Drops of Jupiter: Thailand

Monday 24th March
During the flight I watched four films because there were a few I had missed at the cinema that I had wanted to see. I started off with ‘Captain Phillips’ followed by Philomena. Both of these had required my full attention and were quite moving so I needed something to lighten my mood and therefore opted for ‘The Interns’. With time still available I managed to squeeze in ‘Rush’ though I made a note to watch the accompanying documentary on my next Qantas flight. I did however watch a few classic Mr Bean episodes and a documentary about ‘The Ashes’ which was effectively a Aussie gloat fest at how embarrassing English cricket has been in all years except 2005, 2009 and 2010.

I arrived at Bangkok and whilst I did have directions on how to get to my hotel the city suddenly seemed very big when I was told the bus I had been told to get no longer ran. I was determined not to get a taxi because I knew mentally I couldn’t face the battle of trying to find one that wouldn’t try to con me and I knew that unlike the good old cabbies of London they didn’t have to sit an equivalent of ‘The Knowledge’. Thankfully I got on the free internet and worked out that the train journey from the airport was simple and it would only cost about £1.

The train was modern but busy though no where near as bad as in Russia and I was able to position myself by the door. I could the see the CBD in the distance and it all looked very modern but the outskirts of the city looked very traditional and seemed to still be surrounded by tropical forest. I guess whilst this looked unusual to me it would be no different to passing through a London suburb such as Richmond that still maintains a ‘traditional English Countryside’ feel.

Once at my station I had a short walk to the hotel and whilst the pavements were either non existent or blocked by food stools I finally made it inside. Compared to some of the places I had stayed it was luxury and to be honest none of the criticisms I’d read seemed justfied for the price but I guess some people had a much higher expectation than me. With free breakfast and WiFi I was in paradise.

After sorting out my things (dumping them on the floor) I went back out in search of some traditional Thai street food. I went to where I thought the stools were but I couldn’t see any and as the road appeared from a distance to be a dead end and had a unsavoury smell I returned back to the main street. I looked at the menus of various restaurants and tired and hungry eventually settled for the one outside my hotel purely because it was close. I ordered a Chicken Pad Thai which was very nice but cost slightly more than I expected though still a lot less than what I’d have paid in London.

I returned to my room and flopped down on my bed. I decided I’d figure out how best to spend my time the next morning.

Tuesday 25th March
I woke up and because my knowledge of Bangkok and Thailand was pretty non existent except for the fact I knew one of the ex Prime Ministers was the owner of Birmingham City FC  and In prison. I knew this had resulted in political turmoil but when it came to tourist attractions all I knew about was to get a Thai massage and toi try some Thai street food.

It turned out there were some lovely Buddhist temples in the city so I decided I would see a selection of them and the Grand Palace. It looked an easy journey on the bus so I went down to fill up on breakfast in the hope it would last to dinner. The selection was as good as that I’d had in India and I was able to have 4 different courses including Indian, traditional English, fruit and pancakes.

I started by booking myself a 1 hour massage for that evening at the spa recommended by the hotel and where I got a discount. My right knee ligament has been aching if I have to cross it since January though I am unsure exactly what caused it and I hoped the massage would cure the issue. I also thought it would be a nice way to relax after what I hoped would be a busy day exploring the city.

I waited at the bus stop and the traffic wasn’t moving at all and there was no sign of the bus. Taxi drivers kept trying to gesture towards me but I stayed strong ignoring them. I’d read a few of the taxi tips that morning and the final quote had said “Don’t worry, for every bad taxi driver there are two good”. Those odds as far as I am concerned are shit and whilst I felt familiar with all the tricks they would try and pull I had no intention of needing to do so.

