Every time I travel I almost always fall in love with the country and decide I want to live there. Thailand is no exception. I am truly in love. Thailand is an amazing place especially Bangkok. To be honest I was only in Thailand for a week, 3 nights in Bangkok and 3 nights in Phuket so this statement is totally biased but I really mean it. My hubby and I went for our long-awaited honeymoon and I can’t say enough how lucky I feel to have gotten to experience this country! So far my blog has covered places I have not yet been, so this is a great time to write about something I have actually experienced in the flesh. So this is how my trip went…
I will say only 2 things about the flights. Firstly, I managed to sleep on the plane. This is truly amazing and has never been accomplished in my 20 odd years of flying. This is most likely due to extreme boredom as Ethiopian Airlines do not have any on-board entertainment despite it being a long-haul, international flight. Secondly, I flew from Jo’burg (summer) to Addis Ababa (winter) to Bangkok (summer). We had a 3 hour delay in Addis which spanned the wee and coldest hours of the morning and left me frozen to the core as what I had on were open toe sandals and a flimsy-ass cardigan! Next time I have a connecting flight I will check the transitional country’s weather and pack accordingly. Nuff said.
Arriving in Bangkok was a pleasure. I took the Airport Rail Link (ARL) train into the city centre for 40 Baht and had a short walk from the stationto my hotel. I stayed at the Baiyoke Boutique which is situated perfectly in the vibrant area of Pratunam. There are 3 Baiyoke hotels: Boutique, Suite and Sky, the latter being the tallest building in Bangkok. This made locating my hotel really easy as it stands exactly behind the Baiyoke Sky. The roads connecting Baiyoke Sky and Baiyoke Suite are jam-packed with markets that run all day and into the night. I arrived in the evening and hit the streets right away to do some shopping and along the way I discovered, to my delight, a festival! The Annual Worship Festival of Chao Mae Pimpilai takes place all over Thailand from 9 to 12 January although one can see daily offerings at every home and store for many days thereafter.
The next day we headed to Sukumvit where we were told we would find the best tailors. While my hubby got fit for the perfect suit I took a walk around the streets. The most amazing part of Bangkok has to be the street food. Firstly, as a Westerner I had no idea what any of the foods on display were, although I’m sure I saw skewered worms at one point. Secondly, the smells your nose is met with are incredible. I tried a Thai salad. The only 2 ingredients I recognised in there were chilli and lime, don’t ask me what the rest was 🙂 That evening we had dinner on the 78th floor of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel (we were entitled to a 50% discount). It was a buffet with a view, and I mean a seriously good view. The whole of Bangkok is visible and at night the ground below is alight with neon-lit buildings in every colour. It’s truly breathtaking. The food was good too. I had the best sushi I have ever tasted as well as all kinds of friend spring rolls and dumplings. There was pasta, veggies, salads, all kinds of seafood and interesting ice creams, miniature tarts and puddings for dessert. Well worth it if you feel like splurging. We headed to Pratong for the night markets and the famous ping pong shows. We were not disappointed! The streets are alive with tourists shopping for clothes and sex. Thumping music emanates from clubs and bars, beautiful tiny Thai women dressed in micro- mini skirts everywhere you look, an entire passage, neon-lit, dedicated to every homosexual fantasy, from topless beach boys to tattooed bikers. Massage parlours are everywhere and every few meters a guy pops out with a card displaying a karma sutra price list for the club upstairs’ shows. We settled on the “Super Pussy”. We first entered around 10:30 but the place was empty so we went for a massage and came back around 1am. We were attacked by 3 Thai “ladies” although I believe only 1 was the real deal. Some of the girls on stage were not exactly knockouts, with big stomachs hanging over bikini bottoms. One girl smoked a cigarette where the sun don’t shine and another pulled out a very long string of flowers. After giving many dollars to the 3 ladies we were finally given the ping pong show. You stand at the ready, ping pong bat in hand and she shoots those balls out like a batting practise machine. I’m pretty good with most racket sports so I hit all but 1 ball. Totally worth the money spent!
