Category Archives: Bangkok

Temple Necks and Market Sweats pt. 2

There’s nothing you can’t buy in Bangkok. There are markets on just about every street corner where vendors sell everything from fish ball skewers to second-hand flip flops. On our way back from China Town (more on this below) we drove through a night flower market (the day is just too hot so the market starts at dusk and is open till almost midnight) that stretched over four blocks and it was just brimming with every kind of bloom imaginable, with the scents and aromas to match. This pretty much epitomises the Bangkok markets; there are no half measures and no matter which one you end up in, you can be sure that your eyes will be darting furiously, while your brain lags exhaustedly behind, unable to comprehend the sensory overload.

Night time Flower Market

Apparently, Bangkok used to be known as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to the extensive labyrinth of channels and rivulets that snake around the city. So we thought it fitting  to start at the Damnoensaduak floating market, which was touted as the oldest and the biggest. It is about an hour and a half out of Bangkok, and the longtail boat ride there was definately one of our highlights. As with many of the ‘authentic’ Thai sights we have visited, Damnoensaduak was heaving with tourists, but this actually added to the atmosphere for once.  After what seemed like a mandatory detour down the quiet canals of the market where the usual tourist fare was on offer, our paddle boat (Thai gondola-style longboat) turned the corner and we were greeted with pandemonium. The main canal was absolutely jam-packed with deadlocked boats. Credit must go to our oarswoman, who tried doggedly to forge us up the canal that seemed to be more boats than water, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Every time we gained a metre, a motorised longtail would come pummelling through the entropic mass and just push us straight back to the start of it all again, while the oarswoman’s slew of verbal abuse was drowned out by the engine. After many attempts we had no choice but to do the rest of our exploring on foot, which was actually a very good way to see everything. The local Thais usually come to do their market business early in the morning before the tourists arrive, but the social dynamics of the traders remain evident throughout the day. Many are weathered women who have honed some inspiring skills when it comes to navigating busy canals with boats loaded to capacity. Some even juggle this with working over piping hot burners as they make some pretty delicious bits and bites. We eventually found a good vantage point where we could just sit back and watch the the river and its intriguing occupants pass us by while we guzzled our coconut pancakes.

That night we wanted to venture into China Town and hopefully get to see a different side of Bangkok, but the side we saw was not the one we expected. Apart from being an entire suburb of Shark Fin restaurants there was nothing that really distinguished it from the rest of Bangkok, until evening fell, that is. Despite being decidedly disheartened by the awful amount of Shark Fin on display, we stuck it out to see the lights of Th Yaowarat blink to life, and all of a sudden, China Town woke up. After bargaining a no-stops around-the-block tuk-tuk ride we were carted through the hustle and bustle at rocket speeds as China Town gave us real a taste of her sights and smells.

Shark fin restaurant

The following day we headed off to Chatuchak, aka ‘The Weekend Market’, with absolutely no idea of what was in store.  It is an enormous, warren-like series of undercover market streets that all spill out onto a number of open central thoroughfares, but knowing which one you’re in is almost impossible – most of the time we were just grateful to be out in the comparatively cooler and fresher Bangkok air. Once we realised that attempting to navigate the place was a practice in futility, we simply started wandering, crossing over from one market city to another, browsing and haggling on the way. There is no general theme to the goods on offer, though there were a surprising number of Country & Western type stalls, complete with Willy Nelson soundtracks, chaps, plaid and spurs.  If you’re looking for an enormous Swastika tapestry to fill the space above the fireplace, this is really the place to get it (we really saw one). South Africa was arguably dubiously represented, as the only things we found were a Die Antwoord t-shirt  and a badge of the old flag that said “Fuck you, I’m a white South African” (not surprisingly, this was also one of the Nazi regalia shops). Despite this, we found some kindred spirits in one shop and had a great chat (across the language barrier) about the status of punk and rockabilly in the Bangkok music scene. It’s that kind of place. We spent the entire day there and we did not even see half of it.

Die Antwoord shirts at weekend market

A strange store, we found these right next to the Gay Pride flags and peace signs.

Just as things started shutting and we decided to leave, the heavens opened and we got stuck in a spectacular Bangkok monsoon downpour while we waited for our bus, so by the time we got home we were exhausted and sopping, but slightly refreshed.
That night, on the way home from dinner, the sounds of some very good music drew us into Ad Here 13th Blues Bar, where we were blown away by the bluesy prowess of the Banglumphu Band while enjoying a couple of hard-earned Changs.

 


Temple Necks and Market Sweats pt. 1

Being a tourist in Bangkok means four things: Temples, Markets, Buddhas and Beer. There is absolutely no way to escape them, and there really is no good reason to! A cold Chang – the cheapest, most refreshing beer (in our opinions, at least) — at the end of a temple- or market-heavy day is just the sweetest way to unwind, cool down and rest overworked legs and necks.


