Last Night In Bangkok.

Our last day has consisted of not much due to torrential rain and blackouts. We headed out after breakfast to look for camera stuff but came home empty-handed. Three hours of high tea and endless wine made us feel better and we sat in the pool as the sun went down and then watched a movie so we could enjoy our lovely room and view for the last time. A bit sad I guess, but we need a bit of time before tomorrow’s flight to get stuff in order and finish up the Asia part of our trip.

View from Lebua.

For the most part I’ve really enjoyed our time here. The highlights have been the food (duh), the beaches, the flowers, the people we’ve met, and the sunrises and sunsets over beautiful landscapes. Oh, and how affordable most things are.

Pretty much everyone I know who has been to SE Asia raves about it. I can see what they like about the place but there’s a few things that have driven me crazy, such as the heat, the pollution and frequently feeling as though we’re being ripped off. Despite this I’d come back. Not to Saigon, mind you, but Hoi An and Bangkok definitely. Somehow I wasn’t really expecting to like Bangkok as much as I did. I like the bustle of the place, the sights and smells, the great public transport and the friendliness of the people.

I think what this stage of the trip has taught me is that just because some people – and perhaps everyone else – enjoys something, that doesn’t mean I will. It doesn’t mean I won’t, either, but I have to judge activities on what I know about myself and go from there. There are some things I’ve done that just weren’t my thing – I probably could’ve lived without the trip to Halong Bay, for example – though it did result in meeting Andrew and learning that buses are to be avoided at all costs.  And I did get to kayak and see fish… I’m starting to realise how much I like water-based activities and fish. It’s not something I’ve really thought much about before.

Lion fish at Ocean World.

Photography has also been a learning experience here. I used to think it was crazy, the way Asian tourists took photos of everything they saw, but there’s a lot of freedom for a photographer in a society with that viewpoint. It’s taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that no one here seems to mind having their photo taken and, in fact, a number of times we’ve turned around to find ourselves being photographed. I do think life should not be experienced through a lens but it’s hard to deny the power of photographs when it comes to recalling experiences and keeping memories fresh.

On to the next chapter – Europe! It’s 10 degrees and raining lightly in Munich right now and 27 degrees here. We leave here at around 2 in the afternoon and get there at about 8pm but we’ll fly for 11 hours. It’s going to be a long, 29 hour day! We have one coat, one hoodie and one pair of jeans each. Our first task in Germany will probably be buying some winter clothes.

Time to go pack!

 

Ocean World, Madame Tussauds and Baiyoke Sky Tower.

Yesterday was a good day to be inside out of the 39 degree, muggy heat so Luke and I pre-bought our M. Tussauds and Ocean World tickets the night before online (saving nearly 50%, if you’re thinking of going 😉 ). The catch was we had to enter both places before midday so we got out early, ready to do a bit of camera equipment scouting at the mall before the attractions opened.

Turns out only government businesses open before 10am, or at least that was the information given to us by a random guy on the street. As we milled around outside MBK at 9am we were approached by an extremely friendly middle aged fellow who told us to go to another market down the road that was much cheaper. We didn’t really have time but had a chat to him anyway. He told us all about the water festival coming up, a parade that was on the next day and seemed very keen to share everything he knew about Bangkok. It was a nice chat but we headed off down the road to find a drink and were then stopped by another guy who asked what we were doing and directed us to a different place to shop. Shortly afterwards, as we were looking at some of the roadside food stalls, killing time, a lady came up for a chat about our holiday and to tell us about what she was doing.. it was starting to get weird. Like we’d inadvertently put on our ‘talk to us, we’re tourists!’ t shirts that morning.

Eventually we got into the mall that had the wax exhibition and spent almost an hour wandering around.

I give Tiger a few pointers.

It was fairly cheap to get into and quite interesting. Not a patch on Ocean World though, which I’d definitely rate above Melbourne Aquarium, which I think is quite good, but Bangkok has OTTERS. They did a short feeding show where the otters jumped around and climbed things then when we came back they’d curled up together for a sleep. D’aw! I didn’t get any photos though, you’ll have to wait for Luke’s next video.

Terrifying!

We also watched the shark feeding show, which seemed to consist mainly of two divers standing on the heads of the sharks and poking them with sticks… which sounds worse than it was, it looked very gentle, but it seemed that they were keeping the (larger than person-sized) sharks away from their heads and forcing them to the floor of the aquarium where a couple of the enormous beasts just wiggled around like puppies and tried to get into the fish basket.

My favourite thing in the aquarium was the octopus. It was quite huge – it’s head/body would’ve been as big as a basketball and its tentacles were beautiful plus it was moving around a lot.

