So one travel chapter ends and another begins. Our extended traveling time in and around Europe has come to an end. It’s been just shy of 5 months that we have been living and exploring around southern Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Cyprus. It’s been a huge learning curve and an amazing experience for the six backpackers and we feel very privileged and fortunate to have been able to do what we have done on this side of the world. We realise how far away from home we actually are as every time we chat with our family or friends back home in Australia via Messenger it means the complete opposite time of day.
But the real beauty of slow family travel is that we get to see the countries we visit up close and personal and experience their culture more intimately and on our own schedule which has been the best way for our large family while studying Distance Education.
And now we return to Asia. Welcome to Bangkok Baby!
We are definitely more accustomed to the Asian countries and lifestyle only because we have already travelled to so many South East Asian countries over the years. We arrive with excited expectations of being back again in contrasting lifestyle to what we have been used to while living in European countries.
And now let the final part of our year-long journey begin.
We arrive into Bangkok a little behind schedule. Only half an hour due to delays in Ukraine from other connecting flights. As I’ve mentioned we are all a tad excited being back in South East Asia. It’s been a while since we’ve been here in the crazy, bustling economic and political centre of South East Asia. The almighty landlocked metropolis of Bangkok awaits us.
We really don’t get much sleep on the airplane. The Ukraine flight is comfortable enough although it’s an older plane. Their plane food is okay – you really can’t expect too much from plane food can you? They have a strange system where we pay for certain items on the menu but others, such as water and juice are free. Billie and Ash don’t sleep one iota, except towards the very end of the flight after they’ve eaten breakfast which is when they doze off for a bit with their mouths ajar.
Steve has done some research on getting a taxi organised to collect us from Suvarnabhumi International Airport and transfer us to our apartment in downtown Bangkok. But we haven’t received a confirmation email as yet so while we’re waiting in the long queue to get through customs I’m connecting to the free airport wi-fi and seeking a message of confirmation. Prices for taxi transfers from the airport vary considerably – from as high as US$82 to as little as A$36! So of course we’re eager to lock in the A$32 (900 Baht) transfer option. A reply email comes through confirming we have someone waiting holding a little board with our name on it outside Gate 3! Hooray…
The girls are doing their usual we’ve-landed-tasks – collecting bags off the turnstile with an optimistic disposition considering the lack of sleep they’ve actually had. I think they’re getting used to managing their sleep derivation on flights now especially since we have been on more than 10 planes this year alone. Plus they’re actually happy, almost on a high, about the fact of being back in Asia. They all share that they were actually getting bored with Europe. And when I ask what part of Europe they didn’t enjoy, the main reason given was that Europe felt too much like home – overly organised, ordered, rule abiding, nothing out of the ordinary occurring. Asia represents everything that Australia, and apparently Europe, is not. So for a bunch of teenagers that means more fun, more entertainment, more freedom, more interesting moments to be shared and experienced. So Steve and I jump on the teen travel bandwagon and the excitement of spending three days in Bangkok gives us the energy to get through the remainder of the day.
And the Asia that we’ve missed is right here waiting for us. The heat, the noise, the smiling people. It’s almost like coming home. And in that very moment I sense that we all feel the same. Home. Content. Welcoming. Happy. I’m not sure why we all feel this way about Asia. Maybe it’s because that’s where we have done most of our overseas travels in the past? Maybe because the girls feel more confident being in South East Asia as they’ve travelled to these countries since they were young. But it’s a wonderful feeling to have everyone so positive and happy to be here.
We arrive to our accommodation, House by the Pond serviced apartments. We’re here for three nights before flying out to Da Nang International Airport on Sunday morning. Two rooms here cost A$100 per night. The girls are sharing a room on the 7th floor while Steve and I are in another room located on the 4th. It’s fairly quiet here at the moment. The girls’ accommodation is a large 2-bedroom apartment each with bathroom facilities and there’s an interconnecting room in the middle of both bedrooms containing a kitchenette and living area. It’s absolutely perfect and the girls agree. That’s where Steve and I plan on spending most of our down time. Our room has a smaller kitchenette and bathroom – more like a motel room really. The manager is very friendly and gives us maps and some simple directions to food and transport.
