Sunday 15 July 2001 – Bangkok
Had breakfast with Chris at an American chain coffee shop in the Siam Centre across the road from our hotel. Very few places, not even McDonalds, open before 9.00am, limiting the choices even more than I’d found in Malaysia. Chris had thoughtfully not done the highlights of Bangkok’s sightseeing yesterday, saving the best until I’d arrived, so we planned our day.
We started a hair-raising taxi ride, often on the wrong side of the road and at terrifying speeds, to the Grand Palace. We walked to the National Museum which has an amazing collection including Royal Funeral Wagons, Thai art and archaeological exhibits, costumes, musical instruments and even a War Elephant. It was pretty dry and musty, but charming and interesting for all that. I was caught short during the visit and, I confess, ended up using an Asian-style squat toilet, there being no other sort available, for the first time in my trip!
We walked down to Wat Pho, but someone told us that it was closed until 2.00pm (we learned later that this was not that case and to ignore such advice), and walked down to a fruit and vegetable market near Chinatown. It was very un-touristy, not even any touts were apparent in this area. Where ever else we went in Bangkok, there were touts and tuk-tuks trying to get us to go with them; umbrella sellers targeted especially the Japanese tourists.
It was all very hot and polluted, and I will say I found Bangkok pretty hard work. Walking back to the Grand Palace we met a Thai man on the street who spoke good English and started chatting to us, offering advice on where to go during our stay. This is not uncommon and most such people will be trying to take you to a shop or somewhere where they get a commission. This chap, however, turned out to be an exception – he was a teacher and honestly just wanted to give a couple of tourists some good suggestions on ways to enjoy Bangkok, which was refreshing.
At the Grand Palace, we zipped on our trouser legs so as to be appropriately dressed for a Royal palace. It is a great gaudy complex decorated in gold leaf, ceramic and glass tiles. We saw the Emerald Bhudda. It was extremely hot by this time, and we had to keep buying water and seek shade wherever we could find it. Then we went to Wat Pho, a huge temple and monastery complex next to the Grand Palace. Shoes off again we saw the huge Reclining Bhudda, which was unfortunately largely obscured by scaffolding and crowds, but it was nevertheless amazing.
Wat Pho is also home to the most respected school of Thai massage so we queued up and eventually had our best massages yet. My masseuse really worked on my shoulder ligaments, stretching and pulling until they moved freely (after a fortnight of humping my heavy rucksack around they were stiff and sore) – great!
After a wash back at our hotels, we headed to Nailert and Pratinam markets, that had been recommended to us by our teacher-friend. They were closing but we managed to purchase a small soapstone Bhudda each and I drove a hard bargain on two dozen Thai silk scarves to take as gifts for those at home. Had dinner at another Thai restaurant in the World Trade Centre, a large shopping mall. It was quite good, probably the best yet. Chris ordered his favourite pineapple fried rice (being vegetarian and quite conservative about his food), and I ordered curried seafood and a green mango salad.
We walked back to MBK in the hope of finishing our shopping there but it was just closing, so we returned to our hotels to deposit our purchases and headed to Patpong again. I bought more gifts and a sarong – I can’t buy anything else or my plane will never take off! Chris decided he needed to see a Patpong Road go-go girly bar. I’d witnessed some of this action on Samui (go go girls emerged after the drag show, whereupon I left!), but decided that a girly bar in Bangkok was probably something that a traveler should see once in his life so accompanied him.
We went to Kings Castle, a pretty tame place recommended in Chris’ Frommers guide book for not having cover charges or other steep ‘hidden’ costs that have trapped some people in other establishments. Inside, we ordered drinks and sat back to watch a dozen or so Thai girls in bikinis gyrate boredly in front of an audience of tourists. Ten minutes and one drink was plenty for both of us!
In the market outside one was constantly approached by touts for clubs offering more exotic fare. They all had ‘menus’ of the delicacies on offer. According to the few menus I glanced at, there was much use of Ping-Pong balls. Whilst I can imagine (although I’d rather not!) what ‘pussy blowing candle’ might involve, I can’t and don’t wish to know the details of ‘pussy chopsticks’ or ‘pussy rainbow’ or any of the other offerings on their various menus of exotica!