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Bangkok...

Sunday 21st November 2004

Despite not getting to sleep until gone 2:30am last night we woke up fresh as daisies after only five hours and ordered breakfast. I enjoyed yesterdays so much that I had the same again. I'm really developing quite a taste for that white omelette concept. I'll have to try making one at home.

We started our course of Malarone anti-malarial tablets today in preparation of entering Cambodia. The area outside of Siem Reap is considered a high-risk area, so we'd better be safe than sorry. I had read that one side effect of malarone could possibly be an acidic stomach so they recommend taking it with milk or yogurt. A bit of heartburn however is far better than the potential side effect of another anti-malarial called mefloquine which has been known in some cases to bring on psychotic episodes!

Our goal today was to visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It's a fair distance out of town, but very easy to reach as it's at the end of the Sumkuvit line on the Sky Train, at Mo Chit. We noticed that the trains were far busier this time than they were four years ago but still not London Underground levels.

As we pulled into Mo Chit station we could see the expanse of the market to our left; an enormous spread of tin roofs and power cables.

Julie and I aren't really thrilled by markets. We can live without replica designer wear, knock-off DVDs, or that "I Banged in Bangkok" T-shirt, but I felt that Chatuchak would be an experience like no other market. I was right.

As we walked up to the market it was difficult to know where to begin. We strolled alongside the rim, browsing the clothes stalls. Suddenly we were caught with a flow of people and were sucked inside the Kasbah. Disorientated and confused, our eyes took some time to adjust from the bright sunshine outside to the claustrophobic darkness beneath the hot tin roofs.
The air was heavy and sweaty, the cacophony of bartering voices and blaring Thai rock music swirled about our ears, spinning our heads.

Had we been subscribed the wrong pills?! I felt I was having a psychotic episode!

As we acclimatised, rubbing our blurry eyes we regained our sight to see tightly packed traders selling everything you would ever want to wear. Levi jeans, silk kimonos, Leather Biker jackets, Kickboxing shorts, underpants, white stilettos, fluffy pink slippers, you name it, you could buy it here! After turning right, then left, then right and left again, we were lost! We wanted to escape but couldn't see a way out. It just seemed to go on for miles! If this place were to go up in flames it would be a death trap. It's a catastrophe waiting to happen.

A flash of sun caught my eye and we immediately aimed for it. Hallelujah! We were so relieved we marched with purpose towards the light and celebrated when we popped out into the open on the other side. Chatuchak appeared to have three open areas, which were actually quite pleasant to stroll down, but the vast majority of the market was undercover. We caught our breath in the fresh air for a while before plucking up the courage to plunge ourselves head first into the next covered area, the Pet's corner.

The first section was quite pleasant, and almost refreshingly cool. Walking through the fish section was like visiting an Aquarium. In fact the variety and size of some of the fish on sale was far more interesting than anything I've seen back home!

As we left the aquatics behind we entered the area that was to make us cry; the mammals. We saw puppies in small cages, quaking bunny rabbits, and tiny Chinchillas tightly tethered by their necks to the top of their cages. It was just so cruel but what could you do? Actually to be fair the majority of the puppies did seem on the surface quite healthy and waggy-tail happy, but quite often we saw a distressed hound shitting itself and cowering in the corner.

As we walked through pet's corner Julie suddenly felt a nasty bite on her left leg. It made her jump with its ferocity as if it came from the jaws of a rabid Chihuahua. It was only an insect bite but it had immediately reddened and swelled. We thought it was more likely to have been a flea than a mosquito but whatever it was probably jumped off one of these infested animals.

Ominously close to Pet's Corner were many food stalls! It was strange; but we had surprisingly left our appetite behind somewhere between the diarrhoea stricken puppies and the tortured eye-popping-tongue-hanging-out Chinchillas.

We continued to press on into the deepest Chatuchak pass furniture stalls, electrical stalls and even more clothing stalls. The layout became less grid based and more mazy and we soon found ourselves walking around in ever increasing circles. That's when we decided it was time to leave. Twenty minutes later we were still trying to leave! We began to wonder if we'd ever find our way out!

