We were dreading the 9 hour flight from Sydney to Bangkok, the boys have never had to sit still for that long and it was always going to be a challenge. Luckily for us it was one they conquered (with thanks to Steve Jobs and the team at Apple, as well as inflight entertainment). Upon arrival we jumped into a taxi headed for our apartment on the other side of this massive city only to find that due to earlier torrential rain the traffic was at a standstill (more than it usually is). It took 2 hours to drive 40kms. Despite this the cab fare was only THB600 (NZD24) due to it being a set price from the airport, leaving one very grumpy cab driver!. The location of the apartment is somewhat out of the main tourist area, when we booked it we thought it would be nice to have a more local feel. We are the only farangs (foreigners) in the area and English is not widely spoken (in fact, we’ve been surprised how little English is spoken anywhere). The apartment has a rooftop pool that is a godsend and fantastic views over the city.
The first day in Bangkok involved a trip into the main centre to get our bearings. It’s really hot and humid and incredibly noisy and has a certain aroma about it (in fact, Callum spent the first day walking around pinching his nose, telling all and sundry that their city stinks). The culture shock wasn’t lost on Dominic either and it was at this point that the first tantrum of the trip surfaced. This was quickly controlled with a trip to Starbucks for a frappuccino and chocolate muffin.
Food is an issue. We tried introducing the boys to Thai food who in turn took one look at it and refused to touch it. To be fair to them, the first couple of offerings were not that great. We’ve had to resort to sandwiches, fruit and fast food just to get them eating. Dominic has got a lot better over the last few days and is trying most things put in front of him now, but Callum isn’t (as expected). Dominic did experience his first bout of “Bangkok belly” after a taste testing at the local supermarket but luckily it was a one off incident. The same supermarket offered another interesting experience when I went to buy some beer. You can’t buy single bottles of beer unless you buy one case of 24 PLUS 4 big bottles. This policy is in place to stop the drunks buying single bottles and then getting into mischief. Luckily for me a local alcoholic was also buying some booze so offered to add my small purchase into her trolley load. The downside of this arrangement was that I had to follow her around the supermarket whilst she completed her shopping!
The Thai people are a touchy-feely bunch. The boys are constantly getting attention by way of touching and photographs. It’s all in a friendly way but has taken them some time to get used to it. I think now the boys actually quite like the attention and for Callum, who is typically quite shy, he is starting to interact with the locals and coming of his shell somewhat, which is one of the outcomes we were hoping for when we first decided on the trip.
We have managed to sort out the taxis, tuk-tuks and train systems pretty easily. It’s actually cheaper for the 4 of us to hail a taxi instead of taking the trains. A trip across town is THB100 (NZD4) but you do have to fight the traffic so it does take longer. There are the usual dramas with the taxi and Tuk-Tuk drivers taking you to places you didn’t ask to go to, like a mates shop for “genuine Armani” or taxis “forgetting” to put their meter on. It’s all part of the fun though and great learning experiences for the boys.
On the sightseeing list was Wat Arun, which is accessed by long-tail boats plying their trade on the heavily polluted and chaotic main waterway (Chao Phraya River). Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple and has existed since the 17th century and involved the navigation of some serious steps, which were handled well by all. We decided to skip the Grand Palace due to cost (about NZD80) and the fact the boys wouldn’t have been interested in the slightest, so it was off to the snake farm instead. Dominic handled a Python (after much coxing about how cool the photo would be), which he was chuffed about. Post snake adventures we went upmarket to meet Trina’s cousin, Jo and her husband Neil, who were staying at a flash hotel. The boys had a swim in the hotel pool and played with some kids from Singapore and we had a much-needed drink to finish the day.
Obviously a trip to Bangkok would not be complete without a trip down Khao San Road, the home of the backpacking community. Over a large bottle of Singa beer and a Pad Thai I regaled Trina and the boys about my last trip here 17 years ago with a couple of mates. It was a different type of trip to Bangkok back then!
Also on the sightseeing list was the floating market at Damnoen Saduak. We had the option of either taking a taxi ourselves and hiring a boat when we arrived or joining a tour from a hotel. We decided on the independent option and regret our decision. The cost of the taxi was THB2,500 (NZD100) but you get ripped off on the boat hire into the market. We managed to bargain a boat down from THB6,000 to THB2,000 but this was still expensive for what we got. (NZD80 for 1 hour) An organized tour probably would have been slightly cheaper and more importantly would have afforded us more time actually at the market, something we really enjoyed when we were there. The markets sell mainly junk souvenirs but have good food options, including mango and sweet sticky rice and char-grilled chicken, which went down a treat with Dominic and myself.
The taxi option did however enable us to make an impromptu stop at the Damnoen Saduak Tiger Sanctuary/Zoo, which has only been opened for one month. They currently have 16 tigers that they buy in from India, including 4 cubs that were 3 months old. Callum got the opportunity to bottle feed one of the cubs, which came as a surprise when he volunteered to do it. Trina came away feeling quite disillusioned about this place as there appeared to be real lack of objective about the facility, with no mention of any breeding programme or anything that would be of benefit to the species. It is early days for them, but will be interesting to keep an eye on how it develops. It does have great potential to do something really positive, but we have our doubts if this will ever eventuate.
Overall Bangkok has proved to be a worthwhile stop, but now really looking forward to hitting the beaches down south tomorrow.