Thursday, 20 April 2017


Of all the places on our big old trip, Bangkok was the only one that was sort of chosen for us, our fine travel agent pointing out that flying back from here saves a lot of money, and that Thailand is actually quite nice. 

We arrived and took a taxi to our hotel, eventually were allowed into our room, and we relaxed and unpacked a bit and counted the clean underwear. We wandered our to find some food, and discovered that we had arrived in the middle of the Sonkran festival, (the same new year that had been the reason for loads of decorations and the occasional water pistol in Cambodia.)

The area we were staying was near some of the biggest shopping centres and open spaces, and the weather was well into the high 30's, which gave people free rein to have the biggest mass water fights we'd ever seen. No one was safe, and in the heat we didn't mind the surprise body shots, were less keen on the full in the face ones (we researched afterwards and apparently you are supposed to use "good" water, not straight from the taps, so hopefully that was adhered to) and people were generally respectful of mobile phones (most had them in waterproof lanyards, but I didn't have that luxury)  

We knew that finding food might be tricky, and went past dozens of restaurants in the big mall without a single veggie item on the menus, but eventually found a burrito place that had the option not to add the chicken, so we ate there. We came back via the Erawan shrine, where people decorated the idols with yellow things. Mostly marigold garlands but the occasional bottle of pop would turn up too. 

Our first full day was the height of the new year celebrations, and we took the bus (it was made of wood, but free) to the old town, and visited wat phra, the huge complex of temples which included the temple of the reclining Buddha. Loads of spectacular pinnacles, sparkly rooftops, decorated statues, rows upon rows of golden Buddha statues, and the epically huge reclining Buddha, which photos don't do justice to. 

We tried to visit the royal palace, but there was a parade happening later in the day, and the whole area was cordoned off. Unless you were an official mourner (dressed all in black, from Thailand, that sort of thing) you weren't coming in. 

The Thai king passed away last year, after over 70 years on the throne, and the year of official mourning is evident all over Bangkok - every building has black and white drapes around it, huge photos of the king with shrines in front and messages of condolence are outside every building, and lots of people are wearing black ribbons. 

The journey back to our district took forever on the bus (which we had to pay for this time, possibly because it had air conditioning), largely because the whole world wanted to be part of the water fights again. 

On Sunday, Sonkran had finished, and the streets returned to normal. We tried to take a riverboat service to the old town, but that wasn't running (google being rubbish) so we got a bus instead, hopping off at the golden mount, a temple atop a hillock, with a spiral walkway up. Bells were the big thing for this one, so we rang a lot of them as we climbed, including an epic gong, and the wind kept a constant jingling going of the tiny ones you could pay to dedicate (write your name in sharpie) and hang up from the eaves. At the top level we visited the shrine, ate an ice cream, and then went up on the roof to admire the golden pinnacle, and the panoramic views. 

A quick trip to the metal roofed temple at Wat Ratchanatdaram and a pause for a smoothie and a waffle, (it was still high thirties) and we riverboat to take us to Wat Arun, the sunset temple, covered in beautiful and intricate white and patterned mosaics, with demons and little wizards holding up the roofs.

In the evening we ate a pad Thai (Lisa's had something odd in it, we don't think it was meat, but we don't know what it might have been), and drank a mai Thai and all was well. 

On Monday we took the metro to the central railway station, and bought two tickets for the two hour journey to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand. It cost us about 35p for the tickets, and we sat in comfy leather seats, and looked out of the window at rural Thailand whooshing by as people tried to sell us food and drink in the carriage. 

On arrival we took a walk past the hundreds of tuktuks all trying to sell us tours, through the most rancid smelling market I have ever known, paused to eat crepes and drink smoothies, and then we hit the temples hard. 

The temples here are a combination of ruins, rebuilt from the ruins, and rebuilt to show what they would have been like (if concrete had been available back then) but they were very spectacular, and we spent ages wandering around.

A tuktuk back to the station, and a short wait for our train (we bought tickets for e express, which were more expensive, at about 40p each) which on arrival was completely rammed, so we stood crushed up against random people for the first hour of the journey, which was not amazingly pleasant. We ate pizza for dinner! 

We took the tube back and then walked the last bit through Lumpini park, where lisa had run the previous evening. 

Our final day, and we did the royal palace, another incredible complex of temples and shrines, including the emerald Buddha, the palace itself (not allowed in, but we watched the guards parade around) and an exhibition on the Queen's wonderful clothing through the years. 

We then bought some trinkets in the backpacker district, including some first class haggling, and took the bus back to the mall, where we ate Japanese food, and then got the packing done for our early flight in the morning. 

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