(Wat Phra Kaew – Bangkok)

Woke up 15 minutes before the alarm went off – back to normal!

Another American breakfast started the day well. The scrambled eggs were much better than the fried ones from yesterday. The coffee was still good – that’s the most important part!

I wanted to get down to see Ko Ratanakosin (the old city) as early as possible, which turned out to be a good idea.

I caught a metered taxi from outside the hotel – cost about 80 baht and took about 25 minutes. The traffic was pretty light so I was able to be dropped off nearly outside the front gate of the Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace a few minutes before they opened to the public at 9am.

As we pulled up a group of soldiers were getting out of the back of a truck. They certainly are taking security a lot more seriously since the bombs on New Year’s Eve. The Wats and Grand Palace have their own guards and security staff already. Some gates were double guarded.

Once inside I was able to get some great shots, but the crowds stared to pour in more and more so that kind of ruined the mood. It must be a magical place on slow days. I guess Sunday wasn’t the best day to do this after all! There were loads of Thais, as well as Buddhists from other countries, paying their respects, making offerings and praying in front of the temples.

As I left a tout came up to talk to me. I actually needed some bearings and he took that as his cue to try to get me into a tuk-tuk. His hand started to grab for my arm so I made my leave. They don’t mess around those guys! (Something I was to find out about later…)

After that incident I stopped off at Lak Meuang (which was just down the street), another temple which is the home of Bangkok’s city spirit. I think I was the only foreigner in that place, but it was throbbing with the spectacle of worship. The most interesting thing was some of the food offerings that were made. There were flowers and incense of course, but boiled eggs and pig’s heads? Maybe that was to do with Chinese New Year or something (this is the year of the pig) but if I was Buddha I would be turning my nose up at that kind of dinner!

Avoiding more touts I ended up at Wat Pho, famous for the enormous statue of the reclining Buddha. I ended up getting an official guide to explain what I was looking at as we wandered around the site. He was from Laos, with two kids living in America. We took about an hour to get around the site and the cost was 200 baht – not bad really. I learned a lot more about the temple than if I’d just wandered about by myself. He enjoyed pointing out tourists from other countries; Russians, French, Chinese, Indians, Spanish, and so on. I spotted a couple of groups of Japanese as well.

From Wat Pho I made my way around to the river side stretch, lined with all manner of shops, street stalls and restaurants. I settled on one that looked like it was decorated in an old French-quarter style. The menu was quite varied, and they had proper coffee on the drinks list – always a good sign! I settled on grilled chicken with a sauce made form milk, garlic, coriander seeds, served with rice, with a caffe latte for afters. Marvellous. By the time I finished it was starting to look like it was time to get back to the hotel.

My camera battery died so I couldn’t take any shots of the amazing variety of foods available for sale, as well as any of the endless sellers of amulets. I’ll have to go back again when I have more time to just wander in and out of the alleyways. Next time…

I walked back to where the cab had dropped me off – got accosted by some touts along the way and had to buy them off to leave me alone. If anyone tries to stuff dried popcorn into your hand to feed the birds just drop it and run – that’s my advice! Dealing with two jabbering old people was a sour end to a lovely morning.

The traffic was much worse heading back to the hotel. The taxi I grabbed moved along at a crawl for about half the way back – despite the driver’s fervent attempts to weave in and out of the traffic. The trip ended up costing 130 baht and it took around 50 minutes. The cabbie dropped me close to the hotel. As I got out a couple of other fellows hopped in – such is the pace of life in Bangkok.

I finished packing and I thought I’d checked the room thoroughly – twice – but I had dropped my wallet with some Japanese money as well as my ID card! The check-in staff chased me down the street to call me back to the hotel to retrieve it. I was very happy with the Majestic Suites and would recommend them to anyone. The only problems were the power socket for the TV not working and a bit of doof-doof from the nightclubs nearby. Not too much of a problem really.

The Majestic Suites was quite close to the main bus terminal so getting a ticket for an air-conditioned bus to Pattaya was no problem. Not so spacious, but good enough for the trip down.

The road to Pattaya was under a lot of construction. It was a two lane highway most of the way, but they were putting in a third lane the whole length of the road. Hopefully they’ll resurface the rest of the road too as it was quite a bumpy ride the whole way. We passed a lot of what looked like fish farms along the way – large square lakes with galvanised iron homes. There was an enormous service area with many of the obligatory lures; McDonalds, Starbucks, Seven-Eleven (they’re everywhere in Thailand – interesting) and so on.

Entering Pattaya brought back some feelings from other countries. It felt a little like Dubai, because of the width and general look of the highway. The signs were dual Thai-English and something about Thai script reminds me of Arabic. The general look of the place reminded me more of South Korea though; a Third World country becoming First World, but just a bit too quickly.

Stepping out of the bus, and the whole ‘dirty old town’ thing became apparent. There were lots of older men with younger girlfriends, as well as the noise, dust and smell of the place. This was going to be interesting!

After checking into the Sawasdee Seaview Wing B Hotel (which only had a view of the sea if you opened the window, leant out and strained your eyes between the hotel and the next one) it was time to sort out what to put in the safety box downstairs (no in-room safe – that could be an improvement) and freshen up.

I did something that I’d never done before – ordered room service! No champagne though, I had a cheeseburger, which came with sliced cucumber inside it of all things. If you want a Thai-style cheeseburger – that’s your recipe!

I went for a wander down Beach Road to Walking Street. It was fun watching out for the ladyboys. Some of the patrons were teasing them – taking pictures with them, slapping them on the butt, etc. It became quite easy to tell them from the real women. Basically ladyboys are taller, bonier and more over-the-top with their femininity. They actually look ‘too female’ if you can grasp that. I can understand why some guys get confused though, especially after a few too many beers…

I went to a restaurant, Nang Nual, for a bite to eat. It had one of the biggest menus I’d ever seen! Its speciality was seafood but I ended up ordering beef dishes! The food was awesome – really crisp vegetables, the beef was tender and the sauce tasty.

Thai beer is really good, by the way. It’s lager and pretty light on for taste, but that made it perfect for drinking outside in the warmth of an evening like this one. Great for people watching.