MP3 track of the day: These boots were made for walking -Nancy Sinatra
Weather: nice and cool in the morning and in the evening, however it got very hot in the middle of the day with little cloud for protection.
I turned over and reached for where I had put my watch. Reading the clock face, eyes half open, I was shook into action when my watch read 9:15am … I wanted an early start today! I got out of bed, got ready (which included a quick dip in the freezing cold shower), and then looked at my watch again now fully awake … 8:15am, oh good.
I went downstairs to reception to inquire about the cost of breakfast; it was quite expensive and looking at it there wasn't much I wanted. Instead I opted to visit the local 'Seven-Elven' for a banana cake, bottle of water and a large packet of crips. I munched as I went on my way to the river front.
Most of Bangkok's main tourist sites lie on the river front (and if you think about it, so do most cities) and so does my guesthouse, just a lot further down the river. Luckily there's a river ferry that runs very frequently (though it does stop at 6pm) and only costs fourteen baht (20p) per trip, no matter how far you travel. I boarded the boat and we traveled up the 'Chao Phraya River' towards the Grand Palace; all was going well and the views from the boat were lovely. The boat was packed, there certainly weren't enough life jackets for all (so I strategically positioned myself near some … just encase) but due to being early in the morning it was a breezy and cool trip. I was however a little worried that, due to arriving at the dock just as the boat pulled in, I hadn't paid for my ticket. I spoke to a French couple and they said that you purchase your ticket on-board, and so it came to pass.
I saw the towering white walls of the palace before the boat docked; once off I followed the sea of tourists around 1/3 of the grand palace to the entrance gate. I was wearing my knee-length shorts which, I thought, would be fine to get me into the palace as I had been wearing these when I went into 'Wat Traimit' yesterday …
… no, they weren't fine. Apparently I had to wear full length trousers. I was however allowed into the courtyard of the grand palace and so I took a few sneaky photos and saw the changing of the guard. I also checked out the price of admission which was 350 baht (£7) which I thought was very expensive indeed. I found a place that I could borrow something to cover my legs however I wasn't sure about the admission price, I decided to move on and have a think about it.
Next stop was 'Wat Pho', the temple that housed the worlds largest reclining Buddha. At fifty baht for admission it was well priced; I paid my money to a lovely lady in the ticket office and went in (no problems with the shorts here!). The grounds of 'Wat Pho' where quite extensive and there were many statues, monuments and pillars to feast ones eyes on before evening seeing Buddha himself. The temple was extremely beautiful and around every corner was a photo opportunity. I eventually arrived at the building that housed this forty-five meter long monster; I took my shoes off and followed the crowds paying close attention to the location of my wallet (there were signs all around the temple telling tourists to be aware of 'non-Thai' pick-pockets … shouldn't I be aware of the Thai pick-pockets as well?). The Buddha was pretty cool, and huge! It took me a while to get all the way around him due to the crowds taking forever to do the circuit. Once out I put my shoes back on and headed out, past the lovely lady within the ticket office.
My next port of call was 'Wat Arun', a Khmer style temple that is, apparently, Bangkok's most famous building. As it was located across the river I took the boat there for a closer look; I didn't pay the fifty baht entrance fee however, and instead I just stood at the perimeter gazing up (the fifty baht let you climb the stairs up the temple sides and not actually inside it as you can't … seeing that it was really hot I didn't fancy paying to get even sweatier). I didn't stay long and I was soon back on the boat heading for the main part of Bangkok.
Due to not going into the Grand Palace I had done everything I had planned to do today … and it was only 12pm. I therefore decided to look at things that I had planned to do tomorrow so that I could free up tomorrow to go to the grand palace. First up was the National Museum.
It was a long, hot, hard walk to the museum; my guide book stated that it should cost me fifty baht to enter however, once there, a sign said 200! I ummed and arred asking myself 'was this something I really wanted to do?' the answer, of course, was no. Before leaving the museum grounds I went into the cafe to have a Pepsi; once there I got chatting to a lady from Belgium who's English was superb. What's more it seems as though she knows a thing or two about Belgian chocolate and so she gave me the names of two chocolate companies that I had to try when I go back to Brussels … it all sounded good.
After our chat she went into the museum and I went to see the final thing circled within my guidebook in this area, the Royal Barge Museum. Located on the other side of the river, the Royal Barge museum held, funnily enough, the Royal Barges. My guidebook stated that it would only cost thirty baht to enter (plus 100 baht for a camera license … looks like I won't be taking any photos then!) and so I went in search of this museum. For once the museum was very well signed, which was good as at one point I had to turn off a main road and walk down this lane. The best way I can describe where I found myself would be a possible site location for the slum in 'Slumdog Millionaire'; there was houses built out of rubbish on either side of this narrow path, there where dogs lying around and I dread to think what was in the water that flowed past these houses … all-in-all I didn't like where I found myself and so I quickened my pace.
I finally made it to the museum to find out that it was 100 baht to enter and 200 baht for a compulsory camera license. Again I asked myself if I really wanted to have a look, the answer was no; as I left to go back the way I had come (sharpish) I did get a quick glimpse inside and it looked okay. I got back to the main road in record time and with a sigh of relief. I decided to get the water ferry all the way back to my guesthouse as I still couldn't find anywhere for lunch (plus I had been to everywhere that I wanted to go today). As I made my way to the ferry dock I stopped, double-taked, and saw a British red London bus … just sitting on a drive way ... I took a photo.
