Thailand (2016)

Because Pat and I had a free week, we decided to go to Bangkok, Thailand.

Saturday, 30 Jan 2016

Flew to Bangkok on Tiger Air and took a cab from the Suvarnabhumi Airport. Although we were offered transportation in a limo for THB$1000 (about US$28), one of our friends in Singapore told us to ignore these offers and go directly to the taxi stand. Good advice – taxi cost us THB$400 (US$11).

Traffic was terrible, especially the short drive up Soi 11 to our hotel. This road, that we often had to walk to get around, took at least 1/2 hour for the taxi to make it to our hotel. The road is probably only a 1/3 mile long (or less). Bangkok is a big city and the traffic is worse than most big cities. Motorcycles are everywhere, cutting in, out and between lanes, and many times on the sidewalks.

We checked into Fraser Suites Sukhumvit, a very nice hotel. This hotel is located in a popular area of Bangkok and is reasonably close to the Nana Skytrain Station, where we could catch rides to other parts of the city (when we didn’t want to walk). We rode public transportation most of the time, especially since Bangkok is not walking-friendly – the sidewalks are either clogged with food carts and tables for their clients, or people parking motorcycles and cars on the walks. Very often you have to contend with motorcycles riding on the walks. So, all in all, it makes sense to take public transportation.

Location of Fraser Suites

This first evening was spent relaxing: drinking beer and eating at the Old German Beerhouse (it was close and looked good, so we stopped – did not disappoint). Normally, we would have eaten Thai food on the first night, but….

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Sunday, 31 Jan 2016

This morning we had booked a trip through Viator (our go-to tour site) for the Mahachai Train Tour from Bangkok. The purpose of the trip was to see 3 different markets, two of which the train actually went through. I had seen videos on YouTube of the market at Mae Klong, and we were to see it as well as the one at Mahachai.

We started early, taking a taxi to a hostel very close to Chinatown. We met our tour guide, Tae, and 3 young ladies. From the hostel we walked about 1/2 mile to the SkyTrain, road it for about 3 stops, then walked to the Wong Wian Yai railway station. The train trip took about an hour.

As the video shows, there is not much clearance on either side of the train. The train cars are not air-conditioned and the windows are all open. When we stopped, we had to brush off the leaves from the shrubs we swiped.

As the train approached the Mahachai station, we could look out the windows into the food stalls along the tracks. The train stopped at the station and we all got out and wandered back up the tracks to witness, first-hand, the stalls we had just ridden through.

After walking through the railroad market, we headed to another, parallel market a block away. At this market we sampled deep-fried Pandam Rice cakes (very good) and saw lots of interesting fish and other foods.

We had lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant, Tha Rua, on the water. After lunch we caught a bus to Mae Klong to see another famous railway market. This market a Mae Klong was the one I had seen videos of trains going through the market several times a day. Unfortunately, the train has temporarily been suspended while a new railroad station is being built. However, the market is still very active, but doesn’t have to take time out, three times a day, to move the produce tables and awnings away from the track.

From the Mae Klong market, we boarded a “bus” (a pickup truck with a cover and benches) to take use to the Amphawa Floating Market, about 10-minutes away. This market is along both sides of a river and it is difficult to walk along because the walkway is narrow and crowded. There are many eating areas on the sides of the walkway that are served from boats pulling along side.

We then headed back to our hotel in Bangkok. The ride back, in a minibus, was a thrill-a-minute, with the driver weaving in and out of the lanes and even driving on the berm. It was a good thing we all had our seat belts on.

Monday, 01 Feb 2016

Today was our “temple run”. We were picked up at the hotel for our Half-Day Bangkok City and Temples Tour, visiting 3 Buddhist temples (Wat Traimit, Wat Pho and Wat Benchamabophit) and learning about Buddhism from our excellent guide, Ole.

First on the tour was Wat Traimit, located on the edge of Chinatown (we were to pass this way a couple of more time during the week as we wandered the area on our own). This temple is also known as the “Temple of the Golden Buddha”. The temple, possibly from the 13th century, has “the world’s largest massive gold seated Buddha measuring nearly five metres in height and weighing five and a half tons…was discovered by accident when it was accidentally dropped as it was being moved, revealing, under a casing of plaster, a beautiful solid gold Sukhothai style Buddha.”

