So the clock continues to click and my sojourn is drawing ever forwards to the end. I shall return to the UK on 12th March early evening and hopefully will have braced myself whatever the weather has evolved to. I note 31 degrees and Blue Skies here and -1 degrees in UK – Yuk!
I had to check myself the other day as I suddenly reflected how dismissive one can be at anothers excitement. This manifested itself in the delight of finding a new restaurant in Bangkok and attempting to recommend it to some friends. The recipient enquired where it was and exclaimed “oh yes we’ve been there – didn’t like it much – food not good and service wasn’t good either!’ Disheartened I pursued the conversation and enquired when they had been. ‘Oh about 5 years ago’
Yet again my enthusiasm rekindled I announced with delight that the present incumbents were new owners and that I had found no reflection worthy of their observations.
This nicely brings me to the reason for yet another trip to Bangkok. Having been there so many times over the past 20 plus years I now derive much joy in taking new visitors to Thailand and seeing it all through new eyes and adventurers. This happened when dear friend Robbie dropped into Thailand for a week for a first visit. Would it conjure the same magic I wondered? So we headed for Bangkok from Pattaya for a day visit leaving at 6.45 in the morning. The ‘must’ visit has to be Wat Phra Kaew (The Grand Palace and The Temple of the Green Jade Buddha) Our two hour bus journey got us to On Nut Tesco and Sky Train service – a mobile phone top up and refreshment and we were on our way. Of course arriving into Bangkok and like many cities you are aware of the volume of people and traffic. All part of the Sights and Sounds of Thailand (Oh by the way they never mention the smells! and Robbie had already experienced those having had no rain for several months. The combination of sweet fruit peelings such a pineapple – mango and durian with fish sauce and what other combination of spices you care to imagine in this caldron of heat sitting in bins awaiting collection is beyond most folks imagination and defies plausible description – this for sure does not fit into the ‘Silent But Deadly’ for those familiar with the term category – it just makes you gasp in horror.) Enough said.
Sky Train (a brilliant addition to Bangkok transport facilities as well as the Underground – British Engineering – yes!) whisked us to Siam and then a line change and onto Saphan Taksin. Here a trip on the River Bus up to Wat Phra Kaew jetty. The Great Chaopraya River (The River of Kings) bustling with ferries, pleasure boats, long tail boats and lighters all going about their daily business. Flanked on either side of the River, warehouses, hotels, blocks of flats and some of the numerous temples – Buddhist – Chinese and Shrines. One notable one being Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).
Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace still holds for me a magic and core to the meaning of Thailand. I was overwhelmed and had forgotten the volume of tourists. Undeterred we arrived at the gates appropriately dressed for the visit and went for our tickets. I insisted Robbie had the audio guide in preference to a personal guide. I had found this not only informative about the Wat but also gave an insight to some of the history of Thailand and its long dynasties. Now the joy as I let him off to wander and marvel. Would the magic work. It did. As I watched from a distance his exploration – taking pictures marveling at the architecture, the decoration, perceiving and understanding of this great centre piece of Thai culture the expressions on his face were a great satisfaction. The heat of the day of course got to us and no shade to count on. From building to building we wandered absorbing it all like a sponge mopping up water. My personal take – Wat Phra Kaew Revisited and not dismissed that I had done it all before. Each time I visit I see it through another’s eyes and see new intricacies that I had not seen before. Is that growing older or just seeing things from a different angle? Saturated with culture and the heat we left and headed back to the River. Robbie had previously read of my visit to the Mandarin Oriental – Baan Sala Rim Naam Restaurant and wanted to try the Thai Buffet Luncheon so that was to be our next destination. Arriving by customized ferry and greeted by elegantly uniformed staff with the customary wai we were escorted through the gardens to the Sala. There we entered the beautiful and ornately decorated Sala – air conditioned and sat at our table behind the huge glassed windows overlooking the River. Liquid refreshments and adventures to the lengths of Buffet Tables displaying Thai Fare of many regions and ingredients – our luncheon began.
We collated combinations of salads and crispy bits with dipping sauces and then onto the hot dishes that of course is heated and spicy accompanied by numerous choices of rice. Finally the puddings table and for me my favourite fresh mango and sticky rice. We chatted and mused over the day so far till we were encouraged by the staff to leave as we observed their preparations for the evening serving. Another experience to be tried on another occasion, the Thai Banquet and traditional Thai dancing cabaret. I have done this many times and still enjoy the spectacle.
