Our love affair with Vietnam was so passionate, and generated so many cool experiences and great memories that it is all too emotional to even talk about on this blog, so instead you will just have to clench your teeth and sit through the slideshow when we return home. During our month’s stay we travelled over 4,600 km by train, plane and boat from the very south to the very north and back again to the very south (and then just a little bit to the very west)! We left for Thailand with heavy hearts and we promised to return one day.
We arrived in Bangkok after a mercifully short and simple late night flight. Luck was on our side as the Thai immigration officers apparently felt it was far too late in the night for them to care about our nonexistent exit tickets, they thankfully stamped out passports let us through without a hitch.
Our impression of Bangkok is that it doesn’t have anywhere near the character, charm and magic of Saigon. There now seems to be a 7 Eleven on every corner and the ubiquitous unholy trio of Starbucks/Burger King and McDonalds has raised its ugly head everywhere. Bangkok also has the ability to sap every last ounce of strength from you, leaving you in a dehydrated, ragged and rather useless state after only a few hours exposure to the pollution, heat and humidity.
On the plus side, we loved Bangkok’s entrepreneurial business sense and their super cool eye for design, which was reflected in graphic art and small boutiques everywhere.
Also, Bangkok’s transport system is fantastic! Oh New York, if only you would follow suit with a high tech public transport upgrade. For a handful of baht you can catch a public water taxi that will zoom you up the Chao Phraya River cheaply and quickly, or you can choose a clean and efficient metro system which is kept deliciously cold with powerful a/c blasts. But top of the list has to be the Skytrain monorail (imagine a MORE extensive and LESS expensive Las Vegas monorail). Even though the Skytrain can get crowded sometimes, you still get the luxury of escaping the heat while watching the city from above as you fly over the choked up traffic jams below.
A stay over the weekend also meant a visit to Chatuchak Market on Saturday, which has to be noted for its sheer size and diverse collections of merchandise. If the heat doesn’t get to you first, then the number of stalls is guaranteed to bring any seasoned shopper to their knees. I am sure that this is where the saying ‘shop till you drop’ originated.
The 35-acre area of Chatuchak is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. On a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitors come here to attempt to navigate the alleyways and sift through the goods on offer. If you can dream it up, Chatuchak probably has it.
Just in case we missed something at Chatachuck, we also paid a visit to Talad Rot Fai (the “Train Market”) which was tucked away at the far end of nowhere. As the name would suggest this market takes place in an abandoned train yard, and after a bit of searching for the location we spent a few hours hanging out with the Thai hipsters and browsing the ‘stalls’ (tarps spread on the ground) for antiques, collectibles and generally worthless but utterly charming old second-hand retro stuff.
While in Bangkok, we did manage to explore Wat Pho, with its famous reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf. There was also a visit to Wat Traimit, which houses the world’s largest solid gold statue. It wasn’t until about 1930 that anyone realized that this 3 meter tall, 5.5 ton Buddha statue was actually made of solid gold. It has an amazing story which you can read about in the short “History” section at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Buddha_(statue) Another memorable visit was to the Jim Thompson house, a beautifully restored traditional Thai home and garden, a refuge found smack dab in the middle of the madness of Bangkok.
Come Sunday we were exhausted, but we still had to plot our escape from Bangkok. The islands in the south were too numerous and overwhelming to plan at short notice, so a coin was tossed and we chose to head north to Chang Mai by overnight “VIP” bus instead. Under the guidance of our fearless map reader Lulubelle, we headed through an incredibly hot and busy Chinatown in search of tickets, and following the dining advice of our Nancy Chandler map http://www.nancychandler.net/product.asp?cId=11&case=b we stood out like sore thumbs as the only “farang” diners in the wonderful Jim Jim Chinese restaurant.
We caught the bus on time and were shown to our seats by a scowling, uniform wearing middle aged “lady-boy” bus steward/stewardess. At first glance the front row upstairs seats offer the most room and the best view, but it also put us right in the firing line of a monitor that kept us awake with an unintelligible Thai “shoot em up” movie. We quickly took refuge by using our laptops and headphones to watch “Super 8” and a few episodes of “Pushing Daisies” before arriving bright and early but bleary eyed in cooler and cleaner Chaing Mai.