The following day we flew to Phuket. Everyone warned me that Phuket is the worst island to visit in Thailand, so what did I make of it? Here’s the thing, Phuket is over commercialised and touristy, especially visible in the prices of clothing and food but also along the highway from the airport. Large supermarket chains like Tesco’s and warehouses line the highways. It looks just like the highway in Johannesburg. However, once you get to the beach area it’s much better. We stayed in Kata beach as we were warned not to stay in crowded and dirty Patong. I cannot vouch for Patong’s dinginess as we actually never went there (gasp!). That’s right; Kata was so beautiful and vibrant that we were happy to spend all our evenings there.
We took a tour of Phuket on the day we arrived which, tired as we were, was interesting and informative if you like those kinds of things. We went to Karon View point which overlooks 3 of Phuket’s eastern beaches, Kata Noi, Kata and Karon. Patong lies invisible behind the mountain by Karon beach. Next we went to a monkey show which I insisted I did not want to see as I do not believe in the mistreatment of animals for profit. Hubby wanted to see it so we went but made a point of leaving early so I could make a statement of my disgust. Afterwards we went to a souvenir shop and a precious gems store as Thailand is rather famous for its gemstones. We also visited a park with numerous Thai temples, beautiful visions of red and gold and blue and green which house golden Buddha’s resting in every position. The walls and ceilings are covered in paintings of Thai mythology and engravings in marble, gold and other stones. I ran barefoot up the marble stairs to the top floor of one temple and stepped out onto the balcony for a beautiful view of the grounds below, the wind ringing a temple bell and the sound of cameras clicking all around me. Our last stop was at the Sribhurapa Orchid, a cashew tree orchid with tourist shop selling all things cashew nut. Thailand is famous for its cashew trees and exports its nuts all over the world. The nut hangs below a flowered bulb which produced cashew juice which tastes a bit like iced tea. We ended up buying several types of cashews, my favourites being chocolate and honey-sesame… mmmm! All in all, a day well spent and a chance to see a different side of Phuket.
The following day was spent chilling on the (over-crowded) Kata beach and in the evening we went to one of the many lively restaurants that line every street in Kata. The place we went to was in a sort of shared premises. 4 or 5 small restaurants serving almost the same food lie next to each other, separated by a low divider so that you feel like you are sharing a table with the person at the restaurant next door. While this may seem disagreeable to some, we felt it added to the holiday atmosphere. The meal was hands-down the best I have ever had. We both ordered sole, one sweet and sour, the other chilli and garlic. We also ordered fried rice which, again, was a marvel. Even the lemon iced tea was incredible. The only thing that ruined the mood was a Thai beggar who came into the restaurant. He had some sort of spinal deformity and was bent over at the waist so his face reached only table height, a terrible sight to behold. The rest of the evening was spent wandering the night markets, eating fresh fruit and visiting the pubs and bars on our scooter. At this point I will mention Thai drivers…bad bad bad! Or rather, it’s not that they are bad, they just don’t seem to have any road rules. Also, anyone can rent a scooter, even if, like my husband, you have no licence and have never driven a scooter in your life! This made for a rather scary excursion every time we left the hotel, me clutching my husband’s waist with a vice-like grip and many prayers to The Big Guy upstairs. Our last day in Phuket was mostly spent on a ferry to and from Koh Phi Phi. Let me say that this expedition was a waste of time and money. First of all you have to wake up at sparrow’s fart, which is not a holiday pastime. Then, it takes a total of 3 hours on the ferry to Phi Phi and back. We then had an hour of rubbish snorkelling in an area of Phi Phi that had colourless reefs and few fish. My ill-fitting mask gave me a bruise on my eyebrow but had to remain tight or else water seeped in every time I submerged. We then had a quick lunch at one of the hotels (this was included in the package), the food was pretty average. This left us with about 45 minutes to wander the island, hardly enough considering how charming and beautiful it is. My tip if you only have a day for excursions, rather do James Bond Island!