We look out the window of our rooms and face looming Bangkok towers. It’s an unravelled city with plenty of lush greenery as we look down and a mangled mess of black power cords overhead. We walk up to the top floor, and enjoy the sight of seeing a rooftop pool with a jungle of pot plants all around. The view is amazing, and Dacey is super impressed with access to a pool. On the rooftop is an assortment of tropical plants in pot plants. It’s a greenery haven. Then I hear a rooster crowing. We take a closer look and see, to our surprise, a family of chooks and chickens hidden in a large pen with greenery all around camouflaging it on the rooftop.
We walk downstairs and chat the owner of the House by The Pond. His family has been operating the serviced apartments business since the 1980s and have witnessed the staggering amount of changes that have occurred in downtown Bangkok. The owner’s son is managing the office and tells us we can collect freshly laid eggs if we want for breakfast each morning. The apartment has a kitchen, but it’s fairly light on for proper longer term stay cooking instruments and apparatus. But if we were inclined to cook, we could do so if we needed.
It feels lovely being back in the tropical heat with the inherent grime, overhanging bundles of black power cords and the chaotic streets and traffic. There’s always threatening clouds overhead in the sky forming, and then clearing. The sky here is in a constant state of change – blue, grey, cloudy, white.
The plan on arrival is to relax, take it easy and maybe get a much-needed nap in our rooms and then wander outside our apartment area onto one of the main thoroughfares of Bangkok Sukhumvit Road otherwise known as Thailand Highway Number 3. This road claims to be the longest road in Bangkok and passes through Samut Prakan, Chon Buri, Rayong, Chanthaburi and ends at Trat Province . The total length of this road is about 400km and named after the fifth former Director General of the Department of Highways Phra Phisan Sukhumvit in 1950. His most important work included the construction of the national highways that would replace the use of the railway network for transportation and communications. But no sooner do Steve and I lie down on our bed that we receive a Messenger from Charlie asking if she and Ash can go out to get some eyelash extensions! What the hell???!!! Really girls?
Yes, really. They are teenagers, full of energy and longing to do something related to their beauty. They are fully immersed in the quest for beauty – nails, makeup, eyelash extensions…the list goes on. Not sure where they get it from because I’m not at all like this. I haven’t used any skin care for the entire year! It’s such a simple life traveling; I just love it. Anyway, long story short, I agree to accompany Charlie and Ash to the big mall called MBK Centre. It’s a major shopping mall with everything you could imagine while Steve stays back with Billie and Dacey to explore the surrounding area for food options and to purchase some drinks to enjoy poolside tonight.
Accessing money via ATMs is an expensive habit in Bangkok unfortunately. The fee has crept up to around A$6 per transaction just to take money out from these electronic machines. Someone is making lots of money! For some reason it’s always been this way in Thailand so we try to minimise the number of ATM transactions while we’re here for three days. Easier said than done.
We catch a taxi into MBK and work our way up through the maze that is Bangkok style shopping malls. This is the place Steve and I stayed near to when we were on our honeymoon back in 1999. We came to buy some electrical equipment from Siam Square – but what I see in front of me today is nothing like it used to be. The change is significant – overpasses, buildings, shops.
The girls find their eyelash extension place and I leave them there to find the oasis of good coffee and wi-fi at Starbucks and enjoy some long overdue writing alone time with my lap top. An hour later they meet up with me at Starbucks on the 7th floor of MKB Centre fluttering their longer than usual lashes. They’re very happy and it cost 900 Baht (A$30) each.
