Sunday was the reason we were sticking around in Bangkok. Our vacation needed as much island time, and thus sun, as possible, but Sunday was Chinese New Year, and in Thailand there was only one place to be - Chinatown. Yes, this is the same as in a lot of places around the world, but part of the reason we had come to Thailand in the first place was because we had Monday off for the Lunar celebration, so were only using up four vacation days instead of five. Also, I thought it would be interesting to see how Chinese New Year was celebrated by a country which I never assumed would have a large Chinese expatriate group.
Speaking to people in the hostel, we found that pretty much everyone in our place was going down together. That left us the day to see the tourist traps, and in Bangkok there is one place which soars above all others in terms of must-see importance - the Grand Palace.
I had been to the Palace before; I went there with my family in 2007. However, at that time there was a lot of renovation taking place, so this time I would be seeing the finished article. Well, I hoped. It was only a twenty minute walk from our hostel, so we decided to get food and then head over with two of Kelly's friends she met on her recent trip to Taiwan, who had arrived in Bangkok overnight.
So the two of us walked around to find some Thai food. Thai food has a lot of hype attached to it, and although I have had it before, I hadn't had cheap, local stuff. The difference between travelling with your family and doing a backpacking trip on a tight budget is stark. When I was here last time, the toilet had a flush. On this morning, without being too graphic, the toilet became clogged, and i had to twirl a branch around to, well, unclog it. How I had an appetite after that I don't know.
Whilst trying to find food we got approached by a Thai man who spoke English, and started asking us where we wanted to go. We're not stupid, we know the scams and how many Thai people work together to rip off foreigners. That may come across as harsh, and their numbers are small in comparison to the numerous lovely Thai people we met, but naivety gets punished out here. We told him we were going to walk to the Palace at some point in the day, at which point he told us it was closed. You'd think someone would tell these guys that 99.9% of people know how this scam works, but they keep at it. He waved over a tuk tuk, the open air and slightly dangerous taxis, that was driving past. The driver then started offering to take us places. Could he take us to the restaurant about 20 metres away that we were heading to? We said we would get some food and then think about it, as a way of nicely telling him to pester someone else.
Persistence is obviously something tuk tuk drivers have in spades. Upon leaving the little cafe where we ate, we turned the corner to find...yeah, you know. Korean people aren't this persistent! Leave me alone tuk tuk man! We tell him the truth, that we are going back to find our friends, and he offers to take us there in his machine. Even down those neighbourhood alleys that a tuk tuk physically cannot fit down (though I'm sure he would have tried). He got a bit moody, as he had been waiting for us to finish. Not that we knew, cared, or wanted him to.
In the meantime I had got some tom yam soup. This is pretty famous for being hot. Very hot. A good way to wake me up, I thought. What I got was really nice, even the broccoli (have THAT mum, I've eaten broccoli and liked it) and other vegetables in it, but it wasn't proper tom yam. It was creamy and mild. Still, any disappointment was taken away by the taste and the price - 60 baht (I worked on 50b to £1 when I was there).
We picked up Kelly's friends, Tiffany and Lilly, and also a Canadian girl called Jessica, and then walked over. It was very hot, but was a nice walk. Me and Lilly got harassed into throwing birdseeds by an old couple, who proclaimed it was free as it was New Year. We knew it wouldn't be, but decided to see what would happen. We threw it around, and they duly demanded 20 baht. Lilly argued until they probably got scared to talk to her anymore. I offered them a coin out of my pocket, a 2 baht coin, and the guy probably swore at me in Thai and then stormed off. We scammed the scammers, excellent.
The palace wasn't cheap, but we persuaded each other that it was worth doing. What added to the cost was the 200 deposit we had to put down for clothes. Excessive skin isn't really allowed to be on show in the Palace grounds. Last time we were all prepared, but this time we took the clothes they offered. I feel I look like JD out of Scrubs, but also feel that the girls looked funnier. Saved us all from getting sunburnt though, so every cloud.
It is a fantastic place, and worth going if you ever get the chance. I felt so content, at peace with life, as I was walking around. It has this strange, beautiful ambiance to it. We behaved ourselves as well, with the exception of me and Lilly trying to disturb the guard from his pose by openly talking about stealing his gun from him, and then pulling funny faces. It didn't work, but I got the impression from him that he would have happily turned his gun on me if he were allowed. We also saw the most adorable infant that is roaming our planet. Just have a look for yourselves. So so cute.
After the Palace we walked over to Wat Pho, which hosts the Reclining Buddha. This was something I hadn't seen, but after spending a lot of time walking around similar, and more aesthetically pleasing, buildings, I was nonplussed about seeing it. Kelly was the only one who paid the 50 baht entrance fee. We then found out that they weren't checking tickets, so the rest of us went in for free. It is big and shiny, and quite an impressive sight. I was getting more satisfaction out of the coconut shake I had purchased just before. First of many, that.
We headed back, via the markets and then Kho San Road. We spent a while looking at the funny T-shirts and then all plumped for the street vendor version of Thailand's national dish - pad thai. It's cooked in a wok in front of you, and is a combination of noodles, beansprouts, greens, egg and one other ingredient, usually chicken or prawn. It was sold on Kho San for 30 baht, which is just ridiculous. If I were teaching out here I would eat it every day, without fail. It's so good. Remembering the lack of spice in my tom yam, I tipped a large amount of chillies and chilli powder onto my pad thai. It didn't need it. That was explosive.
Most of the tourist stuff had been accomplished in one day, meaning we could peace out of Bangkok down to paradise the following day. But first it was onto the evening, and bringing in the year of the tiger...
Love you all