So beautiful!

After the fun of wandering around in a cool, dark building we walked the couple of blocks back to the hotel in the searing heat and caught a cab over to Lebua. The driver wouldn’t put the meter on but we only noticed after we’d gone a few blocks. If I hadn’t had a splitting headache I might’ve made him let us out but, with all our bags, it seemed such a hassle. As it was the charge wasn’t extortionate but still, I was fuming. Refusing to put the meter on is a pretty typical scam.

Arriving at our hotel washed away all my irritation and frustration. Lebua at State Tower is *gorgeous*. Another one of those hotels that cause you to eventually forget that you need to open doors for yourself and close them behind you because there’s always someone there to do it for you.

We checked in and decided to upgrade to the Tower Club, which meant that instead of a 20-something floor room we had a three room suite on the 54th floor, free high tea every afternoon with unlimited drinks (of any kind), free mini bar and a view that Batman would envy. You only turn 37 once, right? I could not afford this level of luxury (at least, not without selling my house) in Australia, but here it costs about as much per night as the Best Western in Ballarat, so why the heck not?

We were escorted up to our room (ears popping several times) and just… wow. You’re looking down on just about everything, including other skyscrapers.

We had a couple of hours before heading out so we quickly ran out to buy me a pair of covered shoes (a ‘smart casual’ dress code applies in all the restaurants here) so we could make it to high tea. We were starving as we’d only had breakfast and fortunately the first pair of shoes I found fit perfectly and were under $20. We dashed back to the hotel, waited impatiently for the elevator and made it to high tea in time to scoff down a cocktail, a plate of minute sandwiches, some pastries and chocolates before heading out to meet up with Ean and his godfather, Niren, again.

These savoury pastries were so crisp they shattered everywhere and made a huge mess. We kept giggling like little kids.

After a tuk tuk that stopped working at every set of lights and a mad dash along a busy road, we made it to the hotel on time, only to sit and wait for 50 minutes as Niren was still out shopping. Turned out he’d had to go to several places for a couple of caps that I’d expressed an interest in the night before (gifts for family), but once he got back and we sorted everything out and headed to Baiyoke Sky Tower, the tallest building in Bangkok. We all marveled at the view and took a lot of photos as the sun went down.

A lovely day and so nice to spend the evening talking with Ean and Niren. We hope to see them again one day. If any of you are thinking of going to Siem Reap do get Ean’s details from us, he was just great.

Luke, Ean and Niren.

Chatuchak Market

Yesterday we hopped on the Skytrain and headed to Chatuchak Markets, the largest open air air markets in the world. As we went past it from above I could feel my jaw dropping. For a Melbourne comparison, I’d say multiply the Vic Markets by perhaps 12? Seriously huge. Each stall varies in size from something the size of a phone booth (there were people on the road into the market who’d set up in an actual phone booth) to shops the size of a 2 car garage. Most were fairly basic but some had chandeliers and wallpaper.

It was quite overwhelming. We wandered into one narrow alleyway and then just meandered around. I had one piece of advice in my head from my reading online – if you find something you like just buy it because you’ll never find the stall again. My shopping list was pretty short. A pair of jeans, a bar of soap (for once our hotel didn’t provide any), anything that stood out as a nice gift for friends and family and maybe a few other bits of clothing for me.

I love to look at shops but, what with all the saving for this trip, I’ve pretty much gotten out of the habit of spending money frivolously. I looked at jeans but couldn’t find any I liked. We bought a bar of soap and I got a waterproof bag for my camera (on Ben T’s recommendation – thanks Ben!) and a couple of gifts and that was it. We did spend quite a bit on cold drinks as the day was hot but that was it. On reflection I probably spent less than $70. I could’ve spent more if I’d taken more time – and it was only when we were leaving that we saw a stall set up by a shipping company so you could post your purchases immediately. How convenient!

I’d definitely add Chatuchak Markets to my list of places I’d return to in Asia. It was extremely interesting and there were a number of stall that sold really interesting and unusual stuff – really stylish bags, lovely fabric and homewares. Prices weren’t as cheap as I’d hoped for many things but things were certainly cheaper than in Australia (but right now pretty much everywhere is cheaper than home).

After the markets we went back to our cosy cell hotel room for a rest then over to MBK. I found a pair of jeans that I didn’t mind (I’m starting to get a bit worried about the fact that Munich is still covered in snow and we’ll be there in 5 days) and then we had another night of IT Crowd and a few drinks. Possibly a few too many because I woke up with a bit of a headache the next morning.