I realised after a while that it was becoming a bit pointless waiting for the bus because there was a lot I wanted to see. I therefore flagged down a taxi. The driver seemed genuine enough and I made it clear I wanted to go to the ‘Grand Palace’. Unfortunately after about 5 minutes we still hasn’t moved that far. He then told me the Grand Palace was closed and asked if I wanted to go to the ‘Floating Market’. I explained near the Grand Palace was fine and that I wasn’t interested in shopping. He then became persistent and told me that protests had closed the Grand Palace. I had no interest in going to the floating market as being taken there by a taxi driver was one of the cons I’d read about. However at the same time I knew that even if the Grand Palace was open, traffic caused by the protests meant I wouldn’t get there, and I didn’t really fancy being out on the streets in those circumstances anyway. I therefore paid the equivalent of about £1 and walked back to the hotel.

My new plan was what I had originally intended to do in Bangkok, exercise and rest & relaxation. I’d been carrying my gym kit around for nearly 5 months and I finally used it by going on the running machine for 20 minutes. My fitness wasn’t quite as bad as I feared but the machine was old and kept stopping for no reason which is why I didn’t run for longer. I did some weights before going outside and doing a few lengths in the swimming pool. I felt quite pleased with myself and was glad I had at least done something with my day.

I arrived at the Spa in good time and thankfully it looked as fancy and non seedy as I had hoped. Kirsten had told me Thai massages were painful and even though the lady was short she pressed very hard and seemed to know exactly where my body was showing signs of wear and tear. At one point it felt like she was walking across my back, though as my head was buried in a pillow I guess I’ll never know if she was. The conversation tended to be “pain?”, “hmmm no” (even when I once broke my arm I didn’t admit how much it was hurting), “ahh need little pain” followed by some action which resulted in the pain level rising a notch and me yelping.

My body was clicking and whilst I haven’t been a careless owner it was clear I probably haven’t looked after my body as much as I should. Body I promise vegetables and exercise will be the norm once we’re home. In case anyone is thinking it, there was no seedy side and no happy ending once my hour was up. I wish I could say I felt like a new person but I think I need more than a quick fix. I went downstairs, drank some tea and even though I hadn’t had lunch or dinner I returned back to the hotel as I didn’t feel particularly hungry.

Back at the hotel I stayed up later than I should have done considering I had such an early start the next morning. I was trying to use the free WiFi to upload as many pictures to Dropbox from my tablet so i could create space to transfer more pictures from my camera. Time seemed to go by much quicker than I had hoped and I hadn’t achieved everything I’d wanted to and wondered exactly where the day had gone.

Wednesday 26th March
I woke up early so that I could get breakfast before the tour to the Khao Yai National Park however I decided not to eat as much as the day before because I was feeling quite tired due to the lack of sleep. I was probably running off adrenaline because I was looking forward to finally seeing some of Thailand and at being able to travel on an elephant. It was nice being fussed over as the reception staff sought to ensure my needs were met and even said they would let me know when the pickup arrived. I was particularly grateful for this because I was a bit paranoid that there would be a problem with the hotel pickup.

After collecting me the driver said we were picking up two others and we’d therefore have a pretty much private tour. He didn’t seem to know where the other hotel was and had to keep asking for directions but eventually we found it. I’m terrible at guessing accents and I put my foot in it when I asked where in Canada the couple were from only for them to say they were from the States.

Our guide provided us with quite a bit of information about the history of Thailand and his thoughts about the political instability gripping the country as a result of corruption. There were also some more quirky facts for example ‘The Beach’ was filmed at the national park we were going to. He also provided some advice on how to navigate our way through Bangkok and the taxi scams he warned the others about sounded like my own experience. He also gave some other day trio ideas and I personally hadn’t realised the Bridge over the River Kwai was in Thailand.

Our first stop on our way to the national park was at Nakorn Nayok a province around 100km from Bangkok and which our guide suggested would be better suited as capital. We started off by looking round the market and tried some fruit. The first was called Rambutan and looked like a giant grape but tasted like a melon. The second tasted like Mango and may well have been but our guide said it was a fruit that you could only get in Thailand. The other fruit was unidentified though may have been a tamarind however it looked very strange as it came in what looked like a giant pea pod and unlike the others it wasn’t very juicy.

