It’s difficult to say something original about Bangkok as pretty much everything that can be said has been said.
I’m also aware that a great number of you will have visited already.
For the benefit of those that haven’t and who’ve somehow never read a travel article about Bangkok (which probably eliminates all of you) I’m going to share our experience of this bustling South-East Asian megacity.
For whatever reason, Bangkok has never been at the top of my list of places to visit. It just so happened that we wanted to travel to Burma, and to get our Burmese visa we had to go via Bangkok. Whilst there we thought we may as well stay longer and explore a little.
We arrived late on the Saturday night, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport was a chaotic free-for all. It took us over an hour and a half to pass through immigration. Not the best first impression.
We arrived to our hotel (We’d splurged a little and gone ‘upmarket’) to be informed the room we’d reserved wasn’t available, great.
“The hotel is deeply sorry for any inconvenience we have caused. Could we upgrade you to an executive suite, if that’s ok Sir?‘
“Erm, yeah it should be”
The 22nd floor suite was massive, offering glorious panoramic views of the Bangkok skyline. All for £40 a night.
The majority of day one was spent visiting the ‘Old City‘.
Within the ‘Old City’ there are three primary sights. The first of these was the Royal Palace where the King (who’s reigned for longer than our very own Elizabeth) officially resides.
Next we visited the restored Buddhist temples of Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
All three of these (particularly the Royal Palace) were over-run with tourists covering the entire tourist spectrum (Young Western backpackers, Korean tour groups, French retirees, rich Arabs and so on…).
You should expect nothing less when visiting Bangkok, it’s well and truly a tourist Mecca.
Bangkok is like a giant oven, by mid-afternoon the heat was getting the better of us. We ate lunch around Koh San Road, which is the traditional tourist / backpacking area. We weren’t too keen on it and soon left. It’s a bit like how I imagine Magaluf or Benidorm but with more Europeans (and just as many Brits!).
We also wanted to enjoy being in a cosmopolitan city for a change, so spent a fair amount of time walking around shopping malls and enjoying the home comforts we’re unable to enjoy in Korea e.g. decent western restaurants (that aren’t steak houses or ‘McDonald’s’) and a relatively high level of English comprehension.
We particularly wanted to make the most of it, for we felt we’d shortly be stepping into the unknown during the next twenty-six days in Burma. Every indication we had suggested home comforts were to be in short supply!
Back to Bangkok, the following day was spent with an early start sorting our Burmese visas and exploring the downtown shopping district (not that we actually did any shopping). I particularly enjoyed the Lamborghini, Mercedes, Maserati, Range Rover and Audi showrooms on the 5th floor of one of the malls – I’m not quite sure how they got up there…
The most interesting experience came on the Monday night during Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown of all places…
Unsurprisingly tens of thousands of people had gathered on the streets, you couldn’t move.
We grew tired of the crowds and got a little lost as we went for a walk down one of the quieter side-streets. By pure chance we stumbled across a narrow road with dozens of police officers standing guard and countless Thais sat down waiting for something.
We figured we’d stick around to see what they were waiting for.
At this point we assumed there was going to be a Chinese New Year related parade of some sort.
Police numbers were increasing and some important looking men in suits were now patrolling the area and giving out orders.
One of them shouted at me (quite aggressively) to put my camera away (it was hanging round my neck), much to my disgust. They ordered everyone sat on the pavement to cross their legs. I moaned to Amelia “It’s only a bloody dragon parade, why are they taking this so seriously?”
Twenty minutes later, we heard moaning / ‘wailing’ slowly coming towards us. The ‘wails’ got louder as dozens of security men marched past. Behind them was a highly unattractive, morbidly obese middle-aged woman waving to the crowd from a ‘float’. We later found out this repugnant figure in question was actually the Thai Princess Royal (our equivalent of Princess Anne).
Note – I presume the people were ‘wailing’ “Long Live The King” in Thai. It was incredibly bizarre.
Less than five minutes later (we couldn’t move anywhere), a fleet of two dozen Mercedes, Audis and Jaguars reversed down the narrow street. Cue more cries and wailing. It felt like people were worshiping a god, but it also felt very forced with the police asserting themselves in the manner they did.
The Princess was in and out within ten minutes but it must have taken well over an hour from start to finish for everyone to clear the roads, their stalls, and to set them back up again..
We have no idea what she was doing. All we know is she ruined the Chinese New Year celebrations (for the local people, traders and shopkeepers; at least it was interesting for us) and seemingly brought Bangkok to a standstill.
Everywhere had to close (on what is probably the busiest night of the year in Chinatown) so the ‘Princess of IT’ could take a little trip into Chinatown for what I assume to be a Chinese take-away with scant regard for anybody else.
I was surprised to see scenes like this in ‘democratic’ Thailand, it’s more how I’d imagined North Korea.
It was however, very interesting to see.
Opinions are usually split on Bangkok; some love it, others hate it.
We enjoyed our brief stay, but we share little desire to return. It’s overcrowded, horribly congested and terribly humid.
It’s also relatively cheap, with great restaurants, nightlife, hotels and sights to keep most visitors satisfied…