We head to a food court and enjoy freshly made Pad Thai for 70 Baht (A$2.80) each and drool over our dish. There’s also a cinema here and Charlie wants to see the scary movie called Anabel. She has concocted plans of returning tonight to the MBK cinema with Ash and Billie to see this movie (Dacey does not like scary movies). There’s a supermarket here and we purchase what we need here as Steve has Messengers me after exploring in and around the surrounding area of our apartment without much success of finding supermarket items. But they did enjoy a couple of Thai dishes while they were out searching – Billie is ultra-excited to be eating prawns, broccoli and carrot in her dish. But other than a 7-11 store that stocks loads of packaged food, there is nothing to purchase in the way of a healthy breakfast for the mornings around here.
While I’m out and about with the two older girls, I really notice how confident Charlie is finding her way around this large city of Bangkok. There’s no fear of getting lost or confused. Especially using the BTS Skytrain public transport system that we use on the way back to our apartment later that afternoon. The manager of our apartment suggested we take the BTS Skytrain back from MBK Centre, as the traffic at that later hour in Bangkok would be horrific and we’ll just be paying to sit in traffic. So we took his advice on bought BTS Skytrain tickets. But it is a little confusing working out the lines – well for me anyway! So we ask a man who’s already standing on the train who happily assists us in broken English and lots of hand gestures. We are on the BTS Skytrain Silom Line but need to change lines after one stop to the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit Line. I listen with blind faith. The girls nod at me like I should know. So I just follow.
We arrive to the closest BTS Skytrain station to our apartment, Phrom Phong and from there we catch a taxi back to our apartment. But getting off at a train station is one thing, working out which direction to head is another. So the handy free downloadable Maps.me is used and we cross the road to hail a taxi in the direction of our apartment. Traffic is certainly congested going the other way!
An easy 50 Baht and 15 minutes later we’re back at our apartment feeling like we’ve scaled the mountain that is downtown Bangkok.
But just 5-minutes later, the girls are getting themselves ready to head back out again on their own to see the movie Anabel together. Steve, Dacey and I stay back and relax on the couch with some drinks, chips and the CNN news cycle. Not much seems to have changed in the world of news cycle. More of Donald Trump, more craziness in the world from idiotic world leadership.
Today we all enjoy a sleep in. Steve and I enjoy sleeping in the comfort of a normal bed that is compared to our fold out variety in Cyprus. We enjoy breakfast in the rooms – cereal and milk – and get ready to hit the streets of Bangkok to explore along the Chao Pahaya River on the local taxi ferry.
First we need to get to Central Pier via the network of public transport above ground and underground. We purchase train tickets from Queen Sirikit National Convention centre and catch the underground train to Silom (102 Baht/A$4) and change to a BTS Skytrain to Sapphan Taksin at Central Pier for 160 Baht (A$6.40). The concrete overpasses and the constant traffic jams are an omnipresent feature of the Bangkok street scene and we spend much of our time admiring these strong monstrous pathways as we walk underneath them.
We arrive to the brown and choppy Chao Phraya River and make our way to the local taxi ferry that goes up and down the river stopping off at various points up the river. It’s a loud journey, and standing room only, with the motor of the boat roaring in and out of gears, and the quick docking at each of the piers with Thai pier managers blowing their whistles hurrying tourists on and off from the boat. The river is a busy channel and we watch the myriad of different types of sea transport ferry people up and down. On either side is a landscape of run down housing and glitzy hotels along the bank of the river and there’s always the familiar sight of a steel crane or two stretching over a construction site.
Our plan is to stop off at ferry pier #8 to Wat Run (Temple of the Dawn) and then hop on the shuttle boat that crosses the river to Wat Pho (Grand Palace) and then finally walking our up to one of the most famous roads in Asia, Khao San Road for dinner.
Pier 8 Wat Run or locally known as Wat Chaeng (Temple of the Dawn)
This is such a beautiful temple with colourfully decorated spires situated on the riverfront. We stop here for a cool drink at a small café that serves coffee, ice-cream and muffins under the lovely extended branches of an old tree. Fans are working overtime as we sit an enjoy the green landscape in and around this temple complex.
