Sunday, 1 November 2015

South-East Asian Adventures: Bangkok, Thailand

As I flew into Bangkok, I was struck by how big the city seemed from the sky. It looked as if it went on forever, an impression which very much continued when on the ground.

After two very pleasant flights with Emirates (good food, great films and frequent beverages), I'd finally arrived. I was in Asia. My trip had commenced. Eeeeep!

The taxi journey into the centre was a slight challenge, largely because of the language barrier - it got to the point where my driver was simply shouting "MONEY" at me. And, after first taking me to the wrong hotel, and whizzing past skyscraper after skyscraper (which I wasn't expecting), I finally made it to Centra, the hotel where I'd later be meeting my fellow travellers on the tour. Oh, I totally recommend the hotel btw. It's modern and stylish and clean and the breakfast was great - a mix of traditional Thai (noodles, rice, stir-fries) and more Western fare (cereals, pastries, yogurt, fruit) to ease us into the new culture - in Thailand they don't really differentiate between breakfast, lunch and dinner, it's just noodles and rice all day erryday.

Bangkok is an interesting city. I'd heard mixed reviews - some friends had loved it, some had been a bit meh. I think it's a city that actually looks a lot better by night than by day. It's pretty grey and largely covered in smog, but at night the lights sparkle.

On my first evening, we dove (dived? I prefer "dove") headfirst into Thai culture, starting with a tuk-tuk ride into the town centre. It was my first tuk-tuk experience and jolly good fun in my opinion. The lights were flashing and it was like a little party.
Our guide took us to an authentic Thai restaurant for dinner which I loved. What did I have? Pad Thai.

I know you find it in every Thai restaurant around the world but it's a classic and just so delish. And this one was the best I've ever had.

Also, Thailand is mad cheap. For a pad thai, cocktail and bottle of water I paid less than a fiver. Mad, right? This also allowed us to travel round the city in taxis - between four of us, I don't think I ever paid more than 50p for a taxi journey.

The trouble was, however, the taxi drivers were not great. They really tried to take us for a ride, in both senses. For example, one tried to charge us a night rate even though we knew there was no such thing. One took us to right in front of our hotel before turning and going on a massive loop purely to get the meter up. So many drivers refused to take us purely because they didn't know where our hotel was, and it was right by a central station. Ridiculous.

Anyway, after dinner on our first evening we decided to celebrate the start of our trip in style with a visit to what is probably the swankiest rooftop bar in Bangkok: Sky Bar at the Lebua hotel.

It. Was. Amazing.

Without a doubt my favourite thing about Bangkok. Oh, and if you recognise it that's because it's from The Hangover 2!

The views over the city are simply breathtaking, the clientele super chic and the cocktails delicious. Not cheap, but worth it. And we also got free pistachio nuts so it was practically a bargain (it wasn't.)

I couldn't recommend a visit more.

After a good breakfast the next morning I set off with a few of my new chums for a spot of culture - we didn't have time to see all of Bangkok, but we made sure to visit two of the main must-sees: Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.

First up, What Pho, a beautiful Buddhist temple complex.

The buildings were unlike anything I've ever seen before: so ornate, detailed and intricately designed.

We walked round amongst the monks and took it all in (while trying not to melt in the sweltering heat.) And yes, it hadn't taken me long to acquire some of the classic "traveller in Asia" trousers - they're so comfy and cool and, well, necessary considering you can't have your legs or shoulders exposed when visiting temples.

Wat Pho is also home to the famous Reclining Buddha.

He's absolutely ginormous! I'm not sure exactly what it was, but there was something about the Reclining Buddha that I really liked. I hope this isn't disrespectful but he looked pretty sassy to me, almost like he was saying "yes I'm fabulous now feed me grapes." The dream, eh?

Next up, we went to the Grand Palace.

It's full of similarly ornate religious buildings: temples, halls, monuments. And although it cost about £10 to get in I think it was worth it.

We saw rooms used for royal functions and I felt a little like I was in The King and I. Also, everything was so sparkly! [insert emoji with hearts for eyes here]

On our way out we stopped for a drink and a sit-down, and I had my first of what will be many fresh coconuts.

You know how expensive coconut water is at home? NOT IN THAILAND, MY FRIENDS! It's going to be coconuts every day for me please. Yum yum yum.

Having spent the morning wandering round in the hot Thai sun, we were more than ready for a spot of relaxation, and with manicures and massages on offer for about £4 each, to the spa we went!

Shewa Spa had been recommended by our guide and it was absolutely great. I went for a mani myself. Sitting in a massage chair, classic spa music playing, being pampered... It was bliss. And just what we needed before setting off late that afternoon on a sleeper train to commence our journey to Koh Samui!

Bangkok had been great but a day had been enough to be honest. Whilst I hadn't seen the whole city, I'd seen enough to get a feel for the place and didn't feel like there was lots I'd missed that I was desperate to see.

So, to Koh Samui it was! Check back soon for a post all about it (and to find out how that sleeper train went down...!)

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