Friday, 25 July 2008

What Wat? - Part 2

If there were a few qualities I had to laud about the second hotel we stayed in (Boonsiri Place) during our week in Bangkok, it would be their imaginative photography that concealed their otherwise modest capacity for enticement.

A pretty telling indicator of my discomfort with this hotel was the speed with which I snapped out of our collective Park 9 lethargy, and the constant desire to go out and see lots of attractions! :) That we managed to wake up in time for breakfast for both mornings we were there, was further proof! I know I'm just being harsh, as there were really lots of other factors for us finally doing some sightseeing - proximity to seeable sights, milder weather, guilt and urgency over the rapidly diminishing time left in Bangkok, etc...

First, it must be said that all the late nights I'd spent studying, comparing and superimposing my 3 maps of Bangkok prior to the trip (errr, there must be some kind of international cabby code about all foreigners being easy prey, that I'd aimed to thwart) weren't in vain, although some minor roads not being reflected on the maps created a few tiny headaches at certain intersections. Fortunately it soon became apparent that I was in the company of a former Boy Scout with an innate compass, and he ended up being more reliable than my maps and me combined! :)

On my list: The Forensic Museum at the Siriraj Hospital on the other bank of the Chao Phraya, Khao San Road, a dinner cruise, the Giant Swing and several of the legendary temples you'd see on postcards, such as Wat Arun, Wat Traimit and Wat Phra Kaew.

Giant Swing - check!

Khao San Road - check!

Finally, for the first time in my trips to Bangkok, I'm seeing the fabled fried winged things!

I wasn't game enough to try any of those, but managed to coax Boy Scout into sharing a box of pad thai with me even though neither of us was really hungry :

I was truly delighted that he was willing to try lots of foreign (to him!) stuff in Singapore and in Bangkok, but like me, he could not ignore the inviting smells! I was also swayed by the sight of the different mounds of noodles (my favourite form of carbs!) and the dexterity of the pad thai peddlers! Taste-wise, the noodles turned out to be fantastic, and at 25 baht (SGD 1), if I remember correctly, little wonder why I want to live there!

We had to call it a night after our tour of Khao San Road, as I was bent on waking up early to make it to the Forensic Museum the next morning! What a bummer, though, upon arrival, to learn that photography was not allowed! :(

What I did get to snap, though, was Wat Arun from the ferry that took us across the Chao Phraya:

Never did enter it or even venture close to it, though! How embarrassing! Same goes for Wat Traimit and its general vicinity (Chinatown/Yaowarat).

As for Wat Phra Kaew, as Boy Scout and I were about to cross the street to peer in, well-worn map in hand, a genial geriatric came up to offer us help to get to our destination. We could pretty well see it from where we were, but he was insistent, and when he started suggesting other temples to visit and a certain type of tuk-tuk to take at a certain price, I knew it was time to get dismissive, heh heh, something Boy Scout was reluctant to be. :) With a sweeping "It's almost 5pm, I'll see all those temples tomorrow", I managed to send Genial Geriatric on his way. I felt bad about it, but I'd been taken for an idiot tourist enough times in Bangkok and I was just too tired to entertain anymore of it.

Thanks to Genial Geriatric's history lesson in decent English, I could better appreciate these pictures I managed to take over the wall surrounding the temple:

How sad, really. I'd certainly have enjoyed going in and taking pictures of its interior, but I feared the worst - more touts with more convincing causes, and the idiot in me parting with my life savings out of sympathy.

Dinner cruise - almost didn't make it! Whew! What an adventure! I'd noted down from this site the addresses and operating hours of several dinner cruise operators and opted for the Khanam Nab Restaurant. When we'd left our hotel, we decided to take a tuk-tuk for a change to the Krung Thon bridge, but less than a kilometre away from the hotel, our tuk-tuk broke down! The poor driver kept telling us to take another one while he sought help, but it was hard telling him we weren't in a hurry and so we stuck around until another tuk-tuk driver came by and helped him restart his vehicle.

I'd been telling Boy Scout for ages about my awe of the Thai art of driving (he used to work diagonally across from me when I lived in France and so was familiar with my driving perils), part of the reason I wanted us to take a tuk-tuk, but no acrobatics were to be witnessed that day. :( The driver seemed versed in the Highway Code and not once swerved or took the lane for oncoming traffic to overtake other motorists, that I actually was quite disappointed with all that courtesy and road safety! ;-)

What did annoy me slightly, though, was his repeated advice about there being "nothing to see" at Krung Thon, followed by a suggestion to take us to the Rama IX bridge instead. When in doubt, ignore.

Ignore we did and we got to our destination, but we were on the wrong side of the bridge and as we crossed it, we could only marvel at the majestic Rama IX bridge that the tuk-tuk driver kept wanting us to see:

As it turned out, Khanab Nam no longer did dinner cruises and so we almost sprinted to Riverside Hotel, whose cruises started at 8, and were in the nick of time! We boarded so quickly neither of us managed to take a picture of the cruise ship, but what we did manage to make up for what we missed because of the touts:

Wat Phra Kaew by night

Wat Arun by night

In between casting admiring glances at Boy Scout and at the monuments, there was not much left for me to do... nonetheless, a parting shot from him, what he thinks would make the perfect Thai postcard:

part 3 to be written soon

Thursday, 17 July 2008

What Wat? - Part 1

What can I say? I have this growing belief that I could seriously live in Bangkok! (and I'm willing - abillity to be determined at some indeterminate future date - to learn Thai just to fit in)

It is dangerously naïve to equate a holiday experience with the sinister unknown of actually living in another country, and one whose language I can hardly decipher, but it's only 2 hours from here (make that 48 by rail via Malaysia!)! So I can run home anytime, can't I? ;-)

Still on a high from my recent trip there - my third and longest there in more years than I care to admit - I still have that nagging sehnsucht I don't seem to get with other holiday destinations! All this despite the clingy touts, mosquitoes, incomplete sidewalks and lack of good Bloody Marys!

Maybe it was the company I had this time, or the places we managed to visit, but definitely no small part of it was thanks to the fortunate choice of hotels!!! :) My back (and upper arms) are still sore from all the self-congratulatory motions, but it was well worth it!

The weeks leading up to the Bangkok trip were packed with lots of work, tension, excitement and fatigue, so checking into The Park 9 upon arrival was just such a treat...

Tough decision between shopping and lounging around in the hotel pool and jacuzzi!

It was far from central Bangkok and the main touristy attractions, and indeed, not even close to the nearest BTS station, so that just added to our list of excuses to not step out before sundown, heh heh..

Our sloth was further encouraged by the little hotel buggy that would take us to the nearest mall for free:

For someone whose only capacity for a green thumb is a gangrenous one, the lush greenery absolutely helped me forget the concept of "work"... how soothing to watch koi being fed!

Suffice it to say that when we had to check out 4 short days after our arrival in Bangkok, we realised that we'd only seen the interior of 2 shopping malls and a few random streets, not even a single wat!

Everything was to change with the next hotel, though... an abundance of wats and the removal of luxury, that's what!

to be continued...