Wednesday, August 30th

Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand

Slightly dazed, we landed at Singapore airport while it was still dark. Landing here I always look for the lights of the shrimp boats and container ships. We often do not see the lights of the harbour area during landing as the airport is quite a distance to the north. We were in a bit of a hurry arriving at 6 am with our next flight due to depart at 7:10. Thankfully we already had our boarding passes which they printed for us at Heathrow (not sure why I bother printing out boarding passes when using online check-in since they always seem to reprint them at the check-in desks anyway) so we looked around for information on where we needed to be - A check of a video monitor showed us we needed to be at an “E” gate so we approached several people from the airport standing around in uniforms for directions. I do love Singapore airport. Down a flight of stairs we were in a short queue for a bus to terminal 3 (where the E gates are located) but before Mel could use the toilet the bus arrived and we were on our way. The bus ride was quite quick with the driver making it interesting for those of us standing as he rounded the corners…A bit of a run and we were at our gate. There was another queue for security at the gate itself that we immediately got into. I felt a bit guilty at having assured Mel there would be toilets as, for some reason, there weren’t any there (she eventually used one on the plane when we were aboard).

The flight to Bangkok was a much smaller plane. Despite the short flight (about two hours) we did get something to eat, a second breakfast! The ground was wet when we arrived into Bangkok airport. The airport itself looks quite modern with long oval tent-like buildings.

On arrival it was easy enough clearing immigration after which I stopped to exchange some of the British pounds I was carrying into more Thailand Baht at a currency exchange kiosk before finding our luggage (having picked some up in Heathrow I knew that it would probably not be enough for the visit). Hoping to avoid any problems or hassle on arrival we had arranged a transfer to our hotel so, following the directions in our tour “trip notes”, we went to “exit door 4” to meet our transfer.

There were a lot of signs with the names of people written on them but none of them were our name, the name of the hotel or the name of the tour company. I stepped outside to see if I could find anyone. The heat and humidity hit me straightaway in the few minutes I was out there as did the exhaust fumes from the various vehicles waiting to pick up travellers. The helpful trip notes suggested, that were we not to find our transfer, we were to head to the “ATTA Counter” (Association of Thai Travel Agents) where, despite some broken English we were told to wait a few minutes and check again. The agent made a few phone calls but eventually Mel waved at me from “door 4” where she had found a lady holding our name written on a card. All a bit confusing. The number of people around was quite incredible with cards with people and companies names written on them not only held by disinterested drivers but also attached to tall poles and railings, particularly in one area that seemed to be dedicated to this purpose.

Our driver eventually arrived in a comfortable, air conditioned car for our trip into the city (they drive on the left here, in case you were curious). It took about an hour to get to our hotel which is located right in the middle of Bangkok, very close to the old city. It should have taken about 45 minutes but there was quite a lot of traffic (it was probably morning rush) and we also passed by an accident. The trip took us along a number of large, elevated, highways into the city. Along the way there are large “Buddha is for worship not for decoration” billboards as well as a lot of garishly gold-encrusted ornate tributes to the king (Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun) often spanning above the road or to the side.Mel dozed lightly as I was eager to take all of it in though often it was much like any other cities but there was enough different to make it clear we are certainly not in “Kansas” anymore. There are motorcycles, scooters and tuk-tuks everywhere that weave in and out of the traffic. The bigger vehicles seem to largely ignore these small insects as they dart in and out amongst them. We headed west into the city eventually passing through an area with large, impressive government buildings and ever more impressive tributes to the king before finally turning off onto a side road to stop outside of our hotel, the Nouvo City Hotel. Though surrounded by somewhat dingier buildings the hotel itself looks quite modern from the outside. After some silent debate in the car with Mel I handed over what I thought was an OK tip to our driver particularly in light of the traffic…

There is no check-in desk per-se but rather a series of desks where you sit and have a chat one-to-one with a member of staff. As we were waiting we were given a very nice fruit juice by a bellboy who we soon learned was born in the US. I asked about the rains which he told us come generally during the early afternoon.

Beside the door in the lobby there several Intrepid notices but we could not find any regarding our tour which is not surprising considering it does not leave for a few days yet but it was nice to see that we were in the right place!

Our room is 5533 in the “Canal Wing” of the hotel which I have learned was actually another hotel into which the Nouvo was expanded. From the main lobby we pass through a set of doors and walk towards the back of the hotel then take a VERY hot glass lift (it faces to the south so gets the full sun but has great views of the adjacent canal) to the 5th floor. We are at the end of the corridor and, oddly, the fire escape door always seems to be open leaving the air somewhat muggy.

The room is very modern and spacious with a king sized bed, wood panel floor, LCD TV on the wall, a half-height fridge (with two new complementary bottles of water provided every day), a safe in a table beside the bed, a sink area adjoining the toilet/shower area which is separated from the rest of the room by a sliding door. The shower is one of those “rainfall” types with the showerhead in the ceiling but there is no curtain or separator so my fresh clothes got a bit damp as I scrubbed off the last 24 hours of travel (the stubble is the worse bit, feel better now that it is gone). We have a window in the room but, unfortunately, it only looks out onto an inner-courtyard with nothing to see but other room windows and a lot of concrete.

