Friday, 11 January 2008

Thailand Part I

The last post leaves me at the airport in Taipei on 28th December. The more sharp-witted reader will have realised this was two weeks ago... so let me try to relate all the things I have done since then (and we'll see how far I get...).

I landed safely in Thailand at midday on 28th December. Given my lack of knowledge about public transport in Bangkok, I decided to play safe and take the official airport taxi to my guest-house, which turned out to be a rather expensive mistake -- I was treated like a VIP but assumed to have the money to boot. Anyway, once I had settled into my accommodation and had a cold shower I set out to explore some of my surroundings. Bangkok has a rather different feel from Taipei or Seoul... for a start, there are many more western tourists. However, despite the abundance of westerners, Bangkok has retained a more individual character than the other two capitals (which seem to belong to a universal 'big city' mould - lots of high concrete buildings, men in suits, and people rushing everywhere trying to pretend the rest of the crowd doesn't exist). Tourists tend to be confined to certain areas of the city -- mostly around the old city where the Grand Palace and most of the historic sites are found. In particular, there is one street -- Khaosan road -- where western backpackers must outnumber Thais 3 to 1, and which is crowded with guest-houses, bars and fast-food restaurants (and lots of shady looking characters looking for naive tourists to scam). I was fortunate enough to choose a guest-house a couple of kilometers upstream of the main tourist centre, and in a much quieter neighbourhood. Whilst there were quite a few hostels on the street where I stayed, just a short walk and a ferry journey across the river away I was such a novelty to the residents that several stopped to stare at me or engaged me in broken English -- perhaps worried that I had got lost.

On the evening of 29th I met up with Noon -- one of Ant's friends from Warwick whom I mostly remembered for falling asleep during the 'Sponsored Meditation on Snowdon' which we had taken part in last summer. She took me to a very nice restaurant with one of her friends (a restaurant critic -- handy!). I was ready to gouge myself but unfortunately my vulnerable stomach had other ideas (it took me a while to get used to the new food in Thailand, but now I seem more or less alright -- and my belly is getting bigger... :P). On 30th I did the typical tourist thing -- no, not binge drinking and going to go-go bars... the other typical tourist thing -- taking my camera around the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha -- which were duly impressive, if a little too gold for my taste. The adjacent Wat Pho was my favourite, with a rather more subtle beauty, and more peaceful. I took loads of photos so I'll add some more description when I get round to uploading them.

On 31st December I left my lodgings and met up with P'Pie and his family at the airport. They looked after me for my next few days in Thailand, and they were really great at it -- even though they have a wedding to organise! We started the new year at Kanchanaburi (home of the infamous Bridge over the river Kwai), and in the morning went to a local temple where Pie's family often go for a merit making ceremony. The temple is well known in Thailand for it's community of tigers (and wild boar, deers, a leopard...) so I got to see them too, if only from a distance. On the 2nd of January we met up with Paradise -- who was as stylish as ever -- and then went to the airport together to meet Ant. After that things got rather more hectic for all concerned... Fortunately though, Ant is a much more conscientious blogger than me, and so you can read some beautiful and informative prose about our next 48 hours in Thailand, and our time in Malaysia with Peyshan here.

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