From Wat Taimit we went to Wat Pho, a.k.a., Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The Buddha here is almost 148 feet long and covered in gold leaf. When we were there, the 16-foot feet/sandals, decorated with mother of pearl were being restored. In the building with this Buddha, we purchased a “tub” of coins, which were then placed in a series of bronze bowls for good luck. There are 108 bowls, one for each of the positive actions and symbols that helped Buddha reach perfection, and you can hear the coins being dropped in the bowls as soon as you enter the building, although you can’t see them until you get to the backside of the Buddha.

Once you have seen the Reclining Buddha, the rest of the temple complex is very interesting. The temple is one of the largest in Bangkok.

The final temple on the tour, Wat Benchamabophit, was a short drive away. This temple is also known as the Marble Temple because it is built with white Carara Italian marble and with a “three-tiered roof – an excellent example of modern Thai architecture”.

And then the tour ended with a ride back to the hotel.

Tuesday, 02 Feb 2016

We had no tours scheduled for today, so we decided to go geocaching. We took the Skytrain to Victory Circle, where it started to rain. Looking over the details to the cache in this area and the side of the street we wee on, we decided to look for another, in a different area. It is not simple to cross to the other side of an intersection.

The cache we ended up finding was located near the Jim Thompson House and was named the same (GC2M2JQ Jim Thompson House). Jim Thompson was famous as the founder of the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. The house includes a fabric museum, but we weren’t in the mood to visit, so we just went for the cache. The cache was located along a walkway beside one of the many canals in Bangkok. Below are some of the graffiti along the canal. It was our first sighting of the canal boats with the long tail motors.

For dinner, we decided on Craft Bangkok, a craft beer restaurant, with 40 taps, several blocks from our hotel. The beer was good. The sandwiches were messy but good.

Wednesday, 03 Feb 2016

Another day without a scheduled tour, so we decided to wander around Chinatown.We ended up walking about 9 miles (per the tracker on my smartphone).

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Chinatiown walk

Being less than a week from Chinese New Year, there were decorations similar to those we see in Singapore. Many of the shops were selling red envelopes, used to give gifts of money to people.

At about the 6-mile mark we found the Wat Saket (or Golden Mount Temple). It had not been on our list of things to see, but since we were close, we decided to make the trek to the top. There are about 300 steps to the top. The views were very nice. Well worth the detour.

Thursday, 04 Feb 2016

Today we had a full day tour to the Bridge on the River Kwai. This is another booking we found on Viator. We all seem to know the story of building the railway from Thailand to Burma from seeing the 1957 David Lean movie with Alec Guinness. This movie was based on fact, but was highly fictionalized and romanticized. There were actually 2 bridges built at 100 meters apart, one wooden and one steel. Both were bombed during the air raids. The true story is much more horrific than depicted in the movie.

Another, more recent movie (2013), The Railway Man, staring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, is more closely based on the truth.

Our book club, here in Singapore, read The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, a fictionalized true account about prisoners of war working on the railroad.

Based on the above, and seeing the tour on the Bangkok list, I wanted very much to go there, see the bridge and ride the train. Getting to the area took around 2 hours by bus to get to our first stop, the JEATH War Museum (the name is made from Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand, and Holland, representing the nationalities of the prisoners of war (POW’s) who were forced to work on the construction of the railway). Photos were not permitted in the POW hut that was supposed to be an exact copy of the ones the prisoners were kept in. There was nothing about the museum that was very interesting. However, this is was the spot where we boarded a couple of “long-tailed” boats for a quick 10-minute ride up the river to the famous bridge.

We upgraded to the “deluxe car” for an additional $200 Bhat (USD $5.59) per person. That additional cost included a boxed snack, water and a souvenir ticket and certificate. It certainly did not include padded seats or air conditioning, but we thought it was well worth the extra money.

At the end of the line, our group walked a short distance to a restaurant for our lunch. Then we were picked up by our bus and, about an hour later, we stopped at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak).

Friday, 05 Feb 2016

We must not have done enough walking in Chinatown, so it was back there for more exploring. This time we did more than 9 miles.

Today, we started at the train station, opened in 1916, and eventually made it to the Flower Market.

Saturday, 06 Feb 2016

Heading home to Singapore, today.

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