Thailand: Bangkok

Bangkok is a lay down misere. This teeming city of 14 million people definitely rates as a top place to visit and I couldn’t have picked a better place to start celebrating my recent retirement, the planning of which began two years ago almost to the day. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy working, but after 30+-years, I longed for a life that was unconfined more than I desired the predictable.

It’s been 28 years since I’ve visited Bangkok and memories dredged up from that visit are of a vibrant river scene, loads of temples and markets and really good street food. I’m pleased to say these things are still in abundance. We opted for the Sheraton Royal Orchid where every room has a river view as does the pool.

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The lengthy, fast flowing, muddy Chao Phraya River is the heart of Bangkok and it hums with life. Boats in all shapes and sizes plough up, down and across the river carrying passengers and goods. We used the river for most of our transport, finding the river taxi far quicker than battling the road traffic.

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You can’t come to Bangkok and not check out a few Buddhist temples.

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Chinatown is still buzzy and the food still good. It was great to sit down amongst a sea of Europeans and talk all things travel. We did not hear a single Aussie accent in our five days in Bangkok!

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We also made our way down river to Asiatique which is a lively conglomeration of markets and food.

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Bangkok’s traffic problems are renowned, but the building of elevated roads, rail lines and walkways has gone some way to easing the congestion. Huge concrete blocks dominate the landscape, making for a rather confronting trade off. These pics were taken around Siam Square – home to a number of huge shopping malls.

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We were lucky to be here on the weekend and took ourselves off to the weekend markets which are massive. These markets used to be located at the Grand Palace, but were moved to a bigger area, further out, but easily reached by Skytrain.

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Bangkok’s klongs (canals) are getting their fair share of good press at the moment. The Thai government has embarked on a huge clean up program which will see more passenger boats ply the mostly man made canals and hopefully, less traffic on the roads. Klong travel is interesting since the canal banks pulsate with life from the many houses, shops and people encountered on the way. Climbing in and out of the boats quickly is absolutely essential. I would hate to fall into the murky waters of a canal given the clean up is still in its infancy. We were told the canals were once dumping grounds for everything, including refrigerators and lounges.

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Walking in Bangkok is relatively easy. The footpaths are wide, flat and strangely free of pedestrians. We found our way to Jim Thompson’s House via Hua Lamphong Railway Station (soon to be a museum in 2 years).

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And if we didn’t want to walk, there was always a tuk tuk.

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Bangkok does rooftop bars well, so we took ourselves across the river to the Hilton Millenium and soaked up their views one night. Another night, we walked to the Lebua State Tower and had rooftop drinks in their famous ‘Hangover’ bar. You have to make a dinner reservation to score a seat here, otherwise, you stand. Wear comfy shoes is my advice. The views are to die for. Bangkok’s terrain is flat and at night, the light show is simply spectacular.

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Khao San Rd, the famed backpackers’ area has a good sprinkling of bars, cafes and guest houses. Surprisingly, we found it pretty sedate; quite possibly reflective of the Thai government’s approach to cleaning up their country. A lot of street food vendors are no longer on the streets throughout Bangkok and we’ve read that in holiday destinations like Phuket, illegally set up bars, cafes, beach chairs and umbrellas have been removed from the beaches. The aim of the clean up project is to return public land to the people. Easier flow of human and vehicular traffic has to be a winner here too.

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Democracy Monument, (in the pic below) built to commemorate the bloodless Siam Coup in 1932 which saw Thailand transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy is a much visited site during this mourning month of October.

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Thailand’s grief at losing their beloved King in October last year is a shared grief and the build up to his funeral and cremation on October 26 is intense. The Thais have lost their King of seven decades, a man who symbolised stability and honour. The dress code here is very much black. A myriad of banners and posters of this respected man adorn buildings, rehearsals for the elaborate $90 million funeral are in full swing and purpose planted marigolds are blooming right on time. Australia will be represented by our GG Peter Cosgrove. One night as we were in a taxi driving along the roads above, traffic was stopped for a considerable time as a number of royal and state cars made their way from a rehearsal at the Grand Palace (which is where the cremation will take place in specially constructed golden pavilions) to the current Palace. Understandably, the Grand Palace has been closed to the public for some time.

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We’ll be in northern Thailand on the day of the funeral. Ceremonies are being conducted throughout Thailand and we expect some street and business closures.

Drinking lots of green tea here…

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Never get tired of admiring the work that’s gone into creating this conglomeration. How does it all function????

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We had a fabulous time in Bangkok. There was so much to see and so much to celebrate. I’m pretty sure we’ll get back here to repeat the experience. Today, we are departing for Ranchanaburi – gateway to River Kwai and Hell Fire Pass. Next blog coming soon….

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