Tag Archives: bangkok

Leaving Thailand, heading home

It's almost all over for another year. Waiting at Doha airport where the food options are poor and expensive, and don't make up for the disappointing meals on the first of my 2 flights.

As per usual it's a long journey home. I got up early and watched the sun rise in Prachuap, a cycle along the seafront. Already getting very hot. Then hanging around, my mind having already left the building. I don't want to leave. This was a place that felt very homely and was populated by similar souls wanting to be off the beaten track.

The four hour mini bus ride is actually 6, mainly due to the unbelievably congested sprawl of bkk. It doesn't leave me much time to do my planned shopping in mbk, and getting to suvarmabhumi is a rush.

The weather in brighton is 7 degrees. Looking forward to just one thing: my bed and not having no reason to stir from it!

Brighton to Bangkok to ayutthya

It’s my first full day. I’m in ayutthya and it was a much better choice to decompress than Bangkok, though getting here was almost suicidal!

The trip started with a hiccup at brighton station with super officious ticket inspectors not letting me use my advance ticket without the reservation slip which I threw away weeks ago. That kind of set the tone for a fraught journey full of anxious moments and fears of near misses. The tube taking forever to get to Heathrow. Fran, my travel companion for the first hop, messing up with on-line checking in; the stopover in Doha being a hectic rush through the sprawling ultra modern terminal to get to the gate for the transfer with minutes to spare. I can never sleep sitting upright, so the flights sapped me. Arriving in Thailand where my body had to suddenly get used to being 25 degrees hotter than it had been was exhausting, not helped by by planned smart route to ayutthya being blocked. I was surprised with how militaristic the many people in uniforms here have become. I wasn’t allowed to get the shuttle bus to don muang, instead I had to take the underground then sky train into bkk. A 2 hour wait for a train, which left late, then typically took 4 hours for a two hour journey…but only 20 baht!

I’ve done this trip before. The first few miles are through shanty-like shacks. So close that you can touch them as the train goes by. I can see in kitchens, sleeping spaces, smell the people. The rest of the crawl through bkk follows extensive sky train construction. Concrete pillars half-finished, roads clogged with jams, workers in masks, the air heavy with dust, cement works, temporary shanty workers accommodation. There is a procession of women passing through the carriages selling prawn crackers, bananas, water. A very elderly monk sits across from me, the late afternoon sun ennobling the Orange robed form. He has some luggage, which he proceeds to open: a set of kitschy plastic statues of the Buddha on a horse before his enlightenment. The man across the aisle has a plastic bag containing some greenish water. He hands it on the window opener. Now that it’s backlit I can see it contains some small fishes.

it was dark by the time I got to ayutthya. With huge relief I get a room in the Chandana guesthouse. It’s a bit quiet, and I have to walk through reception cum living room of the very nice but not so useful thai ladies running the place. The room is 450, which seems fine. My jetlagged means I wake up at 2am. The water pump outside kicks in every 2 minutes and this upsets my sleep further. On the street are a number of low key and friendly guesthouses, bars, bike rental places. It’s certainly not khaosan road and there is no hard sale whatsoever.

Gubar seems to be run by a woman I thought was a man, and I’m still not sure, in spite of the breasts! Anyway she tells me I can’t eat as she’s too drunk to cook! I eat opposite and have what will be my first of many curries and excellent fruit shakes.

Last morning in Bangkok

I wonder how boring and relevant it is being a monk.

I’m at Wat Chana Songkhram at Khaosan Road. As locals come in to kneel at the shrine, clasping jasmine and incense, in the 4 school rooms on either side of the prayer hall novices are in class. The shady low stone buildings are exposed to the outside world by grills that function as windows and give the place the aura of prison. In each room sit 2 older monks at the front reading to the rows of younger monks who are sat behind dark wooden desks. Some are reading, some writing, some reciting, some face down and asleep. The whole atmosphere is rather dull, dry. I can only guess that these are Buddhist teachings. Dharma of Pali. To what ends? It’s all so obscure, mystical, yet commonplace.

There are. 3 younger ones, novices, sat outside around a table. Evidently trying to learn to recite something together. One looks very detached and bored. At the table is a large bottle of coca cola.

