-the world as I see it
*Honk honk* *screech* – the familiar hustle-bustle, the colour, the crowds, the roadside stalls, the maddening traffic- Thailand reminded me so much of my home country India, the only difference being that it was far cleaner and more woman-friendly. My sister and I had landed in the Suvarnabhumi airport and had taken the shuttle bus to the starting point of the Sukhumvit line of the BTS Skytrain. We alighted at the Victory Monument stop, from where our hostel was just a five minute walk. We had booked a three night stay at the HI Mid Bangkok – a nice little hostel, with friendly staff and most importantly, safe and comfortable rooms. Since we had gotten there quite late in the evening, we just decided to have dinner at the restaurant next door and turn in early, so that we could be fresh the next day. So there we were, listening to live music and enjoying our delicious Thai meal.
Bangkok is a city which is well connected by an efficient public transport system. However, for groups of 3-4 persons, I would recommend taking a taxi as BTS and MRT tickets work out to pretty much the same amount per head. If you go by taxi, it is better to know even the Thai name of the touristic spot you want to visit. This was the first lesson I learned, right on day 1, after spending almost fifteen minutes trying to explain to the taxi driver that we wanted to see the ‘grand temple’. So this was what happened:
Since Bangkok is known as the ‘Venice of the Orient’, a boat trip on the Chao Phraya river is on everyone’s to-do list. I quite enjoyed the one hour boat trip that I took, although the views weren’t all that stunning or spectacular. What I enjoyed more was waving to the little kids in the tiny riverside houses that we passed by and feeling the wind in my hair.
There are a lot of agencies that operate ferries and boat tours across the river. You have to watch out for the people standing with ‘boat tour’ signs in the area near the Wat Pho temple. They tell you that you can take a tuk-tuk to the starting point of the boat tour for just 5 baht and in that sweltering heat, you just welcome the idea, without thinking twice about it. Anyway, these tuk-tuks drop you off at the river tours where there seem to be more tour organizers than tourists. The tours cost more and the boats look crappy. Your round-trip ticket might just end up being a one-way ticket.
Thailand has a hot climate, so the lighter and shorter your clothes are, the more comfortable you feel. Short clothes and strapped tops aren’t allowed inside Buddhist shrines. So remember to take a shawl along or plan your visit to the Wats on a day when you’re dressed as per the requirements. Be very careful with your clothing especially when you’re visiting the tiger temple. The owner of the tour booking agency had warned us repeatedly the previous day not to wear any sleeveless tops or bright-coloured clothes as the tiger would find that very “yummy”. She repeatedly said “yummy yummy for tiger”, the reiteration probably owing to the fact that she liked the way it sounded, but it just freaked me out and made me have second thoughts about being the tiger’s yummy lunch the next day. Anyway, my sisters reassured me that everything would be alright and we went to the tiger temple the following day. I wore a knee-length dress, which I thought was totally okay, but for some reason the ticket guys at the temple entrance refused to let me in as they thought my attire was unsuitable. I brought out my shawl to wrap around myself but they still shook their heads and denied me any entrance. Finally I had to go to the stall (conveniently??) stationed right there and buy myself a pair of pants – real ugly, cheap-looking, gigantic green pants, enough to fit two of me at the same time for 300 baht (about 10$/ 560 INR). I was on the verge of getting arrested by the fashion police!! You will need to see the picture below to know how much of a rip-off it was.
The phrase “shop till you drop” can be put to good use in Bangkok. For an Asian city, it sure does have a huge number of malls. Some of them have high-end local and global brands and some have lower end shops which make you go “Now, THAT is a steal.” The Siam Centre and MBK mall are supposed to be the best places to shop at. Usually when I go on trips, shopping is the last thing on my mind, but since Bangkok is a shopping hub, I made an exception and did a wee bit of window shopping.
Although Bangkok is famous for its flower markets and the weekend Chatuchak market, to my bad luck I didn’t get to see either. But I’ve heard that one shouldn’t miss the weekend market for the world, so make sure you stop by there if you’re in Bangkok.
There are many Wats in Bangkok that are architecturally and visually appealing. It would be best to visit just 3 or 4 of them or you might just end up getting ‘watted out.’ My order of preference would be Grand Palace> Wat Arun>Wat Saket >Wat Pho.
How can you travel all the way to Thailand and not go in for a Thai massage? Having just about an hour to spare before we left to the airport, my sister and I decided to go in for a relaxing Thai massage. Wait, did I just say relaxing? The masseuse pulled and tweaked the muscles in my arms and legs in all directions and bent my body backwards until I thought I had reached breaking point, but when it was done – wow, I just felt so light and free.
I was in Thailand between the 11th and 14th of April, which means I got to witness the Songkran festival – the celebration of the Thai New Year. It is quite some celebration where the Thai people get on the streets, armed with water pistols and buckets of water aimed at passersby. The victims are randomly selected without prior racial profiling – they can be unsuspecting tourists/ hydrophobic persons/ over-enthusiastic kids longing to get drenched/ people coming home from work/ motorcyclists or those in cars/buses. Songkran is also a time when most people go visit their families and spend the holiday in their native places. Most tour books and websites recommend that the best time to visit Thailand is during Songkran, because even though this period is the hottest time of the year, you are bound to have a splashing time 😉