From Golden Buddhas to Red Lights…

From Golden Buddhas to Red Lights…

After our impromptu bucket-fueled night out in Bangkok, we had a bit of a lie in to ‘recover’ before getting on with the rest of our day.

Our first stop was a walk to the Grand Palace compound – around a 25 minute walk from Khao San Road. Part of the grounds are home to the famous Wat Phra Kaew – the current resting place of the Emerald Buddha. This is a very grand looking temple – even from the roadside and is one of the most popular Wat’s in the city. The cost to get in to this is 350 Baht – this includes entrance to the Grand Palace and the Wat as well as giving you access to some of the other interesting buildings within the grounds.

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A short walk south of Wat Phra Kaew is Wat Pho (also known as Wat Chetuphon). Another impressive temple, Wat Pho sits within a sprawling compound, decorated with pagodas.

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Inside the Wat are rows of gold Buddha statues (over 1000 images) and the building at the back is home to the most impressive one of all – the Reclining Buddha (Phra Buddhasaiyas). This massive statue is 46 metres long and decorated with gold plating on his body and mother of pearl on his eyes and the soles of his feet. Taking a photo of this Buddha proved to be extremely difficult due to the sheer size of it – but we got there in the end!

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Whilst we were walking around the city’s historical quarter we experienced rain for the first time in Thailand! It absolutely chucked it down and we had to take refuge underneath the gates of the Grand Palace. The weather has been awesome so far – really sunny and hot, so we hoped that this wasn’t a sign of the weather turning – especially as we’re off to Koh Samui in a couple of days!

Later that evening, Richard sloped off to watch the next episode of The Apprentice on the internet while I slept off the rest of the effects from the night before.

The next morning we decided to take a river taxi across the Chao Phraya to see the famous Wat Arun which overlooks the river banks. This intricate temple was first built in 1809 and it’s a great place to go for a view across the river.

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To get there we took one of the Orange Flag express boats from Phra Atthit Pier (No.13), a 5-10 minute walk from Khao San Road. A ticket costs 14 Baht per person, but you have to be careful not to get pushed towards the tourist boats which cost 25 Baht per person. They go exactly the same way but just cost more for foreigners! The pier for Wat Arun is Tha Tien (No.8), but this is on the opposite side of the river so you then need to buy another ticket on a cross-river boat. The price for this is only 3 Baht however, so it’s not a problem!

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To get to the top of Wat Arun, you need to climb some really steep steps. It was quite funny to watch people attempt to come down them too – most people either tried to bump down on their backsides or go down backwards like a ladder. But it is definitely worth the effort. The cost to foreigners for visiting Wat Arun is 50 Baht, but I’m not sure what the ‘locals’ pay!

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The next place on our list was Wat Trimit in Bangkok’s Chinatown district. This is home to Thailand’s most famous golden image – The Golden Buddha (Phra Sukothai Trimitr). The temple it is housed in is a beautiful marble construction, rimmed with gold. The Buddha is three metres high and weighs five and a half tons! Whilst the Thai’s were at war with Burma, the statue was encased in plaster to protect it from invaders, but when it was later moved, the plaster cracked – revealing it to be made of solid gold.

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From Wat Trimit we walked towards the main railway station, Hua Lamphong, to get the metro to Lumpini Park (Silom station).  This cost just 18 Baht – it’s amazing just how cheap public transport is in this part of the world  compared to the UK!

We were going to go to the snake farm, just a few roads away from the park  but this was shut! It’s only open until 13.00 at the weekends so we missed it by about two hours. Lumpini park was enough to make up for it though. We took a wander inside and encountered a huge lizard eating a slow worm on the banks of the lake. It had attracted quite a crowd but nobody wanted to get too close!

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The park was full of families and couples having picnics as well as lots of joggers. Despite being in the middle of the city, it’s a big relaxing place with large open spaces and a playground for locals to escape from daily life. Whilst we were there, lots of stalls and stages were being set up for a festival that was taking place that evening – Loi Krathong.

Loi basically means to ‘float’ and a krathong looks a bit like a flowery wreath made of banana trunk or bread, with a candle in the middle and joss sticks placed around the candle. The festival itself is held in honour of the Goddess of Water and the krathongs are floated on water as a way of letting go of any grudges or bad luck.

