A Travellerspoint blog

Angkor Thom, wobbly and all!!

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat...

sunny 34 °C

20th February 2011

We were outside in brilliant sunshine by 9am this morning tucking into a nice breakfast of, guess what? Eggs!! Coffee was the order of the day and we were soon reviving ourselves. A mother and daughter were on an adjacent table and asked where we were from and we got chatting. It turned out that they arrived the night before also, and had, unfortunately, fallen for the visa scam at the border with both of them paying $40 each for their visas instead of the actual $20 it should have been. Then they were subjected to the same bus scam as we were and the whole thing was too much for the daughter who, apparently, spent the evening in tears over the whole episode and they said it had already soured their trip to Cambodia. We told them our story and concluded that we were much luckier than they were!
We had emailed our next guest house a couple of days ago to ask if they could arrange to pick us up from the Golden Mango and, sure enough, they sent a Tuk Tuk to get us at midday. It was roasting hot by now and the breeze was welcome as we tore along at 20 mph on the back of a moped with a cage! About a mile down the road we pulled up outside Rosie’s Guest House, just by the river. Although not as pretty as the Golden Mango it made up for it with a bar, pool table, free internet, free DVD library for guests, a Wii and they served food at the bar! Our room was quite nice with a big double bed, TV, aircon and a huge fan (that turned out to be very handy when it came to drying our clothes!). our venture outside in Cambodia ended in ignominy! One of our hosts, who answered to the monika of Smiley, gave us a map and showed us the route to an area called the Old Market. Wanting to spend an entire day at Angkor Wat, we decided to leave the temples for another day and walk to the market area. After getting some cash from the ATM in the nearby fuel station, we came out .... and immediately took a wrong turn! The heat was almost unbearable as we trudged up the road, the sweat was literally dripping down our backs and legs and in no time we looked as though we’d fallen in the river. It became apparent after around 20 minutes of this hell that we’d taken a wrong turn, so started the long walk back to Rosie’s. A cooling ice cream later (and after, ironically, giving someone else directions to the Golden Mango!!) we got back to Rosie’s, Jen needing to change shoes as, like the day itself, her feet were blistering! Taking the opportunity to change clothes we headed back out and this time we went in the right direction, walking along the river. Noticing an interesting looking Temple on the way, we went in for a quick look around Wat Prom Rath. The first thing we saw was two women towards the back of the Wat walking towards the east side of the temple pulling a rope which was attached to a bucket. As the bucket went up it was pulled off by another woman working on a building site and she in turn dumped the contents and reconnected the bucket to the rope. The two bucket pullers also had to contend with three squabbling children at the same time! The women here seem to do everything – including building! Our brief look around became even briefer as we noticed the gates were being shut so we hurried round the back and exited through a side gate and found ourselves at the rear of a small shopping mall. After a very quick look around the very boring shops in there we headed for the market proper. The market was fascinating and had hundreds upon hundreds of stalls in a labyrinthine arrangement and you could never work out if you had been down the lane before or not! It was easy to get lost in there as there were so many lanes to explore and the products ranged from the tacky to the exquisite. It was difficult escaping from the clutches of the vendors because as soon as you showed the slightest interest in any of their wares they were on you like a moth to a flame! We just smiled politely, shook our heads and said no thanks, ignoring their pleas for us to “buy sarnthin nice”! Hunger pangs appeared and we decided to be bold and found a street restaurant that had other tourists eating in so sat down and flipped through their menu. Opted for a safe bet and went with a plate of fried rice with chicken and pineapple, with a beer and an orange juice. It wasn’t a terrific meal to be honest but was incredibly cheap – the whole bill coming to under £4! Jen’s orange juice was as expensive as the meal itself! Walking out of there we headed for the night market which was a great place to shop. They had some wonderful things in there and we found ourselves picking up Buddha heads and comparing them from stall to stall. This was what we were going to have as our memento from Cambodia. The problem was they were too heavy and we kept having to put them back which was a shame. Walking round the market we found an unusual bar called the Island Bar, made out in tropical island theme. It was very loud and very busy – as well as being very pricey! We had a drink or two here and watched people come and go and then headed back out into the lanes of the market for a final look around before hitting the by now very busy streets and strolled back along the river to Rosy’s. After a quick look at our emails downstairs on the computers we were off to bed, exhausted but quite contented!

22nd February 2011

Yesterday it was Stew’s turn to feel unwell and we did very little. In fact all we actually managed was a short walk to some local temples and a short stroll along the river where we were shocked at the riverside slums being so close to the Royal residence.

The nice side of the Siem Reap river...

The nice side of the Siem Reap river...


...and the not so nice side of the Siem Reap river!

...and the not so nice side of the Siem Reap river!


Slums on the river bank

Slums on the river bank


The rich and the poor side by side in Siem Reap

The rich and the poor side by side in Siem Reap

But this morning we were quite determined to go and see the famous Angkor Wat - despite Stew still feeling lousy - and so were up reasonably early, grabbed a greasy (but delicious!) bacon roll for breakfast at Rosy’s and commandeered a waiting Tuk Tuk driver to take us to the most famous sight in Siem Reap. We had decided we’d purchase a three day pass to see everything the World Heritage Site had to offer as we knew we wouldn’t get round it in a single day and our driver duly took us to the proper ticket booths (which are quite some way from the temples themselves) where we had our photos taken and put on our passes! We were then driven to the colossal and overwhelming site of Angkor Wat. Built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as his capital city and state temple, it is a huge and impressive sight from across the wide moat that surrounds it and upon entering the main gate and walking through to the inner courtyard, the sheer scale of the place becomes apparent. It is a behemoth of a temple (in fact the largest religious building in the world) and is split into sections with small buildings leading off the main causeway on both sides. Unfortunately our sight of the main part of the temple, where the five towers are, was spoilt by the front section of the main gateway being covered in green tarpaulins and scaffolding as restoration work was being carried out at the time! It was an unbelievably hot day again as we walked the very long walk along the causeway to the main part of the temple and entered through the gate, an orange sashed, golden Buddha welcoming us as we walked through into the inner courtyard. To our left and right were long corridors of pillars with huge sections of wall in relief depicting battles from the Hindu Ramayama and Mahabharata and almost everywhere we looked there was at least one carving of an apsara (celestial nymph) or a devata (female guardian) all perfectly rendered from stone. When the temple was first built, it was to honour the Hindu God Vishnu, the temple being designed by the Khmer to represent Mount Meru, the home of the Gods; the five towers symbolising the five peaks of Meru, the walls representing the surrounding mountains and the moat symbolising the oceans. From the 13th century it changed over time and became a Buddhist place of worship and is still used today.

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The amazing Angkor Wat

The amazing Angkor Wat


Another old ruin in Angkor Wat!

Another old ruin in Angkor Wat!

