We had a good few days in Sukhothai. The Old Sukhothai city contained some ancient temple ruins which made for a good day’s cycling and exploration. Once our time in Sukhothai was up, the plan was to head south by bus to Ayuthaya, another city filled with temples – only these could be explored within the city itself. We planned to spend a couple of days there before moving on to Bangkok, just under 100km from Ayuthaya.
We turned up at the bus station and bought a ticket to Ayuthaya – just turning up and buying a ticket seems to be much easier here in Thailand than it has been elsewhere. Upon buying the tickets we were told that the bus would drop us off just out of town, rather than the bus station and we’d have to get a tuk tuk into town. Ok – no problem, at least they’d let us know. We settled down comfortably on the bus for the ride. Free bottled water was given out, and everyone was given a piece of cold deep fried chicken (rather randomly I thought). I like deep fried chicken, but only if it’s fresh, so I left mine alone as it was cold. A few people on the bus tucked right in though, and it smelled really nice!
We sped down highway one making good time, and eventually we began to see signs for towns near Ayuthaya. About 150km for Bangkok, we began to see signs for Ayuthaya, and we began to prepare ourselves for getting off the bus. We waited a while, but the bus did not stop. And then, we stopped seeing signs for Ayuthaya. After a little while we decided we’d better check with the porter on the bus – after all, the stop must have been coming up soon, and it was just not an obvious place or something. Mahmoud checked, but was given a bit of a blank stare by the porter. We weren’t sure if this meant we’d missed the stop or if he didn’t understand English. When we reached the outskirts of Bangkok, we realised it was the latter, and we’d gone past Ayuthaya! We briefly pondered getting a bus back to Ayuthaya, but eventually decided to stay in Bangkok and check into one of the hotels we’d been recommended. Some friends from back home had recommended a high-flying hostel which was very flash (with LCD TVs and WiFi!), but when we phoned they were full, so we went with the recommendation of our Aussie friends who we met in Laos – and stayed in Lamphu Tree House.
Not actually a treehouse, the hotel was nevertheless very nice, and contained a pool and very comfortable rooms with balconies. After figuring around Bangkok’s taxis and traffic, we arrived and negotiated a better price than their listed price, and moved in for 6 nights. It was a really nice place, and made our stay very enjoyable. As is often the way, we barely used the pool in the hotel, despite not having stayed somewhere with a pool for about 6 weeks!
Unfortunately, we both suffered a bit of culture shock after arriving in Bangkok. I think this was probably because we were not ready to be there, having been expecting the town of Ayuthaya – probably about 100 times smaller than Bangkok. For me, I felt the effects as soon as we went out to have something to eat the first night. We went straight to Khao San Road, about a ten minute walk from our hotel – for those that don’t know, that’s backpacker central. Full of a real variety of people, it was not really quite what I was looking for that night, and my initial response was to refuse to ever go back there in my life (we did go back a couple of times in the end). It’s an odd place, worth a look. It’s not really Thailand – it’s full of tourists, and Thais pandering to tourists. Oh, and Indians selling suits. There are three types of tourists on Khao San Road (by my reckoning anyway, but there are probably sub-categories too). Normal tourists (like us of course) who just come for a look; late-teen/early twenty year olds who spend all night getting drunk on what is reputed to be cheap beer, but compared to northern Thailand and Laos, isn’t; and lunatics with smelly clothes and armpits and dreadlocks who spend all their time in Bangkok on Khao San Road and never leave because they can get everything they need there (drugs). We went to a bar/restaurant for some food. I had a cheeseburger which was foul, and some fries which tasted like they’d been cooked in old oil. The staff were very surly (and I don’t blame them, having to deal with the likes of the people in there), and the girls prancing around in their very short skirts flirted with male customers and miserably posed for photographs with them. It was just completely NOT down to earth, unlike everything we’d seen so far, and my initial response was to hate it. That was pretty much down to my mood and the culture shock though – it wasn’t really THAT bad (but everything I’ve put is true!).
The next day, we did a day of sightseeing. We rode down the river on a ferry to the Grand Palace – very impressive indeed. Similar to the Royal Palace we visited in Phnom Penh, but more grand, we spent a couple of hours wandering around in the baking sun and taking it all in. It was well worth seeing – however, what was outside was also interesting. In Bangkok, there are a lot of scams – usually to try and get you to go to various emporiums and buy rubbish gems, etc – but the highest concentration of touts seems to exist around the Grand Palace. Every second step we took there was someone telling us that a sight was closed, or that we had to enter a different gate to get into the palace. We’re fairly used to this sort of thing, but in Bangkok it is particularly bad. This was when Mahmoud went through his period of culture shock/being fed up. After the palace, he was not too happy about the touts who were trying to mislead us, and when we got heckled by a tuk tuk driver for helping some girls who’d been misdirected (purposely, by the tuk tuk driver), to a different gate, it was the last straw – at that point, he was not too happy with Bangkok, put it that way!
After the palace, we went to a nearby wat – Wat Pho. When we arrived at the gate, one tuk tuk driver told me the Wat was closed when there was a big OPEN sign on the gate, and another one told me that Wat Pho was down the road when there was a big sign saying WAT Pho on the gate! Honestly, some people must be stupid enough to believe them or they wouldn’t say it, but it’s just ridiculous. Anyway, the wat was really interesting, and we had a great time looking around. The massive reclining Buddha inside was amazing. However, we were watted out, and went back to the hotel after that. In fact, we’re so watted out that I don’t think we visited another wat during the rest of our stay in Bangkok!
In the days that followed, we didn’t spend a huge amount of time seeing, but more time being. On one day we went to Lumphini Park in central Bangkok to escape the traffic and the hustle, which was a real pleasure. Walking around the lake in the park, we saw quite a few water monitor lizards swimming and climbing in and out of the lake. Some of them were massive – probably a good 4 or 5 feet long – you wouldn’t want them to bite you. One or two looked like they were stalking pigeons – didn’t see any pigeons get eaten though. Even more interesting were the exercise classes that were set up around the park – instructors doing aerobics were mimicked by large groups of (mainly) women. It seemed like the whole city was out exercising in one way or another – in addition to the aerobics women, there were hundreds of joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers and powerwalkers. It made me feel like I don’t do anywhere near enough exercise!
Speaking of women, there are a lot of them in Bangkok. This is because many women in Bangkok are not actually women, but ladyboys. Some of them are very convincing, and I find myself looking at some women wondering whether they’re actually a ladyboy. Sometimes, I’m convinced that some women are ladyboys only to find out they’re not. It just shows that you should never make assumptions about people from the way they look. Thailand is very tolerant, and transgender people integrate very naturally into Thai society; such a high concentration of them in Bangkok is still very interesting to see. We didn’t visit the Patpong area of Bangkok, but I imagine there must be a lot of ladyboys there..!
We visited the cinema in Bangkok on two occasions. One time we saw Gamer, and another time we saw Harry Potter. We watched the Harry Potter film in 3D IMAX – a brilliant experience on a massive screen! It was nice to go to the cinema and chomp on a bit of popcorn, although just like at home, cinema food is very expensive. In Bangkok, you can also do cinemas in style – two-person sofa tickets can be bought, albeit at a premium. We opted for the cheaper, normal seats though (we’re on a budget after all!).
All in all, Bangkok was good – we just weren’t ready for it in the beginning. We both regret not making it to Ayuthaya, but the good thing about the way we’re travelling is that we’re able to change things at a whim. I can’t say it was my favourite place, but it definitely was not my least favourite either. I’m sure I’ll be back one day – and it’ll be a completely different experience all over again!