And so it has finally begun. In the weeks leading up to our flight, Karl and I could hardly believe that the date we’d had in our minds for so long was finally approaching. The plane journey felt surreal; I had had very little sleep the night before, and although I was so tired I struggled to sleep on the eleven hour flight. I kept checking the flight status map, watching the miniature plane draw closer to Thailand, struggling to comprehend how many miles we were travelling, and the fact that we wouldn’t be returning for a year.
When we arrived at Bangkok airport, we followed the advice of one of Karl’s friends to find a taxi which wasn’t waiting right outside the entrance of the airport, and it turned out to be much cheaper (240 baht, or around £4.60, for an hour long journey). The language barrier was a little tricky but we managed to communicate ‘grand palace’ and were dropped somewhere in its vicinity. After persuading countless numbers of over-friendly tuk-tuk drivers that we didn’t want a ride, we arrived, hot and sticky at Kho San Road. We had pre-booked Dang Derm Hotel for two nights, on the recommendation of Karl’s family who had visited before, because of its convenient location to the travel agencies and main attractions such as the Grand Palace. Although the area wouldn’t appeal to everyone, with it’s tattoo parlours, pounding bars with names such as ‘We don’t check ID card’ and cheap clothing stalls- it’s location was perfect for us as we weren’t anticipating ‘authentic Thailand’ at this point and it was easy to find a few nice restaurants – and banana pancakes! The hotel was also excellent value, with a lovely rooftop pool and extremely clean, well decorated rooms. We weren’t kept up at night by the music- although this may have only been a result of our lack of sleep over the previous few days.
On our first morning we woke late and tracked down a bakery we had spotted the day before. Although we were keen to experience authentic Thai cuisine at some point, the breakfast offerings seemed not to vary a great deal from any other meals, and we weren’t entirely sure we could handle rice or noodles as our first meal of the day. Instead, we filled up on pain au chocolats and coffee and headed off in search of a river tour. We opted for one on a traditional long boat, which weaved it’s way through the smaller canals past hundreds of rickety wooden homes on stilts with countless flower pots precariously lining their walls. The inhabitants waved enthusiastically as we passed, and we waved back as we took in the unexpected beauty in the dilapidated buildings, peeling colourful boats and murky green waters. We watched as sellers paddled their way from house to house, dispensing their wares to the homeowners with huge smiles and friendly chatter. The houses were interspersed haphazardly and unexpectedly with encrusted colourful temples housing orange-robed monks who also waved whenever boats passed. Although the ‘tour’ element of the trip extended only to a few incoherently mumbled sentences and insistent pointed fingers from our driver, this didn’t matter in the slightest and we happily drifted around without the faintest idea of our location or which bejewelled building we were admiring.
We were dropped off in a bustling market close to the Grand Palace, and took a while to wander between stalls of delicate fabrics, cooked insects and rainbow arrays of fruit. We bought a coconut to drink and watched it sliced open in front of us. The afternoon was humid and the air was thick, so we decided to try to avoid crowds and headed to Lumphini Park; a place I had read about in my guide app, Triposo. I love city parks and was drawn in by the thought of one in a tropical climate. It didn’t disappoint; within minutes of entering the park we saw a giant monitor lizard, exotic-looking birds and catfish in the waters. It was nice to escape the tourist bubble and begin to appreciate our distance from home.
The next day we had planned a flight from Bangkok to Krabi in order to visit a few of the southern islands. However, we had just about enough time in the morning before our flight to visit the Grand Palace. The photographs do it more justice than words, but still fail to convey the scale of the grandeur. Every way we looked we were greeted with glistening walls of gold and gems, and marvelled at the amount of time it must have taken to build, and must take to maintain. It was completely breathtaking, well worth a visit, and we left Bangkok entirely in awe of the city and it’s incredible contrasts.