It took ages to walk round and the heat began to take its toll on us. Also, in truth, everywhere we looked was almost the same and we began to, believe it or not, get a little bored! We checked our little map that came with our tickets and noticed that another part of the complex, Angkor Thom, looked as though it was fairly near so we decided to take a walk to that one to check it out. Walking down a long, tree lined dirt road toward Angkor Thom we happened upon another derelict building that was surely part of the same complex but we couldn’t find it on our map. It was quite small but so beautiful in its completely dilapidated state and we spent a while looking over it and its surrounding area which included a lake and a small, pretty wooded patch with trees and shrubs.

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Atmospheric ruins at the rear of Angkor Wat

Atmospheric ruins at the rear of Angkor Wat

From here we carried on our ever lengthening walk and reached a small gate, the other side of which lurked many young girls and women all carrying things for our delectation! Stepping across the boundary of the gate was like firing a starting pistol as they all came towards us at once, postcards, bracelets, water, fruit, books and other goods being proffered and stuck under our noses with each one of the women speaking at the same time! It was as though a murder of crows had learned to speak pidgin English....!! After repeating the same “No thanks” for the thousandth time we made it past them and continued our walk to Angkor Thom which should have been, by now, in our sights but all we had in front of us was the same dirt track we’d been walking. A little way up lay a Tuk Tuk, complete with slumbering driver so we woke him up and asked him how much further it was to Angkor Thom. He looked at our map and told us we were going in the totally wrong direction and we needed to walk back through Angkor Wat and onto the road to get to it! Expecting him to volunteer his services to take us he simply rolled back over on his seat and closed his eyes once more. We said our thanks and grinned at one another and then realised we had to walk back past the vultures once again. Steeling ourselves for the onslaught once more we walked back towards the gate but the rush never came! Instead they just left us alone to walk back through towards the temple again. The trudge back along the dirt road seemed even longer than before as we wilted in the stifling heat, searching for shade at every opportunity. On reaching Angkor Wat we walked through its cooling corridors and back along the causeway (taking more photos on the way!) and stopped for a rest when we reached the main gate. Some saffron-robed monks were looking around this part of the temple and we snapped away at them as they walked around.

Saffron-robed monks explore Angkor Wat

Saffron-robed monks explore Angkor Wat

After slaking our thirsts with the last of our water we hauled ourselves through the gate and along the causeway across the moat and into the road where we hailed a Tuk Tuk to take us to Angkor Thom. It turned out to be quite a journey and we were glad we hadn’t attempted the walk! Crossing a bridge lined with figures holding the stone balustrade we trundled through an archway decorated with an amazing stone face and on through to the Bayon, the main building of Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom (which literally means “Great City”) was the last capital of the Khmer empire to be built and the whole site is spread over nine square kilometres with the Bayon at the heart of the city. It was just fantastic! Again there was lots of renovation work being carried out with cranes and diggers in attendance but no tarpaulins or scaffolding to spoil the view of the many stone-carved faces that adorned most of the vast building. After paying our driver and clambering out of the tiny vehicle we followed two more monks into the wonderful ruins, following them for a short time trying to capture a great photograph but left them alone after a little while! We wandered around the corridors, up and down small, stone staircases, and in and out of every nook and cranny we could find! It was fascinating and we were completely captivated by the wonderful carved rock faces of, apparently, a quadruple-faced Hindu Bodhisattva. Now and again we would find a decorated idol or a statue hidden away in a darkened alcove – some of them tended by a man or a woman who tried to offer an incense stick for you to burn in return for a donation! We couldn’t get enough of the place – it really is that wonderful and, for us anyway, outshone its more famous neighbour, Angkor Wat. Another few hours disappeared in the oppressive heat and our visit (as well as our energy) was at an end!

The entry gate into the Angkor Thom complex

The entry gate into the Angkor Thom complex


A robed monk ponders Angkor Thom

A robed monk ponders Angkor Thom


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The wonderful Angkor Thom in Siem Reap

The wonderful Angkor Thom in Siem Reap


Two lovely faces at Angkor Thom!

Two lovely faces at Angkor Thom!

We looked around the surrounding area before waving down a passing tuk tuk and setting off to watch the sun set over Angkor Wat, our driver telling us he’d wait to take us back to our guest house! They don’t miss a trick these guys... Unfortunately for us, the sunset wasn’t as spectacular as we’d hoped so we trudged back to our chariot and our driver duly took us home, stopping right outside Rosy’s. Not wanting to miss another opportunity, he asked where we would be going tomorrow!! After telling him we would find him if we needed him, we disappeared inside and went to our room where we changed out of our soaking wet clothes and flicked through our photos of the day before hunger overtook us and drove us back outside into the now cooling evening air and toward the market area where all the bars and restaurants reside. We walked alongside the Siem Reap river and noticed it was a haven for young courting couples as there were plenty of stone benches along the stretch and it was very dark.... It was also a haven for mozzies unfortunately. We were both famished and exhausted and wasted little time in our choice of both eatery and eatables – pizza for Jen, sweet and sour chicken with rice for Stew – which we devoured with gusto before hauling our weary selves back to Rosy’s. Our room come equipped with not just an air conditioning unit, but also a huge fan on the wall which comes in very handy to dry wet clothes! After checking our drying stuff and switching the fan off we just fell onto our bed and drifted off into the land of nod. Another traveller’s day done and dusted...

Posted by StewnJen 19:56 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Overstaying our welcome in Thailand...

Into Cambodia

sunny 33 °C

19th February 2011

It was border crossing time and once again we didn’t have any local currency. What was even more worrying, though, was that we didn’t know what would happen when we tried to exit Thailand and they found out our visas had already expired...

