Soon after planning our holiday travelling to 4 parts of south-east Asia over three weeks, I wrote a post titled “A Time to Travel…”. It was here I stated how I wanted see more of the countries that we visit on a more personal level instead of ‘window shopping’ through the safety of a 4 star hotel lobby. I planned this trip with that in mind but with still some element of safety based on our lack of travel experience. I couldn’t bring myself to stay in hostels due to the fact I just don’t like sharing a room with someone I don’t know. As a travelling couple not on a tight budget, it seemed an unnecessary stress. Instead we stayed in hotels but made sure they were local run facilities and not chain hotels and we even ventured as far as staying in a family run home stay in Vietnam for 2 nights.
Although my intentions may seem still very much reserved to the well-travelled, as a nervous traveller, this was a huge leap outside of my comfort zone. In the lead up to our departure to Bangkok, I realised that staying in unfamiliar settings and lesser known hotels would make me feel extremely vulnerable and would cause an overwhelming feeling of anxiety to hit me the morning of our first flight. I often feel mildly anxious before flying on any holiday but this level of anxiety was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was a constant feeling of worry and a heavy feeling on my heart with mild nausea that I could not shake. All the negative things I had read about Thailand and Bangkok was all I could focus on, the taxi scams, the fact that you can’t drink the water or flush the toilet roll down the toilet. The dirt, smell and the fact that I wasn’t sure what I could eat and whether it would make me ill. What would I do if I got ill in Thailand? Of course in hind sight this is very irrational but a common side effect of anxiety is not often rational thinking. I’m not going to lie, I found the 6 hour flight hard and it seriously put into doubt whether I would be able to handle the rest of the trip… three whole weeks!
However we arrived at Don Muang Airport and progressed through immigration and baggage check problem free. We headed to the taxi station where you waited for a regulated taxi driver whilst reading signs about metre rules clearly posted all over the windows. I have to admit, that this eased my anxiety considerably and we got into our taxi with a nice taxi driver quite quickly. He drove us across the city to our local run hotel called ‘Hotel Once’ located in a quiet area by the river right next to the Ramada Hotel. The taxi arrived within the vicinity to our hotel within 40 minutes but whilst trying to look for the building, drove straight into the back of the car in front. We were driving very slowly around a car park looking for the hotel so no one was harmed but to say it was mildly awkward would have been an understatement. As we were so close, we paid the driver and left him to sort out the accident whilst we carried on, on foot. After more walking than anticipated in a number of directions (no internet or Google maps!!) we finally arrived and checked in but not the greatest start for easing my anxiety.
Hotel Once is a relatively unknown and small hotel but it is beautifully decorated and maintained. Our bedroom was massive and well air-conditioned.
We decided to explore the local street so we could get our bearings and bought some water from a local 7/11. It was clear from our short walk that we were not based in a tourist area and so not wanting to push myself too far we had dinner at the hotel’s roof top restaurant and had an early night.
The rooftop restaurant was called ‘Top Knot’ and it was very nice, decorated with fairy lights that complemented the Bangkok skyline.
That first night we discovered that even though the hotel was small and well designed, unfortunately the walls were very thin and if you just happen to have a party boy staying in the room next door, then you will hear everything until the party ends. For us this was around 4am. We did try to contact the front desk but it was a young lad who called the room to turn the music off but then ignored the phone the second time about the loud voices continuing well into the early morning.
Needless to say the next morning, I was not feeling excited and eager to explore the city. I was increasingly nervous and worried but I battled through and by late morning we were heading down the main street to a local temple which doubled up as a port for the river boat. There we could get a boat straight up the river to the famous temples Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
There are a number of boats that operate up and down the river but we opted for the orange boat, mainly because it was the first boat to come along. The ramp leading to the boat was uneasy and the ‘stop boy’ who kept hopping on and off the boat with the rope, shouted at us to hurry. We practically dived on after a small group of young monks dressed in their orange robes and found a seat amongst the locals. A woman, who was collecting the fare, asked for 30 baht total and when spotting us scrutinising our map a little too much, helped us to identify the stop we were looking for.
As each stop passed more and more tourists joined us, particularly as we passed the fancier hotels such as the Hilton and the Sheraton. It wasn’t long until the peak of Wat Arun could be seen and this was where almost every tourist disembarked and we headed straight for the ticket office. 50 baht entrance fee was reasonable and we spent a good few hours exploring the site. Wat Arun is very different to any other temple we have seen. Living in Japan we have become accustomed to a particular style of temple often made out of wood painted red or brown but Wat Arun appears to be ceramic. It is a creamy white colour and intricately decorated.
For 4 baht each, we crossed the river to Wat Pho. This side of the river was much busier and full of hawkers selling their wares. This temple is also more expensive costing 100 baht each and they were pretty strict about the dress code of tourists. Luckily we were prepared for this and it didn’t cause us any problems but there was an unbelievable amount of elephant print baggy trousers and sarongs floating around. Clearly many people were not aware and had to make an emergency buy from the same shop.
Even though Wat Arun is beautiful there is much more to see and explore at Wat Pho and I can see why the entrance fee is more. Beside the rather large and impressive reclining Buddha, there are numerous places to explore and the colours are incredible.
By this point it was hot, humid and late afternoon so we decided to head back over to Wat Arun to catch the orange boat back to our local temple port.
It was a lovely day that I thoroughly enjoyed and it certainly went a long way to realising that not everything is as bad as it seems. Yes the streets are not clean but they are not dirty either, they are just different. In England or Japan it is rare to have food made and sold out on the street. If they do, in either country, it is usually done in a tent or cart that hides the mess and the rubbish because these countries have strict regulations that food vendors have to follow. In Thailand there is not cart or tent to hide the food waste or the mess and therefore it looks dirty but there is a much more community feel because of it. People sit around these stalls on plastic chairs and stools, drinking, chatting and having fun any day of the week. Everyone seems to know each other and that is something England and Japan seem to have lost somewhere a long the way unless you do it yourself, by having a BBQ.
The next day we had an early flight to Singapore. We were thankful that our party boy neighbour had either checked out or was a one night wonder because I had a really peaceful night’s sleep (Rob however stayed up to watch England lose against Croatia – don’t think it was worth the 1am kick off because of the time difference).
To be honest I couldn’t really relax in Bangkok and as we were in the taxi to the airport I felt a mixture of relief and excitement for Singapore and sadness that I hadn’t really given Thailand a chance. Not drinking the water was never an issue as bottled water was easily available. I quickly got used to not flushing toilet roll down the toilet and utilising the hand-held spray gun, which is just a less practical version of the Japanese toilet seat sprays. I never got ill and the food turned out to be delicious. Therefore I cannot decide whether I struggled with the extreme culture shock or if I just do not like big cities, however, as we moved from one country to the next on our three-week trip, the answer to that question seemed to be both but leaning more towards extreme ‘initial’ culture shock. I think my experience in Bangkok suffered simply because it was the first stop on our trip. Had we visited towards the end, I think my experience would have been very different. I suppose that maybe a reason to go back one day!
Next stop… Singapore.