The start of the longest trip I’d ever taken at the time (as of August 2013), in which I spent five weeks exploring South East Asia. The first month was my first group tour, Intrepid Travel’s Great Indochina Loop. I’ve done a bit of travel since, but the photos and my diary from the time brought back the experience.
Bangkok was an appropriate place to start the trip, and visit the first of so many Buddhist temples over the coming weeks. My primary memory is that it was the hottest, and most humid place, that I’d ever been. Arriving at lunchtime I had a free afternoon before meeting the group so headed out onto the streets and visited Wat Bowon Niwetwihan, a good introduction to the typical features of a Buddhist template, with golden chedi (also known as stupa), golden roofs, and a golden Buddha.
Nearby were some very smart buildings, and a banyan tree, a common sight in South East Asia.
Then despite being on my guard I managed to fall for the classic tuk-tuk scam, though it’s almost obligatory in Bangkok, and a good way of seeing random places on the cheap. A friendly older gentlemen who said he was an off-duty cop started talking to me, and told me about a government subsided scheme in which I’d get a tuk-tuk all afternoon for 20 baht. Before I knew it I was on this colourful ride…
Which took me to Wat Thepship, though Google doesn’t recognise this so I must have the name wrong. It was home to a fetching reclining Buddha.
Next stop was the quite impressive Wat Tri Thotsa Thep, which according to TripAdvisor is the 343rd best thing to do in Bangkok (out of 706).
I didn’t take any photos but I remember ending up in various shops, including a tailors, which would have paid my driver a kickback if I’d spent any money. I think my driver realised that I wasn’t going to spend any money though so after the next temple he disappeared. Which was a little stressful at the time as I didn’t know where I was, and didn’t have Google Maps, just the old fashioned paper kind. Thankfully I found the central Chao Phraya River and could find my way back to my hotel from there, passing the Phra Sumen Fort. This was one of 14 forts built in the late 18th century, though the current structure dates from 1981, and judging by photos online it has been restored since I visited.
I remember quite a mix of building types, a lot of traffic and noise, which combined with the heat and humid was quite overwhelming and exhausting. My hotel was on the famous Khao San Road, which according to Wikipedia is a world-famous “backpacker ghetto”! Not really my scene but it was central.
A quick walk the following morning took me to Loha Prasat, the only remaining temple of this design, after two older temples in Sri Lanka were destroyed. It was submitted in 2005 to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Looking online the main structure with the scaffolding is now far more golden.
Mahakan Fort was built, and rebuilt, as the same times as Phra Sumen Fort.
The Democracy Monument was built in 1939, and has become a rallying point for a number of protests, as well as effectively a large roundabout.
My group of ten, with our great Cambodian tour leader Kom, set out on a Khlong boat to explore some of Bangkok’s 1,682 canals, over 2,600km worth. It was an interesting way to get a different perspective on the city.
We passed by the impressive Wat Arun, one of Bangkok’s most famous sights, built in the 17th century, but expanded significantly in the early 19th century.
Next stop was another one of Bangkok’s main sights, Wat Pho, one of the oldest and largest temples in the city, home to over a thousand images of Buddha.
It’s 46m long reclining Buddha is one of the largest in Thailand, and quite awkward to photograph in it’s full glory.
I’d hoped to go to the neighbouring Grand Palace but it is a huge complex and I couldn’t easily find the entrance, and as I wrote in my diary “I was a bit fed up with the heat and and temples”! Instead I somehow ended up at the further away Bangkok National Museum, the clear highlight of which (and my time in Bangkok it felt at the time) was a 2m high powerful air conditioning unit which I literally stood in front of for 10-15 minutes cooling down.
My final stop in Bangkok was Wat Traimit, which is near the train station. It is home to an impressive 5.5-tonne gold statue of a seated Buddha, worth $250m!
36 hours in Bangkok wasn’t really enough for a city of this size, but it gave me a good flavour of the place, before I left on a surprisingly comfortable 14 hour overnight train to Chiang Mai…