Ranong to Bangkok - Day 7 - Bangkok
The next day we traveled across town by a combination of taxis and underground to the Acer service centre to try to get the computer screen replaced. A few e-mails had already been exchanged but without getting the information we needed. They told us the new screen would take three months to arrive as it had to be ordered from Australia where the computer was purchased.
Getting the bike boxes was next on the list. Steve had found the nearest bike shop to the hotel and e-mailed the owner to ask if he would have boxes. The taxi dropped us off but we couldn't see the shop. A man walking towards us looked like he spoke English so we asked him if he knew where the shop was. He turned out to be a good choice because he was American, working for the UN in Bangkok and spoke fluent Thai. He asked a couple of street vendors and they asked a few other locals. Another English speaking family also joined in and we had quite a crowd, all shouting, pointing and disagreeing. The English family saved the day as they had just passed the bike shop a little further down the road. It was just a tiny shop called 'Bok Bok Bikes' recently opened by a young Thai. He was a keen touring cyclist and was selling touring bikes and gear. He had just secured a deal with Robin Thorn in Bridgewater to supply Thorn bikes in Bangkok.
We managed to get both boxes and us into a tuk-tuk for the ride back to the hotel. The only place to dismantle the bikes and pack them was on the pavement outside the hotel and once again we attracted a large crowd of interested on-lookers including the elderly couple running a little cafe opposite, the staff on the engineering company next door and the hotel owner, also a keen touring cyclist. Eventually, with some help from the head of engineering (he held the top of the box while Steve taped it) the bikes were packed and ready to go.
The next three days were spent with serious sight seeing. There are an awful lot of Wats in Bangkok as well as Royal palaces and museums. It was serious foot aching work and to make matters worse the strict dress code for these venues means wearing long trousers and long sleeves so it gets very hot
The entry fees for foreigners into many of the temples, palaces, museums and galleries are about four times higher than those for locals and have recently been increased to about 100 Baht each. This is about two UK pounds and is still cheap by European standards, but the total amount can soon mount up. It was quite frustrating to find many of the temples undergoing renovations so you couldn't see the whole range of buildings.
First on the list was Wat Pho,...
which boasts the largest reclining Buddha,...
...a host of golden Buddha's around the courtyard temple and many stone statues.
Resting our aching feet, we sat in the riverside cafe...
Chao Phraya Jetty
...looked across the river to the spectacular Wat Arun.
Its most prominent characteristic is the 82meter high prang which you can climb up the very steep steps........
...giving amazing views from the top.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha...
Wat Phra Kaew
...and Grand Palace were the highlight and well deserved their reputation as the most visited place in Bangkok. At 350 Baht each it was the most expensive visit yet but it was an amazing place...
The Grand Palace Bangkok
...with gold and colour everywhere as well as more statues of Buddha than you could shake holy water at.
Arriving just before the 8.30am opening time the road outside was already bumper to bumper coaches disgorging crowds of tourists and zealous guides. Once inside it was surprisingly uncrowded and peaceful and the only disappointment was that one large hall was closed due to a royal family funeral.
Wat Phra Kaew
Close to the river was the amulet market with lots of stalls dedicated to selling these good luck charms in all different types and sizes. Collectors paw over them using eyeglasses to discern their small inscriptions. It was fascinating to try to understand why some stalls attracted large groups of men rooting through piles of charms while others had no customers.
The Amulet Market
Chinatown was full on and intense with narrow its streets of shops crammed with merchandise and overflowing onto the alleyways. The packed crowds of people were regularly parted by motorbikes, ice cream vendors and shop owners moving their stock on trolleys. The concept here is 'everything in every colour' so the choices of clothes, shoes, bags, fabrics was huge.
China Town Porter
In the evenings we wandered along Khao San marveling at the vast choice offered by its endless shops, bars, restaurants and street stalls. There seems to be nothing you can't buy here - clothes, beer, tattoos, body piercing, street ladies, a fake Cambridge university degree, dreadlocks, foot massage, fried grasshoppers, a false driving license, everything Rastafarian, a gold Buddha, an instrument that sounds like a frog, a hammock and very strong cheap cocktails.
Ban Baht is the are where local families manufactured begging bowls for the monks. They are hammered by hand from eight separate pieces of steel plate and soldered together with copper. Today, the area only operates as a tourist attraction selling smaller versions of the traditional bowls, but they are still all hand made.
Ban Baht Making Monks Bowls
Our return flight to Heathrow departed from Suvarnabbumi Airport was at 12.20am on Sunday so we booked a mini-van through the hotel reception to pick up us and the bikes at 9.30pm Saturday. Our patient wait in the reception got tenser as 9.30 passed and the receptionist's calls to the taxi driver went unanswered. The taxi company claimed they had no other suitable vehicles available and alternative taxi companies wanted at least 30 minutes notice. At 10pm the hotel owner got on his bike and rode to the Democracy Monument to hail a taxi and we tried putting the bike box across the back seat. There was just enough space to close the door so all we needed now was another taxi for the other bike. After a second dash on the bike the hotel owner hailed a car from another taxi company and we loaded the second bike.
With one of us in the front seat of each taxi we set off for the airport at 10.15. The drivers knew we were in a hurry. They drew up next to each other at the first set of traffic lights, wound down the windows and had a quick chat. It didn't need much knowledge of Thai to understand they were challenging each other to a race. Once on the tollway they flew along at up to 140km/h, weaving in and out across the four lanes of traffic. Needless to say we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in despite having aged somewhat.
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