As well as celebrating the festival in the park, we had been told that the main river (near Khao San Road) would be the focus of more festivities that evening, so we headed back. We got the metro back to the railway station before getting bus no.53 to Khao San Road from outside the Bangkok Central Hotel (7 Baht each) .

Approaching the riverside area we could see that it was absolutely packed with people! The traffic on the surrounding roads was crawling past at snails pace and the pavements were just as busy! We made our way towards the riverfront and stood with everybody else to watch the procession of illuminated barges floating past. This forms one of the main parts of the festival and the boats had made a huge effort with lights, music and fireworks going off as they passed the crowds.

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After the barges came the stage performances by traditional dancers. They performed dances from all over Thailand and were followed by a group of local folk singers.

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At around 9pm the time came for people to make their way to the rivers edge to float their krathongs and say their prayers. We watched as men with long sticks lowered them into the water and nudged them out. Unfortunately, the river was a bit rough and the krathongs all just huddled together by the edge – some of them them tipped over and sank and most of the candles went out, so we felt really sorry for those who had invested in a big, elaborate offering.  I hope this didn’t affect their good luck!

Once the festivities had started to wrap up we decided that it was time to experience another side of Bangkok and its ‘bright lights’ in the form of the Red Light district. The city has been made famous by these districts and we didn’t think that a visit to Bangkok would be complete without taking a peek at its naughty side!

We got the number 15 bus to Silom Road where perhaps the most infamous red light district, Patpong, is situated. It took ages to get across town because of all the festival crowds and we were thankful that we were in a bus rather than a taxi which would have cost a lot more than the 7 Baht ticket with all that traffic! At around 11pm we pulled up opposite one of the roads that make up the district and got out to take a wander.

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As soon as we stepped foot down the Soi’s we were offered ‘ping pong’ show’s left, right and centre. Apparently these shows consist of throwing ping pongs at scantily clad young dancers who get a tip if they manage to catch them! Slightly bizarre, but not really our thing so we declined!

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We did venture into a couple of bars, paying over the odds for a bottle of beer of course, and tried our best to distinguish the ladies from the ladyboys. One bar we sat in was like a sardine can of half naked go-go girls but surprise surprise, the only other customers in there were middle-aged men on their own!

Most places played some great music and despite there being more dancers than customers, it was really quite fun! Our last bar of the night however wasn’t a go-go bar, but a regular one with some of the best live music we have heard in a long time! Twilo is on the corner of Soi Patpong 1 and was packed with tourists and locals listening to two guys and a girl on stage sing fantastically to music by the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry and Eminem. When we first walked past we honestly thought it was just music coming out of the speakers and couldn’t believe it when we saw them singing!

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We finally left Patpong at around 3.30 and walked straight past the line of taxis touting for business to the nearest bus stop. We had no idea if buses ran that ‘late’  but we thought we’d try. Soon enough a bus drove past so we jumped on thinking that even if it’s the wrong one, it saves us walking for a while. Sure enough it was the wrong bus and we were told to get off, but not before another passenger told us that we needed the number 2 or number 79!

After a bit of a wait at the next bus stop, a 2 rolled up so we got on board, paid 8 Baht each and sat back until it dropped us near to Democracy Monument – two minutes from our hotel. We were so pleased that we’d managed to avoid doubling our night’s spending with a taxi!

We fell into bed at around 4am, satisfied that we’d experienced every side of Bangkok during our stay, from its religious to its historic and modern face!

The next morning, we checked out of our guesthouse and checked into the plush New World City Hotel down the road. This was the hotel that Oz Bus 21 had booked for us and is where we met with our new Oz Bus guide later that day! She’s called Michelle and appears to have a lot of travel experience which is great. We sat chatting to her for about an hour and she filled us in on the plan for the next day.

We have a 5am start as we’re off to Koh Samui! It’ll be very strange being part of a group again after so long on our own, so we’ll let you know how it pans out. At least a 12 hour journey should be long enough for us to learn some of our fellow passengers names!…

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