The now familiar shrill notes of the mobile phone alarm tone woke us from our occasional slumber at 4:15am and we sleepily headed for the shower which helped no end. Once down in reception we attacked the coffee machine and waited for our ride. It was late. It was only five minutes but it was enough to make us even more anxious than we already were! Just as we were about to ask the receptionist to phone the taxi company our ride pulled up outside at 5:20. We piled our bags in the boot and set off to Hua Lamphong railway station. The roads were surprisingly busy even at this ungodly hour and we were soon dragging our heavily laden, heavy eyed selves through the entrance of the station and up to the ticket counter. For the five and a half hour journey to Aranyaprathet (the last station just before the Thai-Cambodian border) the tickets cost an amazing 58 Baht each – that’s just over a pound per ticket! We purchased some supplies for the journey and installed ourselves in an almost empty carriage. It was comfortable enough but a little ramshackle here and there – not overly clean but not disgusting either. At 5:55am it clunked into life with a jolt and squealed its way out of the covered station and into the brightening day. As we picked up speed and left the grey concrete behind us, the landscape changed to bright green fields and trees. The land was completely flat – not a hill in sight for miles! People worked on their crop and rice fields using big, strong water buffalo to pull the heavy carts as our train trundled by. The scenery didn’t change much at all for many miles. Occasionally we would get the strong smell of burning wafting through the carriage and soon after would pass a field that had been set alight to rid it of grass and bush ready for cultivating. Huge orange flames leapt skywards as the long line of fire swept across the fields and verges turning everything black. As time passed we got more and more nervous the nearer we got to the border crossing! We really didn’t think we would be in any serious trouble for a one day overstay, but couldn’t be sure! When the old train finally came to a screeching halt at Aranyaprathet just before the border our next challenge was finding a bus to take us to the border proper, without being ripped off! When we walked out of the station we were surrounded by touts telling us we should take this bus, or that bus but we resolutely stuck to our guns and ignored them all, walking straight ahead trying to get our bearings and looking for a proper bus sign. We walked to a bus that looked like a proper public bus and asked the driver if it was bound for the Cambodian border. In bad English he grunted and pointed to a smallish, caged-back truck behind us. We really didn’t know if this was what we needed but people on the van shouted to us and beckoned us over. When we got there we were relieved to find another traveller on there and he confirmed this was the right bus! Jen couldn’t get on because the step was too high and she had to be pulled on by some of the locals already on the bus! They all found it most amusing! Stew took Jen’s backpack off her and stowed it in the only gap available for luggage and it was then that the traveller told us he hoped it was the right bus anyway! There were no seats left and we travelled like a cage of market-bound cattle all the way to the Thai-Cambodian border, hanging on for dear life and bouncing around all over the place. Our new found traveller friend (whose name we have completely forgotten!) came from Sweden and was travelling on his own for a few weeks, heading for Siem Reap, like us, to see Angkor Wat. Our rickety journey only took around fifteen minutes and we were soon where we expected the fun to begin. With trepidation we entered the Thailand immigration office and joined the long queue to passport control. Stew noticed an empty counter to our right with a sign that said “Visa overstays”. We swallowed hard and walked to the counter. A smaller sign above us stated the fine for each day’s overstay was 500 baht (about £10)! We have never been so happy to pay a fine! While the officer was typing away on her computer, Stew turned round to find about forty people in the queue behind us! Ten minutes later we were twenty quid down but had our exit stamps and we hurriedly passed through the gate and headed for the crossing into Cambodia. We had done a little research on the border crossing itself and had read stories where touts take you to what they call an ‘official border post’ and charge you double the actual visa fee. Armed with this valuable information, we completely ignored the shouts of “over here, over here” and walked past everybody until we came to a guy who looked like an official and asked him where the proper visa office was. He told us to follow him, trying to allay our scepticism by telling us he was a government worker, and we walked down a long passage, all the while wondering if he was another scammer! Our fears evaporated, though, when we saw signs for the border post. Walking through the entrance we found ourselves in what looked like a narrow, tatty tent lined down one side with old, wooden trestle tables with a number of people standing behind them giving out forms to travellers. This was a health questionnaire and was the first thing we had to fill in, saying whether or not we had been ill before arriving and would we be infecting the entire Cambodian population with the bubonic plague! Handing the completed forms back we were each given a yellow card in return, stating we were fit to enter the country! Another thing we had been warned about was the corruption of the actual officers there and that it is quite common for them to ask for a bribe in order to get your visa! The advice given was to smile but be firm and tell them you will pay no more than the bona fide visa fee of $20 (about £13). As we walked in there were three uniformed immigration officers standing in front of the counter, a big sign above their heads stating the Visa on arrival fee was indeed twenty US dollars. We walked over to the counter and one of the officers gave us our forms to fill in, which we did, and handed them back to him. He asked for a fee of 800 Baht (about £17)... Stew pointed to the sign above his head and said “No, it is twenty dollars”. Once again he asked for 800 baht, saying 100 Baht was for visa on arrival charges. Once again we said no, twenty dollars and pushed our passports, each with a twenty dollar bill inside, over the counter to the officer on the other side. The guy asking for more money gave us a wry smile, told us to sit down and wait until we were called and started talking to his colleague. We were quite smug in our little victory, but it wasn’t the money it was the principle and we wondered how many people just pay up without knowing or because of the intimidation. We sat down, now wondering whether there were going to be any hitches or further “fees” to be paid before we got our visas and noticed that the guy who had told us to follow him to the office was sitting waiting for us! Within fifteen minutes we were heading out the door with all the required paperwork and our new found guide showed us where to go next. Into another office we went, filled in yet another form, and joined the long queue of people needing their newly acquired visas officially stamped! We started chatting to another traveller, a long haired, bearded guy to while away the time waiting in the growing line. Finally after twenty or so minutes we got to the counter and waited for our passports to be handed back to us. At long last we walked out of the door and into Cambodia! Strangely enough, we met up with our Swedish friend once again and, lo and behold, our stalker guide was still there waiting for us! Something was strange about this and we tried to lose him but he insisted he was there to help us and pointed us towards the free shuttle bus that takes travellers to the bus station. We were just waiting for the sting as “free bus” didn’t sound quite right! Anyway, along it came and our “guide” put us on it, but didn’t get on himself and we began to feel a little guilty about having doubted him. The journey to the bus terminal was a long one. It was a very hot day and we were thankful of the cooling air conditioning on board. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the dust was swirling in the air currents around the bus. We stopped in the middle of nowhere, outside a huge white building. Literally just across the road a huge fire roared in a hedgerow by the side of the road, the pungent smell of smoke and crackling of burning branches filling the air. It looked spectacular and one could feel the heat radiating from the flames even on top of the scorching sun! Walking into the big building we were all at a loss as to what happened next so walked to the ticket counter to get more information. The bus tickets were $9 each and a taxi was $12. We opted for the taxi and were then asked for $48 dollars. When Stew pointed to the taxi price stuck in the window he was told that was per person with a maximum of four people. You had to pay for all four seats even if there were less than four people travelling, so the actual price of the taxi, in reality, was $48! Unsurprisingly we went for the bus option... We had met up once again with our bearded traveller friend too and the four of us (Stew, Jen, Beardy and Swede!) sat chatting for ages, each one of us in turn asking someone what time the bus was due to leave and each of us getting different answers! After polishing off a chicken burger and chips each, two bottles of water and a can of coke our bus still hadn’t materialized. Our stalker guide had turned up and he kept telling us departure would be in a few minutes. It was getting ridiculous and the reason for the delay became apparent about two hours later when another shuttle bus load of passengers turned up. It was obvious that the bus company was waiting to get as many people on board as it could before it would allow any buses to leave! A little while later, we were installed on board, our luggage in a pile towards the front of the bus, and on our way to Siem Reap. Very loud music is played on their buses, whether you want to listen to it or not, so to drown out the awful noise we put our iPods on and tried to relax while the driver did his level best to put us in an early grave! The horn on buses in this part of the world is used more than the accelerator! Their highway code must say “Mirror, signal, blast the horn, manoeuvre”!! Our driver spent more time on the wrong side of the road than he did on the correct side, forcing oncoming traffic to slow down so that he could make the small gap he was aiming for in front! The only thing to do was to not look forward, so we concentrated on watching the lovely scenery with small towns and villages zooming past us and left the driver to get on with it!
Around an hour and a half into the journey we pulled into a restaurant for a comfort break, the gruff, arrogant driver demanding that everyone get off as he was locking the doors. Stew told him to chill and calm down, enraging him even more as he shouted he didn’t care if anyone was on the bus, he was still locking the doors. Jen opted to stay on board as she was tired and wanted to sleep so Stew went to get a drink for her and, sure enough, the driver locked the doors! He was a stocky, miserable bloke and the intimidating front was to make sure you got off and bought something in the restaurant as it was all part of the system! Stew really disliked him and continued to tell him to shut up and chill just to wind him up! After half an hour of sitting around and being pestered by kids selling bracelets and charms three more buses turned up and this seemed to be a signal that we could move on! We were let back onto the bus and were soon underway once again. A total of three and a half hours journey resulted in us being dropped off at a Tuk Tuk station some way outside Siem Reap town! We had no option but to pay for a driver to take us to our guest house, The Golden Mango. It cost us 20000 Riel (about £3!) for a fifteen minute journey and arrived at around 19:30. We had read excellent reviews about this guest house and it didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately though, it was so popular we couldn’t book more than one night here! It really was a lovely, charming, comfortable place and off the main road out of the way, so was quiet too. The room was a nice size and very comfortable. We were absolutely exhausted after our long, arduous journey and had been on the road since 5:15. Although hungry, we were too tired to go out and search for food so opted for a can of Pringles and one Pot-Noodle between us for dinner! Not long after enjoying our sumptuous meal we passed out on our beds knowing we would have to move out of here and find Rosie’s Guest House somewhere in the city tomorrow morning.