The boat ride was lovely and again I went past sites along the water front heading back to my guesthouse. I wasn't sure which peer I had got on so, to play it safe, I got off a stop or two early and walked the rest of the way to my accommodation. Once at my guesthouse I immediately sat down for food; I was really hungry, and the menu looked delicious, and not too expensive. I decided that I would push the boat out; firstly I ordered my main meal of 'sweet and sour' chicken with rice (normally I don't go for 'sweet and sour' however this looked, and was, delicious) and a glass of orange juice. I decided that I would eat this and, if I was still hungry, I would order an appetizer of spring rolls (slightly the wrong way around but still) for a dessert thing.
I ate my mains and I was still hungry, the problem was that there were no staff around. I gave up waiting to order my spring rolls and just paid for my meal, my next stop was the train station and so I would pick something up on-route. I dropped my bag off in my room and went towards the train station.
There was a lady singing in the air-conditioned railway station; onstage she had ten, or twelve, young Thai ladies in very short skirts … I watched for a while before finding the 'train information' office. Now last night I had googled 'River kwai day tours' and found that one particular website (www.themaninseat61.com) advertised a tour that the Thai train company ran … it actually took you across the bridge. It ran on weekends only and it should cost around 200 baht … though this is only transport and there are no guides.
I went up to the information office only to have the wind knocked out of my sails; I was told that the trip wasn't happening this weekend due to the holidays and that the next trip was the 8th January 2011 … I couldn't wait in Bangkok another ten days for this trip … I was a little gutted. The only good news was that the train to Chang Mai (my next stop) leaves from this station and the times look pretty good (there is a 8:30am train that arrived in Chang Mai at 8:30pm). It was pretty cheap to boot. I didn't book anything as I need to get a trip to the River Kwai sorted first … I left the train station with my head held a little low.
The Bridge over the river Kwai, apart from Elephant trekking this was one of the only things that I wanted to see in South East Asia, let alone Thailand. I ummed and arred my options; I could just go for the tour offered at my guesthouse … but at 1,800 baht (plus you have to visit a tiger temple and a market) it didn't sound that good and time would be short. I could get the bus to Kanchanaburi (where the bridge is) myself and stay there a couple of days; however there is no public transport, that I know of, to the Bangkok south bus station and so it could be another 300 baht taxi ride just to look at buying a ticket. Add onto that accommodation, which looks expensive, (at least 700 baht per night) and this option was even less inviting than the first. After a little while I decided to head to another guesthouse I had researched, encase the one that I am staying in was full, to see if they did tours. It was quite a walk away but I thought that as I walked I might find a travel operator … and I did!
'Prasertsri Tours' the office was called; I opened the two big glass doors in front of me to be greeted by a very happy looking lady (well of course she was looking happy, I was a potential customer). I don't know why but at that point in time I came over all 'Yorkshire' ... I told her “...Look I don't want any of your fancy floating markets, tiger temples melarky … I just want a day trip to the bridge over the river kwai...”. 'No problem' she said and she pulled out a folder, turned the pages to 'Bridge over the River Kwai day tour', and I had a read.
It all seemed good; early pick up of 6:30am – 7:00am and a late finish of 7:30pm. In the middle of the day a train ride over the bridge, access to the cemeteries, the museum and lunch … all sounded good, apart from the price ... 1,500 baht! Again I ummed and arred and asked myself if I 'really wanted to go' … the answer was yes. However as I questioned myself the lady gave me a 'special price of 1,200 baht' to which I replied '...1,000 and you have a deal!...'. There we were, across this small table an experienced British traveler versus a young lady who had spent her entire life ripping off foreigners. We settled at 1,100 baht.
I walked away from the office satisfied; sure it had cost a little bit more than the trip offered by the train company, however this one had an English speaking guide and lunch. There was however a worry (what's new); the trip I had booked was on the 1st January (so no partying for me) and it wasn't from my guesthouse … so I hoped the mini-van driver could find me. Also what's to stop them not turning up, do I have a leg to stand on … they could just lie and say that I wasn't ready on time. It was a risk worth taking I thought and no tour I've booked so far hasn't happened … touch wood.
I headed back to my guesthouse for a meal and an early night. Tomorrow back to the Grand Palace (as I think I will have a look around, even though it's expensive) and then off to Vimanmek Palace, another palace far away from the grand one however entry price is included on my grand palace ticket. After that I'll head back to my guesthouse to prepare for the trip to the river kwai the following day and also to have a chilled out afternoon. My tour happens on the 1st January and so on the 2nd, if everything went to plan, I shall look at booking a train ticket to Chang Mai for the 3rd January. I am looking forward to leaving Bangkok, it's too busy for me even though there is a lot to do; its also quite poor ... it makes Kuala Lumpur look positively brand new (which was quite a shock when I first arrived as, with Thailand's booming tourist scene, I was expecting Thailand to be richer than Malaysia)..
Must remember to wear trousers tomorrow.