We explore around the temple area, me taking photos and enjoying the dynamic landscape Asia supplies for photos. After a while we board the taxi shuttle to cross the river for 4 Baht each and arrive to Pier 9.
Unfortunately, the Grand Palace is closed but we walk around it’s outer white wall perimeter towards Khao San Road avoiding the numerous tuk tuk drivers asking us to get in their vehicle to tour the city. Charlie buys a coconut for 50 Baht and we all enjoy sipping on the cool coconut water inside. The street food wafts up our noses which stirs the tummy.
We notice to get past the Grand Palace we have to pass through security apparatus set up on the corner. And then we notice Thai people walking in front, or behind and they are all wearing black. It isn’t until we reach the main road at the front of the Grand Palace and ask a woman who was standing at the corner what is going on that we begin to understand the scene around us.
She informs us that this whole set up is for the King’s unprecedented year-long mourning which means Thai people from all over their country come here throughout the year to pay their respects to their beloved King. Oh wow. How beautiful is that? And how very loyal and patriotic to the Thai Royal family.
The year-long mourning of His Royal Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is occurring right before us. We can’t believe the number of Thai people flooding into the area to pay their respects after so many months. It is amazing to see this happening and gives some insight into the pride that the Thai people hold for their country and King.
A Brief Introduction to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Firstly, this King must be one of the most revered Kings in the world. The city of Bangkok is covered in tributes for their King – large billboards, high-rise building portraits, and smaller temples scattered all over the city paying tribute and respect to a beloved king. It’s really everywhere and I’ve never been in a city that celebrates the passing of their royalty quite like it.
His Royal Majesty came to the throne in 1932 and he is the world’s longest reigning monarch at the time of his death on 13 October 2016. The King has witnessed 19 coup attempts, including another government overthrow in 2014. He has served as a calming force for his people and a beacon through uncertain times. An unprecedented period of mourning has the country of Thailand grieving for one whole year. The public and private lives of the Thai people will be impacted in the year-long mourning of their King where women and men dress in black as a sign of their mourning and heart brokenness. The King was 88 when he passed away and the Royal cremation will take place over five days at the end of October 2017.
We move past the black clothed crowds that are all going through security clearances and following one another like a long black snake into a designated area for the mourning ceremony. There are hundreds upon hundreds of white fold up chairs arranged and the same number of black umbrellas. You can never be too sure in Bangkok just when it’s going to pour down.
We walk on. It’s hot and the girls are ready to collapse. But as we turn into the backpacking district Khao San Road, and the mood changes.
Khao San Road
There’s so much going on – lights, people, cafes, bars, and budget hostels. It’s nearing sunset so we sit at a café outside, order a cold and refreshing drink and enjoy the passers-by. We watch a Thai toddler having some fun near where we are sitting at a cafe and watch the tempting taste (not!) of scorched black and shiny scorpions wander past on a tray for ?? Baht per scorpion. And as we sit there for some time, I notice a small alleyway just behind where we’re sitting and a sign that says Susie’s Lane. I wonder where Susie’s Lane leads to?
We pay and depart and just because I’m curious we wander down Susie’s Lane on Khao San Road. On either side of Susie’s Lane are the usual shops selling massages, oils, clothes, shoes. But then we reach the end and it opens up onto a paradise! Well of sorts. The street is called Rambuttiri Alley which runs parallel to Khao San Road and it’s full of the most beautifully decorated restaurants with hanging lights and lanterns and promises of the best pad Thai in Bangkok. Ash gets excited when she sees this particular sign.
It’s simply magical. We walk up this street further until we stop off and look at the variety of tasty street food on offer and enjoy a sit down at one of the open air bars serving buckets of alcoholic drinks! When in rome…The vibe here is much nicer here than on backpackers district Khao San Road, and we enjoy wandering here and enjoy looking at all the stalls – necklaces, rings, clothing, and we purchase some t-shirts for Dacey and Billie purchases wireless headphones for a bargain while Steve tries on sports shirts but they’re just a bit too tight for him even though they are XXL. I just love the atmosphere here at night-time.
