42 years later
Our memories of travel 42 years ago are quite dim and it seems neither of us can recall much about Bangkok so our stopover here feels like a new experience. There is certainly a lot more traffic! And with 12 million people it is almost certainly a very different city than we experienced in the late 70s. We are flying Thai airlines and a stop in Bangkok virtually divides the trip in half. We are staying in the very comfortable So Sofitel in Lumphini for anyone who knows their Bangkok districts. We have excellent views over the city, still able to see older style, low rise buildings - we are in the embassy area. Day 1 has been overcast, smoggy and humid!
We found a bakery place for breakfast with a reasonable coffee and read up the guide book. “Don’t trust well dressed strangers offering advice” was the last thing I read before we hit the road. The next minute we were talking to a pilot working for Thai airways who made a suggestion for a river tour. 3000 baht for a private boat is what we should pay. “Go by tuk tuk like a local - pay no more than 30 baht”. “Oh look here is one - would you like to do that? (Me frowning) Don’t be frightened!” So we did as the ‘pilot’ suggested and paid $90 for an hours trip. A little less than he suggested because I was so grumpy at being trapped into this that the woman kept reducing the price - she just thought I was bargaining! There were quite a few other people there - a lucrative operation no doubt. The river trip was interesting and it was a private boat. It was very noisy but they all are so we were glad it was just the one hour. And were we ripped off? Maybe not but definitely conned. It wasn’t really a nice way to start but at least $90 wasn’t the end of the world.
We went to Jim Thompson’s house and couldn’t remember a thing about going there the last time. It’s a bit like dementia. We caught the lovely, cool sky train (elevated train) to Lumphini Park and made our way to some fried chicken “to die for”. I nearly died from heat exhaustion getting there and we ate but it wouldn’t have been worth dying for. It was air conditioned though so I survived. The first day in Asia is always discombobulating. Tonight, soon, we are off on a tuk tuk food tour. In the meantime we have had a swim at the lovely infinity pool and a rest in our room.
Our tuk tuk food tour was fantastic. Just 7 of us in a tuk tuk each with a guide. We went all over the city and ate fresh vegetables with dips of various spicy combinations - sauces really. Then pork skewers with satay sauce and liver skewers for those who wanted. On for Thai version of shabu shabu (hot pot) with seafood and beef. Then fried chicken - semi sweet after being deep fried for 45 minutes- sooo good. A short walk through an amazing flower market gave us time to digest and another stop at the Royal Palace. Having seen many palaces and temples and Buddha’s we had decided not to see all those things here but seeing the palace all lit up at night was sensational! We don’t tend to go out so much at night when we are traveling and this made us realise we should consider it. Lots of people were doing the same so it felt super safe and was a sight to see. Off in the tuk tuk and down an alley to the dish of wide rice noodles fried with chicken and egg - simple and delicious. On to Chinatown where it was ALL happening for black sesame balls in ginger ‘soup’ which helps the digestion- necessary by this stage! And finally a small ice cream - lychee for us - also yum. No shopping stop offs, a delightful, energetic guide (she was as thin as a rake too) and simply the best tour. So Dad, it wasn’t the most daring way to try street food but it was a really good way and we would feel more sure of what to try next time.
Tomorrow having read The Long Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan we are off on a River Kwai full day tour.
Our flight out of Bangkok to Vienna departs at 1.20am so we made a late decision to book an extra night at the hotel. Waking up this morning and not having to check out feels like it was a good decision! Boy was that a day and a half yesterday. Up at 5am for a 6am pickup of we went with our little breakfast boxes, a sandwich and a muesli bar in a plastic box, a croissant and some fruit in another plastic box, a box drink and all in a plastic bag. The use of plastic in this city is alarming really and makes us feel as if our efforts at reducing plastic use would really make very little difference. Not that we would stop doing so.
There were 10 people on our tour and after being collected in a small bus we transferred to a large one for the trip. It was about 4 hours to get to Kanchanaburi and after our day’s activities it took about 51/2 to get back, the extra time just in the Bangkok traffic snarl. 6 of the 10 stayed in the area overnight so this big bus was just carrying 4 of us back into the city. The other 2 were a couple from India - its just a 2.5 hour flight for them from Kolkata. So the traveling was excruciating in the end. But we were happy to visit the war cemetery and the museum and see some of rural Thailand. The cemetery was the best kept area we’ve seen - no litter, well maintained, spotless and the usual sad story of too many young men who’s lives were cut short. Ditto the museum - small and manageable and really well done. All of this seems to be attributable to one Australian man’s efforts rather than being a Thai government thing. Obviously there is support from the other countries, England, USA, NZ. Probably the saddest thing I learn was that there were many many more thousands of ‘Asian’ labourers who died there and none of them were identified when they were buried so there’s been no similar retrieval of remains or recognition of them.
We visited the bridge over the Kwai river which was NOT the one built by the prisoners - that was made of wood and has largely been submerged by a dam. It is rather a lovely river winding it’s way through the tropical greenery. Later we did a train ride on the Kanchanaburi - Bangkok train for an hour. Gosh it was hot, even the breeze felt hot. The train did go over part of the wooden viaduct so we had an idea of the kind of building these guys did and the sort of rocky mountainous territory they did it in. The river now has houseboats and outdoor restaurants etc and looks so lovely, it’s hard to imagine the appalling conditions they had to bear.
An interesting tour but that will be our last day trip where we have to sit for 8+ hours in a bus.
And to end on a positive note. Mark hadn’t told me there was a rooftop bar so that was our first stop when we got home for a G&T. Then a quick pad Thai in the hotel (we were tired..) with a glass of Prosecco and shortly after that we were out for the count.