First experience of Bangkok
The official at immigration waved me over to their empty desk, inspected my landing card, stamped it and motioned to me to proceed. My bag and I arrived simultaneously at baggage reclaim and a few seconds later I was landside in Bangkok. My Scottish winter weight jacket, jumper, body warmer etc disappeared into the suitcase.
On the way to a cafe I got a week's worth of mobile internet for 300 Baht, about £6. The planned Iced Coffee turned into Lemon Juice with the legendary scourge of Tourist Stomach: Ice. This time Scottish Stomach won.
It took a while finding a taxi driver who could read the hotel name and find someone to tell them where it was. There was an extra 20 Baht for booking from the station and a 50 Baht surcharge for using the expressway, avoiding Bangkok's continual efforts to attain the world record for traffic congestion.
After changing into climate appropriate clothing it was time to find food. A meal and a beer later ( Chang is more to my taste than Singha or Leo) we to wandered into a massage parlour for a standard Thai Massage. Thai massage is not actually a massage, but a form of assisted Yoga and ideally a type of meditation. It was very relaxing and invigorating.
Chinatown was a no brainer. Unfortunately since English is not taught in Thai schools finding a Taxi driver who could understand “ChinaTown” proved a little challenging. This is how we found ourselves outside Wat Traimit, just outside Chinatown. Wat Traimit is the temple of the Golden Buddha, a solid gold statue, covered, some centuries ago, covered in plaster, presumably to hide it from invaders and everyone forgot what was inside till 1955 when, on trying to hoist the statue into a new location, the rope broke. Since there was a thunderstorm going on work stopped for the day but the next morning it was found that the plaster concealed black lacquer and the lacquer covered gold. Now the 15 foot tall 15 foot wide 5.5 ton Buddha statue, sits serenely on a plinth in its chapel (It does not look that big). The atmosphere in the chapel prompts veneration and the decoration inside is spectacular.
Bangkok is full of temples, but one was enough and food beckoned. We eventually found a Chinese restaurant near the Bangkok Hospital. The food was good but contained a trap for unwary customers: some fish are sold by weight resulting in an unexpectedly large portion and bill, if your brain was not dulled by the heat causing you to miss this fact.
That night we went to one of the show bars in Sukhumvit. It was fun watching western men at their worst, and some slightly more mature ladyboys working the customers, and the drinks were a reasonable price. The lack of information in English made us cautious but the mosquitoes fed well.
Since few taxi drivers spoke English and we lacked the confidence to try the metro and buses we resorted to writing down were we wanted to go and asking the hotel staff to translate the directions into Thai. This proved reasonably successful.
Bangkok Taxi drivers are notorious for trying to negotiate an off meter fare but this allowed haggling over the fares probably to mutual advantage. But seeing a taxi driver having to phone someone or ask a colleague for directions to tourist attractions proved a little disconcerting.
Bangkok Zoo openly advertises that the entrance fee is the foreigner price. Thai people pay less. Still it is cheap by comparison with Europe and for a little extra you can buy a hop on hop off ticket for the railless trams that run round the zoo. Highlights were the bears, though some seemed stressed while others in the same compound seemed totally chilled out. All seemed to perk up at feeding time. Monkeys obliged by behaving like... Monkeys and the hornbills were spectacular. The hippopotami were hiding from the heat and the albino muntjac deer was keeping as far away from hums as possible. The fish were fintastic and we enjoyed the reptile house. The sign saying not to pat the crocodiles showed what could happen, and perhaps had happened. The sign on the Lemur cage said they live 19 days but become mature at the age of two years. Apart from a vague worry that some of the animals were less than happy it was great day but it proved impossible to see everything.
Trying to find the Bangkok National museum we ended at the Bangkok Arts and Cultural centre which included exhibitions on Vernacular Architecture complete with models and photographs. It is an impressive 9 storey building with exhibitions on most floors and cafes at ground level. Traffic is so heavy outside that the only way to cross the road is via the walkway system. The receptionist told us that the Bangkok National Museum was elsewhere (the information from Google was wrong) so that became the goal for the next day.
The Bangkok National Museum turned out to be a cluster of buildings some closed for renovation. The Gallery of Thai History had some interesting artefacts but did not tell a story. The buildings in the centre, previously occupied by the Royal Family contained too much to see properly. Again it was not possible to see everything in the time available and it was well worth the visit.
Bangkok is a city to fall in love with, despite the traffic and the insects. If you want to remain in a Western Bubble go to Khao San Road (The street food is excellent), otherwise try more local places. If you want shopping and like gourmet food try Terminal 21. Chinatown is worth exploring and this can only be done on foot. Avoid the Tourist Information Office: They could provide no information and only wanted to sell tours.
What sticks in my memories is the people, mostly friendly, the buildings, the warmth, the food, Thai Massage, Mekhong Whisky, Chinatown, Night Markets and the Temples.