Somehow I managed to visit Bangkok a ridiculous number of times during my trip. I ended up there for a night between Australia and Cambodia, two days between Hanoi and Mandalay and for four days before starting my Thailand and Malaysia G Adventures tour. For the fact that I was there so much I really don’t feel like I’ve seen that much of Bangkok, although, to be fair, I’m not particularly enamoured with it as a place so I’m not overly bothered about going back. I had a few incidences with taxis in Bangkok trying to charge me ridiculous amounts for tiny journeys, and as the public transport system in quite a large chunk of downtown is unbelievably pants it took, in some cases, hours to travel as little as 5kms. Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it. But anyway, super annoying taxis (and all the drunk Brits who seem to be literally everywhere in this city) aside, there are some things to love about Bangkok. The first are the amazing cultural sights that line the Chao Phraya River, which runs through the centre of Bangkok. This city has been a religious centre for centuries, and so has some very impressive temples at its heart, including Wat Arun and Wat Pho. Wat Arun is, I’m sure, very impressive, but when I was in Bangkok it was undergoing some restoration work, so was a little bit of a disappointment as the imposing facade was covered in scaffolding and you were unable to go inside. Wat Pho is super touristy and trying to see the massive golden Buddha that makes the temple so famous was uber stressful, not just because the temple it’s housed in was packed with tourists, but because every one of them was stopping for a selfie with what seemed like every inch of the buddha, and it’s 46 metres long so that’s a lot of annoying selfies to contend with. Once I’d managed to fight my way out of the temple I discovered the rest of Wat Pho, which is far more impressive than the reclining buddha (particularly as it was a lot less crowded), and spent a few hours marvelling at the various, highly decorated halls and stupas that fill the rest of the complex.
Bangkok also boasts the Grand Palace which is still in use by the royal family but is also open to tourists. It took me two attempts to actually visit the palace as, the first time, I was turned away for being inappropriately dressed (which is impressive, seeing as I’d dressed specifically to visit sites where you need to be covered up). I made it inside on my second visit but was a little underwhelmed, the temples and buildings you can look around are impressive but it was so packed with tourists (and my new pet peeve, amateur photographers dangerously wielding selfie sticks), and was so unbelievably hot under the cover of way too many items of clothing that I wasn’t really able to enjoy it. But hey, it’s one off the bucket list. Something that was interesting to see at the Grand Palace were the crowds of Thai people visiting to pay their respects to the former king, Bhumiol Adulyaej, who died in 2016. I found it strange on my travels that, whenever I travelled with a Thai airline, or in and out of Thailand, the flight started with an announcement paying respects to the departed King, but it’s clear when you’re in the country that many people loved and idolised him. So it’s no real surprise that Thai people from all over the country have been visiting the Grand Palace in their masses to pay their respects. Even so, seeing masses of people, all dressed in black, filing solemnly into and out of the palace grounds is quite arresting.
All these sights lie on the river, and sailing up and down it on various public transport boats is a really lovely way to spend an afternoon, in some ways it’s actually nicer than visiting the temples and palace as there’s only so many people that can fit on a boat (unless you’re on the orange flag ‘locals’ boat, which apparently has no limit to how many it can carry, no matter how crowded it already is). While Lorna and I were there we wanted to visit the Bridge over the River Kwai and the floating markets, but managed neither. We discovered that the bridge was never actually over the River Kwai, but was actually over the Mae Klong River which is much further south, and was just misidentified by Pierre Boulle who wrote the original novel and never actually visited the bridge. To stop tourists being confused the Mae Klong River was renamed to the Kwai Yai River in 1960, but now it’s even more confusing because there are two River Kwai’s in two different parts of Thailand. So, yeah, we didn’t make it out there but did become very confused in the process of trying to arrange the trip. After throwing out the idea of the River Kwai we tried to visit the famous floating markets, but discovered that the nearest proper floating market is actually 90kms outside of downtown Bangkok which isn’t really feasible in a day trip. So we didn’t really succeed in our attempts to do something different in Bangkok.
Something Bangkok is rightfully famous for is its street food (although this is likely to change soon, thanks to a crack down by the government which, apparently, is to try and clean up the city’s streets) and we did try pretty hard to sample a good selection of this. Now, I’m sure that technically street food is only eaten on the street, but I like to have a seat with my food, and there are so many quirky little restaurants dotted around the back streets of Bangkok you’d be mad to limit your street food to that which is served only on the street. I think my consumption of pad thai must have evened out to roughly one plate a day across my whole time in Thailand, I just couldn’t get enough of it! But Bangkok street food is, of course, much more than its most famous noodle dish and there are also curries, salads and egg based delights to dig into, amongst many others. Lorna and I could’ve happily survived off street food for our entire time in Bangkok, but to mark our last night together we decided to branch out and visit Dine in the Dark. For those who don’t know this is very much ‘concept dining’ that exists in multiple cities across the world. The premise is simple, you and your dining companions are led into a pitch black room by a blind server and served a four course mystery meal. You then must spend the entire night relying on your other senses to try and work out what you’re eating and also to just manage to eat it, there’s absolutely no light allowed in the dining room. It sounds strange, and to begin with it was the weirdest experience, our server Bear took us through the table layout when we first sat down, and made sure we knew where everything was, but after that we were pretty much on our own and had to use our hands to do the job our eyes are normally used for. I don’t imagine it would be for everyone but we genuinely had a great time and got really into the whole experience, feeling our food with our fingers and discussing what we thought we might be eating. It’s a weird feeling to have no idea how much food is on your plate, even feeling it with your hands doesn’t really give a clue as to the size, and seeing pictures afterwards it was amazing to realise that some things which had seemed massive were actually small and vice versa. I have no idea how much a similar experience would cost in London but at £30 each for a four course, ridiculously nice meal it seemed like a bit of a steal, especially as the dining room was located in the super plush, 5 star Sheraton Grande Hotel. I won’t ruin the menu for anyone wanting to do Dine in the Dark but I had the surprise menu which combined the Asian and Western choices and it was probably the best meal I ate in months.
Leah Out X