Okay, so you could argue that yesterday was our first day here but, given that this is the first day we woke up in Bangkok (not on an aircraft) we’re counting today as Bangkok Day 1 of 2.
Having gone to bed early to ward off the effects of jet lag, we awoke today at a reasonable time (0800) and slowly got ready and went down to our first experience of Thai breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We had no firm plan for today but, from the moment we left our hotel room until the end of the day, our experiences taught us (especially me!) a lot about Far East – particularly Bangkok – culture and lifestyle.
In honour of this being the 28th day of the month, here are the 28 things that we learnt today:
1. Chicken comes in all shapes and guises. Breakfast was surprisingly cosmopolitan with the usual (toast and chocolate shreddies) to the continental (croissants with jam or cheese) to the downright bizarre (spaghetti bolognese, tomato soup or sweet and sour chicken with rice!). Being a Halal-friendly hotel, there was no pork on offer so meats available consisted of chicken sausage and chicken ham (I found this particularly perturbing given I think of ham as being a form of pork, not a way of serving!).
2. Rice is served with everything. Rice for breakfast, as a snack, lunch or dinner but is a steal at less that 40p a bowl!!
4. The Highway Code is more of a guideline than a set of rules. Like in the UK, vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road. This really is where the similarity ends though. Crossing the road is an exercise in taking your life into your own hands and being brave enough to walk out into the traffic and using the hand to persuade the approaching vehicle not to run you over (Claire tells me that the same rules applied in Malaysia so this may be a wider SE Asia thing – only time will tell!). Using crossings at traffic lights doesn’t really improve things either as whole streams of vehicles will flagrantly ignore red lights especially when the countdown clocks (which I really like) get to less than 10 seconds left – then it’s every man for himself! (think Wacky Races, only for real).
5. Pavements are no pedestrian haven. For the pavements not covered by street vendors or extended shopfronts, the other thing to be very aware of is the mopeds that routinely shortcut across them – either to park up or simply for a matter of convenience.
6. Physics can be a form of art. No, seriously…over here it can! I have no other way to explain the madness which is the local transformer and electricity networks that provide electricity to the myriad of buildings around the city. The photograph shows just one example of the spaghetti network that seems to pervade every city street and it isn’t uncommon for these electrical wires to be within arms reach as you traverse the streets.
7. Bangkok has “The Longest Royal Capital’s Name of the World”. Bangkok was formed as the new capital for the ancient Kingdom of Siam and was named officially as “the city that is very large like the city of angels, houses the Emerald Buddha; has prosperity and stable beauty; abundant with the pleasant nine gems; has numerous royal grand palaces; and is a fairy abode created on the earth by Thao Sakka Thewarat Witsanukam for the incarnated divinities”.
8. There seems that are as many temples in Bangkok as there are churches in Malta (see our Malta blog to understand what this means).
9. There are different grades of temples in Bangkok: we came across Grades 1 to 3 (hopefully, more will be revealed in our first guided day tomorrow).
10. B&Q hasn’t made it to Bangkok yet – you would literally need to go to a different shop for each “project” you had. There are people fixing/making just about anything you can think off and mostly right out on the pavement in open-fronted shops.
11. Streets seem to have themes but to compare the prices of something you like you wouldn’t have to go far! Examples include gun street (are they even legal here?), the ring street (linked to the gold street) and even the generator/motor street (Fleming would love it here!).
12. ACDC. Not the band but a full shop window containing analogue ammeters, voltmeters, ohmmeters and various other devices for working in alternating and digital circuits. Why would we take a picture of this?…because we are Physics teachers and we can use it in our teaching. Plus some of the stuff looks ancient, but still not as old as those we have at school!
13. Beware of preconceptions. One of our aims today was to find the Chinatown region of Bangkok, famed for its gold shop and other street front vendors. I must confess to being initially disappointed with what we found as it was more a collection of Chinese shops (especially gold shops) and not what I was expecting. As we were walking back, I realised that it was my expectation of what a Chinatown should like that was the problem. I was basing it on the Chinatowns of London, Manchester and Birmingham which are set up for tourists with restaurant and tacky souvenir shops. This however was a real China town, where Chinese people live and sell their wares for the Chinese community. This was a warning shot for me that I mustn’t approach this trip with preconceptions as they’re often based on a poor foundation of incomparable experiences.
14. The surreal can be normal. Whilst walking around Chinatown in the pouring rain, we elected to find a suitable shelter and source of drinks. We came across the Yesterday Tea Room. Stepping into here was like stepping back in time: traditional British popular music from the 50s, 60s and 70s; the walls were adorned in framed posters advertising recruitment for the US Army and Navy and Imperial Airways flights to Cairo, Baghdad and Kharachi and the menu offered from English tea and coffee to scones and jam!! That said, it did serve the regular (coke of course!) and offered free WiFi which we used greedily to determine our exact location (confirming that my map skills hadn’t been lost on coming to Thailand!) and plan our route back to the hotel.
15. Thai McDonalds is similar to regular McDonalds. On walking back, Claire’s extreme metabolism kicked in again and she became very hungry very quickly (it was after 1300 so this isn’t unusual for anyone). We were at the Democracy Memorial in Central Bangkok and found a McDonalds next to it which we decided to make use of. Now, the purists amongst you may criticise us for travelling 10,000 km or more to only go and use a McDonalds on the first day but from Claire’s experience from China shows these little snippets of Western cuisine can be both rare and invaluable. Going inside, it was the same menu (albeit with lots of rice available!) and similar prices to the UK. Also, a double Cheeseburger meal tastes just as good as it does at home.
16. Thai people are friendly and helpful. Always with a smile and eager to help tourists (even when not asked!) and share their advice and recommendations.
19. A swimming pool can provide the best view in town. Our hotel swimming pool that we used on return from our wandering provided unparalleled views of the surrounding streets.
20. European men wear speedos and British men don’t.
21. Thai candy isn’t real candy. Given my penchant for sweet foods, I decided to purchase some local sweets (given that these are significantly cheaper than foreign imports). To play safe, I got strawberry and watermelon flavours, neither of which tasted of the flavour that they suggested (although watermelon was nicer).
22. Green Thai Curry can be super spicy. I ordered this as our mild option and it nearly blew Claire’s socks off! (Just reading through with my editor-in-chief cap on and would like to point out that I wasn’t wearing any socks, but my tongue did go numb!)
23. Your pound goes a long, long way. With an exchange rate of £1=55 Thai Bhat, it is easy to get a meal for two with soft drinks for less than £10, including a hefty tip for the waitress.
24. They sell Claire’s ‘Made in Thailand’ t-shirts everywhere – though I bet for a lot less than she paid!!
25. You can literally wear anything you like and fit in here. Though you won’t catch me in a pair of baggy pants!!
26. I write too much in blog entries and mustn’t do this again!
27. I write too much in blog entries and mustn’t do this again!
28. I write too much in blog entries and mustn’t do this again!!
Anthony & (with much ridicule!!) Claire