We enjoy dinner at a lovely restaurant with enough seats for us all to sit outside under the overhanging lights. We order and relax. Next to us is a South Korean man with his girlfriend who have been dining together at the same restaurant. We get chatting to them as a hawker who’s selling scorpions that have been deep fried. We had seen them all along Khao San Road previously. But something happens. I leave to go to the loo and come back to Steve and his new-found South Korean friend holding two deep fried scorpions near their mouth. The girls call out to me to come over and see what dad’s doing, and before we can say nooooo the two down the scorpions in one mouthful. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I can’t think of anything worse to tell you the truth. No kissing Steve tonight! Well maybe I could imagine something worse, like a tarantula but Steve has already tried one of those in Cambodia back in 2015. And that’s probably on par with a deep-fried scorpion.
After dinner it’s time to try our luck to not get completely ripped off hailing a taxi back to our accommodation House by The Pond. It’s a futile exercise. The tuk tuks are over-priced and the taxis are not far behind them. Plus of course there’s our age-old problem of there being SIX of us! We don’t fit into a normal sized car. There are hundreds of taxis passing us at the top end of Khao San Road and they’re creating an interesting congestion that has the local buses manoeuvring their long square bodies in and around. The accumulation is due to a number of taxis stopping in the middle of this top end of the street to collect or drop customers off at ever-so-popular-at-night-time Khao San Road. Anyway it’s bedlam and we watch it from the kerb. Steve moves down the road a little further from the main taxi hawkers and negotiates himself with the taxi drivers as we walk across the road and wait while he closes a deal.
Not long and Steve’s waving at us to come over. We cross the road and try to work out the best way for all six of us to fit inside this 5-seater taxi. It’s not the first time our family has had to squash inside a taxi too small for us all. We did it then; we can do it now. The four girls jump in the back together; Dacey lying across the other three, while Steve jumps in the front passenger seat and I manoeuvre my way onto his lap curling my back to the structure of the car.
We enjoy the drive with our taxi man Lus. He chat away and discover he has a 5-year old son named Ban Ban who lives with his mum in Samui. He typically drives for 12 hours each day and finishes at 5am. We have caught him at midnight. He’s a lovely Thai man with such a friendly manner. Steve has been able to secure an amazing price of 300 Baht (A$12) rather than double plus more what the others were asking. Pays to be patient and negotiate for yourself.
That night we quietly take a dip in the rooftop pool. It’s lovely swimming at night and looking out at the skyscrapers and their twinkling lights. We also have a sky spectacle with an electrical storm passing over the city. The lightning strikes are something else – sparks of golden light lighting up the deep blue night sky and then the grumble of thunder. The rain holds off and we enjoy the swim before heading to bed.
Our time zone has changed from Europe so we are getting to bed at 1am and sleeping in. Glad we have these days to chill and not worry about anything while we’re adjusting back our internal clocks.
Our priority today is to get each of us a passport photo taken for our Vietnamese visa so we head out to the MKB Centre again. Charlie also needs to purchase a high performance SD card for her drone (so we never have the issue we had in The Sahara of one not working). We catch the BTS Skytrain at Phrom Phong station along Sukhumvit Road into shopping central. We walk past the beautiful Benchasiri Park near Phrom Phong Skytrain which is commonly known as the Queen’s Park as it was built for the Queen’s 60h birthday back in 1992. Within it are Thai sculptures.
The multi-level shopping complex is compact yet huge. Lights everywhere. The girls are enjoying this part of exploring Bangkok. It’s cool inside and there are pretty things to look at and potentially buy. But we are here for a few items including what I’ve mentioned plus a new pair of shoes for Ash as her Roman-like sandals are coming apart at the seams and the girls all need new bras. The first few items are straight forward – passport photos: tick; new shoes for Ash: tick; high performance drone SD card for Charlie: tick; and now we’re at a shop that sells bras. Steve makes himself comfortable on a chair at the back of the room and we scurry around with the Thai woman who helps me fit the girls. It’s epic and we are successful after investing quite a while here. So ultimately: tick!