Somewhere along the way we did stop to buy some linen shirts and trousers. The trousers were an odd cut as they had a waist that would fit a 50 stoner, but the idea was that the tie string would gather it together, giving a baggy trouser that tapered below the knee. Why on earth we bought one each I'll never know. We'll never ever wear them back home! I did however buy a reasonably stylish linen shirt. She was asking 400 Baht for it. I tried to barter and offered 200 Baht. She laughed and reduced the price to 380 Baht. I got bored and offered 350 on which we agreed. I'm just not cut out for hard bargaining. So I paid almost £6 for it, so what? It would have cost me three times as much in Marks & Spencers!

We finally found the exit and made a welcome return to the air conditioned sky train. The experience of Chatuchak market was certainly worth the visit even if we didn't enjoy it, if you know what I mean? At times it was an ordeal but memorable for it.

We dropped off our new wardrobe at the hotel and went out again to Wat Arun. This was another attraction that we missed the last time we were in Bangkok. We stood for ages at the pier waiting for the next Express boat to pick us up. It was way behind schedule. We soon realised why after boarding and experiencing the next pier stop. The driver was a complete and utter novice. He didn't have a clue how to pull up to a pier, and park up. He overshot, then over compensated, the boat rocked violently, shaking us all about, and then finally he hit the pier with a jolt. It was just enough contact for the assistant to jump off and tie it down to allow the passengers to get off. Had the guy been drinking or was he blindfolded? He just didn't have a clue! This complete farce was repeated at all the stops. You could feel the anxiety rise in the boat as everybody stopped talking when we pulled up at a pier. Even I was getting a bit anxious, trying to stand as close to a life jacket as possible without wearing it!

Tha Thien pier was the fifth stop along and we were so glad to get off before it sunk! I'm sure it never would but that was the worst boat ride we had ever experienced.

From this pier we caught a shuttle boat that ferries across the river to Wat Arun which stands tall on the Thon Buri side of the city. It cost us only 4 Baht each and was far more sedate of a crossing than our adrenalin pumping extreme boat ride earlier.

From a distance Wat Arun, known as "The Temple of the Dawn", looks exceptionally imposing, but up close it looks even more impressive for a different reason.

You realise that the entire structure is ornately covered in porcelain. As you look closely you begin to fall in awe as you appreciate the detail of the work that went into building this monument.

It was simply phenomenal.

Wat Arun was built during the early 19th century; around the time the King left Ayutthaya and set up his new capital in Thon Buri and apparently all the porcelain came from what was used as ballast by slow boats from China.

It was wonderfully peaceful here. There was a pleasant breeze and we could hear the gentle chiming of bells that swung from the highest points of the various structures. We walked up the steps onto the first level of the Khmer style central prang and walked around it clockwise.

 

The 2nd and 3rd levels were now closed to the public, probably a safety issue as those steps were really steep.

We spent quite sometime here just wandering around. It wasn't at all busy, and the whole complex had that typical Buddhist serenity in abundance. This serenity was enhanced by the presence of several visiting monks. They were just as much "tourists" as we were as they also took photos and marvelled at the central prang.

 

We left Wat Arun, returning to the oasis of our hotel's pool for the first time. We hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was now late afternoon so we ordered food.

The poolside menu was very poor for vegetarians, with only the "Just fries" or "Just Salad" options not containing meat.

So I ordered them both. Julie was spoilt for choice and went for a Ham & Cheese sandwich.

Unfortunately for the first time at the Royal Orchid Julie didn't rate the food. She said that it didn't taste at all good.

That distinctive Bangkok smell does not belong in a baguette! It was also very expensive, but I guess the four Singha beers did inflate the bill.

With food in our stomachs we retired to our room for a two hour siesta before heading out to the Patpong Night market.

We caught a metered taxi from the hotel to the entrance of the night market. It was very lively place with crowds of happy shiny people spilling out onto Surawong road.

