So today was the day I had been a little nervous about – day one of meeting the group of people we would be travelling with for a whole month! Having been lucky on previous trips to have a good bunch of fellow travellers, I reminisced about the fun we had had. Would it be the same this time or would there be those that I didn’t get along with or simply did not like me? Would they be old or young, couples or singles? As is always the case with these things I needn’t have worried about it because there was a full mix of people and none of them had three heads!!
Not feeling a 100% this morning so only felt like some watermelon. Anthony kindly got a few snacks to take with us from the 7-11 next door: Pringles & non-salted raisins (yes I’ve had salted raisins before in China & Singapore).
Meeting the group started in a small conference room. We were one of the last to arrive and headed for some of the only seats left at the rear of the room. Luckily everyone was busy filling in the paperwork for travel insurance and to get our Laos visa, so no one really noticed us. Our tour leader Nat then provided us with the same paperwork and we settled down to locating various passport information and emergency contact details. Once everyone had arrived Nat introduced himself formally explaining that he was originally from Thailand but had spent time studying and working in England. He went on to say that he had worked for Exodus (the company we were travelling with) for approximately one year and would be with us for the full month with other local guides joining us along the way. He seemed friendly and knowledgeable so I felt content with this. He gave us a few details about what was coming up, a bit of advice about what to expect and a more detailed run down of the next few days. He then got each of us to introduce ourselves. It was difficult to remember everyone there but I’m sure we’ll pick up more names as the time goes on.
Heading out of the hotel we walked to the pier on the river Chao Phraya and boarded a long boat. It was great to have the wind rushing past us, to watch local people living along the banks of the river and to see temples spread along the way. We stopped outside one temple and were provided with loaves of bread to feed … Catfish!! Not what I was expecting but there they were. They fought past each other to devour it – ‘bread piranhas’ is what I named them.
Heading back down the river we saw the temple of the dawn: Wat Arun – which is Cambodian in style before getting off and walking through the hustle and bustle of life in Bangkok. Next stop: Wat Pho which is a temple complex where we learnt a lot about the Buddhist way of life:
– They wear orange robes in the city (red in rural areas);
– Younger monks are called novices;
– All Thai men can become a monk at the age of 20 for as long as they like to follow the Buddhist way of life;
– Women cannot touch a monk;
– Monks only eat a single meal a day, provided by the local community in exchange for alms;
– Monks cannot eat any substantial food after noon;
– You cannot point your feet towards Buddha;
– You must bow three times;
– It is good luck to walk clockwise rather than anti-clockwise;
– Monks rely on the food of others – called alms;
– They must spend time meditating, focusing on the here and now;
– How you behave in your current life will affect your rebirth in the next life.
Other than seeing the different architecture and statues we also saw the Reclining Buddha which was 46 m long and 15 m tall. Yet this isn’t the most amazing part, which is it’s made out of actual gold!
Following Wat Pho we headed along a market where you could buy anything from cassettes (how retro!) to gold jewellery (possibly fake). It was after this that we stopped for lunch. I think most of us were just happy to get out of the heat and into an air conditioned building. However, the look of the menu and smells of the other customers food meant I was soon hungry. We ordered (to share of course), sweet and sour chicken, beef in black pepper, steamed rice (again!) and some cold Pepsi. It was exactly what I needed!
After paying our bill of less than £6!! we headed over to the Royal Palace. Seems the rules have become a lot stricter than our guide originally realised and this meant us having to cover our legs to the ankles. Now I had a scarf/sarong which I wrapped around my legs but Anthony had to hire some terracotta red, baggy elephant trousers to wear over his shorts. After announcing to me that he would not be seen in a pair of baggy trousers this was hilarious. Though what was even more funny was how much they suited him – an opinion shared by everyone but that he would not admit to be true.
We walked round with our guide Nat who explained that the temple was built at the palace for the Royal Family to worship at. The golden stupa close to the entrance is said to be the home of The Lord Buddha’s ashes whilst the main temple houses the famous Emerald Buddha (although there is some controversy regarding ownership with Laos). We saw a model of the impressive Angkor Wat which we will explore in Cambodia and saw some of the official Royal residences and coronation rooms. It was strange to see some of the buildings, especially those built by the fifth king heavily influenced by British/French architecture, merged with Thai ornate roofs! We entered the Thai Royal weaponry collection at which point I exclaimed: “Oh look, my favourite lance!” and walked over to them. This was not because I knew anything about lances, but was purely to stand in front of a giant fan. Dried sweat – nice! At least I was a little cooler.
An interesting changing of the guard was watched before the weather turned more wet (a welcome relief!) and we left to return to our hotel using the famous Tuk Tuk as our method of transport. This was fun but the tripod design and madness of Thai driving (remember Wacky Races?) did cause me to wince on more than one occasion as we came very close to other drivers of varying sized vehicles. I really enjoyed it though – like an episode of Top Gear – plus it was something I have always wanted to do.
Back at the hotel we had a welcoming shower to wash off many layers of sweat and then re-packed our luggage again in preparation for an early start tomorrow (leaving the hotel at 5am!). Once dressed we met the rest of the group in the foyer for our first evening meal together. We ate at a restaurant called Villa Cha-Cha in the road adjacent to Khao San Road which served a good mix of Thai and Western dishes much to everyone’s delight with a range of dishes being selected by the group from Pizza to Yellow Thai curry. Anthony ordered Pad-Kra-Prao with steamed rice whilst I went for a noodle dish (with thick noodles as opposed to rice or egg noodles). Though the best bit was we shared the dishes as usual so you get to try twice as much which is great. Had a watermelon shake too – very refreshing.
Some of the group dispersed after the meal to go in search of lady-boys but this wasn’t our cup of tea and with the early start fixed in the back of our minds we wondered hand in hand along the hustle and bustle of Khao San Road one last time. Managed to get a postcard for Grandad and I to add to our respective collections. Then Anthony helped me haggle for a new t-shirt (like those I had from Camden Market – though this one is not only made in Thailand but brought in Thailand too). One final pack back at the hotel and three 4am alarms were set before we decided to crash out for the evening. Off to Chiang Rai tomorrow!
Claire & Anthony