Feeling great after a good sleep on a comfortable bed (unlike my bed in Singapore, which has one leg missing, and you wake up near-paralysed after lying on a steel spring from the mattress all night) we got dressed and headed down to the buffet-style breakfast. Crystal and I can both eat for England, and we tucked into everything we could see, including delicious omelettes, washed down with cups of warm,sweet tea.
Refreshed and full, we left the hotel and hopped into a taxi which took us to the Chao Phraya river. We got a boat taxi to Grand Palace stop, which is a pleasant ride along the muddy river, passing stilt dwellings that sit in front of modern skyscrapers, all manner of water vehicles, and providing a wonderful view of the Bangkok skyline. As long as you avoid the touts promising trips to the ‘fish farm’ for 1000 Baht, you can catch the boat taxi for about 12 Baht to many prominent sights in Bangkok. The taxis are efficient and timetabled, and they actually arrive on time. Monks clad in orange robes were also riding the water taxi, and they have an area set aside specially for them on the boat. Inevitably, they have the best views.
We got off the boat taxi at the Grand Palace stop and proceeded to the Palace on foot, ignoring the usual fake warnings from locals of: ‘Palace closed…..can’t go’. I’ve never understood quite why locals don’t want you to visit the main attractions of the city. Some of them have other motives: if you look doubtful and hesitiate then they have time to deliver a convincing sales pitch, and before you know it you’ll be in the back of a tuk-tuk being taken on a forced tour of gem and suit shops. Others just seem happy to tell you everything is closed. Ignoring them, we continued to the Palace. We paid the entrance fee, and I had to change into a pair of brown pants to cover my legs. The Grand Palace certainly impressed. Established in 1782 and comprising the royal residence an throne halls, as well as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the grounds make for a pleasant and interesting few hours. After entering, we walked to the Upper Terrace, a beautiful golden structure that provides a classic postcard shot. Around the reliquary is a miniature Anchor Wat, and statues of elephants and other mythical beings. After this we strolled around taking in the beautiful golds and greens, the Mondop, where sacred Buddhist scriptures are inscribed on palm leaves, before moving to the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha. For Crystal, this was a spiritual journey, and she made sure to pray at every Buddha image we saw, providing tourists with photo opportunities that one praying does not always welcome, especially as she refuses to be photographed next to an image of a Buddha. The Emerald Buddha sits upon a golden thrown, and is carved out of green jade. It is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand, and Crystal duly paid her respects while I tried my best to wrap my inflexible limbs underneath me so as to avoid pointing my feet towards the Buddha – a grave act of disrespect.
We took out time in strolling around, witnessed a changing of the guard, and then we headed for a walk down to the famous Wat Po. Here we saw the iconic image of the Reclining Buddha – a huge golden Buddha looking very chilled out indeed – even more so than Buddha’a usually look. After this we were Buddha’d out, so we had a massage in the temple grounds – as this is also a training school for Thai massage. This was the first of many wonderful massages we got. Our feet and bodies soothed, we then managed to find a boat taxi station after stopping to buy some doughy street snacks. We got the boat taxi up the river to Khao San Road – the start of many a backpacker’s journey through Asia, and the place where you can see more weird and wonderful backpackers than Thais. What a place! Like some kind of traveller time machine, the Khao San has remained largely unchanged, though the surrounding area has expanded and seems more upmarket – if there is indeed such a thing here. Travellers, dressed almost identically in ‘traveller wear’ – long, baggy pants or long shorts, vests or baggy shirts in varying hues of browns and greens, mill around – many taking in their first breaths of South East Asia air, some looking fearful and bewildered, others joyful; still others dispondent after arriving in a place where travellers outnumber locals 10 to 1. This road is like nowhere else on earth – great for backpackers, full of some of the eccentricities of Asian life. A strange place indeed – but you’ve got to start somewhere as a backpacker. I still remember my first time here some 7 years before. It was dark when I arrived with some friends. We were confused and susceptible to being ripped off. We walked up and down the road, no idea where to go, and ended up checking into a shithole for 150 Baht a night that had a shared toilet / shower for 20, and 2 windows – one onto a building site, the other onto the never-sleeping Khao San Road. It was a dark, grim, but wildly exciting introduction to South East Asia.
Crystal and I had dinner in a restaurant on the Khao San, before leaving for our next experience. Earlier in the day, I had booked 2 VIP tickets to watch the Muay Thay kickboxing at Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium. Ringside tickets weren’t cheap at 2,000 Baht each, but it was worth it. I’d never seen real professional kickboxing up close before. The atmosphere was electric. I could see throughout each fight that fans were betting furiously. We were sat right next to the trainers in the Blue Corner, and their passion carried through to us and made for an exciting evening. It’s a brutal and entertaining sport, and we got a knockout in the first fight. A stretcher was on quickly and the unconscious fighter whisked away after a punishing kick to the head.
After 8 fights, we’d had enough, and jumped into a taxi to take us to Patpong! The notorious Patpong is a playground for a huge cross-section of society – it caters for all tastes and fetishes. The streets are a blur of neon lights and countless bars and market stalls, with countless more bars upstairs where the seedier sex shows take place. Crystal is always a good sport, and kept asking to see a ping-ping show, so eventually I relented, and we headed upstairs to one of them. A circular stage with 3 poles was in the middle, and we sat on the outskirts with an expensive drink. Suddenly, a ping-pong ball landed at my feet. I looked up and saw that it had been fired from the nether-regions of a chubby looking girl on the stage! I was invited to pick it up and lob it back, but I didn’t. Another girl pulled at least 10 feet worth of string out from between her legs – not that impressive, granted – but razor blades were laced onto the string! Another girl used the same region to fire darts that popped balloons, still another wrote a note saying ‘Sawadee Ka’ holding a pen firmly between her lower lips. It was a sensational show, and Crystal’s eyes were nearly popping out of her head. We left after a while, amused at what we had seen, and headed to another place. We inadvertantly wandered down Soi Cowboy at one stage, which is the gay district. Crystal was very curious to see what lay behind the curtain of one of the shows, and so I followed her inside after much persuasion. I thought I’d seen it all until I witnessed the gay sex show happening right in front of me in this place. The show – to sordid to explain in any detail ended with the ‘bottom’ being wheelbarrowed around by the ‘top’ and taking tips from punters with his teeth whilst still engaging in the kind of act that can get you arrested in Singapore. After the show, boys began dancing on stage, and I saw that they too had numbers on and could be taken home. ‘I join you and your girfriend’ said one softly. I couldn’t bear the thought. Then Crystal, for some reason thinking I deserved punishment for I’ve no idea what, said she was going to the toilet. ‘Don’t leave me here!’ I begged, but off she went with a cheeky smile. Within seconds I was surrounded by purring Thai men, lisping their names and sexual desires to me gently. Crystal took her time, and I was at breaking point when she came back, almost unable to hold them back any longer – especially number 23, who was leaning in closer and closer each time we talked. She asked for the bill, we paid up, then left into the warm and sleazy air once more. A taxi back followed by a coffee seemed an appropriate choice now…what an amazing day…what a crazy night.