Sunday, 12 April 2015

Bangkok, An Urban Experience I'll Never Forget

Bangkok, Thailand

At first sights you’re introduced to a mash up of brightly coloured taxis void of seatbelts, lady boys that Scottish girls are most talented at picking out and armed soldiers (I was there for the coup d’état of 2014), but if one takes a step back they’ll see what I’m talking about, Bangkok, an urban experience I’ll never forget. Thailand was a dream destination for me, for reasons I’m still sketchy about, and it was my joy to finally make the trip. Was it a regret, my answer is ‘no’, but if you’re going to head over there then I say confidently that you will be drained by the end of it. Thailand was the most exhausting trip I’ve ever taken, but yet again, no regrets. Was embarrassed that I overlooked the fact I was going to the northern hemisphere in case anyone was interested.

Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
Like many, I started in the capital of Bangkok and it was pretty big for me, it being the third national capital I have visited (Suva in Fiji was a drive through, and Australia’s Canberra… yeah). Ranging from towers to shanty towns each with their own satellite dishes, Bangkok comes in its many forms and I was advised that that it is best seen in a few days, which was provided by ThaIntro, the backpacking tour I signed up for. This tour is aimed at backpackers and provides a few different experiences (cultural, natural and partying), so there should be something for everyone. For the record I did give the partying a shot but we simply didn’t mix; however, I did surprise myself by not being the first to head back to the guesthouse, which was the Wild Orchid Villa; they make good Pad Thai!

After overcoming some vicious jetlag courtesy of Thai Airways (FLY WITH THEM!!!), getting to know everyone else on the tour and answering what I now call mandatory ‘How do you cope with the deadly creatures in Australia?’ questions, we got to know the city. Bangkok is pretty interesting and there was so much to get used to; the culture shock will rear its head the moment you leave the airport, so it’s my advice that you go with the flow. Not everywhere is like the west. However, I am a merciful Sheep, and so I will give you a few tips

Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
For one, you DO NOT speak ill of the king because the Thais love that man. You must always keep your dirty feet on the ground because it’s not besh (besh is of Scottish hooligan origins – not to be mistaken with the urban dictionary definition), and should you see people stand up at the same time for the national anthem, join them. On a more trivial topic, if you have reservations about the way Thais ride scooters, it’s just the way it is (they can do anything on two wheels), and people on the street WILL offer you custom suits and tuk tuk rides to whoop whoop, even when you’ve told the previous guy ‘no’; for those interested, there is a colourfully worded T-shirt.  

By day there are many things to check out so do your research to see what suits. On our first full one we hit the Buddhist temples which brought some genuine tranquillity to the city on the move. Wat Arun and Wat Pho were our two stops and each had something to go awe at. Both stand on the river, where you might find little boat stalls and a monitor lizard swimming around, if you’re lucky.    

Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
Wat Arun has its share of steep staircases (yes, my fear of heights did come into play) but the view from the top delivers a lot. The temple itself is a work of art and it’s been built and maintained with recycled porcelain so it’s got a unique look. I for one liked the statues of the demonic warriors (it’s how I perceived them) and the three-headed elephants. Like many temples, there is a dress code (they’re not big on a lot of skin) but they provide free garb at the front gate.
Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
Across the river is Wat Pho, our second stop, and that was where we saw many a Buddha statue. Amongst them all is the grand and very long Reclining Buddha, which will require a couple of camera shots to get all of it in. This was most certainly a sight to be wowed by, just sayin. Afterwards we sat before one of the other many statues (a lot of them are very much alike) where we were allowed to make any wish we wanted, but I am still without my publishing contract. It’s all in good fun at the end of the day.
Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
It’s been said already but Wat Pho isn’t short on its share of tranquillity (I say this with emphasis because we also didn’t fall victim to the forewarned pickpocket gangs). There’s also a tour guide going by James Bond (he has many things in common with the number 007, which I tell you now because his stories can drag out), who shared some interesting facts about Buddhism; until that day I’d never realised the word ‘nirvana’ was a religious concept. Even if you’re not doing ThaIntro, give these two temples a try.      
Other Bangkok factors to look into include the numerous street food stalls (sesame seed covered banana wedges are something to look out for, as well as chicken fired rice, but generic sticky rice pudding is not; suss out the sticky black stuff, for it will be worth it), massage parlours and fish baths (this was a twisted dream I fulfilled on this trip), but the ever ready to freak you out tuk tuks are one thing to try out, especially if you need an adrenaline high.
Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
ThaIntro does include a tuk tuk ride so be certain you know which one your group leader directs you towards, otherwise you could get carted off to somewhere you don’t want to be. On the topic of the ride itself, it was completely mental, which I say in the positive sense. I was riding in one with two Scottish girls and a Columbian and only because we were freaked out (that’s my reasoning), we discovered that singing Wannabe by the Spice Girls was a welcomed comfort. Still fun though.
Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Kim Durose, 2015)
Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Gemma Clayson, 2014)
Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Lorna Cunningham, 2014)
And now we’re onto the night life, which comes with its differing forms, I’m happy to say. Fancy dressed in a World Cup theme (won for the boys in Netherlands orange, this Sheep did), we ate out at an Indian restaurant, Bombay Blues, which reinforces Bangkok’s status as a multicultural city. Warm, inviting and with Jenga on every table, Bombay Blues also revealed a neat trick that can be done with a sheeshah, a staple in middle eastern and south Asian cultures. I’m not a smoker but I did give it a try (didn’t take but I think it’s because the flavour was mint), but we did learn that if you hold the smoke in your mouth and blow it out through a tube tipped in bubble liquid, it makes for a nifty smoke display. Several of us mastered it in no time. The only drawback about the restaurant is my inability to mast tequila shots.

Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Samir Pandya, 2014)
Having already stated that it wasn’t my preference, but if you’re a partier, your most obvious choice to partay down is without doubt, the infamous Khao Sahn Road. I’d read enough to learn it wasn’t for me, but I just fell into it. This place is high on momentum just about twenty-four seven (during the day I could cope a lot better) with offensive wrist bands, scorpions on sticks and buckets for all. When I learnt they actually drank from sandbox buckets my jaw dropped. Of course you should keep your whits about yourselves (I received several hooker calls on my walk back to the guesthouse, and a friend of mine who made a recent return nearly had her bag snatched – Bangkok is not without its opportunists), but the many I was travelling with were embracing the place.
Bangkok, Thailand (taken 2014)
Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Samir Pandya, 2014)
Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Rebecca Geates, 2014)
One story I heard, when I was down south, was that some of the children who’re running around selling souvenirs have been trafficked in from Myanmar. Whilst it is confronting to hear, I also learnt that they’ve been brought across borders to something better than what they originally had or a lesser of two evils (just to be clear, the Sheep does not condone human trafficking in any way), but it was something to think about. So, if a kid does come by offering a cheesy souvenir, it won’t break your budget to buy one. You can always bin it later, which was the habit of a Brit on the tour who kept singing Let It Go in the shower.

There was one place that left an impression on my memory and that was the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, also called ‘Sky Tower’. At 997ft, Baiyoke is the tallest building in Bangkok, and when we were standing on the balcony, its view was stunning. Whilst you have to pay to reach the top, and that any pre-promised buffets may not be delivered upon (a lot of us had just gotten off the plane), Sky Tower had a great atmosphere and should be appreciated by many, especially older travellers who aren’t up for the intense pace of Khao Sahn Road. It was a great way to start my Thai experience, and where I had my first coconut juice which was most welcomed because I found Chang beer a little watery.         
Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Rachel Pickup, 2014)

Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Samir Pandya, 2014)
With everything said, this was my introduction (in part rearranged) to Bangkok and I hope it can be of use to you, good readers. One last bit of advice I can deliver on is if you’re eating in a hurry, the 711s are plentiful and reliable; pork wontons and toasties served me well.

Kòrp kun and smile! It’s besh. 
      Bangkok, Thailand (taken by Samir Pandya, 2014)     


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