The short ferry ride now back across the river took us to the main hotel and a meander through the gardens into the original colonial building prepared for a wedding reception. Garlands of tropical flowers draped everywhere the eye could see tingling with bright colours set against the back cloth of the opulence and ivory décor. Serene and quietly elegant, trying to be understated. Perchance as we wandered I found a room I hadn’t seen before, the Reading Room. A step back, to colonial grandeur and silence for just the purpose. A well kept haven almost like a gentleman’s club room. Leather and dark woods, with reading lamps to aid the participants in this little den. The next sights were the small boutique malls of shops offering trinkets the likes of us could only ogle at and dream. Precious stones, cashmeres’ and priceless antiques of a bygone era. The jade had caught Robbie’s eye.
My next plan was a trip on a Tuk Tuk. A motorbike with a carriage. I guess the motorized version of a rickshaw. Once the main option of transport in Bangkok but now slowly diminishing as air conditioned taxis take their place. One has to do it once to experience the heat, pollution and bustle in the busy streets. Our destination Pat Pong and Silom. For those not in the know Pat Pong consists of two streets which at night become a thriving street market. Flanked on both side by bars and entertainment centers that provide Bangkok with its rather seedy reputation. Amazing how just two small streets can describe and set the tone for such a huge city but there you go. Our arrival witnessed nothing of this as it was mid afternoon and setting up was in process. So shopping malls it was. Then to meet a friend who offered refreshment and a chance for a shower and fresh up. Their residence one of the tallest in Bangkok. 60 plus floors. Swimming pool on the 9th and what they called Social Community areas on the 28th and 47th offering areas to have parties with BBQ facilities chairs and tables with of course stunning views across the city and our treat watching the sun go down. Not so sure I could live on the 54th floor – seems a little bizarre to me being permanently suspended as if in a plane. Each to their own.
Then to Silom and Soi 4 for a delightful supper at Sphinx. Crispy Som Tam, Birds Nest Patties, Duck with Coconut and Lychee, Stuffed Omelet, Prawns with Pomello, Crispy Sea Bass fillets with Tamarind Sauce and Pineapple filled Stir Fried Rice with Prawns and Chicken – a feast indeed and maybe a tad over the top never the less we munched and did our best. Of course, washed down with libations of varying kinds and sources from around the world. Our chariot arrived at 10.00 pm. Ah my new formula to end a busy and enjoyable day a taxi ride home and no effort to deal with the arduous bus journey. At 1300 baht (about 28.00 GBP) for the 150 km ride home door to door I reckon a snip and a must.
This was Thursday and Robbie spent a quiet day Friday cruising the shops and I the evening hit Pattaya with some new found friends from the hotel. Saturday we met once again and collected his ordered pictures and enjoyed a buffet luncheon on the 16th Floor of the Pattaya Hilton with it terrace overlooking the Bay of Pattaya – busy with the speed boats and water craft dashing to all corners of the Bay and also out to the local islands. Speed boats pulling parachutes high in the air with a tourist dangling underneath and the heat haze of the day. So back to his hotel to be greeted by his car to whisk him back to the airport. The hoped for vow came – I will be coming back soon ! The magic had worked…………..
I have alluded to the wonder of Thailand on numerous occasions previously so won’t belabor it. Though I will say visiting Pattaya or even Phuket does not mean you have been to Thailand. They are holiday resorts. Beach, Sea and Sunshine (and whatever else you care to find and experience!) I doubt you have experienced a 5 Star Hotel unless you have visited the Orient. This vast country three plus times the size of the UK offers diversity for all with four distinctly different regions. It’s certainly not everybody’s cup of tea thankfully but it does strike a chord with many. The four day hop over many do on their way to the Antipodes does not do it justice in any way – you barely get out of Bangkok. You could of course do a Rice Barge cruise to Ayutthaya – up the river and over night at Bang Paa In and back – that would be a good taster. If you have visited and it was a few years ago I would say Bangkok has probably been rebuilt several times since. Buildings appear from nowhere and weren’t there yesterday…. The country is such a contradiction – relative poverty and wealth everywhere. Culture oozing and commerce abounds with optimism and fervor and then in the countryside more rural and living on the land that is almost medieval. Oh the Sights and Sounds – and the Smells !
Guess this is me now signing out for now. Hope you enjoyed my musings and hope to catch up with you soon.