Walking down Patpong was an experience, not for the bazaar but for the bizarre! Behind the market stalls were the infamous go-go bars of Bangkok. Neon signs proudly advertise Super Pussy, and a cheeky glimpse of bikini clad stick insects bathed in ultra violet light gyrating slowly at a pole with the eroticism of puppets, were quite a shock for a demure country boy like myself to witness for the first time! Cheerful fresh faced young touts stood outside trying to lure you into their establishments, but we didn't go inside. It's not that we're prudish, far from it, only it made me feel similar to how I felt at the market this morning with those cute puppies in cages. My instinctive response was to feel sorry for these slaves of the sex industry. But then I don't deny that I had a jolly good look!

It was a strange combination of excitement and guilt. Guilty for being here under the pretence of the night market when knowing that it was the curiosity of the strip clubs that lured me here.

For the most part it didn't feel at all seedy. There was one moment however. We had strolled down the main street, and returned up another. This second street was quieter and darker and one sweaty slimy tout slithered his way up to us and whispered "You like ping pong and banana, sir?" Well I almost fell about laughing when I heard that!! "Banana?" I inquired, feigning interest, to which Julie nudged me hard in the ribs. "Thank you, but no." We apologised and left him to consider a new sales pitch.

We were quite thirsty and wanted beer but didn't want an eyeful of flesh on the side, so as soon as we reached the normality of Surawong Road we found a small restaurant/bar with tables outside where we could sit down and we enjoyed two large Singha beers. They were ever so refreshing and so welcomed! It was great to just kick back and people watch.

There were all sorts of characters walking by, everyone in party mode.

Three Akha tribe ladies were hawking their handicrafts along the pavement. I caught the eye of one who danced her way across with her blackened beatlenut grin.

I didn't buy anything from her and so she hummed her way back out onto the street. Julie accused me of having a smiley face that encourages people to come up to me to try their luck at selling.

Once invigorated by beer we walked inside a store that had a jewellery stall and we bought a bracelet for Hannah. I was a bit more successful at bartering this time, knocking the price down from 390 Baht to 150. Finally, I came up against someone as poor at bartering as I was! The fact she was about twelve years old probably meant I held an advantage! At the back of the store they had internet access for 2Baht a minute, so we logged on and we just had to e-mail Steve & Liz about the ping pong and bananas! We whiled away half an hour on line before leaving, via a 7 Eleven to stock up on beer. Only 38 Baht per can, compared to 200 Baht from the mini bar!

To finish off the "Bangkok at night" experience we caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel.

The problem with many tuk tuk drivers is that during the day they work a scam where they'll take you to jewellers or other shops before they take you to your destination. At night they don't have any stores to take you to, so they are more likely to take you directly to where you want.

The other bonus of catching a tuk tuk in the evening was that there's a lot less traffic which allows the driver to hit maximum mph!

We sat in the back and held on for dear life. Julie was grasping so tight to the rail that I expected it to come off in her hands! What a thrill!

A white knuckle ride par excellence! I'm sure it would go down a treat in a theme park; The Runaway Tuk Tuk!

We safely reached our hotel and I paid a little extra than the agreed price, so that I could take his photo. He sat there and smiled awkwardly.

We sat in the lobby for a while and had a few drinks, listened to the band again, and watched the endless coming and goings of the bandy legged and lobster pink.

(Oh, that reminds me. This morning, whilst looking for tea bags on the condiments tray, I was a little surprised to see complimentary condoms for our use! They think of everything don't they? Although the only use I'd make from a condom is to inflate it over my head!)

 

At midnight we were still wide awake but were absolutely famished. We'd only had breakfast and a 4pm snack, no wonder we were hungry. We scooted up in Schindler's Lift to our room and ordered room service which was perfect. Foccacia Beef Sandwich for Julie and Spaghetti al pomodori for me. We then settled down to watch "Daylight" the Stallone film where there's an accident in a New York tunnel. Julie loves disaster movies.

We mentioned this last night with Andrew, suggesting that this may be the reason why Julie has an irrational fear of absolutely everything! She's always petrified by the worse case scenario, because the number one rule of a disaster movie is that the worst case will happen. Perhaps the makers of Scary Movies should now do the same for the Disaster Movie genre. They're equally filled with clichés.

Once again it was later than 2am by we got to sleep. Our body clocks are well and truly cocked up!

Monday 22nd Nov 04 >>
©Copyright Colin Owen 2005 Contact me at c.a.owen@bangor.ac.uk