Whilst I had been feeling tired the walk through the market woke all my senses up and the smell of the live/fresh meant (including a pigs head) meant I tried to only breath through my mouth as I’d done on shark cage dive. We saw live eels, frogs and turtles all of which were food as well as dead birds however we were told the live birds weren’t yet for food and were for people to release as part of a celebration e.g birthday. We also saw lots of different eggs including some that were pink which had been treated in a way that means they can last a long time however personally I wasn’t keen to find out if that was true.

We left the provide and as we passed a number of locally built temples our guide explained they were built by families who were seen as doing a good deed because they could be used by the public. Soon we arrived at a rice farm in Baankwan which was owned by the tour company we were with. After being shown around a traditional house and wondering over to see the Ostrich we got on to a cart so that a cow could transport us around the fields.

It was very bumpy and obviously the old wooden cart didn’t have any suspension and I half expected it to fall apart at any moment. It did however carry on going and we just about managed to stay in. The ride was meant to give us an idea about the traditional rural way of life and whilst it was a nice setting without our guide we didn’t know the significance of what we were looking at. We were all wearing traditional hats and after the ride was over we got an opportunity to sit at the front to look as though we had been controlling the cows direction.

We then watched our dinner get cooked and at one stage there was a very impressive burst of fire in the frying pan. Lunch included a shrimp Soup, fried chicken and stir fried vegetables. What I tried was tasty but there was to much and the other two had suffered recent food poisoning so didn’t eat to much.

We arrived at the Khao Yai National Park and started a short walk to the Heaw Narok waterfall. The National Park is listed by Unesco so people are no longer allowed to hunt and as a result there are a number of different species of animals including 250 elephants. We didn’t see any on the walk but we did see evidence that they had been in the area and also a big fence to protect the elephants from getting close and falling in to river. This was built in response to an accident in 1992 when a baby elephant fell in to a chasm and as the adult elephants tried to help they also fell in. In total 7 elephant calves died.

We finally reached the end of the walk and then had to climb down around 190 steep steps to see the waterfall from a lookout. It had been dry so there was actually no water but it still looked quite spectacular. On our way back up the steps we saw a lizard and just before we reached the car park we saw two monkeys, a baby and an adult. Our guide was quite optimistic we’d see more later in the day so we carried on walking.

We drove theough the national park and I drifted off to sleep and woke up to a brief thunderstorm and very heavy rain. It stopped for a while and saw some deer but then came down with even more fury which meant we didn’t stop to see the monkeys. Fortunately by the time we arrived at Pak Chong it had stopped raining and even though we hadn’t seen the monkeys up close at least we had seen them on the walk.

The elephant ride had been my main reason for booking the tour and was great fun. I started off sitting in a special seat which even had a seat belt but eventually my ‘guide’ got down and I sat on the actual elephant. It felt a bit unstable and I was surprised at how hairy it was but it kept plodding along occasionally it’s warm ears flapping against my legs. It was a bit naughty though as one point it got hungry, stopped and started to use its trunk to snap tree branches. The highlight was crossing a small creek which was surprisingly deep after after the ride we got to feed them some bananas.

On the way back our guide was giving us some tips on how we could spend the next day and he was going to take us on a tour of some of the temples as it sounded easier than doing it ourselves after the previous problems I’d had. I thought I still had another day as I still had one final night in the hotel but I just happened to glance the date on the counter and all of a sudden it struck me my flight was in a few hours time and I didn’t have an extra day.

I would have liked to have had time to nap as I’d already had very little continuous sleep and I knew I had to stay up 17 hours in Dubai. For the first time I was looking forward to being home but only because I would be sleeping in a bed again. After uploading some more pictures to dropbox and transferring the days pictures to my tablet I finished packing. I had booked the hotel taxi to the airport so arrived at the airport in good time.

The check in desk was very busy but eventually it was my turn and as I watched my luggage being labeled I had an uneasy feeling that something would happen to it though couldn’t explain why. I made my way to the gate and as I tried to stay awake I ended up talking to the girl next to me who it turned out had also been travelling around numerous countries and was on the way home. This was my first flight with Emirates and it was a nice touch they had left a wash bag on my seat however I was so tired I was probably asleep before the safety demonstration video had ended.


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