As mentioned on other Asia pages, we have not travelled extensively in Asia as yet, but plan to do so. This applies also to Thailand as the only place visited so far is Bangkok, the capital city, and on the two brief ocassions it was for Gibbo's work (something to be said of travelling for work...) and on a stopover to Australia.
There were certainly some reservations about visiting Bangkok before actually arriving. Not really sure of the reason why, but any hesitations sooned disappeared after arriving at the airport. Bangkok is a fairly modern and busy city, but not excessively. Yes the traffic is thick with cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and pedestrians, but it flows quite well and not as choking with smog as imagined. Coming from the airport, the best way is through AOT Limousines, which has a counter as soon as you clear customs. The cheapest car with driver (Toyota Camry) is only about 20 euros directly to the hotel including tolls. You can also pay with credit card so don't have to negotiate or go through hassle with local taxi drivers. Although in saying that, taxis were used around town and each are metered, clean and incredibly cheap so to and from the airport probably is not a problem. But at that price...
Within the Grand Palace grounds
Accommodation has been at both the Intercontinental and Holiday Inn (www.ichotelsgroup.com), which are right next door to each other and right in the middle of downtown, with large rooms can be found for less 100 euros per night. Across the street is the new Central World Plaza mall, with the fashionable Siam Paragon next to that with stores such as Bvlgari and Prada. Prices are really no different to the rest of the world for those high-end brands. Much of Bangkok is within walking distance, but if you can't stand the heat of the traffic, then catching the Sky Train is a good option. It runs high above the traffic and is quick and easy.
Gold, gold and more gold within the Grand Palace
Like many places that are generally hot and humid, Bangkok really comes alive at night. If you go up Ratchaprarop Road directly from the hotel, then every available space on the street is taken up by a street stall, selling everything from clothing to jewellery to fresh fruit and grilled....umm...assortments. You only need to go a block and then it turns into a permanent market where you can find every sort of Thai souvenir you had wished for, including all of the fake brands. There is also a great, three-storey supermarket on this street that is perfect for stocking up on water, green tea, and local beers (the most popular being Singha, but Chang is definitely worth a try if you're going take-aways as you'll rarely find it in bars). On the street, you'll find a load of local snacks that are worth a try.
Gibbo in the Grand Palace grounds....trying to find the Emerald Budha!
Before visiting Thailand there was no hesitation about the food as Thai is our favourite (we even had it at our wedding!). We were game and sampled street food where we had a fantastic, fresh Pad Thai (vegetarian only) that a local lady cooked right in front of us. It cost a massive 60 cents. We also found the same in Amarin Plaza food court at lunchtime across from the hotel. Full of locals, it had array of fresh food and incredibly cheap. Also eating in higher-end restaurants is fantastic and still reasonably cheap (for example, Pad Thai noodles are around 3.50 euros and a red curry about 4 euros. We pay 12- 15 euros per dish in Europe!). We can recommend SaWasDee, in the area underneath the Intercontinental, with good food and friendly service.
The best Pad Thai ever...for only 60 cents
Of course, there is more to Bangkok than shopping and food. Much more. The Emerald Buddha Grand Palace is an awesome site. Gleaming in bright colours, especially gold, the temples and statues situated within the grounds are truly stunning. We imagined that once the gates close to visitors around 4:30pm, an army of cleaners descend on the place and individually polish each piece of gold, emerald and glass. The Emerald Buddha itself is hard to miss (as Nicki did) as it's only small and situated in one of the temples, sitting atop a huge alter with dozens of locals kneeling in front praying for good fortune. To enter the palace grounds, you'll have to have long sleeves and trousers. If you don't have those with you - understandable due to the high temperatures - you can borrow some from the office at the entrance (free of charge, just deposit). Don't worry, they are clean but come in greens and purples. Pretty groovy. Just as impressive is the Reclining Buddha, situated almost next door to the Grand Palace, in it's own immaculate grounds. The golden buddha is simply enormous and is quite relaxed in a reclined position (not doing it too hard..). Definitely worth visiting both of these sites.
The spectacular Reclining Budha
After spending more than a couple of hours wandering the grounds of these palaces, we headed to the river and went on a 2 hour private trip on a small wooden boat. This trip takes you through a part of Bangkok you wouldn't normally see, certainly not from any bus or taxi. From the busy main river, you take a right and into the 'backstreets' where thousands of Bangkok residents live their life on the water, mostly in wooden houses on stilts. Be warned though that you have to go through locks and you can sit idle, staring at the less-than-pristine river, for up to 20mins. The wait is worth it though as the highlight of the trip takes you to the some of the floating markets where vendors cook fresh dishes (mainly fish taken directly from the river) on small wooden boats (hence the 'floating' part of the name) for customers who sit in a large open restaurant. You can wander around on land to other parts of the market and there are actually other floating markets selling various things in an area further away from Bangkok which can be done as a day-trip. Make sure your skipper doesn't run over the many children swimming in the river!
Taling Chan Floating Markets - definitely worth a look
Bangkok also has an awesome nightlife, but some of it is less desirable than others. A visit to the Patpong district is a good laugh. It's not just one street, but a number, all that have their own specialities. Walking down one (can't remember which as they sell loads of cheap beers down that way too!) as a couple, there was no shortage of offers - both verbally and physically - for sex shows. We have it! Girl girl, boy boy, whatever you want". A good laugh! Later on, Nicki insisted we go and see some of the girls do their tricks, so after some negotiation with a street tout, he took us to a truly classy establishment where the girls were already in full swing (imagine they are most of the day anyway). It was pretty slow and boring though, so definitely a little disappointing, but we had negotiated a few free beers to pass the time. The ride home in the Tuk Tuk was much more fun!
The food is so wonderful and fresh
After so much site-seeing, eating and drinking, there was only one thing left to do. Get pampered. Like most things, Bangkok is incredibly cheap for massages, pedicures and manicures (and probably haircuts, waxing and polishing too). Gibbo had a massage when there a few weeks beforehand for work and we returned to the same place. They didn't disappoint and at 8 euros for an hour, full-body massage, it definitely loosened a few muscles. Check out the third floor of Central World Plaza for a few different spas and then in the Amarin Plaza mall (across from the Intercontinental Hotel) for 2 - 3 euro manicures and pedicures.
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