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Monday, 25 February 2008

Time to say Good Bye Thailand The Fabled Country

Bangkok The City on the move

02.11.2007 - 24.11.2007 sunny 28 °C

We left Hua Hin in the morning and took a mini-bus to Bangkok (Bht.180 pp). The journey was fast and comfortable and in three and half hours we reached Bangkok. From the outskirts of the city to reach Victory Monument, the final bus stop, it took more than half an hour, sitting in the traffic jams, the vehicles moving at a snail's pace, stopping for longer length of time for the traffic lights to change, to move forward and again halt. You can imagine the emission of gas with all the thousands of motor vehicles sitting on the roads, with their motors running.

In every city, if we did not have a prior reservation at a hotel and traveling by bus, we would arrive in the city center, leave our luggage in the Left Luggage office or in a locker and take a walk, find out a suitable hotel/hostel and then move in. If we travel by car, we always park it in a secure garage in the city center and go and sit in a Cafe, pour over the city guide or map and then decide where to stay. In Bangkok, the Bus Terminal was in an alley and we were a little disoriented about our surroundings. We decided to go to either Siam Square or find lodgings in China Town. This wasa wrong decision.

We asked the bus driver directions for going to Siam square but he did not respond, either he did not speak English or he simply ignored the question. An English couple who had traveled with us in the bu, overheard us and kindly told us to take the Sky Train (which was over our heads) and get down at Siam square. In Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) we had taken the Sky Train almost every day to go to Suriya Commercial Center and to other parts of the city. So we went up the stairs to the Station and changed money for tokens which we fed in the machine and got the tickets. The train brought us to Siam square.

When we came out at Siam square, on our right hand side was the entrance to a Shopping Mall, on the left you go down the stairs and are on the main street. So we entered the Mall and found a Cafe and sat down and ordered coffee (Bht.5).

We looked at the map of the city with a list of hotels and compared it with our Lonely Planet Guide, indeed the tariffs of hotels in that area for a double room were between Bht.3000 and Bht.4000. I telephoned three or four hotels and although the tariffs were high, it was impossible to understand the addresses they gave on the phone. So we decided to stay away from the chaos of Siam Square and China Town. We came out of the Mall, crossed the street via a foot bride and tried to get some directions. A man clad in a brown suit approached us, I thought he was a hotel receptionist but he said he was a school teacher. He was very helpful and told us what we knew already, that hotels in that area were expensive and we should go to Domestic Accommodation Location office. He even stopped a rickshaw, gave him the directions and told us to give Bht.20 for the ride. So we went to this place which turned out to be another hotel reservation office. We were told that it was most difficult to find economic accommodation at that time of the year, with festivals and King's approaching birthday celebrations. That we should stay in Banglamphu area, near all the main temples and Grand l Palace and Th Khao San, which is the tourist center and backpackers' favorite place of stay. We agreed and he made the necessary reservation for Bht.1600 for a double room including breakfast.

The name of the hotel is Boonsiri Place, 55 Buranasart Road, Pranakorn( I give full details of the hotel as we found it central to tourist attractions, comfortable and at walking distance to all the important monuments and Wats, which are in the vicinity of the hotel. Democracy Monument, Wat Ratchanada, U.N, Golden Mountain are on the right hand side. Cross Buranasat Road and you are in the area of Grand Palace, Wat Pra Kaeo, Wat Pho and other cultural sites. Banglampu is straight on and Prapinklao Bridge will take you to Chao Praya River. And to reach Th Khao San, you come out of the street where the hotel is, reach the main road, Rajdamnern-Nai Roa, cross the dual carriageway and the street in front will take you to Khao San.

Th Khao San had a lively atmosphere and bohemian flavor. In the evening, shops were selling clothes, backpacks, sunglasses, leather goods, wood carvings. Food halls and restaurants, English Pubs. Fresh fruit and fresh juice and Satay and grilled Corn. Very attractive prices too. Only ice cream was expensive.

We went there for the last two days of our stay in Bangkok and had fresh fish and seafood, rice noodle soup with pork balls and bean sprouts. On the first evening, we went strolling round the parallel streets and found an open air Thai massage center. Men and women were lying down on tables, in open view of passerbys and getting foot massage and face massage etc. The charge was Bht.200 for a 45 minute massage so we too had a very refreshing face massage. Just to lie down and relax was worth the price. In Penang (Malaysia) we had Chinese Massage, a bone crushing experience where the masseur kneaded our bones and the points of pain. A full hour's massage cost MR.10 and afterwards the pain was gone. Believe it or not. We stayed one day more in Penang and paid MR.100 more for the hotel, just to get another massage the next day since I was told that it was not advisable to have more than one massage a day.

On the next morning we came out of the hotel, turned right and reached Ko Ratanakosin area. We visited almost all the Wats and the Grand Palace. The day was warm and it seemed that thousands of tourists were thronging the whole area. It reminded me of crowds outside the Buckingham Palace in London on a sunny day. After we finished the obligatory tour of "places of historical and cultural" interest and dodged the touts who were offering river tours at prices between Bht.1500 and Bht.1000, we reached Th Phra Athit where all the cafes and open air restaurants are. The place was busy, Thai, Chinese dishes displaced to entice your appetite. We were hungry and chose a corner restaurant with a wide range of food trays laid out. Chicken in sauce, frogs in sauce, fried and steamed fish, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, rice, noodles. My wife as always chose fresh vegetables with rice, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. I had (twice) fish in lemon grass and ginger sauce , grilled eggplant (no taste) bamboo (no taste) rice and chicken curry and a cold beer.

Thus sated we entered the pavilion where the offices of River Cruise are situated. The touts wanted Bht.1000 for two, then without any bargaining on our part, they brought it down to Bht.500. You may pay even less if you keep on bargaining. However, there are boat cruises which ply on both sides of the river, north bound and south bound. The fare for one hour cruise is Bht.13 per person, although the boats are over crowded and you will feel as if you are commuting on a rush hour underground train in London or Paris. No space to move, packed like sardines in a tin can. No chance of taking any photos or even turning your head. From these jetties you can also go to China Town, which would otherwise cost you Bht.50-70 if you took a taxi.

Afterwards we took a ferry and crossed the river by public ferry (bht.1.80 pp) and went to see Wat Arun on the Thonburi side. The temple is named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn and is carved from granite. The temple has hundreds of striking figures etched on the sides of walls and you climb up very narrow steps from one stage to the other. The climb is steep and I had a feeling of vertigo. But very impressive sight it was.

Well, the days of sunshine, the deep blue seas and white sand beaches and fine food and fruit were over. We came back to the hotel and took our luggage. We had arranged for a taxi which came to fetch us and we were on our way to Bangkok airport. At 20hrs. our flight left and we were on our way to freezing cold, rainy, dull and dark Germany.

Posted by IsleHopper 24.02.2008 16:07 Archived in Air
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