still determined to find a place to stay on my own…

Finally I come across a foreigner sitting in front of a bar and I give in to the urge to ask for directions… He’s a friendly fellow--  from California who now works as a DJ here in Bangkok and is enjoying the good life here… He tells me that I’m a long ways from the typical cheap backpacker hotels--  but there is one hotel down the road that might work.  I go to check it out… it’s pretty shabby and expensive so I figure I’ll look a bit further and come back if I don’t find anything else.

I continue on north a bit and then head east until it looks like the city is coming to an end.

  I find another hotel--  which sounds very reasonably priced--  until I realize they’re giving me the hourly rate, not the daily rate!  Finally I decide to head back to that first hotel I’d seen…

I check in, heave a sigh of relief… I head on back out and chill out at a gloomy little bar to reflect on my first impression of Bangkok… not too impressed by what I’ve seen so far--  but, hey, at least I succeeded in finding a place to stay…

Next day…

Next day I get up early, eager for taking a second shot at discovering the city.  Not wanting to retrace my steps down the main drag, I head straight for the back alleys to get a different taste of Bangkok.

 

The alleys are crammed with smartly dressed kids headed for school, mini buses and cars that can barely squeeze around the turns.  I wind my way through until, right there at the end of a one lane, dead end alley, I find a towering skyscraper!

I head on north along a little canal, and then I’m suddenly in a claustrophobic little market… and then… suddenly I’m out on the same main drag where I ended my search for downtown Bangkok yesterday…

But it turns out that what I thought was the “end of the city” is actually the bridge over a magnificent river!  I head over the bridge which gives me a great view of the entire area.  The waters a chocolaty brown and choppy--  but this doesn’t deter crowds of schoolkids from clambering onto boat-taxi to head to school…


Bangkok is the Ultimate Jungle Megapolis.

  There’s a mix of lush vegetation, skyscrapers, beautiful and ugly buildings lining the shores of the river and spread out randomly as far as the eye can see…  Now I’m really excited about discovering this city.

I continue on down a wide, shady boulevard past sprawling walled in compounds.  One has a plaque outside claiming to be the largest teakwood palace in the world…

I head on south, past a very European neo-classical government palace--  beautiful, but seems a bit out of place here in Thailand… There seems to be some sort of event going on, as I notice most people wearing the same patriotic t shirt… And, as it Hat Yai, there are banners and posters of the king everywhere.

I’m not far from the king’s palace, so I go to check it out… but all I find is a moat and a wooded area that doesn’t look too welcoming… so I continue on south past a magnificent golden typically Thai temple with the steep roofs and pointy eaves…

It’s a beautiful area, but a bit too spread out… I’d kind of like to get into a more dense part of the city…


But first I’ve got to check out this temple/pagoda perched high up on a hill in the middle of town.

  I climb up a narrow alley until I reach a courtyard with a panoramic view of the entire city where I get a good feel for all that I have to explore.  Scores of temples and pagodas dot the landscape as far as eyes can see… with clusters of high rises interrupting the idyllic view…


Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.  This is a big city to explore.

I wander up around the pagoda, which is like a temple on top of a temple on top of a temple.  The uppermost level has little tunnels inside with Buddha statues and shrines tucked away…

Satisfied with my discovery, I head on back down, where I finally reach the heart of the city.  Finally tightly clustered shops with balconies provide me with some shade.

 

As I walk along, I notice that traffic isn’t moving at all.  I walk on and on maybe for 20 minutes or so, and the cars don’t budge an inch.  I have to look twice, to make sure it’s not an enormous parking lot… no… there are people in the cars, just waiting patiently for the traffic god to smile on them…

I assume the reason for this is that Thais have become more prosperous in recent years and turned in their scooters in exchange for cars… however, unlike Malaysia, the construction of wider roads hasn’t kept pace.  As a result, it’s actually faster to walk than to drive in downtown Bangkok…

I reach a covered market strip that stretches on for block after block after block with vendors selling everything under the sun--  particularly electronics.

  This is Chinatown, Bangkok, and it definitely has the bustle and the liveliness I’ve been seeking for…

I continue on, into the heart of Modern Bangkok, where businessfolk in suits and ties from all over the world sip coffee in the shade of gleaming steel and glass towers.  There are so many different facets to this city.

And then of course I come across the facet that Bangkok is most perhaps most famous for:  it’s red light districts.  Quite colourful, but actually seem a bit tame compared to the raw crudeness of the Sadao district on the Malaysian border… Here you have office buildings, family oriented restaurants, cheery markets and prostitution all mixed together.  The sale of sex is definitely not the dominant theme of this city--  it’s just one aspect of life here…

Satisfied that I’ve succeeded at discovering a good bit of the city all on my own, it’s time to find a map.

   For a good reason:  I need to get to the Vietnamese Consulate and apply for a visa before it gets too late.  I head into a cybercafé where there’s a good map of the city on Google Maps--  but it’s all in Thai script!   Finally I manage to figure it out and continue on my way up through a large park, and up to another upscale district to the Vietnamese Consulate.  First I find a relatively cheap hotel nearby and drop off my stuff, and then hurry in to get my visa. 