Posted by StewnJen 21:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Wats the story....

Our final temple visit

sunny 33 °C

18th February 2011

Our last day in Bangkok and our last day in Thailand. There was still plenty to see but no time in which to see it! The target for us today was to be Wat Traimit, a temple that houses a huge Buddha image that stands (or sits!) at three meters tall, and weighs an astonishing five tonnes! But that isn’t the most astonishing thing about it....

After a wonderful (and well deserved!) lay in this morning we went down to reception and booked a taxi to pick us up at 5:15 am the next day, in readiness for our train journey to Cambodia. We then hit the New York deli for a very late breakfast and, once sated, we again put our lives in the hands of taxi drivers and the like by dashing across the busy main road to the subway station a little way up the street. We had crossed the road at an earlier point this time, so Stew failed in his attempt to stop Jen noticing the large Shopping Mall on the way and was dragged inside for a thorough examination of some the stores that Bangkok has to offer! After emerging over an hour later (empty handed!) we reached the MRT station further up the road. The station itself runs like clockwork and the queues always seemed to be quite small no matter what time we were there and we never had to wait more than a few minutes before our train came thundering in.
After exiting Hua Lamphong station we once again had to dash across an even busier road in the sweltering heat of the day and walked the fairly short distance to Wat Traimit. The golden tower of the temple was easy to see from a distance as, not only was it tall and imposing, but it glinted like a beacon in the bright sunshine. As we walked into the temple complex, the bright, brilliant white building dominated every inch of the square in which it sits. It is another majestic construction and different from the other Wats in that there are four floors. The ground floor is out of bounds for visitors and is used only by the saffron-robed monks, of which there are many at this particular temple. The second floor housed a museum showing how Chinatown in Thailand came to be. The third floor housed an exhibition showing how Buddha images are made and an explanation of how the Buddha in Wat Traimit was found. The top floor houses the astonishing image, or statue, itself - all five tonnes of it!
Because of what is housed in this particular temple, there is an entrance fee to help pay for the upkeep of the building and grounds so, with tickets in hand, we climbed the first set of steps and went through the Chinatown exhibition which charted the rise and rise of Thailand’s Chinatown district. Using life size mannequins, small, detailed models and photographs, day to day life was depicted from the early beginnings of the district right up to the modern day. Chinatown started when merchants left China in junks to trade with Siam and originally settled where the Grand Palace now stands. King Rama I changed all that when he wanted the capital to be on the east side of the Chao Phraya river forcing the settlers to relocate and they chose what is now Yaowarat Road and its surrounding area. Although it has expanded over the years, Yaowarat Road remains the centre. It was an interesting exhibition and well laid out with some beautiful models and photos. We then made our way to the third floor where we walked into another exhibition that explained how Buddha images are made. It also gave a detailed account on the finding of this particular Buddha image. The story goes that the old, disused temple that housed an old, stucco painted, plaster covered Buddha statue needed to be demolished, but, although the Buddha image inside wasn’t particularly inspiring, they couldn’t destroy it because of what it represented. So it was moved from the site and dumped in a small tin hut where it stood for twenty or so years, while another temple was being built for it. In 1957 it was being moved by crane to sit in its new home when a cable snapped and it fell into the mud below. Seeing this as a terrible omen, the workers ran off and left it where it had fallen. Apparently that night there was a bad storm and the following morning a monk, who said that he had dreamt that the image was special, went to the site to inspect the damage. What he found was that some of the plaster had cracked and fallen off and what was underneath was glinting yellow in the light. What had been almost discarded many years before turned out to be five tonnes of solid gold! The statue is around 900 years old and was covered in plaster so that it wouldn’t be carried off as a trophy by invading armies of other countries. Pieces of the original plaster casing were also in the exhibition. It was quite fascinating and it made us want to see the real thing all the more, so we marched up the final flight of stairs, removed our shoes and joined the growing throng of spectators and worshippers, all wanting a glimpse of the brilliant statue. It was an impressive sight indeed and very different from any other Buddha image we had seen before. It was so very shiny that it was difficult to pick out details, but it was also very beautiful in an ostentatious kind of way, with white, painted eyes that seemed to stare right through you! The room housing the image was every bit as sumptuous, with the ceiling being another gilded highlight (although the walls were covered with wallpaper that would have looked at home in a seventies kitchen!). The other thing that struck us here (as with any other temple in fact) is the reverence with which believers hold the images they bow down to. The only things one can hear are the gentle murmurs of chants from praying worshippers or monks, and the rustling of clothes as they kneel and bow. Except, of course, the clicking of camera shutters... there is something almost disrepectful about taking photographs in a place of worship, especially while people are praying, but it is so difficult not to as they are invariably magnificent edifices and most visitors will never return to see the sights again. We admit to being members of the ‘Buddharazzi’, but the monks and worshippers alike seemed not to mind at all. Some temples, however, do not allow photography of any kind and we were surprised that Wat Traimit wasn’t one of them because of the treasure it houses. Presumably they have relented because of the entry fee one needs to pay in order to get to the Buddha in the first place! Even Enlightenment, it seems, nowadays, has its price!

