South East Asia was not originally on our list of destinations when we started planning this trip. However, on learning that Ruth’s son was going to get married in Melbourne in late November we decided to extend the trip and include a short visit to Vietnam and Cambodia rather than fly back to New Zealand only to turn around shortly afterwards and fly back to Melbourne.
When I investigated the visa requirements for both countries it was clear we could not arrange them prior to departure so I added four nights in Bangkok to give us the option of sorting out visas, if we had not managed to get them organised beforehand. As it turned out, we were able to arrange to apply for a visa on arrival in Vietnam (some pre-departure paperwork was required). An e-visa looked good for Cambodia, until we found out in Ireland that they were not accepted on the border crossing we were using but, we could just turn up and get a visa on arrival at that crossing.
So we ended up with “additional” time in Bangkok that we had not planned on having. Because of those original plans I had not done a great deal of research on what we should do and, the hotel, while handy for visa applications, was not so handy for many other attractions.
So the bigger attractions took a bit of a back seat and we mostly found other things to do that were a little closer to “home”. As always, the primary consideration was just soaking up a little bit of day-to-day life in Thailand.
The aspect of Thailand that struck us very early on, and that we experienced right through our stay, was how friendly the people were. After Greece and Turkey it was very refreshing to come across people who smiled and went out of their way to be helpful.
The tuk tuk drivers were the only really pushy characters we came across but it looked like a pretty hard way of earning your daily rice bowl given the numbers of them in the city . We did use one gent a couple of times and of course once under way he would advise us that he would take us to a “sponsors” outlet en route, “you don’t have to buy, just look, I get petrol voucher if you go”. Well we played along and actually found the places to be extremely good. While not interested in higher value jewellery, we learned a bit about the Thai version, it was all very exquisite. On the other hand, the clothing tailor was of interest as we had a need for some dressier clothes for the upcoming Melbourne wedding.
So we had an experience in getting some clothes made to fit and ticked off a pain point of Ruth’s (making sure we did not run out of opportunities before we got to Melbourne). We just created a short-term luggage problem which was solved by sending home our “warm” clothes which we should have no need of for the rest of the trip.
The tailors come with our highest recommendation, the quality was superb, the service and guidance was brilliant and after a couple of fittings it was all delivered in two days. We had a little bit of fun along the way and learned a little of their history which involved Nepal and Burma. Sunny was a great salesman but by his own reckoning not yet a top salesman as he failed to sell me something that I did not want. If you are heading to Bangkok and need some quality clothes, made to fit, look up Royal Boss Tailors. (Disclosure: I was not paid to say this).
The tuk tuk rides would probably have created white knuckles at the beginning of our travels but conditioned by our “ hair raising” road experiences in the Greek Islands we handled the manic weaving between traffic with amazing calm. I am finishing this post in Hanoi and the taxi ride from the airport made Bangkok traffic look serene but more on that in a later post.
We spent a couple of hours navigating the Chao Phraya river and some of the many canals in a boat that seemed to have a car engine mounted like an outboard. We really enjoyed the experience but keeping your mouth shut is recommended as you probably don’t want to accidentally swallow any of that water, getting it splashed all over you is bad enough. I did purchase an ice-cold beer from a river borne vendor whose shop was a small shallow boat. Given the heat it was one of the better cold drinks I have had for a long time.
We visited Jim Thompson’s House which we highly recommend as a great all round Thai experience but we bailed out of going to the Royal Palace when we saw the crowds and found that we were wearing inappropriate attire. We“ found” other places such as the Chatuchak weekend market which was on the scale of the grand bazaar in Istanbul but without the pushy vendors and was mainly sans tourists. We stumbled across the Chulalongkorn University which had some amazing architecture and stunning grounds but most of all we just had an amazing time experiencing a totally different culture as we wandered around the streets observing the people; the street vendors, the whistle blowing traffic wardens, security guards who salute the trains as they depart from each station, the people going about their lives in their canal front homes.
Security was very high-profile everywhere, we presume as a consequence of the bombing, scanners on all the major shopping centre entrances, train stations and, they were even doing mirror scans of the underside of cars entering hotels.
The few days in Bangkok turned out different to our original plans but a fantastic start to our South East Asian experience.