Arrival in bkk

Marooned in Hualamphong railway station Bangkok

Chiangmai so-called express arrives at 9am.  I awake to sunrise over the flooded paddies of Ayutthya.

Train struggles into BKK through shanty towns, construction, into the sinuous mess of modern BKK, the underbelly clinging to its arteries.

I can’t get anywhere easily quickly or conveniently and find myself people watching over congee, the trains shedding themselves of locals pushing scooters or carrying sacks of food.

In the concourse I am caught between tannoy of adverts, station announcements and Thai MTV…I’ve described the type of video before…….

A monk-only cordoned off couple of rows of seats. All seats facing a classically framed painting of the king. A row of Muslim girls black head scarves. A young boy in blue shorts playing with his young pink dressed sister, chasing in and out of a diorama. Like me there are hundreds sitting around waiting waiting.

I’m waiting to get across the city to get a train to the west, but the rain outside is torrential. It’s dripping through the concourse roof, a blue smocked mopping woman diffuses the pooled water rather than soaking it up.

I leave 2 hours to get to Thonburi station to catch a train to Kanchanaburi. Underground then sky-train then Chao Phraya river express. Rusty lurching overloaded diesel workhorse plying its way through the coffee coloured swell and tangles of thick green duck weed. Past temples, processions of cement barges, decommissioned WW2 motor boats, under sweeping bridges and the partially constructed new extension for the sky-train. Rain pouring down, splattering the choppy river. Rain and splashing bow waves sprays passengers. The whistling pilot at the rear of the boat is drenched head to foot.

I know I’m scheduled to get off at stop number 11, which doesn’t exist. At stop 12 I ask the pilot for Thonburi and he waves his arm meaning further on. 20 minutes or more and further on we reach the end of the line, where the high rise hotels have given out to cement works and low suburb urban houses. The duckweed almost unnavigablly dense. Nonthaburi. The pilot says Thonburi. I’ve missed my stop and a girl kindly helps me establish that stop 11 is no longer in use and anyway, by the time I get back down river my train will have left.

I’m resigned to a day or more in BKK. This place traps you, sucks you in. You have to fight to get out.

I check into the Rambuttri Village Inn. The room is high up, has a view of the fort and the suspension bridge. It’s warm, dry, comfortable. I decide to count my blessings.the rain carries on, and persists into early evening. Would being elsewhere, especially in the outdoors be any better I’d I’m wet all the time? Anyway I don’t have great desire to do anything.

Khaosan Road is boring.

I heard it in CM sung in Thai, now hear it here in BKK played by children on dulcimer type instruments: Hotel bloody California…..

The massage chairs are here as well. I feel sorry for the masseurs. Farang customers are drinking beer and texting whilst being massaged. Doesnt look like a special or relaxing moment to them.

My dinner at the same old place is underwhelming, and my request for spicy goes unneeded. A hectic criss-crossing of waiters, barmen, owners. A rerun of Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4.

Early bed, deep sleep.

Breakfast at 12. Punctuated by roving lighter and crocodile wallet sellers.

Legless harmonica player, propelling himself by his hands between the chairs of the cafe on a skateboard like platform. What a tough life.

Evening in Bangkok, first day

I chanced upon a keep fit and dance workout by the fort near the river at sunset. A hyper Thai instructor with a radio mic and all the steps. High energy techno covers of Kyle etc and housewives, grandmothers and a couple of strapping guys trying to keep the hectic pace in the humid evening.

 

I meet up with hon later. Confusion over which Burger King he is outside. We dither around until settling at a pavement bar which is less loud than some and get 2 beers for the price of one neither of us can sleep that night, and he decides to brave the night and get back home then rather than wait til morning. We negotiate a rather twisted post midnight khaosan road where everything is ratcheted up to the max and everybody is losing control. Same same only even worse. There are never going to be any buses at this time so he gets a cab, and I stay awake with jet lag for a few more hours!

What does khaosan road, bangkok offer?

 

2 for 1 Chang or singha or Leo beer

Vodka buckets

Tattoos

Cheap suits

Pad Thai

Sexy lady, you want?