Wat_Traimit_outside_1.jpgWat_Traimit_outside_2.jpgWat Traimit or Temple of the Golden Buddha - Bangkok

Wat Traimit or Temple of the Golden Buddha - Bangkok


The beautiful gilded ceiling of Wat Traimit - Bangkok

The beautiful gilded ceiling of Wat Traimit - Bangkok

Wat_Traimit_buddha_1.jpgWat_Traimi..ha_head.jpgWat_Traimi..ad_side.jpgThe astonishing Golden Buddha in Wat Traimit - Bangkok

The astonishing Golden Buddha in Wat Traimit - Bangkok

The front of Wat Traimit - Bangkok

The front of Wat Traimit - Bangkok



After taking many photos and walking around the entire building and grounds, hunger had set in and we decided on a visit to nearby Chinatown for sustenance. We walked past China Gate once more and entered Yaowarat Road, dodging the passing hawkers and probable scammers on the way, along with a couple of down-and-outs that were asleep in the doorways of a couple of shops. The road looked very different in the light of day and seemed to have lost its special buzz because the street cafes, stalls and restaurants were only just beginning to prepare for the busy night ahead. There were Jewellery shops, souvenir stores and quite a number of large stores selling traditional Chinese medicines. None of the eateries we passed took our fancy though, unfortunately, and we ended up in a 7-11 store, grabbing a cheese sandwich and a hot dog each! We are extremely sophisticated travellers you know! We stood on a side street corner with our small feast and watched as Chinatown woke up with the fading sunlight. Vendors turned up in small vans or pushed big carts to their spots on the kerb and unloaded everything needed for the evening’s business. Huge stainless steel pots and pans were washed in the roadside as large gas bottles were connected up to cookers and strange, decidedly unappetizing foods were unloaded and placed in glass cases or on small, collapsible tables. Fruit sellers placed their fresh, colourful wares on huge metal barrows while costume jewellers hung bright, sparkling necklaces and bracelets from hooks on small handcarts. It was fascinating to watch and we carried on walking along the street, having to step into the road at various points to avoid the to-ing and fro-ing of the roadside restaurateurs. We were enjoying the sights and the stroll in the warm evening air so much that we thought we’d walk all the way back to the subway as it was such a beautiful evening so we headed back in the direction we’d come (Jen leaving a drink for one of the sleeping down-and-outs as we passed) and cut through Wat Traimit. It didn’t take too long before we were walking back through the metal detector of the MRT station and standing at the platform waiting for the metronomic train to arrive.
Walking out of Silom station at the other end, night had arrived and with it the sounds, sights and smells of the usual street market. Once again we shuffled slowly along, looking out for anything that might beg to be purchased and also for a money exchange so that we could buy some Cambodian Riel. We traversed the entire length of the market but to no avail. We were disappointed on both counts and found ourselves back in our street and home for the last time. Grabbing a delicious coffee each and confirming our taxi time for the morning as we passed the receptionist, we headed upstairs to pack and get as much sleep as we could. Tomorrow had an extremely early start, and it was going to be a very, very long day!

Posted by StewnJen 12:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Gullible's Travels...

Took by tuk-tuk..

sunny 33 °C

17th February 2011

We must have been like shining diamonds on a coalface to them, a waiting audience for their clever, highly polished performances. We clearly fit the bill perfectly and they waited until the time was just right....

