What Dai, Zoe
and a small Zen Buddhist cuddly toy
did in the Easter Holidays:

March 27 to April 11 2006

When we said we planned to go to Thailand in the Easter vacation our friend Khun Deet who runs the Thai@Haymarket store told us she had a friend with a hotel by the river just north of Bangkok. We envisaged a small teak building partly on stilts over the river run by a friendly family who would serve us fresh orange juice as we sat by the gently lapping waters of the Chao Phraya. We emailed Khun Dechapong to arrange a stay.

We also managed to book flights via Muscat with Gulf Air for the wonderful price of 320 return each which helped to counter our feelings of guilt about the effect of air travel on the environment.

After the customary discomforts of long-haul travel for the longer-legged we arrived at Don Muang airport an hour earlier than expected (note to flightbookers website: not all countries put their clocks forward) and waited for the hotel car.

This is what we found when we arrived:

It's the Royal River Hotel ~ yes we were expecting it by then. We'd checked it on the web and it turns out it's where my kid sister spent her honeymoon and even my Dad spent some time there on his way to Oz a decade or so back. Okay not that small family place but a nice spot for a few days especially when knowing a friend of the owner's son got us a good rate for a spacious 8th floor room with lovely river views (even under overcast skies) like these:

We unpacked and freshened up after our travels. I was putting things in drawers when a scream came from the bathroom and froze my blood despite the 35C heat. I rushed through to find Zoe clutching her head and sobbing on the floor. The bathroom floor was slippery when wet to say the least and she had skidded after climbing out of the shower and smacked her head on the tubside in falling. But all was well apart from the shock and a small bump and soon enough we decided to fight jet-lag and go to town to see Wat Po. That is the place otherwise known as the temple of the reclining Buddha and the home of Thai massage. The traffic in Bangkok being horrendous we knew the boat would be the best way ~ as in the picture above we could see the passenger ferries calling at the piers at regular intervals.

So off we todddled round the corner and met our first case of Bangkok hard-sell fibbing. A friendly kap rot (driver) offered to take us to town in his cab for a mere 100baht (1.60). We said we wanted to go by boat. "You just miss it. Next one not for one hour." Well we'd checked the timetable and we knew they were every fifteen minutes tops and cost 11baht each. But the guidebooks all agree it just isn't done to say you're a bloody liar mate and we smiled and instead said okay it's a nice day we'll wait by the river which we only had to do for a few minutes before boarding the saucy Arethusa or whatever it was called.

We liked the fact that the aft starboard area
was labelled "space for monks"

from pier 16 by the Krung Thom bridge

while we took in the views along the banks.

so our small stuffed monk took his allotted space

Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn)

We went round the temple. A simple search for "Wat Po" will bring up plenty of shots better than this composite so that's all you're getting here.

Click here to skip the waffle and carry on with the pics

Still with me? Read on

We strolled back to the pier through the busy streets with the stalls selling and smelling of dried squidlets and shrimps and a thousand spices (not to mention sewers). But however tired we may have been we didn't head straight back to the hotel. Instead we went further South to the famous Oriental Hotel. After a very brief visit to the adjoining opulently ostentatious and overpriced gift arcade we went into the real streets and bought two sketch pads. All the sketches we did in the following two weeks are on the following pages. Don't bother counting. That amounts to a total of none thanks to the heat. And laziness.

Being in the area made a cocktail at the Riverside Terrace Bar of the aforementioned jewel among hotels an absolute must. Very pleasant it was too. But then the alcohol formed an unholy alliance with traveller's fatigue and we just had to catch the boat for home.

A few stalls were setting up in the neighbouring streets as we strolled from the jetty to our base and the hawkers were most amused at the idea of offering to a couple of farang (furreners) the roasted ears and lips and intestines of unidentified beasts. With hand on heart I assure you we would have tried them but the ravages of circadian dysrhythmia meant we just wanted to get back to the hotel and eat there before catching up on much-needed sleep.

The Royal River boasts a sophisticated cocktail bar where sophisticated is big hotel speak for cheesy. So we kept out of there and went to the buffet on the terrace for a fine green curry and a few other choice items that failed to lodge in the memory except as a vaguely-recalled pleasure accompanied by a well-meaning violinist.

You may not be surprised to hear that we were not as early to rise as we had been to bed. Nor that day 2 was a bit uninteresting. Once again we took the boat. This time a little further. A few essentials were on our shopping list including sunblock shampoo swimtrunks. The Skytrain took us to the new shopping malls including one where goods matched Harvey Nichols for style and even price and all we had was a frozen yoghurt. Thais had taken to the streets in protest at their allegedly corrupt Prime Minister Thaksin ('the Berlusconi of the East') but Boots the Globally Ubiquitous Chemist was a safe haven and provided for many of our needs before we browsed a little further round a more local and sensibly priced set of emporia.

Then it all went slightly wrong. We got the Skytrain and Metro to Hua Lamphong before heading into the old city. From here we intended to walk along a khlong (canal) and visit a few of the temples. I particularly wanted to stroll up the Golden Mount and also to see if I could find the cheap and cheerful looking hotel I remembered seeing in 1987. We wanted to find a more central location for later in our stay.

The sights smells shops of old Krungtheep were fascinating. I'm at a loss to explain the complete absence of a photographic record from the afternoon. Maybe heat fatigue jetlag. Whatever. Along the bustling khlong were stalls selling all kinds of goods all manner of foods. In neighbouring streets whole rows of shops selling woks televisions engine parts silks timber (irritating to a man who had just spent weeks back home trying to find wood just to make bookshelves!).

Heat and fumes are tiring. Jetlag plays havoc with time perception. And Thais keep hours that differ wildly from those of students and dilettantes (wasters). Maybe I still think in Spanish hours. Thai attractions close so early! It was barely 4:30 when we reached Wat Saket only to be told by a friendly young man that the Golden Mount Park closes at 5 ~ and even the fit couldn't walk up to the chedi in that time.

He suggested a couple of other temples that might be open and even hailed us a passing tuk-tuk. The driver kept offering us lower and lower prices to take us to a couple and assuring us we could squeeze them in but we were knackered and just wanted him to take us back to the river to get a boat. But this he was not prepared to do whatever the price (I am not a rich man but I would gladly have paid two whole pounds). There's more to be said on the subject of the various cabbies of Bangkok but let us leave that to another page. As it is dear readers we were forced to walk all the way to the nearest by which I mean quite distant pier and forego visits to the National Gallery and Museum which also open and close at hours quite uncivilised.

Waiting for the boat back we heard a the owner of a long-tailed boat tell two farang girls they'd have a long wait for the last boat so he'd kindly take them to their destination for only 400baht and they duly climbed in. The real boat came ten minutes later and we paid our 22baht and went back to the hotel.

In the evening we walked across the bridge to the restaurant and entertainment complex of Tara Tara. This is also owned by Khun Dech's family and we highly recommend the food and the setting if not the karaoke. The huge freshwater prawns were the stars and possibly the best-tasting seafood I've ever eaten (with the exception of percebes or goose barnacles in Spain).

Day 3 wasn't much more exciting but you can still click here to see the pics and continue the tale ...

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