ROUND THE OLD BANYON TREE
15.02.2013 - 21.03.2013 32 °C
Sweaty palmed, my chest beating into my ribcage like a locomotive engine. Standing in line at Bangkok customs was an agonising eternity. The thump of the stamp sparked my imagination. Did it foretell the bang of the judges hammer? "Guilty". I had seen too much banged up abroad?. Should I break off the queue and flush the evidence down the toilet?. "Next". I look from side to side. No he means me. I walk forward. I fumble with my passport. The sound of the customs stamp. Successful entry gained. A sigh of relief I have made it I have taken the sickly sweet Bengali sweets that my auntie had given me into the country.
Only joking. Entry to Thailand all ran smoothly. No death sentence commuted to life following a trumped up charge so far. I arrived at Bangkok DM Airport on time and jumped on the train from the airport bound for Ayuthia, former capital of Siam. This place is brimming with a number of 17th century (and older) temples. This town is circled by a meandering river. The historical heart of town is a UNESCO history park which is pleasant to negotiate via cycle (which I did do). 3 of the temples I also reached via boat trip.
On route to Ayuttia I was chatting to a Burmese chap who had lived in Thailand for 37 years. He had just dropped his wife off at the airport where she was to return to Burma/Myanmar to be with their 6 children. He couldn't hide the delight of being a free man, free to explore the massage parlous and bars. He told me his occupation was sweet roti vendor. He had parked up his motorcycle and confection enabling side car at the train station. He gave me a lift on this contraption the 3 miles or so into town. Prizing one finger at a time from a bar on the sidecar and after a Valium or 2 I went looking for accommodation. I managed to find somewhere clean, safe, cheap, in a good location. Bloody hell though, was it hot that night. Anyway I had a good time and could not have timed it better as it was the Chinese New Year Celebrations. The streets were decorated with ornate candles, streamers etc. There was live music. Best of all there was a huge strip of food stalls on show to sample. This included a very appetizing selection of deep fried bugs.
The next stage of the journey was a minibus to the mega city of Bangkok. This is the eye opening city with something for everyone and I mean everyone. Its a pretty exhausting concept of a place. Having been I started low key and stayed a night in a really nice city park, a mini central park if you like surrounded by skyscrapers. You never stray from the unusual though. I saw a huge lizard jumping out of the bushes in the park one day, the other day a prostitute and another time a ladyboy. What next, Lord Lucan? For a couple of days I explored on boats, the MRT (metro) and skytrain. Getting lost is the way to do it as you end up discovering places like riverside, china town, various fish markets, obscure temples, neon lit seedy areas by accident. I took a gamble and stayed in an immaculate new hostel. So immaculate that the dorm rooms had not officially opened although one person had and was checking out the day I arrived. I took a gamble with the 90% assumption that I would be the only one staying in the spacious A/C room. The gamble paid off.
To further temper my exposure to Bangkok, after 3 days I checked into the Nasa Vagas hotel in another part of town where I had arranged to meet Joe. For less than 8 quid a night it was pretty luxurious. The hotel has apparently 700 rooms. After that experience though I decided that small guest houses are the way forward. It took a full 90 minutes to check out. That was after threatening to demand an extra free night B&N
Fortunately, like me, Joe appreciates good SE Asian street food. This is very tasty, very cheap and unlike the equivalent Indian street food does not have to be drowning in grease or mean that you are playing Russian roulette with your bowels. The proprieter of our food shack of choice introduced himself either as a current policeman or former policeman. He was happy to point out his pistol in his holster. There you are. Free security thrown in and great food to boot. Ronald McDonald never carries an oozi
I decided that I like Bangkok. There are so many different facets to the place, so many nooks and crannies to explore. A vibrant, colourful place night and day. Stunning food, temples women, night life. Lively markets. Dodgy, seedy, inviting, scary. It is the campest country in asia; 50 shades of gay. It is however like Kolkata a car exhaust of a city. This is why we didn't stay too long and instead took a minibus and boat to the island of Chang, several hours SE of Bangkok. this is one of the biggest islands in Thailand. The sandy beaches and palm trees have dense cropped jungle as a back drop. The wildlife occasionally pops in to visit tourists and locals alike. I saw a snake at one resort. One of the locals tells me a python gate crashed a meal of his. I even found a baby scorpion our room. Should I say ex baby scorpion after I introduced my shoe to him? Dotted on the West coast of the islands are a number of resorts. The marine life is excellent hence a full day snorkeling.
Fortunately planning laws are very strict and there are now high riSe hotels on the beach. We stayed 2 nights in a typical back backers haunt, Lonely beach, although it wasn't so lonely. The night was good, nicely balanced. Lots of restaurants, life music, and one or two places selling cakes that Mr Kipling would not approve of. After that we took the bus again to the former fishing village of Bang Bae. Extremely picturesque. Token fishing boats boats around. The wooden stilted houses line the piers, many of which are restaurants or guest houses. One is even a hospital. I even contemplated making myself ill so I could stay and be a resident. We stayed in such a guest house. A basic room although from my window I could see dawn light the ripples;es on the water with a velvety hue. Pretty dead at night although we ended up drinking Hong Thong ( the local spirit) with the locals and the Thai tourist. The last stop on Thai was a resort by a creek. This was a relaxing shack in the woods, with a walkway leading to the glorious beach. Whilst at this resort Joe picked up a lovely souvenir of a fine for not wearing a crash helmet. I hired a push bike although the loose handlebars gave up before my legs had a chance to when faced with a ridiculous climb.
After almost a week on the beach it was time to cool off and head for them there hills. This was via another night in Thailand