We’d had a long discussion last night about how long to stay in Bangkok and it suddenly dawned on us that because we’d entered Thailand overland our visas were only valid for 15 days and tomorrow was day 15....We hit the internet to find out what the penalty would be if we stayed a couple more days without having a valid visa and read some horror stories ranging from fines to detention centres and the like! We didn’t really know what to believe so chose the safer alternative and opted to get a visa extension this morning. This meant visiting the immigration centre first thing. We found it on the map and thankfully it didn’t look too far away, within walking distance. As a safeguard, we asked the friendly lady on reception which way we should walk to it and it was a good job we did because she informed us that it had moved from there to a location miles away and we would need a taxi to get there! After very kindly writing the address down in Thai so that we could just show the driver and then telling us how much we should expect to pay for a taxi, we hit the street and flagged down the first passing tuk-tuk but after he asked us where we wanted to go, he said no no you need taxi. We were a little puzzled as normally they bite your hand off for a ride but soon realised it was due to the distance involved. We hailed the next taxi we saw and showed the driver the address. He nodded and grunted something in Thai and we planted ourselves on the back seat. We began to wonder whether the receptionist had written “Drive like an absolute nutter” on the piece of paper too because we were soon on a white knuckle ride and driving inches from the vehicles in front, diving from lane to lane between cars, buses and trucks, aiming for cars when joining new clearways and forcing other road users to give way! It was quite terrifying at times and we both found ourselves gasping and stamping on our imaginary brake pedals! The torture lasted around half an hour and we nearly kissed the ground when we tumbled out of the cab, paid the Demon with trembling hands and shakily walked into the huge, grey building. After going through the x-ray scanner we found ourselves in a massive hall and followed the signs for immigration. Entering a small room we were surprised to see how busy it was, with people all around us filling in forms at various stations dotted around. We went to the counter and told the attendant we wished to extend our visa and he handed us the correct forms to fill in. On finding a pen and a spare spot to stand, it became apparent all too soon to us that not all the requirements were in our possession! We needed a passport sized photograph to extend the visa, and we had left them at the hostel! The other thing we noticed was the cost! We had decided only to stay one more day and the price of the visa extension was extortionate! We felt it was too much for a day’s stay and it would cost us even more than that because we needed to go and find somewhere to have our photos taken, and we were in the middle of nowhere! We could either go and find somewhere or risk whatever came our way at the border when we crossed into Cambodia. Feeling quite confident that nothing would happen if we only outstayed our welcome by a day we walked back outside and grabbed a waiting taxi. After telling him we wanted to go to the Golden Palace we strapped ourselves in and sat in dread of the next half hour of our lives. Almost as soon as the taxi had pulled onto the main road the slow moving traffic stopped us in our tracks and we started crawling along the main highway. We have never been so happy sitting in solid traffic before! Both of us were a little fed up that we’d wasted time and money this morning but were looking forward to finally seeing one of the most beautiful Palaces anywhere in the world.
An eternity had gone by when our cab finally pulled up a short way up the road from the Palace. A tall, white wall blocked the view of the golden buildings from the road and when we stepped out of the cool air-conditioned interior of the taxi, we felt the full force of the searing heat of the midday sun. It was overwhelming and sweat was coursing down us within seconds of heading for the entrance. Rounding a gentle bend we spotted a few tuk-tuks parked on the main road, and a handful of people milling about by the entrance. As the pair of us neared the gate, an official looking fellow with plastic ID cards hanging around his neck stopped us and informed us that he was a Palace employee and that there was currently a ceremony in progress and the Palace would be reopening at 2pm. We looked at the entrance gate and, sure enough, nobody was passing through. Taking us to one side and into the relative cool of the shade by the white wall our new found friend told us that while we were waiting we could visit a couple of nearby Temples by tuk-tuk and by the time we had walked round them and returned, the Palace would be open. We thought that was a good idea and he told us only to use the Government sponsored tuk-tuk drivers dressed in blue tops as these wouldn’t rip us off, and the cost of getting to these Temples should only be around forty Baht (less than £1) for the round trip. Just then a tuk-tuk driver standing nearby interrupted him and said he would take us for the same amount, so our helpful new friend took our map and plotted a route for us to follow, with the help of our own personal driver! First up was the Golden Mountain Temple, a huge building with a golden coloured stupa on top of it, and that had a helter-skelter like stairway spiralling up to the stupa. Our driver took us to the temple connected to it as, apparently, there were lots of schoolchildren in the Golden Mountain itself, so we looked around there and took some snaps. It was a lovely, typical Buddhist Temple, with everything painted in rich reds and bright yellows with gold being the dominant colour as usual! Photo sated, we walked into the car park and found our driver had moved our ride and was beckoning us over to him in the far corner. Once safely on the seat he told us he needed to go to the toilet and walked off leaving us to flick through the photos we’d just taken on the camera. Our little slide-show was interrupted by a well dressed, well spoken man who looked to be in his fifties asking us where our driver was. We then got the usual “Where are you from” questions and when we said England he told us he was there only a few months ago as he owns a company called “Royal Thai” that produces curry sauces and he had just done a big deal with Tesco and had to meet with the British Government to go through quality control procedures! He was at the Temple because he was just opening a brand new factory in Bangkok and it needed to be blessed, so he was having a meeting with the monks but they were not ready for him just yet. He went on to tell us some more stuff about himself and his family, and how important family love is in Thailand, and love for your partner, and that today was a lucky day for us because of the moonstone. If we bought a blue moonstone today it would bring us much luck in the future. We should tell our driver to take us to Leela, a gemstone outlet where would be able to buy one! We just nodded politely and soon he got up, shook our hands, wished us well and walked off. About ten seconds later our driver reappeared... Back on the road and expecting to see the next sight on our route, another Wat, we were a little surprised to say the least when he parked up in front of a shop door and told us it was a Thai arts and crafts centre. We weren’t overly impressed by this, but decided to give it a look anyway because we wanted a small souvenir of our trip, and something might just catch our eye. Just as we walked through the door, Stew glanced up and caught the name of the outlet out of the corner of his eye – it said Leela... As we walked in and saw a sea of brightly lit, glass cases before us, all containing jewellery with different golds and gemstones, that sickening feeling spread through us and we realised we’d been well and truly had! The penny dropped with such a loud clang that we expected the glass cases to shatter! The whole episode started replaying in our minds and everything fit together perfectly. There obviously was no ceremony at the Palace, and our ‘friendly employee’ didn’t work there at all! We walked out of there straight away and got back in our ride, the shock and dismay all too clear on our driver’s face! We told him we wanted to see the next stop on the route and were taken to a tailor’s! Beginning to get a little annoyed now, we told him no more stops anywhere and to take us back to the Palace right away. He produced a voucher and told us that he gets free fuel if tourists are taken to these places (he didn’t mention the obvious commission he would receive too!). He was begging us to let him take us to one more stop, a souvenir place, and, feeling a little sorry for him, we relented and said one more just so long as it wasn’t a tailor. He promised us it was a souvenir shop and we set off, the pair of us shaking our heads in utter disbelief at the day’s events so far and embarrassed with ourselves for being so easily screwed! Thankfully, it had cost us nothing but time so far and we were quite determined that was how it would stay! Pulling up outside the ‘souvenir’ shop, we opened the door to find..... another tailor shop! We were just couldn’t believe the cheek of the bloke! We were steaming when we walked out and told him what we thought of him! When we told him that it wasn’t a souvenir shop at all, but another tailor we had to laugh at the contrived look of amazement and bewilderment that came over his face, as though he genuinely believed it was a souvenir shop! We demanded, in no uncertain terms, that he take us back to the Palace (it had gone 2pm now!) immediately as we were extremely angry and would not pay him anything if he didn’t. We set off, the pair of us looking at each other and having to smile at the sheer cheek and marvellous complexity of their whole scheme! For them to have come up with such a plan means it must pay dividends, and we wondered how many people actually end up buying jewellery and/or having clothes made because of the aggressive sales techniques employed (we literally ignored the sales people and walked out!). However, the final sting in the tail was yet to come... Heading toward the palace, on the busy main road, our tuk-tuk started to cough, splutter and breathe it’s last before dying completely in the kerb. Attempt after attempt by the conman sitting in the driver’s seat yielded nothing but the noise of the engine trying to fire. It was clear to us that he’d done something like switch the fuel supply off to make this happen, just so he didn’t have to waste his time driving us to the Palace, but we couldn’t be sure of course. We just stood there shaking our heads as he apologised to us, saying he didn’t know what was wrong, that we’d have to get another tuk-tuk to the Palace and we didn’t have to pay him! We just laughed and hailed the next tuk-tuk we saw coming our way. The new driver wasn’t happy at having to take us for the forty Baht we were telling him we would pay him but agreed in the end and ten minutes later we were walking, once again, towards the entrance of the Golden Palace. We were also looking for the so-called Palace employee who had started the whole thing off so that we could explain to him just how annoyed we were but he was nowhere to be seen. It was now 14:30 and the complex closed at 15:30... The whole escapade had cost us two and a half hours of our time so now we had to rush to try and fit everything in the single hour we had left. By now it was blisteringly hot and the walk down to the ticket office was a long one, with no shade to protect us. Armed with our tickets we followed the long queue to the entrance to Wat Phra Kaeo and walked out into a courtyard that just blew us away. It was just absolutely magnificent. Temple buildings everywhere were decorated in gold and silver, bright blues reds and greens with coloured glass mosaics reflecting the rays of the sun onto other buildings and statues nearby. Colossal statues of Demon headed monsters stood guard at doorways while serene, golden Buddha images sat cross-legged or stood open-handed, staring out at the faithful bowing down in front of them. A group of women dressed in white sat in a line and chanted prayers from books laid out in front of them while passing offerings on special trays from one to another. Ornate rooftops and magnificent golden doorways dazzled at every head turn, while huge, intricately detailed murals in vivid colours embellished with gold leaf ran down the sides of the complex, leaping out of the walls with an incredible 3D effect. As we rounded a corner, a huge, detailed stone model of Angkor Wat came into view. Words cannot do justice to the magnificence of the whole place.

The multi-coloured roof of Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

The multi-coloured roof of Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

A temple within Wat Phra Kaeo guarded by two huge demonic statues

A temple within Wat Phra Kaeo guarded by two huge demonic statues


A long row of gilded demons decorate a building in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

A long row of gilded demons decorate a building in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok


An exquisitely decorated demonic figure glints in the sunlight at the base of a golden stupa in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

An exquisitely decorated demonic figure glints in the sunlight at the base of a golden stupa in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok


Beautifully ornate demonic figures decorate the base of a golden stupa in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

Beautifully ornate demonic figures decorate the base of a golden stupa in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok


The golden tops of a stupa and a temple glint in a brilliant blue Bangkok sky

The golden tops of a stupa and a temple glint in a brilliant blue Bangkok sky


A colossal Rakshas statue guards the Palace in Wat Phra Kaeo

A colossal Rakshas statue guards the Palace in Wat Phra Kaeo

The west side of Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

The west side of Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

A stone, scaled model of Angkor Wat in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

A stone, scaled model of Angkor Wat in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok


Women chant prayers and bless offerings to Buddha

Women chant prayers and bless offerings to Buddha

A portion of the amazing 3D-like paintings that adorn the walls of the temple buildings in Wat Phra Kaeo

A portion of the amazing 3D-like paintings that adorn the walls of the temple buildings in Wat Phra Kaeo


A gilded Rakshas (Demon-defender) guards the Palace in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