After some aspirin and a big breakfast (the breakfasts you get in the hotels here are great. I know I keep saying this, but eggs any way you like them, croissants and a plate of fresh tropical fruit… so good!) we headed to Fortune Town, another mega mall with the focus on electonics. The trip started off quite oddly as we tried to catch a cab and the driver pretty much said no and then a lady from our hotel came out and convinced us to catch the train. Later in the day we tried 3 cabs for another journey before finding one that would take us. We couldn’t work out if they didn’t know where to go, the trip was too short or what, but it’s very odd to be in a country where everyone is trying to get your money off you and be told ‘no’ when you’re asking something pretty simple.

Anyhow, Fortune Town was pretty quiet, which was nice, and we bought USB sticks and hard drives to store all our photos and video. I am going to post a memory stick home shortly so that if anything happens to my laptop at least most of my photos are safe. I also looked at a Canon 8-15mm lens. I’ve been eyeing off this lens for quite some time and figured I’d have a look. I put it on my camera and was immediately taken with the distorted effect it gives but it’s quite expensive so I thought it was a good idea to take some time to think about it.

Anyway, we had a mission to accomplish and it turned out to be quite a challenge.

When we were in Cambodia we made friends with our driver, Ean (pronounced An) who was also going to Bangkok on the same day as us, although by bus. He was going to meet his ‘godfather’, an Indian-Australian man who had sort of adopted Ean on a trip to Cambodia years ago. Ean’s godfather helps support Ean and his children and was in Bangkok on business and so paid for him to travel from Cambodia for a week to be with him. Ean had never been outside Cambodia before and told us he was very nervous about the trip so we said we’d meet him and maybe we could all go out together.

So that was our mission, to find the hotel and Ean. We decided to catch a taxi as it didn’t look far on the map. After 3 refusals we finally found someone who agreed to take us near to where we wanted to go and dropped us off on a very wide, busy street. We couldn’t find the right number or see the hotel and wandered around asking directions every so often and getting pointed further on, then into back streets, then further back streets until I was almost ready to give up. Finally we spotted the hotel, went in and they had no record of the people we were looking for. This, as you can imagine was quite disheartening. We stepped out of the hotel and standing there was Ean! We were so happy we hugged him and he looked very happy in return.

We chatted to his godfather and agreed to meet them back there at 5 the following evening so we could all go up Baiyoke Tower to the sky deck (it is the tallest building in Bangkok and almost right next to their hotel) for sunset then go and have dinner together.

We had a well-deserved rest for a few hours after that then had dinner at the hole-in-the-wall place at the end of our block. Bangkok is littered with places like this. There’s a big room, open to the street and generally painted a dirty eggshell blue. The lighting is florescent, there’s a bank of cooking equipment on the street side, piles of salad stuff, fruit and meat. The furniture is all plastic, there’s lots of condiments on the tables and a roll of toilet paper instead of napkins on each table.

It’s basic, there’s very little English, lots of Thai people and the food is fantastic. I had Tom Kha soup and it was so flavourful I could not find words to describe it. It made me very sorry that I’d wasted precious meals eating anywhere else.

This was our last night on this side of town, tomorrow we’re moving to my birthday treat, Lebua at State Tower.

First Night in Bangkok

Bangkok is definitely the most easily commuted city we’ve visited so far. We had no difficulty getting to our hotel, just across the road from mega-mall MBK. Although once we stepped off the train I did refer to a compass to get my bearings, for the first time in my life. While I lack skills in things as simple as accurately recalling three digit numbers, I’m pretty good with map reading and orientation and I quite enjoy the challenge of navigating around a new city.

Our hotel, Wendy House, is… uh… serviceable. Our room has fake wood paneling of a style that looks about 40 years old and we have no windows and a bright florescent light. You can imagine how charming it is, I’m sure. The staff are nice though, and it does come with free breakfast and a flight of the steepest and narrowest stairs I’ve ever seen in an establishment that has no lift. Fortunately they changed our room from the 4th floor to the 1st.

I lied – there is a window but it opens onto the corridor and you can barely see through it so I don’t think it counts.

We showered then headed down the road to MBK where there appeared to be a Cosplay convention happening right outside. Naturally, since we’d only gone down to do a preliminary reconnaissance, I didn’t take my camera. Fortunately Luke got some video. After a couple of hours of wandering around we sat down in a restaurant on the ground floor and watched all the people in elaborate costumes walk past. There seemed to be more photographers than actual cosplayers and the event seemed to comprise of nothing more than giggling and taking photos.

In the evening we wandered down the road and ended up buying some packet noodles, some fresh mango and a few drinks to have in our hotel room. We the forgot about the noodles, drank quite a few drinks and watched a few episodes of the IT Crowd and then went to bed, ready for Chatuchuck Markets in the morning.