We arrived in Bangkok in the early hours of the morning. After some confusion about whether we need a visa or not – we’d flown from India (visa required) on UK passports (no visa required) – we were ushered through passport control (without a visa). Collected our bags, visited the loos and breathed. It was clean. It was quiet. It was modern. The contrast from Bangalore was there already. We booked a cab and were taken to a clean car (without bumps and dents) with Aircon and leather seats and seat belts. Another huge contrast.
Journey to the hotel
We marvelled at the smooth roads. No potholes, no random people walking in the road, no cows, no dogs, no goats, no people sweeping the roads with twigs and a flag to alert the traffic, no cars randomly stopped on the road, no piles of rubbish. There was lane discipline and use of signals, no dodgy u turns on highways or vehicles travelling in the wrong direction and most notably- no constant use of the horn. It was quiet. It was smooth (not like Bangalore where you feel you are off roading all the time). It was straight (no ‘whacky races’ here). There weren’t animals roaming around. It was clean. We sat back and enjoyed the ride. How refreshing.
Chatrium Riverside Hotel
Quick and efficient check in (another huge contrast to Bangalore) and got us to our room quickly knowing we were tired from the journey. The room is large with a kitchenette and overlooks the river. There is a welcome plate of fruits we can’t identify! After a few hours catching up on sleep we headed down for lunch in the lobby restaurant. Once again we were a bit overwhelmed by the choice. Zahra went for a sausage roll and I think she merely inhaled it! The food was delicious – and it was served together (unlike Bangalore where meals come as they are cooked so no one eats at the same time.). It was Zahra who noticed this and commented.
The concierge was extremely helpful showing us how to get to places of interest on the map, how much it would costs and the scams to avoid! We headed for the Grand Palace but arrived just as it was shutting (and long trousers are required). The security got our map out and showed us where to go in the area, got us a uniformed Tuk Tuk (regulated driver), bargained with him for us and sent us on our way with a cheery “see you tomorrow”. It took less than 5 mins and was a bit of a whirlwind, but nevertheless funny and helpful. They’ve clearly had to do that many times before.
Wat Intharawihan Temple
It was around 4pm when we arrived at the temple, so it was relatively quiet. We were able to wander around unimpeded and take a leisurely look at the temple and the shrines and the huge golden Buddha statue. At 32 metres (105 ft) high, 10 metres (33 ft) wide the standing Buddha statue (referred to as Luang Pho To or “Phra Si Ariyamettrai”) was built between 1867 and 1927, taking 60 years to complete. Ajon Toh, the then Abbott of the temple, was the inspiration to build it but he died at the foot of the image in 1871. A gilded bust of this Abbott is enshrined at the temple entrance.
The Buddha is carrying a bowl. There are (steep!) stairways at the sides to the back behind the statue which provides access (for devotees) to paste gold leaf on the statue. The image is called Luang Phor To. The statue which is decorated in glass mosaics tiles is gilded with 24-carat gold. The topknot, called Ushnisha, of the Buddha statue contains a relic of lord Buddha (which was given as a gift by the Government of Sri Lanka).
After some negotiations with a few Tuk Tuk drivers we finally found one that would take us to China Town without ripping us off or stopping at a tailors to get a suit made! The Tuk Tuks here are clean and comfortable and fast (traffic dependent obviously). Yaowarat Road in Samphanthawong district is home to Bangkok’s Chinatown. We walked through the small narrow lanes and backstreets of Chinatown’s Sam Pheng Market. Trading had finished for the day and the stall holders were packing away the myriad of goods they had been selling. They were sweeping and washing the street and rubbish was collected neatly in bags piled ready for collection. Yet another stark contrast to Bangalore (where nobody collects rubbish, cleans or tidies their street stall). It was fascinating. We wandered back onto the main Yaowarat Road where the food stalls were quickly being set up and some were already very busy. There are few restaurants to go in and eat – the majority of food here is street food and some stalls have makeshift seating and tables to facilitate this. It is a complete contrast to London’s small Chinatown full of restaurants.
We had a look on the Internet and chose one of the restaurants on the ‘top 10 restaurants in Chinatown’ list – T&K seafood. It looked like a builders cafe but looks can be deceiving. It was all fresh fish on the menu and it was delicious. Fried large prawns (in shell), garlic fried prawns and crab fried rice were washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice (no added sugar here thankfully). It was delicious. All for 850 Baht (£17).
The place was buzzing when we left but we were too tired to explore anymore so we hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel for a nightcap before bed. It was an enjoyable first day.