16 October 2016 Admiral Marina to Bangkok, Thailand
At quarter to eleven, we wandered to the main reception to await the arrival of the taxi. Of course, the taxi didn’t turn up at eleven o’clock. Glenys rang the taxi company who said that the booking had not been confirmed despite the fact that she had a confirmation email. There was nothing we could do except ask the hotel to book a taxi for us; wait 20 minutes and pay £8 more for the privilege.
The taxi arrived on time and dropped us off at Kuala Lumpur airport an hour later. We still had three hours to go before our departure, which was adequate to have our traditional pre-flight meal of Big Mac and Fries. The flight to Bangkok was on time and the two hour flight was pleasant enough. A taxi was waiting for us at the airport, so we were ensconced in our room at the Navalai River Resort by five o’clock – perfect timing to crack open a cold beer from the mini bar.
King Bhumibol of Thailand died three days ago, ending a 70 year reign. He was much loved by the people of Thailand and the nation has gone into mourning. Everyone is wearing black or sombre clothes; people are flocking to the Grand Palace to grieve; and entertainment is being restricted. On the drive from the airport, we saw numerous pictures and tributes to the king and the streets are lined with black and white bands of cloth.
In the evening, we went out to have a look at the local area which is rather touristy, with backpacker hostels, restaurants and bars. There were hundreds of tourists wandering around including uncouth Russians baring lots of flesh covered in tattoos and the usual collection of backpackers in their standard uniform of baggy trousers with elephants, dreadlocks, and a plethora of body piercings. They all look like they’ve stepped out of the film “The Beach”, which was popular in 2000 – that was 15 years ago – time to move on, dudes…
Unfortunately for all these hedonistic people, the death of the king has put a damper on the party scene. None of the restaurants are serving alcohol; there’s no music playing in the bars; and the tourists are looking glum. We’d managed to buy a beer in the hotel before we stepped out, so we retreated from the depressed atmosphere in the streets and had a very pleasant meal in the hotel. It was a clinical atmosphere and a little expensive, but at least we were able to buy a couple of cold beers.
17 October 2016 Bangkok, Thailand
We were up early because Glenys had arranged for a guide to meet us at 08:00. During our holiday in Myanmar earlier this year, we realised the benefit of having a local guide when visiting a large city for a short time. Utai was our personal guide, but only cost us £30 for the whole day, which was a bargain, allowing us to get an insight into Bangkok that we’d never have if we’d wandered around by ourselves.
We left the hotel in a taxi and headed off to the Wat Traimit temple, which houses a huge, solid gold Buddha. The 3 metre high statue weighs 5.5 tonnes and is believed to have been made in the 13th or 14th Century. In the 1700s, the statue was covered in plaster, to hide it from the Burmese just before they destroyed the ancient Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. For two hundred years, the Golden Buddha remained unnoticed.
In 1957, the Buddha was being moved to a new temple in Bangkok and an accident occurred, chipping off a portion of the plaster revealing the gold beneath. Worth about $250 million, the statue now has its own building in the Wat Traimit temple - it’s very impressive.
Chinatown is close to the Wat Taimit temple, so Utai walked with us through Chinatown, pointing out restaurants specialising in stomach parts, sharks fin and the more mundane birds nest. I was amazed to see that a single Shark's Fin cost £40-50. We then visited the Chinese market which had an amazing array of unusual foodstuffs including dried cuttlefish, sea cucumber and a plethora of mushrooms.
Jumping on a local bus with wooden floors and rattling open windows, we headed to the Flower Market which is huge, supplying all kinds of flowers and flower arrangements. After a short trip on a Tuk-tuk , we arrived at the Wat Po temple, which is one of Bangkok's oldest and grandest temples. The center piece is a 46 metre long Reclining Buddha housed in its own building which was constructed around the huge statue.
Around the central building are two sets of galleries housing hundreds of 2 metre high Buddhas all plated with gold. Utai told us that you can have a Buddha reconstructed for £5,000, which presumably gives you lots of karma. There were various Buddhas in the process of restoration and we were able to see how they apply multiple layers of black lacquer which is polished to a high sheen before the gold leaf is applied - a long and painstaking business.
We caught a ferry across the river and Utai took us to his favourite restaurant selling noodle soup. It was a very rough, but busy place and the soup was delicious – it cost us £2 for three meals and three drinks. Over lunch we discussed what to do in the afternoon, and despite the high cost of £20, we decided to hire a long-tail boat to take us though the canals of Bangkok to the Artists’ House, where we hoped to see a traditional puppet show.
The Chao Phraya river flowing through Bangkok has a very strong current and combined with the number of boats zooming about, the waters are very turbulent, so it was interesting to go for a short ride. There are a set of lock gates between the main river and the canals of the city designed to stop flooding. Unfortunately, we hit tourist rush hour and had to wait for 30 minutes outside the lock, which can only take six long-tails at a time.
The trip along the canal was okay – lots of wooden houses on stilts at the edge of the canal with large monitor lizards sunning themselves and herons standing like statues waiting to strike at passing fish. At the Artist House, we found that they weren’t putting on the puppet show because entertainments have been put on hold while mourning the death of the king, which was a shame because the puppets look very elaborate.
After walking around the wooden buildings, we caught a songthaew , which translates to “two rows” and is a pick-up truck equipped with two long benches, generally painted in bright colours. This took us a mile or so to a busy main road where we were able to flag down a taxi. The cab took us to the Golden Mount temple (Wat Saket) where we walked up hundreds of steps and viewed a small Buddha that contains relic of Buddha.
In the evening, we walked down to Khao San Road, which is supposed to be THE party street in Bangkok. It was a little more lively than last night because the bars are selling alcohol again, but it was all very subdued.
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