It’s an odd feeling going into the Consulate, seeing the flag, the map and the Communist symbols which I’ve always associated with the brutal war that my father took part in.  It’s a surreal experience… I just can’t bring myself  to believe that I might actually be welcomed in as a visitor to that same country.  But I hand in my passport, the form and the money to a helpful, very professional consular officer who tells me to come back tomorrow…

I walk outside, determined to forget about Vietnam, at least until tomorrow…

I head west again, back into another neighbourhood of narrow alleys… with little warehouses, mini-factories and street markets.  This is a working class area, a sharp contrast with the other neighborhoods I’ve seen.  Still there are a lot of foreigners here--  Middle Eastern, African, South Asian… Bangkok is much more of a melting pot than I had thought…

I make my way back towards the main train station, along a filthy canal and then along the train tracks/open air market, where folks live and shop snuggled right up against the rails… Definitely the darker side of this city…

Next to the train station, I decide to check at a travel agency about getting a ticket to Laos.  The girl says I can book a ticket for tomorrow night.  After giving it some thought I decide to go ahead and take the gamble and book it--  even though I have no guarantee that my visa to Vietnam will be ready by then…

I have to stop for some toasted crickets and larvae from a street vendor… for boasting points, if nothing else… You can’t say you went to Bangkok and didn’t try the toasted crickets (or were they cockroaches? I’m not quite sure…) Didn’t taste too bad, but I can’t really say I developed an appetite for them…

And so I head out to explore the vast city a bit more, until night sets in, and I decide to call it a day…

Day 3… (Day 023, 10 hours, 13 kms)

Next morning I get up a bit late and wander off east for a ways to see if I can reach the edge of town… After miles of shops, markets, and little cafeterias crowded with the white collar crowd,  I realize it’s about time for me to go pick up my passport at the Vietnamese Consulate…

Once, in a crowded stretch of sidewalk, a guy in front of me seems to stumble and fall and grabs at my knee… Other people meanwhile are pushing against me… I react almost instinctively--  this feels too much like a typical team-pickpocket operation that they do in Morocco… I start shoving people away from me left and right… Finally the guy lets go and I break away from the crowd… People give me ugly looks, rubbing their slightly bruised arms…

For a moment I feel a little guilty--  I mean, what if the guy actually did just stumble and grabbed at my knee to stabilize himself?  Then I check my pockets--  and find the free map of Bangkok in my back pocket missing…

“Suckers!” I mutter under my breath…

If I felt a bit perturbed by that experienced, reaching the Vietnamese Consulate and seeing that beautiful Vietnamese Visa stamped on the page makes me quickly forget… So it actually is true.  I’m going to Vietnam.

I slowly make my way back down towards the train station, where I enjoy one last Pad Thai in a nearby market and then wait for my bus to Laos…

My Second Visit to Bangkok…

After Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, I spend another night and day exploring the city… Here’s what happened.

The bus from Siem Reap, Cambodia (clearly catering to backpackers) drops  us right where they figured all backpackers want to go: Khao San Road.  The ultimate Backpacker Ghetto.

I’d deliberately avoided it on my first visit to Bangkok, but now, since I’m already here, I figure it deserves at least a walk through…

Turns out I had good reason to avoid this place.  This is clearly the place to spend your time if you’re into Backpacker Culture--  not Thai Culture… The only Thais you will see there are folks selling things.   It’s true, the hotels are enticingly cheap--  but even that doesn’t tempt me… I get out of there as quickly as I can.

Don’t take me wrong, I can understand how an adventurer after a long trek around Southeast Asia might want to spend a day or two just chilling out with likeminded folks in a place like Khao San--  no criticism for folks like that.  I guess, I’ve just felt a growing irritation over these last couple of weeks with some young folks I’ve come across who come to Southeast Asia with seemingly no interest or appreciation in the culture and the people who live here--  they just come because that’s “the thing to do…”  They just hang out with each other and get drunk, and whine about how dirty everything is…

No offense, but if that’s all you want to do, you might as well just stay at home and do it in your own country… At least that’s my opinion…

Anyways… I didn’t want to run into any more folks of that type that might taint my last night in Bangkok, so I hurry on through to look for lodging elsewhere…

Not much else available as I trudge on through town that is getting more and more sinister as shops close up and streets go dark… Finally I find a place--  more expensive than I Khao San, but, hey, I’ll live with it…

I drop off my stuff and head out to look for something to eat before hitting the sack.  I go around a bend, and, to my delight, I find a brightly lit Main Street of Chinatown! Neon signs of dragons, and Chinese script liminate the buildings and sidewalks…

I browse around, wondering what I should pick… Shark fin soup--  now that’s downright disturbing… How about another famous delicacy, birdnest soup?  I’m really tempted, but my stingier side won’t let me… so I finally settle on some street food…

Chinatown at night… a nice way to finish off my day…

Last day in Bangkok…

 I’ve got to get going south again, but looking at the map, I realize that despite all my wanderings, I’ve still missed many of the main attractions of the city.  So I hurry out to do hit a couple of the tourist stops…

First I’ve got to find a place to do my official parkbench set… I’ve been so fixed on exploring this city that I’ve forgotten all about playing music here.  I find a beautiful little park, full of children on break from school that suits my purpose…

Then I come across another beautiful temple and small pagoda and sneak inside.  I find a good spot top prop my camera for a quick video clip of my and my guitar--  hoping nobody will be offended… I put my camera on a ping pong table that I guess the monks use when taking a break from meditation…

Then I follow the map up towards the main Temple Complex… a magnificent area with a forest of temple spires.  It’s a breathtaking view--  especially the row of three pagodas of three distinctive styles: A golden one, an ornately decorated pointy one, and a more earthy, sort of Angkor style one….

I really should take the time to explore this complex properly, but the road is calling me, so I continue on…


Next stop is the famous reclining Buddha, which is enclosed in a huge building--  also quite impressive, although it’s a bit hard to get a good shot of the fellow, since he’s all enclosed.  I do manage to get a full shot of him over by his toes…

I’ve gotta keep moving, so I hop on a river bus for a quick ride town the river back to Chinatown, where I go grab my bag from the hotel and head up to the train station… and bid fairwell to this great city…

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photo by: Deats