Everyone who knows I live in China is always surprised to learn that I’d never visited Southeast Asia – up until now I had always been more preoccupied with exploring the mainland and Korea / Japan. I decided to put this straight and during the Chinese New Year holidays and managed to get some cheap tickets to Bangkok in Thailand.
Arriving late on a Saturday night I headed straight to my accommodation in the Phaya Thai (พญาไท) district and had a quick bite for dinner. The next morning I took the BTS Skytrain (Bangkoks elevated rapid transit system) to Ratchathewi station (ราชเทวี – when pronounced sounds a lot like ratatouille!) in search of the Khlong Saen Saeb canal.
The surrounding neighbourhood here seemed to be a bit run-down but there were some interesting old houses along the canal bank and some particularly cryptic looking graffiti.
An express canal boat service operates on the Saen Saeb, providing fast and inexpensive (if a somewhat smelly) transportation through traffic-congested central Bangkok. I hopped on at Sapan Hua Chang and stayed on till the terminal stop of Panfa Leelard – be sure not to dawdle when boarding/disembarking since these guys don’t hang about!
The service has a checkered reputation, due to the polluted water in the Khlong and the haphazard nature in which the service is operated. The boats are equipped with little curtains to prevent you getting splashed by the dirty water but that doesn’t help the ticket collectors who clamber around on the outside of the boat, ducking at bridges, as it barrels down the canal at full speed!
Check out my short video below to get an idea of what the journey is like:
My intended destination Wat Saket and the Golden Mount (ภูเขาทอง) in Eastern Rattanakosin, a short distance by foot from the canal. This Buddhist temple contains an artificial hill within its compound with nice views over the city.
A spiral staircase of 318 steps leads from the ground to a terrace and shrine-room with a string of bells along the way for pilgrims to sound.
Although there were a fair few people wandering around, the atmosphere was calm and the terrace made for a perfect platform to take in the panoramic view of the city, which is fairly flat and devoid of any huge skyscrapers.
The golden cone on top of the mount is technically called a chedi (เจดีย์) and many can be seen all over the city. They contain Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha (in this case purportedly coming all the way from India).
The view from the other side.
A short distance away between Wat Suthat and the city hall, is the Giant Swing (เสาชิงช้า), a huge red frame that was used in an annual ceremony where teams of young men would try to swing high enough to retrieve a sack of coins that was tied to a pole about 25 metres high in the air. The ceremony has been banned since 1932, as many people got injured or died trying. Shame!
When crossing the road in Bangkok be sure to make sure you’re not in the path of one these three-wheeled devils; a tuk-tuk (ตุ๊กตุ๊ก – pronounced “took-took”) which sounds a lot like its name. More on these in a later post.
Walking around the streets nearby you can find many shops containing religious paraphernalia and various handicrafts. If your legs are feeling tired you might want to take a rest in the nearby Rommaninat Park but be sure not to lie down on the grass or a grumpy police officer might tell you off!
I had lunch in a small cafe/restaurant next to the city hall which was open on one side to the street.
The food wasn’t much to talk about but the Thai ice milk tea (ชาเย็น) was excellent. Similar to Hong Kong it’s made from strongly brewed black tea sweetened with sugar and condensed milk then served chilled.
In the afternoon I headed north to visit Chatuchak Weekend Market (จตุจักร) which sits on an enormous site covering over 35 acres and contains upwards of 8,000 stalls. Unless you like shopping in hot crowded conditions then you might want to give this a miss – a far better bet would be to visit the Talad Rot Fai Train Market nearby that runs during the evening at weekends (see the link for details).