More Sightseeing in Bangkok
Comfortable trainIt is great to take the train again, after so many bus rides in Indonesia. Although the airco is making it feel like Siberia, it is some much more comfortable. There is enough room for a walk and we can play a game or read a book. At the Thai border we have to leave the train for a few stamps. Here we read the signs which indicate the characteristics of a hippie, disallowing you to cross the border. Fortunately, we pass that test and can continue our journey.
After a good meal and a few beers (which are cheap in Thailand), a conductor comes to change the seats into beds. We go to sleep and wake up as we near Bangkok. Our beds are returned to seats, and we are served a cup of tea. A little later we are completely relaxed as the train rolls into Bangkok train station. We walk through the station hall, and quickly find bus 53, which will bring us to Khao San Road, Bangkok's backpacker area.
Love-and-hate relation with BangkokAfter visiting a few other guesthouses, we decide to take the same one as before. When we wander through the area, we recognise many things, but see some differences as well. Our favorite café is still there, and at the end of the afternoon we take our seats there. We find out we have a love and hate relationship with Bangkok and Khao San Road. We criticize a lot, especially the many westerners here. It just doesn't have much resemblance with the rest of Southeast Asia. But we very much enjoy sitting here, watching those crazy people. We easily make contact with other travellers, and have a good time chatting with them.
The Queen's birthdayWe were lucky enough to be in Bangkok at the festival of the Queen's birthday. In the park in front of the Royal Palace, a lot of activities are organized. Dance exhibitions on large stages, kite contests, and a market. Very much like the Queen's birthday celebrations in Holland. Then we see large rows of people, and see that they are offering free food, prepared in large woks. The festivities go on all day, only interrupted by a tropical shower. And in the evening, it is finalized by large impressive fireworks.
Planning our tripBangkok is also the place to be for long time travellers to plan and arrange the next stage of a trip. Here are most of the embassies of countries in (Southeast) Asia, and most of them handle a lot of visa requests. For most of the destinations, the backpacker hostels even arrange visa services.
We take our time in Bangkok to investigate an overland route back to Europe or Africa. Our original idea was to go via China, Tibet and Nepal to India, and from there to follow the old hippie-trail through Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey back to Europe. But, there was a civil war in Nepal, India and Pakistan were almost at war, and there was the American war on terrorism, in which Pakistan and Iran would be involved.
So our alternative would be a route via China, Kazachstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran to Turkey. We searched and found representatives for these countries in Bangkok, and learned that it would indeed be possible to arrange the visa. But, it would be a lot of hassle, both in Bangkok as in these central Asian countries. And, apart from Uzbekistan, there wouldn't be much places of interest on this route. Would it be worth it to pursue our quest of overland travel via this route?
We also visited the many travel agencies in Bangkok for our options to fly to our next destination. Although there are options, it is difficult to find a good and cheap one, because of the strange tariffs of the airline companies. We find out that it is cheaper to fly back home via a country, then to fly to that country only. Very annoying and another reason to reduce flying as much as possible.
Floating Tourist MarketOne of the daytrips on offer in almost every shop on Khao San Road, is the floating market. We decide to take this organised trip for a change, and are picked up at 7 AM. We hope to see a traditional floating market, but our hopes are shattered as we make a stop at a coconut sugar factory, where the parking lot is full of large tourist buses. It is more like a big souvenir shop than a factory, with tourists swarming all over the place.
When we reach our destinations, we are put in longtail boats that race through the canals to arrive at the market, where we can take a look from a bridge, or from one of the small boats. What we feared is true, no locals buying and selling vegetables, just tourists in boats passing floating souvenir shops. We join the crowd, but it feels like a rip off.
On our way back, the bus stops at the national woodcutting center, which turns out to be the highlight of the trip. Beautiful landscapes are cut from large logs. There are also magnificent tables and chairs. Unfortunately, it's all very expensive, even excluding the required money for shipping. Yet, we did enjoy seeing it very much.
Royal boatsOn the other side of the Chao Phraya river from Khao San Road is where the Royal Barges museum is located. It is not easy to find, but via a labyrinth of small alleys we arrive at the docks, where the boats are located. The royal barges are the boats used for royal parades on the river. It is a centuries old Thai tradition, which is shown on a few video's. The boats are especially very long. Only the fronts are decorated with dragon heads, garuda's and the like. Much room is reserved for the peddlers, who need to peddle in a rhythmic ritual. It is too bad we cannot witness a parade, but at least we did see the royal boats.
There are many more places of interest in Bangkok. They can be reached by express boats on the river, by sky train, or the traditional tuk tuk. We should have known that it's much better to visit the attractions that way, as opposed to organised trips.
First we find the snake farm. It is part of a medical clinic, where anti venom is created for snake bites. The snakes are being held for producing venom, but shows are also organised, to collect money for their activities. After an informative video about snake bites we see such a show. Different snakes are taken from their cages and turned aggressive to show their impressive threat posture. They even attack the guards a few times, who are skilful enough to avoid bites. But one of the bites is successful, although this snake wasn't a venomous one. At the end of the show, everybody can take pictures with a snake around the shoulders, leading to screaming girls with snakes curling around and them and even between their legs.
After the snake farm we take the sky train to find Jim Thompson's house. Jim Thompson was an American who came to live in Thailand. He collected a lot of Thai art and had a house from the countryside rebuilt in Bangkok. Eventually, he disappeared in Malaysia, making the legend complete. The house is nice, as is the art displayed in it. The entrance fee is a bit high though, and the accompanying restaurant is very expensive, so after the tour, we leave.
Roaring boats to the shopping mallsWe've just about seen all attractions of Bangkok, except for the large shopping centers. From fellow travellers, we heard of a different way of getting there by boat, and decide to try that. We walk to a small canal near Khao San Road, and search for the place to board the boat. When we find it and get in, the action starts. There's a huge motor in the boat, and with a tremendous speed we move through the small canals of Bangkok. With a rope the passengers are able to pull a plastic screen up, which is necessary in order to stay dry. Especially when we a boats passes from the other side, the high waves are splashing around our heads. It's an insane ride, but we arrive in the center of Bangkok very fast.
In the shopping malls everything is for sale what we are used to in Europe. We particularly visit the electronics, book, and music shops. But there are no noticeable differences with the prices in Europe, so we buy nothing. After a few hours we have seen enough and return by roaring boat.
Bangkok has a lot of attractions and sights, worth visiting while sightseeing in Bangkok. But it is also a big city, which is not our preferred type of location. However, while planning the next stage of a journey, it's a good thing there is enough to see and do in Bangkok.Follow our World Journey!! Next Stop: The River Kwai
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