A gilded Rakshas (Demon-defender) guards the Palace in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

It made our earlier escapade even more annoying because we would have loved to have spent more time looking around here but we still had the Palace itself to see! As time was severely against us we tore ourselves away from the wonderful sights and headed for the exit. We walked into the courtyard of the Palace proper and the splendour hadn’t diminished one little bit! Mostly white-walled, the buildings dripped in gold on the windows and eaves, with intricate stone and wooden carvings on some of them. Every wall was brilliant white, and every colour was bright and vivid. Guards stood to attention outside some of the main buildings, completely unmoving despite the constant flow of tourists having their photo taken beside them (and attempting to make them smile!).

golden_palace.jpg
golden_palace1.jpggolden_palace2.jpgSome of the incredible buildings of the Golden Palace of Bangkok

Some of the incredible buildings of the Golden Palace of Bangkok

Our limited time completely evaporated and, disappointingly, we were soon being herded towards the exit gate. As we stepped back into the busy, concrete lined street we started walking past street hawkers selling local foods and spotted a French bakery on the corner. We decided we had earned a good coffee and a sandwich so had a bite to eat in there and planned where to go to next, opting to visit the Giant Swing nearby, so once we’d finished our late lunch we followed the map and found the Giant Swing (minus the swing!) that used to be a part of a big ceremony to pray for a good harvest. Just the huge, red frame is there at the moment, but we don’t know what happened to the swing itself.

The Giant Swing outside Wat Suthat, Bangkok

The Giant Swing outside Wat Suthat, Bangkok

Right next to it was another beautiful temple, Wat Suthat and we couldn’t resist a peek. The main temple building itself was surrounded by a huge courtyard with a covered corridor down each wall that contained a long row of golden, seated Buddha images. The sun was just beginning to set so we hurriedly took lots of photos of the images and the magnificent golden Buddha through the ornate, golden shutters of the main temple building. We followed an orange-robed monk around for a little while, trying to get the perfect shot of him with the golden Buddha images but didn’t manage it!

The beautiful entrance to Wat Suthat

The beautiful entrance to Wat Suthat

Buddha images sit serenely in Wat Suthat, Bangkok

Buddha images sit serenely in Wat Suthat, Bangkok

The huge Buddha image through the ornate shutters in Wat Suthat, Bangkok

The huge Buddha image through the ornate shutters in Wat Suthat, Bangkok


The huge golden Buddha image inside Wat Suthat

The huge golden Buddha image inside Wat Suthat

The Golden Buddha image inside Wat Suthat

The Golden Buddha image inside Wat Suthat

A lady prays to Buddha in Wat Suthat

A lady prays to Buddha in Wat Suthat

We were so immersed in looking around the Wat that it was dark by the time we stepped back into the street, our feet aching from all the walking we’d done during the day. Swallowing hard, we took a leap of faith and hailed another tuk-tuk to take us back to Hua Lamphong station where we were absolutely, one hundred percent committed to having a Chinese meal so ended up in a Hong Kong Noodles restaurant where we sat outside watching Bangkok in full flow while stuffing ourselves with Chicken and noodles! Sated and satisfied, we walked the short walk round the corner to the MRT station and jumped on a train back to Silom. After a slow shuffle through all the market stalls on the way back to the hostel and constantly declining the offers of porn DVDs, sex shows and the like, we reached the relative calm and quiet of our hostel, closed the doors and left the noise and the conmen of Bangkok outside for a few hours!

Posted by StewnJen 19:58 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

From beach to bustle...