With the list ticked off, we decide to chill-ax and go and see a movie called The Dark Tower before returning home base House by The Pond via the BTS Skytrain.
On the way home we walk down the main drag and duck into a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat – fish cakes, spring rolls, vegetables in oyster sauce, fried rice, pad Thai and prawns with broccoli. Thai food is so delightfully tasty and yummy and CHEAP! We walk home with full tummies and the heavy thought of having to complete six Visa applications.
I complete the forms one after the other, Dacey goes to the rooftop for a dip, the other girls are packing for an early departure in the morning and Steve is confirming that our taxi to the airport is correctly booked for 6:30am. Always a necessary double-check especially in countries where English is a second language. Mix ups and misunderstandings can become costly.
I finally complete all the visa forms and go back over the email our Vietnamese Visa lady sent and read her instructions – please copy and fill out form plus two 4×6 photos plus print out the invitation letter! Say what? What invitation letter? I quickly scurry through my emails and find her email to me with the attached invitation letter. Damn! I don’t think I printed the letter out. And now it’s after 11pm in Bangkok. I do a quick Google to see if there are any copy places open at this hour in downtown Bangkok, then at the low cost carrier airport we depart from Don Mueang International Airport. I finally see a post by another desperate traveller searching for printing places after hours and get the idea to head to one of the big hotels and ask to use their printers. It’s a good idea.
This is a job for Steve. But it’s doing what it does best in Bangkok in the shoulder of rainy season – it’s raining cats and dogs. He borrows an umbrella that’s out the front door of our next door neighbour’s room and heads out into the rain to the Marriott Hotel just up the road. But just up the road in these teeming raining conditions is not as easy as it sounds.
In the meantime, I get the girls packed and ready for tomorrow. Then it’s lights out. We have been so used to enjoying the late nights in the City of Angels and then sleeping in that tomorrow’s alarm at 6:30am is going to be such a rude awakening.
Later on I’m lying in bed posting Googling information on Bangkok and posting Instagram photos when Steve contacts me via Messenger (what would we ever do without the Messenger app?) I answer and he just blurts out, “I’m a f*&^%$#! legend.”
Startled, I ask “So does that mean you get the visas printed?”
“Yes I’m a LEGEND. I’m drenched and it’s raining so much. I’m here having a beer at the place we had dinner.”
“Um Why?” I ask.
“The road is completely flooded up to my knees and I just can’t get back. Cars are stalling in the streets and the road is now a river!”
The instant downpour had flooded into the restaurant we were eating at earlier tonight prior to the downpour, and hours later sandbags surround its doorways to prevent any water damage. Sandbags seem to be readily available to all, so it’s customary downpours like this that the locals are ready for. It takes another 15 minutes until Steve returns to the apartment, and the water subsides pouring itself down the large gully traps that are located every 5-10 metres along the road and into the darkness of the underground city of Bangkok.
Steve’s wet all over but completely exhilarated at his little escapade. It’s after midnight and I just know we are going to be tired for our flight tomorrow to Da Nang. The Vietnam visa letter is here and it’s dry (thank goodness for plastic sleeves) and we are ready for our next adventure living in Hoi’An.
Steve and I chat into the night. What’s the point of trying to sleep when you just can’t turn off? I’m excited and strangely not tired. It’s been five years since our family visited Vietnam when we travelled from the north to the south via the train network. I can’t wait to return and neither can the kids.
FYI: I never realised this, but the name Bangkok when translated into its proper Thai name is the longest named city in the entire world. It holds the Guinness Book of records for its long name.
In Thai, Bangkok is often called Krung Thep Maka Nakhon, or just Krung Thep. However, the full name is: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Now that’s a mouthful!
Love you Bangkok 🙂