Another hearty breakfast was followed by a stroll down Suhukumvit Road in the baking heat of a Bangkok mid-morning. We had decided to try the subway system today. The entrance to the maze of tunnels under the city at this entrance was manned by security personnel, who checked anybody that wasn’t white, as so often happens in places deemed terrorist targets. I breezed in then, unchecked, while Crystal, a far less sinister looking character, was subjected to a pat-down, and her bag a thorough comb through.
The subway system is clean and new, and further enchances the Bangkok Government’s (when there is one) desire to haul Bangkok into the first world and make it an Asian powerhouse. If only the government in Jakarta had done the same – instead, a skytrain sits half completed, and only an express busway plan has achieved full fruition. As a result, Jakarta is at least 20 years behind Bangkok in terms of economy and tourism. I often remember my days of frustration in Jakarta, stuck in endless choking traffic jams, vehicles besieged by all manner of hawkers, beggars, con-artists and ladyboy types. If only the sprawling metropolis were better connected and more convenient as a result – I may have stayed a while longer. But I was here in Bangkok now, for a while at least, and thoroughly enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of the subway.
We got the subway to Hua Lamphong, where Chinatown is, as chaotic, loud, brash and colourful a Chinatown as I’ve been in. We strolled around the markets selling all manner of things, from Thai Barbie dolls to Uzi 9mm guns. In fact, replica guns seemed to be sold in evey stall. Try taking that back to Singapore as a souvenir. Our purpose for alighting here was that we wished to see the famous Wat Trimitr, where a huge golden buddha was housed. We made it eventually, after a series of wrong turns. Unfortunately, a large portion was in the midst of construction, but the interior was as lovely as ever. Crystal paid homage to the Buddha, before which an orange robe-clad monk sat cross-legged. We left for a long walk to Suan Romaninart, a pleasant park, where we could see the urbanites jogging or relaxing reading books. It had been a long walk to get here, so we rewarded ourselves with some choice street fare – a selection of mashed sea-foods on sticks, which were delicious.
We had a look at a few more wats along the way, before climbing up the Golden Mount ( Phukhao Thong) Wat Saket. This incredible structure – a huge dome of gold, was indeed an impressive sight. A number of steps had to be climbed to get right to the very top, but the views were well worth it. Panoramic views of Bangkok greeted us as we took splendid photographs under the peaceful watch of a giant Buddha. From here, we bargained a tuk-tuk driver down and he took us to Wat Benchamabophit, or Marble Temple. As it was getting late, we were alone in the peaceful and holy grounds, free to roam the area, taking in the white walled temple with golden roof. We even strolled around the monk’s living quarters, though I was careful not to take photographs. The monks often live next to schools in small shophouse style apartments, so schoolkids can usually be seen playing around the place. It all exudes a feeling of innoncence and calm, and is lovely to see.
A walk across the road took us to Chitralada Palace, residence of the revered King of Thailand. The whole place is surrounded by a moat and trees however, so impossible to even see the dwellings within. Satisfied with a good day’s sightseeing, we strolled to the main street and took a taxi to Bangkok Railway Station, which connects to the subway at Hua Lamphong station via an underpass. We returned back to the hotel exhausted after all that walking. Still, we had one more night left in Bangkok, and intended to make the most of it.
After a nice dinner, we got in a taxi and headed to the RCA area of Bangkok. RCA is a strip of swanky bars and restaurants. This is where Bangkok’s rich come to play. Prices are high, and the clientele young but discerning. Not a whore in sight either, refreshingly! Crystal and I had dressed up for the occasion, and enjoyed the different scene. We visited a couple of bars and clubs, which typically have a room where house music is played, and another room where a Thai band play local hits. Bottles of spirits were being liberally poured from the man with the money at each table, into the bottomless glasses of his eager female followers. It was a similar scene to Singapore, where the local Chinese gather around a big bottle of Martell, staking a claim at a table. Crystal and I bought a Smirnoff Ice each, and so didn’t really fit in, but we had a good dance and enjoyed the people and the music. I found it hilarious that people kept speaking to Crystal in Thai. Waiters would come and chat to her, cashiers, people in the bar….and it was all in Thai! The look on their faces as Crystal blanked them was one of disbelief or confusion, and had me in stitches.
After a couple of hours, we took a taxi back to Soi 13, and back to the hotel. It had been another culture-packed day and action packed night….just how I like it!