The Night Train to Bangkok

sunny 30 °C

16th February 2011

6am and Jen was already out of bed and removing the wire mesh covers and padlocks from our bags as the train was due to arrive at Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok at 6:30am. Neither of us slept very much at all and we were both still very tired. Aches had surfaced in various places because of having to sleep with our smaller rucksacks wedged in with us just in case they went missing during the night which has been known apparently! The carriage attendant started doing his rounds and told us to get out of our beds so that he could fold them away, so we clambered down from our high berths and waited for him to pack the top bunk away and convert the bottom bed back into seats, a routine he was clearly very adept at and it took him seconds to do something it took us ages to work out the day before, when we had a go ourselves! Knowing we only had around ten minutes of journey time left we started gathering everything around us making sure it was all to hand - when a female guard walked through our car and told us there would be a two hour delay and we would now be arriving in Bangkok at 8:30am! Why they could not have left us in bed for an extra hour was beyond us! Instead we had to sit on the seats that only minutes before were a comfortable bed and stare out of the window at the dim, blurred world passing by us. The shouts of “Coppee, Coppee” filled the carriage and Stew nearly bit the coffee guy’s arm off when he came breezing past!
With the morning beginning to brighten and the grey clouds starting to show, the train began slowing and signs of life appeared as we swept through small, lazy villages watching packs of stray dogs play-fighting or laying on the cold pavement, while people milled around and taxis, motorbikes and cars vied for their part of the road. As we moved further onward, the villages became larger towns lacking both colour and character, the dirty white buildings blending in with the grey skies, but on the outskirts of Bangkok itself the streets were in full flow, with queuing traffic already clogging the busy roads. On one road alone we counted eight different coloured taxis!
True to our new schedule, our train came to an abrupt halt underneath the covered station at Hua Lamphong, Bangkok at 8:30am, and we fell out of the train and trudged along the old, Euston-like platform and out into the grimy but appealing old-world station and found the signs showing the way to their metro system, the MRT. The new Metro system was slick, clean, modern, reliable and incredibly cheap, the exact antithesis of the London Underground! Our guest house, Sunflower Place, was in an area called Silom and was only three stops down. We were in Silom in no time at all and, as we walked out of the station, our senses were assaulted by the incredible array of noises and smells as street vendors cooked all manner of foods (the vast majority unrecognisable to us!), the pleasant aromas mixing with the noxious fumes of cars, vans and buses moving slowly down the busy, six-lane road, each driver seemingly trying to outdo the others in how many times you could hit the horn in one minute! We took our lives in our hands trying to cross the first three lanes of rush hour traffic, stopping briefly in the centre island before diving headlong into the first six inch gap that came our way to negotiate the other three lanes, ignoring the almost constant horn blowing filling the warm, sticky air. Our legs and ears hurt by the time we found Street 6, the address of our guest house, and we walked past some decidedly shady looking bars and massage parlours and into a covered car park before spotting the entrance to the place we would be calling home for the next three days. We were let in by a dour, unsmiling, middle-aged Thai man who, when checking us in, basically told us we were too early but could have the room right away if we wanted to pay an extra half day’s rate! We opted to store our luggage and wait until midday to save some money and went on the hunt for some breakfast which we found in a New York Deli (which, strangely, shared the same cafe with Coffee World, both counters side by side and had the same staff - very weird!) and ordered something to eat and a well deserved (and much needed) latte. Just before we’d left the hostel, sour face (who actually turned out to be a nice, helpful fellow) relented and told us 11:00am would be ok for us to return for our room key so we had a little less than two hours to kill and went for a stroll around the first shopping mall we came to. Amazingly (and to Jen’s chagrin!) it was five floors of almost entirely Golf shops with the odd bookstore, souvenir and furniture outlet strategically placed to appease the Golf widows! It was a Golfer’s Nirvana catering for every requirement from trophies all the way up to personal golf club measuring and tailoring. We happened on the solitary bookstore and Jen headed straight for the travel section while Stew found a book entitled Samurai (the story of the real last Samurai of feudal Japan) and thumbed through it. Jen found a good map of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos (our next three destinations) and we thought it would be an ideal addition to our growing travel pack, so paid the £3 and started back to the hostel, getting there at just before 11am. Free coffee was constantly available in the reception area so we took advantage and enjoyed a cup before piling our bags into the lift (a luxury!) and dragging it along, with our weary selves, into our cosy little room. The room was nice and we were quite pleasantly surprised, wasting no time in getting settled in. We were both so exhausted after our long journey that a siesta was called for and we slept for a good four hours!
Feeling a little more like our normal selves, we finished the job off by jumping under a wonderful hot shower and into some clean clothes before venturing out for real this time, our target area being the other side of the Chao Phraya River to see the Wats (Temples) and Golden Palace lit up at night. This meant using the MRT again and as we walked to the Station people were erecting stalls and laying out their goods ready for the local night market that, judging by the sheer number of stalls going up, looked as though it would be something worth walking round later on. We made the life and death dash across the road again and made it unscathed to the station, bought our tickets (in the form of a small, plastic casino-like chip) got safely through the lax security check (a metal detector along with a cursory glance in our bags by a young, polite but rushed policeman) and walked down the escalator to the platform. We were heading, once again, to Hua Lamphong Railway Station only three stops away. The new, clean (and surprisingly wide) and quiet train arrived within a couple of minutes and the doors of the platform swished open along with the train doors and the throng of Silom dwellers and shoppers swarmed off the train and we boarded a half full carriage.
We exited Hua Lamphong station just as dusk was beginning to show and we stood at a particularly noisy and busy intersection, waiting to cross the road. After looking at the map and deciding on a route, everything looked different once we were actually there and we both looked at different roads. Jen chose which one we should walk down and we set off once the little green man had told us it was safe to run for our lives! Using the free map we’d taken from the hostel, we guided ourselves expertly to the wrong side of the river and into a brand new shopping mall right on the river’s edge. We looked around a few of the shops and walked a little further up the river edge, watching as people dressed to the nines boarded their cruise boats ready for their evening meal as they cruised along the Chao Phraya, something we did a number of years ago on our first visit to Bangkok. We felt a little envious as we remembered it had been a wonderful evening and wished we were doing it once more but we did not have the time (and maybe the money either!) to do it again. Resisting the urge to buy some souvenirs, we walked back out into the balmy night air and headed down the road towards a bridge in order to cross over to the other side, but were sidetracked when we came to an out-of-the-way temple (the Tien Fa Charity Foundation Temple) that had quite a few people milling around in the grounds. Intrigued, we went in to snap some photos of the beautifully coloured buildings. We noticed a small stage had been erected and had been decorated with brightly coloured silks and lanterns. A small group of people were having make-up applied so clearly some kind of show or ceremony was about to commence. Sure enough, after a few more minutes, drums beat the air and a group of actors walked out onto the stage, their magnificent multi coloured, gold-embroidered costumes glowing under the bright lights shining down from above them. Although we couldn’t understand a word being said, or the story being acted out, the sheer sight of them dressed in such richly coloured robes and headdresses was enough to keep our attention for a little while longer. The colourful show aside, it was fascinating watching people come and go, giving prayers and offerings to the Buddha, lighting incense sticks, candles and oil bowls. An orange-robed monk lit the bowls of oil and incense and placed them side by side on a special rack, each one’s flames bathing everyone and everything around them in a flickering yellow glow that made the whole scene even more enchanting. We were quite mesmerised by it all and we left there with smiles on our faces and more than a few good photos!

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The front of the Tien Fa Charity Foundation Temple in Bangkok

The front of the Tien Fa Charity Foundation Temple in Bangkok

candles_on_night_walk.jpgA beautiful ceremonial bell and huge candles inside the Temple

A beautiful ceremonial bell and huge candles inside the Temple

The large Buddha image inside the Temple

The large Buddha image inside the Temple

performance_in_wat.jpgActing out a story in the Tien Fa Charity Foundation Temple

Acting out a story in the Tien Fa Charity Foundation Temple

Continuing our hunt for the other side, we happened across China Gate, an edifice constructed in 1999 as part of the celebrations of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 72nd birthday and is looked upon as the entrance gate into Bangkok’s Chinatown.

china_gate.jpg
china_gate_1.jpgChina Gate - the entrance to Bangkok's Chinatown

China Gate - the entrance to Bangkok's Chinatown

After snapping away with our cameras (and at a couple of annoying street hawkers!) we decided it was too late to walk across the bridge and, instead, turned our attention to Chinatown itself. The long walk up Yaowarat Road was amazing as the brightly lit shop signs in reds, yellows, greens and blues flashed and craved everyone’s attention, the street chefs vying for the same customers as the polished restaurants and cafes, the smells of so many different foods and spices thrown together creating a heady mix of aromas and the constant flow of human and motorised traffic with their associated noise made it a special place. The pavements were taken up by the street vendor’s carts, boxes and bags while small plastic tables and chairs spilling into the kerb made up the dining areas of the roadside cafes. We were forced to use the same part of the road as the cars, taxis and tuk-tuks as we walked past the roadside gourmets and fruit sellers until our legs cried enough and we hailed a passing tuk-tuk to take us back to the Hua Lamphong MRT station.

Thai Tuk-Tuk

Thai Tuk-Tuk

While buzzing our way up the road we were determined to have a traditional Thai or Chinese meal at a restaurant near the station before getting the metro back. So, after paying our fare and bidding our driver goodnight we spotted the perfect place for a light meal in the old station – a brightly lit and welcoming KFC! It was just too difficult to turn down! We felt guilty but satisfied as we walked out of there and into the metro station, and fifteen or so minutes later we were making the mad dash across the road as we walked out of Silom MRT. The night market was huge with stalls lining both sides of the pavement. It was an interesting slow walk back to our hostel as we looked at the goods on offer on each stall. There were fake Rolexes, TAG Heuer Monacos and Breitling watches to name a few, countless souvenir stalls, fake Vuitton and Gucci bags, belts, buckles, shoes ad infinitum and a painted sleeve that you could wear to make it look as though your arm had been completely covered in tattoos! A DVD seller shoved porn movies under our noses, while club reps asked us if we would like to watch a sex show where women performed an interesting take on ping pong....! We walked past bars and clubs that had their large doors wide open showing scantily clad young ladies (possibly!) dancing as the loud boom boom boom of dance music spilled into the market. After politely declining the various offers and ignoring the cries of “Sir, Madam, you wun sarmtin nice” we turned into our street and walked the final leg of the journey back to normality and sanity, grabbing a quick coffee on the way up to our room and closed the door on another exciting and unforgettable travelling day!

Posted by StewnJen 14:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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