Skim-Reading Bangkok

Thu, 15 May 2008 10:40:49 +0000

Bangkok: Soggy Index Lazy in Thailand

Bangkok is one of those cities where it is absolutely clear what, as a tourist, you're expected to do. And far be it from me to disobey. But I resent being pigeon-holed, and I particularly hate the way the tuk-tuk drivers irritatedly gesture in the opposite direction from that in which I'm walking and bark "Big buddha this way!" You know where you can stick your big buddha, mate... So I react to this by going where I'm told, but not bothering to enjoy it. Ha, take that Bangkok! The net result was that I blitzed my way through the three big temples in just a couple of hours, leaving me free to enjoy myself for the rest of the day.

Breakfast at this hostel turns out to be surprisingly decent: they've outsourced it to the restaurant next door, where you have the choice of two slices of toast with jam, or fried rice. Uh, gee, let me think. Hmm, maybe the fried rice? You don't get a lot, but it's reasonable for breakfast. I bulked it up by getting some kind of citrus fruit from a hawker down the road.

So then off to be a good little tourist. Apparently there really is no more efficient way to get to Rattanakosin than the metro and the ferry, so I retraced my steps from yesterday. Unfortunately I missed the first ferry because I misinterpreted the flags on the top. There's only one route, but there are all-stops, express, and even-more-express variants, signalled with different colour flags on the ferries. I find it a rather confusing system, and I spent the 20 minute wait for the next ferry dreaming up several far more logical and sensible alternative schemes they should have used instead.

First stop was the grand palace. I was keen to get in as quickly as possible, because there were some threatening clouds gathering. Inside, the place is very impressive. Everything plastered with gold and green and broken porcelain. I had the opportunity to examine the construction technique in some detail, as the heavens immediately opened and I was crammed into a ludicrously inadequate porch with a big group of Italians to take shelter.

It didn't last too long though, and I was again free to explore the grounds. I particularly liked the statues of fantastic creatures, completely different to anything I've seen before. Never come across a half-man-half-chicken, for example, or a five-buddha-headed snake. I'll have to look up what they mean, sometime when I have access to Wikipedia and an hour or two to waste.

After leaving the palace, and feeling a little peckish, I got some random food from the market by the pier. A couple of slices of deep-fried banana and something else that was deep fried, which turned out to be some greenish mush with a banana at the centre. All very nice.

So then I walked to Wat Pho to see this big Buddha. I have to say, I consider big Buddhas pretty lame tourist attractions. Right up there with the big pineapples/bananas/lobsters/merinos/cows/etc that afflict the more pointless Australian country town. I certainly can't see how contemplating a few extra feet of Buddha are going to get you any closer to enlightenment. But for what it's worth, here's a bloody big Buddha:

Feel enlightened?

To be fair, Wat Pho has plenty of other temples and pavilions and so on to gawk at, and I wandered around enjoying the place for a bit.

For lunch, I resolved to stop at one of the roadside restaurants that set themselves up whereever there's traffic, which I hadn't had the nerve to try before. I ordered some rice and seafood, confirmed I wanted it spicy, and sat down to watch them prepare it. These women had a pretty tight operation going, turning out a reasonable range of dishes from their very basic facilities. I realised I couldn't figure out where they got their dishwater from, but decided I'd probably be better off not speculating about that.

When the food arrived, it was absolutely stunningly delicious, the best meal I've had in Thailand.

I wandered around the street hawkers for a little bit afterwards. One guy was selling a variety of knuckledusters, shuriken stars, and other things that would be illegal in Australia (I reassured myself that they were no doubt made of tin and almost useless as weapons). Lots and lots of amulets for sale. I thought about it, but decided even such a tiny thing is just going to be junk that weighs me down for the rest of my life. I did buy some dragonfruit though. I really like that stuff. I still have no idea what it looks like before it's been peeled.

So to round off the day's temples, I went across the river to Wat Arun. This mis-designed sign was amusing.

Even in Thailand, that's just not cool man.

Wat Arun is mainly noted for its massive 61m spire, but I was more interested in the excellent use of that broken porcelain decorative technique. It was a good opportunity to examine it in detail. The stuff covers absolutely every available surface.

So having used up the day, I made my way back to the hostel, stopping to buy snacks from hawkers along the way. When running for the skytrain I managed to drop my sunglasses, which neatly skidded straight onto the tracks. So those are gone. That's the third pair this holiday, a pretty poor record.

I had a couple of jobs to do. First, post my passport to Australia. It seems that there's no reliable way to speed up a Syrian visa application, so doing it from Perth isn't going to work. But I need a stamped, self-addressed envelope from Australia post. In the end the only workable strategy is to post my passport to Perth and get Mum to sort it all out. Thanks Mum! It's always possible that even this won't work, but ultimately I don't really need my Australian passport, so it can't be a total disaster.

The other job was to book my ticket to Nong Khai, on the border with Laos. Laos wasn't in the original plan, but my plan was pretty conservative, so I have enough slack in the schedule to poke my nose into Vientiane.

For the evening I thought I'd go down to Siam and have a look at Bangkok's famous shopping. Not sure why, I don't need anything, and there's nothing exotic about a shopping centre. But I did get a meal: yellow prawn curry and a "crab souffle". The curry was delicious. I seem to have done well with food today.

I was considering trying to find a music bar to hang out in this evening, but once again couldn't be bothered. Early to bed, early to rise, surely the best strategy at the moment.

Bangkok: Soggy Index Lazy in Thailand