Finally concluding my mini Thai series, we arrived in Bangkok Hualamphong station at around 11am, around 4 hours later than originally planned (and booked), and completely exhausted. We had breakfast at the station before trying to head across town to our hostel to check in and have a proper lie down after a rough night without much real sleep. We took a mixture of the metro and the coolly named Bangkok Sky Train to our hostel just down the road from the Myanmar Embassy.
Having checked into our room on the 4th floor (no lift!), we lay on the bed for a few minutes and as our room was so dark promptly fell asleep and had a doze for a few hours, making up for the lost sleep from the night before. We woke up around 5 o’clock, and not wanting to completely waste the day grabbed some dinner and headed to the Asiatique night market, a short ferry ride from Saphan Taksin BTS station. Asiatique is based in the renovated warehouses of an old trading company, and while what’s inside is pretty much the same tat you find in most markets, the surroundings were quite cool.
The following morning we were back bright and early at Hualamphong to take the train to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is the remains of the old capital city of the Ayutthaya Empire, founded on an island surrounded by three rivers, dominant in the area for 400 years between the 1350s and 1750s when it was routed by the Burmese overnight and razed to the ground. The train took just over two hours from Bangkok, and a third class ticket only cost 15 baht.
Being our first real day in Bangkok we weren’t really sure of the temple etiquette yet so I was wearing the only pair of trousers I had with me, jeans, and it was an absolute scorcher of a day. The actual site of the ruins is over quite a large area, so we rented bikes to get around, and headed for a small passenger ferry to take us across the river, rather than the bustling main road bridge.
We visited many sites around the city, the best being Wat Mahathat, where there is a famous carving of Buddha’s head among the roots of a tree [Part 2 of my famous trees of the world series! Find Part 1, the world’s widest tree, here]; Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, which had three fantastic bell shaped tower ruins, Wat Panan Choeng next door which was a temple containing a very large sitting Buddha, and Wat Lokayasutharam, the site of a long reclining Buddha.
It was such a scorcher that we had to stop several times to reapply suncream and to buy more water along the route – definitely not a day to be wearing jeans and a black t-shirt!
The following day we headed to a floating market in Taling Chan, on the outskirts of the city. Although not as famous as bigger markets further out of the city, we were pushed for time and it was much closer than those others, not requiring seemingly a two hour journey to get there. The hostel receptionist told us although we could get there by a mixture of train, ferry and bus, that the easiest way to get there on a Sunday was just a taxi from outside as the traffic wouldn’t be so bad. We flagged down a taxi easily enough, and headed towards the market. Twenty minutes later, it became clear that the driver had no idea where he was going, and was in fact cruising around hoping to spot a sign.
Even after asking for directions twice, he dropped us at what could have been the right place (as there was a market), but after inquiring with a friendly lady we were told that we were still 15 minutes by local minibus away. Very helpfully, the kind lady helped us onto the minibus and did her best to try to tell us where to get off again. The minibus was like a large tuk-tuk, and letting the old ladies and school kids sit down, I ended up standing on a little grill at the back, hanging on.
Probably about an hour after we were supposed to, we arrived at the floating market and actually saw some other people this time so knew we were in the right place. We were bustled past stalls of coconuts, spices, flavoured chicken and beef, and other exotic goods we weren’t exactly sure about, down to the water front, where narrow boats surrounded a large jetty, with people cooking fish, seafood and other meats in the boat before passing them up to the vendors on the jetty. We tried some satay chicken, but as it was only about 11am we weren’t that hungry yet.
Round the corner, we booked on to have an hour cruise of the surrounding area “by local boat”. We hopped on, and a silent guide led us around the back canals of Bangkok, making clear why the city was once called the ‘Venice of the east’. Although we were slightly disappointed with the cruise (we expected to visit the floating markets by boat, but only really went through one slowly for about a minute) it was nice seeing the more local side of Bangkok, and a side probably more usual many years ago.
We left the market and braved another a taxi to take us to the Grand Palace, home of the Kings of Siam and Thailand since the 18th century. We were forbidden entry uncovered, so before entering had to join a long queue to be given some sexy grey jogging bottoms and a long dress (sweating in jeans all day the day before had put me off doing so again!). Once inside, however, it was truly spectacular. Wonderfully colourful buildings, with plentiful gold edging, it certainly looked far grander than old Buck House! There were more Buddhas (the Thais can’t get enough), but really the buildings were the main attraction. Just around the corner from the Grand Palace was the similarly grand Wat Pho temple, where we saw yet another massive reclining Buddha, before returning back to the hotel.