Coming to a place like this, there was always the danger of running out of adjectives that could adequately describe what we are experiencing. We got our first real taste of this limitation when we visited Wat Phra Kaew  (Temple of Emerald Buddha) and The Grand Palace. Both are joined as one big complex that is contained by 1900m of wall (it’s really big!), in Bangkok’s historically significant Ko Ratanakosin district.

The latter is the former royal residence, built by King Rama 1 after his ascendency in 1782, and The Emerald Buddha is one of the most revered religious images in Thailand. There is a remarkably strong Hindu influence on Thailand’s Thervada Buddhism, which is evident in the incorporation of many myths and deities into the breathtaking adornment of the various buildings. From the architectural prowess, to the awe-inspiring detail, to the sheer scale of the opulence, it was almost impossible to take it all in.

Amazing hand crafted detail

There are also throngs of devout pilgrims who travel here to worship and pay respect, which makes for quite a solemn atmosphere, despite all the boisterous tour groups. We felt very privileged to be there.

But, when one considers that most of the wonderful sights are situated at roof height or higher, appreciating it fully in one day became quite a physical challenge. Hence we have coined a new medical diagnosis aimed at temple-goers;    Temple Neck Syndrome (TNS for short).  Symptoms include; acute stiffness in the neck, a dull ache at the base of the skull, fatigued and squinty eyes, and general clumsiness caused by not watching where you are walking.

Following this, we further aggravated our TNS by going to see The Reclining Buddha, a 33 metre long, 5 metre high Buddha who resides at Wat Pho. Getting the colossal figure into a photo was a challenge we eventually lost gracefully, and after that we simply walked around and enjoyed the beauty of the larger temple complex. Despite being almost delirious with TNS at this point, it really was a sight to behold, and the final discovery of a number of monks worshipping in an spell-bindingly ornate inner temple was a fittingly serendipitous way to end our day..

Monks in prayer

In retrospect, we should have savoured the serenity of the day more fully, as our exploration of Bangkok’s markets would prove to be a onslaught of chaos.


In the beginning there was Bangkok

Well first off, Qatar Airways was superb! Honestly, we don’t want to gush but there was ample legroom, the seats reclined to a comfy sleeping angle and the food was fantastic. So, apart from the 6 consecutive number-two-ers who made use of the facilities that were right behind us at the back of the plane as soon as they could undo their seatbelts (apparently doing one’s business at 3000m in a tiny awkward cubicle is far more rewarding than using the spacious ablutions in the airport – go figure), what we expected to be a gruelling 30hour journey turned out to be quite bearable.
After the heat we experienced in our thankfully brief transfer in Doha, we were met with a comparatively temperate 30degree evening in Bangkok. After many attempts at conversation with our taciturn taxi driver (who, to be fair, is probably sick to death of starry eyed foreigners asking him questions about the city and his background) we just sat back and enjoyed watching the city pass by.
Sam Sen Sam Place is the best value for money accommodation we’ve found in the Banglamphu area. It is clean, quiet , a short walk from the river ferry and the infamous Khao San Rd, and the staff/owners are incredibly friendly and helpful which is invaluable for newcomers such as ourselves. A substantial breakfast and wi-fi access are included in the 500 Bht/night fee (this is a reduced rate that they offer for bookings of four nights or more – another perk).  Following the advice of one of the aforementioned staffers, we headed down Th Samsen (Th = road) to Soi 2 (Soi = numbered side streets branching off of this road) to a really great, affordable restaurant – the name of which will remain a mystery as we could not decipher the Thai sign and the pronunciations we got were as varied as the menu, but there is a picture below (just in case you wind up in Samsen Soi 2 looking for a hearty meal and a cold beer). More effort will go into this kind of research in future, we promise, but one night’s grace is in order after a long flight. In short, it was the perfect meal to start our Thailand experience, and with a big bottle of Chang to wash it down, happiness abounded.
Today we took the bus(aircon- pleasant)  to Pan Tip Plaza – an outlandishly huge electronics centre. It was a great place to earn our haggling stripes, but this turns out be quite dangerous as the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies getting something for what is ostensibly a ‘bargain’  after some theatrical negotiations involving dismissive hand gestures, looks of outrage and feigned disinterest  is rather addictive.
With our not-much-cheaper-than-normal ‘bargains’ in hand, we headed back to Khao San road by bus (no aircon- hot, noisy but  very interesting ) and the conductor waved away our 7Bht with a smile after Joff gave his seat to an elderly lady, so our trip was free.  Khao San Rd is exactly what its reputation promises: touristy, busy, and quite pricey, but also exciting, atmospheric and energising. The afternoon downpour we found ourselves in was a perfect excuse to take shelter in one of the numerous bars and enjoy and over-priced beer. We will definately be heading back for some more serious explorations before we leave Bangkok on Monday.