March 29-30 2006

As did so many days Wednesday began with breakfast:

And then we packed our things and moved to a new hotel.
On our travels the preceding day we had checked out and reserved a room at the aptly named Bangkok Centre.

Okay, the views were not so picturesque:

but by Jove was it central.
The Metro station for the main railway terminus of Hua Lamphong even has an exit labelled Bangkok Centre Hotel.

But this day was like the last ~ a bit of a washout in some senses.

But first a rude brief recitative about Bangkok's taximen. When I was last here in 1987 a tuk-tuk driver would ask for an exorbitant fare like two pounds to take you anywhere. You'd offer ten pence. With a smile and a laugh you'd end up at a standard fare between the two and set off on your perilous weave through the traffic. Once on your way you'd be offered detours to his friend's gemfactory silkshop brothel whatever and if you were smart you insisted you weren't interested and hinted you'd look out for him next week when you were shopping for the trip home. No sense lugging silk and gems all over the country after all. This would usually mean you'd get to roughly where you wanted to go. Enough tourists would let themselves be persuaded to make it worth his while. The owners of the shop would give him petrol coupons worth more than the fare every time he got punters into the shop.

So the state decided this was bad for the image and started offering them even more petrol tokens to take the tourists to state Tourist Info Offices and attractions instead. So now they try to take you on detours to Tourist Info and stuff. And they are even more pushy and we heard many a tale of people being taken all sorts of places and extra fares being demanded when they insisted so unreasonably on being taken where they originally asked to go. We gave up.

There are plenty of buses and boats and now also the Skytrain and Metro systems which may cost a few pence more but don't suffer from Bangkok's much deteriorated traffic which means that almost every traffic cop and many a kap rot wears a face mask and every journey takes ages.

We decided to take a bus.

Actually we wanted a stroll through Chinatown first. Oh and also visit the railway station to see about tickets to Chiang Mai.

Zoe wanted to see and photograph real Bangkok. A tuk-tuk pulled up alongside us and the man told us there was nothing to see here. He'd take us to all manner of interesting sites and even to a tourist office to help us decide but there was nothing interesting in these streets. We insisted these street scenes were exactly what we wanted to see and he eventually drove off muttering something about mad farang no doubt.

Taking a bus in Bangkok is easy and very cheap. There are hundreds of them and all clearly labelled. In Thai. In which alphabet I can only make out about five of the 48 letters. But my map showed bus numbers. But only randomly and sporadically. But enough to tell that the number 53 passed nearby and went to Wat Phra Keow (the Grand Palace).

So we caught one. Eventually.

Paying the exorbitant 6 baht (10p) fare ~ each ~ we settled down for a tour of Bangkok.

Right bus. Wrong direction.

We saw a lot of town but took hours.

No wonder I look tired. (Sorry)

——Why you so late?

The uniformed guard was quite amused that a couple of farang should turn up at 3:30. The Grand Palace closes to the public at 3:30.

So we bought some water and a snack and wandered over to the park to sit. I'd noticed that my mobile phone had a signal so started to text a chum who knows Bangkok about good places to go in town. Suddenly we were festooned with pigeons going for our crumbs. This caused us to be festooned with a street hawker and a small child trying to festoon us with bags of seed to feed the birds. Zoe took one. I was suspicious but picked up the one he dropped in my lap and fed pigeons. Then he demanded 100baht for the bags. I laughed and gave him about ten and we walked off towards the bus stops.

Only half way home (going the right way) did I realise I didn't have my phone any more. I can't say this was a deliberate theft. Can't even be sure the guy even spotted that I'd left the thing any more than I did. Definitely my own stupidity. At least when I got home I was able to get the new phone reset to the old number and even the old 'wash and go' credit.

Before the hotel we popped into Hua Lampong railway station to enquire about train travel up north. But the computers ere down. The people at the information desk were really nice and friendly and helpful and directed us to the very jolly V C travel agents in the station concourse. They are a "a professional tourist information centre with supported by state railway station of Thailand" and staffed by very pleasant young lunatics. As their website so truly says, "You can be full fill your journey with happiness by our services." So we were.

That night we ate from street stalls in PatPong. We ended the evening in a gogo bar. We got chatting to a lovely leggy Lao stripper but declined her offer to come back to our room with a girlfriend (we've heard the stories of spiked drinks and waking up without clothes or personal effects and we had to get up early next day).

When a large party of elderly (even by my standards) English folks came in and sat down to watch the show as if they were in the audience for Countown we decided to head for home. But then the heavens opened. Even so we refused the offers of shows with pingpong balls and bananas and grabbed a cab.

Day 5 was spent on a bus to Chiang Mai.
Only there did the camera come out again.

Click here to see the pics and continue the tale ...

or here to go back to the start.

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