On day 2 of our tour we woke up in Bangkok to a pretty interesting breakfast. I had fried rice and noodles, with a piece of bread and “Thai herb juice” (which tasted like lemongrass). When I’m overseas I like to eat local food (as far as my vegetarianism allows) because people cook what they know best. I don’t make wonderful curries and by the same logic I don’t totally trust burgers in Thailand. The system has served me well so far, and local food is usually a lot cheaper too.
After breakfast we met up with our group of 9 and headed out into the 30-odd degree heat. Our group was made up of people from Ireland, England, New Zealand and Australia. We ranged in age from 21 – 60 and were all nimble enough to get into the colourful boat in Bangkok’s main river.
The river we zoomed along on was surprisingly rough and the houses along the edge were on stilts.
We went up canals and saw houses, quite a lot of garbage, floating markets and catfish.
The catfish were something else – they were everywhere under the water and swam in schools that made the grey water look like it was bubbling. Up close they were long and black with writhing bodies like eels. I was not a huge fan of the catfish and when I saw it on the dinner menu later that night it made me squirm.
We got off the boat in the heart of Bangkok and were immediately met by a street market with lots of interesting food. I wanted to buy a fresh coconut to drink but was told we were nearly at the temple, so held off for a while. Mum bought a fried banana though, it looked good. In not too much time we reached the Wat Po temple. Our guide told us it held the second longest reclining buddha in Thailand at 43m long (the other one in northern Thailand is only a tiny bit longer). Because we were at a temple, we had to cover our shoulders and our knees ( there’s nothing sexier than knees apparently). I don’t mind adjusting to other cultures to show respect at all – but it was so hot and humid that even standing naked would have felt like too much clothing. When Pan Pan (our guide – named Pan Pan because he used to cook) was telling us about how long the buddha was he paused for an impressed response… but there was none. We were just hot, hungry and wanted to go into the temple so we could take off our long pants and get some lunch. When we walked in we had not processed how big this buddha really was, and we surprised and impressed.
It was massive! 43m long! That’s nearly the length of an olympic swimming pool! The buddha was very beautiful and covered in gold leaf. Along the walls of the temple were beautiful murals. I could have stood and stared at the stories all day, and was particularly drawn to the scenes of elephants and dragons.
Everything about the reclining buddha was massive, including its feet. The toes were perfectly aligned and inlaid with mother of pearl – pretty fancy feet by my standards.
We walked around the temple – not caring to much about the heat – and enjoyed the interesting ways of giving donations and the lovely decorations.
It was also interesting to learn that Wat Po is considered the first public university of Thailand, teaching students in the fields of religion, science and literature through murals and sculptures. In 1962 a school for traditional medicine and massage was established and you can still learn the art of Thai massage there.
We also learned that Thailand has a 95% buddhist population (interestingly enough our Thai guide was Catholic) and at least one week service as a monk is mandatory. The statues were absolutely beautiful, and even more so when we saw how much work was involved.
After looking at the temple we walked out to explore the city for a few hours before getting on an overnight train to Chang Mai. Now I don’t have photos of the experiences to follow, but they were great. Our new Irish friends Maggie and Joanne were wearing maxi dresses over their shorts and shirts, and decided to strip them off in front of the Grand Palace while Mum and I were talking to a policeman to get directions to Khaosan Road. This resulted in Joanne flashing her bra at the palace policeman in a country where you’re not even allowed to show your knees. The man was shaken but not visibly offended and even offered to escort us to the markets (but unfortunately not the ones we were looking for). After nearly being scammed by a tuk tuk driver, we eventually took a taxi to Khaosan Road for some thoroughly enjoyed lunch and good haggling.
There was definitely a feeling that all the locals just wanted to get any money out of us that they could. We tried to get a taxi to our hotel and were told by our guide it should cost no more than 200 baht, but that we should use the meter. When we asked the first taxi he told us 400, and when we told him we wanted to use the meter he said 300. We went to the next taxi and asked the same thing, and we said we wanted to use the meter. He agreed on 200 and got in. In the taxi the photo of the driver was not the man driving us and he asked us if we wanted to go to a tailor, restaurant or other shop. We just told him we wanted to go to our hotel and would not pay him more. I would really love to learn Thai so there is no language barrier and not get ripped off.
Anyway we got back to the hotel and managed to sneak a shower before we left for the overnight train. Mum and I were really nervous about sleeping on the train and imagined it would be cramped and dirty, so when we got on the clean, spacious, comfortable train we were pretty relieved.
The windows were huge and seats were comfy. We were only warned that by morning the toilets would not be too nice. We ordered dinner and I got a vegetarian combo (without realising just how much I ordered) of stir-fired vegies, mushrooms, rice and a soup. It was very good for train food.
The seats turned into beds with the help of our friendly steward and I was lucky enough to get the bottom bunk which was wide, comfy and had a window. Once you closed the curtains each bed was its own little private space with a shelf, light, pillow and small blanket. A slight problem with the train was that it was freezing! I had to put on all my warmest clothes (and I didn’t take many) and was still cold. We asked for extra blankets but weren’t allowed so just made do with what we had. They also left the fluro lights on all night (so people could go to the toilet), which turned the beds an eerie blue.
The train was nothing like I expected, I was prepared for something rickety, hot and a bit scary. Honestly, I liked the train ride better than plane or bus and would happily do it again. The best part was that when we woke up it was Mum’s birthday and we were in Chang Mai!