After the surprisingly pleasant 7 hour bus ride to Bangkok we hauled our lives onto our backs once more and began the hunt for a decent guest house. After deciding to go to Khao San Road a.k.a. Backpacker Central we quickly realised that we didn’t need to put much effort into finding a place to stay, the places to stay would come and find us (usually while shouting and waving at the same time!) Fortunately we ended up with a really comfortable place – a relief after some of the shitholes we had a look at – dropped our bags and ventured out into the insanity of Bangkok.
Staying just off one of the most crazy streets in the city meant that once we were able to get out of its noisy, tourist-filled grip it was actually quite pleasant to walk about in other areas. With the Lonely Planet to hand – now looking a little tired after its month-long ordeal – we followed a couple of walking tours about the city. The first of which took us to the Grand Palace via a group of women who would force a bag of corn into your hands, make you tip it out for the pigeons, shout ‘for good luck’ and then promptly follow that line up with ‘now you pay!’… which we didn’t. Fortunately these women were not part of the walking tour.
Inside the walls of the Grand Palace we managed to find the Emerald Buddha in its final resting place sitting atop a huge pile of gold bits and bobs. We were quite pleased about finding it, as we’d followed its path down the country during our trip, had learnt its story and visited a few of its previous homes.
I thought I’d seen enough Buddhas, but in a similar way to the fascination of Russian dolls’ decreasing size, the prospect of seeing an even bigger Buddha than the huge ones we’d already seen in Sukhothai grabbed my attention and we visited the final Wat of our Thailand trip, Wat Pho. This one earned the name Big Buddha (not its official title) with ease as it’s a 46m long and 15m high reclining Buddha.
Satisfied that we’d seen the biggest Buddha we could for a long time we moved on through to the Amulet Market where densely packed stalls line the streets selling thousands of tiny amulets and talismans. Many of the stalls had people hunched over them, each with a magnifying glass, carefully studying their potential purchases.
The following day we braved a long walk down to Chinatown, passing through an odd street which seemed to only have two types of shop – unfortunately we weren’t on the lookout for a guitar or any army supplies, so we moved on. Starting the tour at Hualamphong Station, Bangkok’s biggest train terminal, we headed into some packed market alleyways filled with everything you could think of. The density of the people was highlighted every time a motorbike slowly tried to cut its way through the crowd which could barely move anyway. The tour guided us to a small street with an open fronted cafe filled only with old Chinese men. We read the description of the place and still managed to walk past it twice before deciding that it must be it. This was La Sae and is one of the city’s oldest coffee houses. Feeling very out of place we stepped in, were greeted warmly and were offered a seat amongst the regulars. From my seat I could see that they were brewing their coffee in tall steel pots with the coffee hanging into the water in what looked like a child’s fishing net. We opted for a standard black coffee, which turned out to be one of the strongest, thickest and sweetest coffees we’ve ever had – this caffeine hit would last us for the rest of the day. Amazingly it was also one of the cheapest coffees we’d had in Thailand. It was clearly a place that hadn’t changed in ages, and a place that made me want to be able to speak just a little Mandarin so I could tap into the hundreds of years worth of experience and stories, some of which were probably the subject of conversation at the time, well… for the few of the guys that weren’t talking about us.
With the black syrup burning holes in our stomachs, we floated off through more markets and back alleys, finding shrines and old houses of note and ending up at a French coffee shop by the river. Needless to say, we didn’t have a coffee but Alexandra’s favourite Thai drink, a pineapple shake.
After the long walk back we had dinner at our favourite Bangkok restarurant, and headed over to Rajadamnern Stadium for a night of Muay Thai Boxing. After paying the heavily bloated tourist price to get a 2nd class ticket (as we wanted to be amongst the local crowd) we took our seats on the coliseum-style concrete steps and waited for the first fight to begin. It turned out that sitting with the crowd was definitely a good decision because they ended up being almost as entertaining as the boxers. The fighting was brutal at times, with the 5 round matches progressively made more and more tense with beating drums and cymbals throughout each round, and the crowd cheering on their home fighter with a synchronised shout of ‘ee!’ every time he managed to get his knee into his opponent’s ribs. But it was the two minute periods between rounds that were especially fun as the sound of the bell that ended each round sent the crowd into a frenzy of waving odds, shouting and passing cash around. I didn’t want to move in case I accidentally bet 10,000 Baht on the guy who was bound to lose! It certainly was a cultural experience to remember!
The next day we left Thailand and flew to Sydney where there will be radio silence for a little while as it’s much more difficult to find an unprotected wifi connection in Australia! We’ll be here catching up with friends and family and just having a nice warm and sunny Christmas (sorry to friends in the UK) on the Sunshine Coast and up in Cairns.
Hope everyone back home has a lovely Christmas!