For the last part of our trip we came back to Bangkok. We organised a bit of a tour with a cab driver that took us to the Floating Market, the Rose Garden and the Reclining Buddha. I highly recommend all 3 although I was upset I never got to see the Phaya Thai Palace. The Floating Market was beautiful and serene in some parts and lively and boisterous in others. En route we stopped at a snake show which was astonishing! At one point the performer placed a big fat kiss on the head of the deadly cobra while later it was one man against 3 vipers. He caught the first 2 by hand and the third in his mouth, now there’s something you don’t see every day! The other highlight of the Floating Market was the elephant ride we took. I will admit I feel like a real hypocrite here as I know very well that those elephants were probably plucked from the wild in order to entertain ignorant tourists like myself, for profit, and the longer tourists support this trade, the longer it will go on until there are no wild elephants left in Thailand. In South Africa the Elephant Sanctuary offers elephant rides as part of an educational package. These elephants, we were told, were orphans, injured or elephants that would otherwise not have survived in the wild and so a life of captivity is a better option that no life at all. All this being said, it was a wonderful experience albeit punctuated with guilt.
The Rose Garden is a family-run property 30km west of Bangkok. It is a 70-acre riverside property that was established in 1964 as a supplier of roses to Bangkok flower markets. While we did not spend much time wandering the gardens, we did take in the venue’s signature Thai Village Cultural Show, a 45 minute performance highlighting the Thai way of life, reflected through everyday activities, festivals and traditional celebrations. We actually didn’t know about this show and found out about it as we got there. As festivals and cultural celebrations are the theme for this blog, you can imagine how exited I was to have discovered the show, arriving just in time for the start at 14:30 daily. The show is in fact Thailand’s longest running production with over 16 000 consecutive performances! Some of the highlights were the Forn Lep (fingernail dance), Mauy Thai demonstration, sword fighting display and a scene of a traditional Thai wedding which starts at sunrise where the groom’s party parade to the bride’s house, singing and dancing along the way in a procession bearing gifts of fruits and sweetmeats. At the ceremony, adjoining garlands are placed on the couple’s heads, binding them for life, while holy water is poured over their hands by guests to offer blessings. Other highlights were the Kala (coconut) dance in which dancers use coconut shells like castanets to make music. I also loved the elegantly poised candle dance and the rice-tossing harvest dance. My favourite was the Bamboo dance which starts slowly but builds into an energetic display of dexterity. Dancers sit on the floor on opposite ends of long bamboo poles which are lifted and clapped together at an ever increasing speed while other dancers skip through them in a sort of hop-scotch either single or in couples, a great workout for the calves by the looks of it!
The best part of the show was that we were allowed to join in to the Ramwong dance at the end. That’s me in the front in all black in the video I posted 🙂
Our last stop was the Reclining Buddha. I just made it as I got there at 5:50pm and it closes at 6pm. Shoes are removed at the entrance of the temple and once inside the space is completely dominated by the massive Buddha lying peacefully on his side, propped up on an elbow. I would guess the Buddha lies about 25 meters long and 10 meters high although I could probably Google the official size. The walls around are again elaborately pained with all sorts of Thai images from dragons and other mythological creatures to Thai villages and everyday scenes. The soles of the Buddha’s feet are set in Mother-of-Pearl and shimmer in the light. I managed to see some of the other temples in the vicinity although one needs a full day to take it all in. As I was still there after sunset I stumbled upon a temple in which several people were sitting in absolute silence, meditating and praying. I wanted to take a picture so badly but did not out of respect for this holy ritual which I felt so lucky to behold.
Thailand has really made a lasting impression on me. A city both modern and ancient, brimming with spirituality and sexuality, full of exotic food and exotic pleasures, a place I hope to explore once more…