Smoking? You want? Opium, you want?……?.

Laughing gas

Neighbouring bars out- doing each other with deafening techno

Groups of ladyboys

Farang bars with reruns of premiership football

T shirt stalls

Laser pointers

Fried insect stalls (photo 10 baht)

Bemused European children in tow behind their ” cool” parents

Frazzled island hoppers

Amputee buskers

Fake degree certificates

Oh, and also McDonald’s, burger king, KFC

Tuk- tuk drivers and taxi drivers trying every conceivable way to meet whatever needs you have..or rather to tempt you

Babylon?

I can see how many people love this

But….

These are all things I do not come to Thailand for

Day 1 landed and ensconced

Another mammoth journey, and now deeply entrenched in Bangkok. Vietnam airlines wasn’t so bad, but obviously a step down from etiadh etc. vy limited in flight entertainment, and mostly Vietnamese films and music…but anyway I couldn’t be bothered. Service not so much with a smile, and forgetful! Anyway, my neglected gin and tonic order becomes 2, what joy. Hard to sleep with the overhead screens on all night, and flickering with Bruce willis escaping exploding cars in Russia, though it looked suspiciously like Budapest to me. There’s a woman across the aisle who seems to be vomiting with alarming frequency.

The transit in Ho Chi Minh could have been smoother, but for absence in signs, procedures or systems. Ho chi minh hasn’t quite got it together to be a modern transport hub!

So, having left at 1pm uk time, and with the journey taking 14 hours in total, it didn’t fit my body clock to sleep until arriving in Bangkok, but by then it was morning, and 30 degrees. An experimental languid journey in getting from the airport to khaosan area, where my hotel is. The train is fine, the 2 sky train journeys are fine, and the leg on the chao praya express (tourist boat) was slow but cool.

 

The big mistake came when I got off at the pier for the king’s palace, and had to push my way along a pavement teeming with Buddhist trinket and cold drink sellers, and food hawkers. that indefinable but quintessential aroma of bangkok, hits me and hangs like a fugue in the heavy sticky air. To my amazement only one tuk tuk shark heckled me. They must be losing the knack, or maybe I have the aura of I know what their game is?? The walk was taking an age, and actually I wasn’t even quite sure how far I still had to go, so I jumped on a moving number 1 bus, and pay my 15p or whatever, then the bus reaches a grinding halt. The bus in front has had an incident with a large woman on a motorbike who is now involved in an altercation with the driver. Once we get going again progress is rapid, but I still manage to get off too late and have to walk the last few hundred metres. An epic journey just to get to my hotel. It’s called the green house and is above a lively backpacker travel agency and restaurant. The room is surprisingly quiet and comfortable, and I’m glad I’m not on the khaosan road.

I have wifi and I get a sim, but no word or reply from hon. I’m beginning to believe my hororoscope from the evening standard that told me prepare to be let down by someone and make a plan b. ominous, bearing in mind my choice of book for this trip is a re-read of tiziano terzano’s ” a fortune teller told me” , in which the writer against his own better judgement decides to follow by letter of the prediction the words of a Hong Kong fortune teller. Anyway after a kind of doze, I hear from him and we make a plan to meet.

Downstairs in the travel agency nobody has the faintest idea about how I should get to nang rong. In fact neither the young American guy nor the Thai woman have heard of it. Surely not so strange a route..I thought this was the place to use as a base for phanom rong.

It’s started to rain and I go looking for the little courtyard restaurant I found years ago with fabulous vege food. It’s empty as before, and feels forlorn and forgotten. There are many Thais coming in and out with bags of ice, crates of drink, a trolley with an amp and sound system. Busy, but to what ends? Maybe this is party city at night time. The cook ( maybe ) watches volleyball on tv, whilst a young guy comes up his fin in the mirror by the bar.

I order spicy wing bean salad and its very spicy! Sweet, aromatic, hot…just what I had hoped. And a mango shake. My favourite.

Once you make it into Bangkok you feel almost trapped, so time consuming and slow is it to get around. So dense and impractical is the traffic. I don’t want to stay here too long, but tiredness and the need to recover is going to be a factor.