Very soon we connected up to the free WIFI and let the emails come in…I had picked up a few of them while in Singapore but there were quite a lot to work through (mostly spam).

Of course, the worst thing for jet lag would be for us to go to bed when we arrived. It was not even noon and we needed, really, to stay awake into the evening and our normal bedtime, if possible, so we headed out to have a look around the area. Looking out the window near the fifth floor lifts we can see the elegant though small third floor (outside) pool, the trees lining the rather clean looking canal and the fairly short buildings on the other side.

At the bottom of the lift there is a large restaurant where they serve a buffet breakfast (it is not included but I suspect we will use it for the convenience at the very least) and beside the main entrance there is another fancier restaurant and patisserie. We exited from the air conditioned bliss of the hotel into the heat and humidity of Bangkok.

All around the hotel there are restaurants and other small businesses. Many of them look to cater for tourists serving things like pizza and burgers.

Our first port of call was the 7-11 next door to see if there were slurpees…For those of you that have not read my journals before you will not be aware of my slurpee fixation. Anytime I am near a 7-11, regardless of country, I go into it to seek out my favourite frozen treat: A slurpee. Preferably Coke. A “slurpee” is an ice-slush, flavoured drink and I find it is a great way to keep cool and hydrated. We stepped over a dog lying immediately outside the entrance of the 7-11, likely to enjoy the cool from inside anytime the door is opened, to see what they had on offer. Sadly, no slurpees (so for those of you faithful readers it is not a “real” 7-11) but they did have a lot of other things which we found interesting. Mel was particularly looking for milk for the room as although there are hot drinks (I do not drink tea or coffee) there is no milk, just “fake” (UHT) milk/creamer.

Leaving the 7-11 we continued along the small road outside the hotel (“Samsen 2 Road”) to where it meets the much larger and busier “Samsen Road” where we turned left to head south into the middle of the old city. Walking is a bit interesting as you have to step over and under businesses and spill out of their small shops onto the pavement. Indeed, some shops are on the pavement itself with people selling all manner of things - Food as well as household goods.

Surprisingly we did not get a lot of hassle despite obviously being tourists though near the hotel I was asked a number of times if I wanted a (custom-made) suit…

We stopped for a few minutes to admire the canal running beside the hotel which is narrow but surprisingly clean and picturesque. The roads are very busy and crossing them is quite interesting. Though there are pedestrian crossing lights you still have to watch as you go across. A few times we have just followed behind a local who happened to be crossing…It seems the trick is making sure you are seen and the traffic flows around you no matter what you do.

Thousands of black electrical cables can be found along every street strung between poles in quite an amazing display of abstract art jockeying for position amongst the multitude of business and advertising signs jutting out from adjacent buildings.

There is also some very good and colourful graffiti here in line with the general feeling the place is filled with life and vibrancy. The graffiti does not even seem to be overly political in nature just art for art's sake suggesting a sort of contentment with life.

We followed a side street, “Khaosan Rd”, which seemed to be the busiest of all the roads with most stalls spilling out onto the street forcing traffic down the middle. It was hot and despite having only walked for a few minutes we were still just getting our bearings after the flight so decided to sit down for a drink at a local bar that opened up onto the street (not many places along this street seem to have doors). I could not resist ordering something from the menu - We are in Bangkok after all! Have to start eating the food as soon as possible! There were the normal bar-type food in the rather long menu (in English) but I settled on a starter or side dish of small local prawns in lettuce leaves served with a wonderful tamarind dip and roasted peanuts. It was a bit interesting eating the entire prawn (they were so small they would have been impossible to peel anyway) but it was absolutely delicious.

For drinks we decided to skip the western soft drinks and order the local “Esk” cola which were quite good and, ice cold, they really satisfied (endorsement cheque should be sent c/o the author, Stephen Rice, London, England).

I spotted a Ronald McDonald statue with hands together in greeting outside of the McDonald’s opposite where we were sitting - It is things like this that show you that although you might know the brand it has to adapt for the local culture. Still cool.

Returning to the street we continued our way south on what was now “Chakrabongse Road” instead of “Samsen Road” (name change). A stop inside the next 7-11 proved to hit the jackpot: Slurpees! Yes, a REAL 7-11. Despite having just had a drink in the bar I had to have a slurpee now that we had found them and as we left the store the heavens opened. We leaned against the wall outside the 7-11 for a few minutes under an awning waiting for the rain to stop. It only lasted a few minutes which was just enough time to enjoy the slurpee.

Now slightly cooler but noticeably more humid we continued our walk. I knew that eventually we would come across what looked on the map like a massive junction across which I knew was a park and the “Grand Palace” - home of the king and one of the highlights of Bangkok. Soon enough we found the very busy crossing, so, it is not that far away meaning it is an easy visit for us. Oddly behind a brick wall we could see a number of people preparing a great deal of food. It looks like it might be for charity or something, it is hard to say.

Having found our somewhat arbitrarily chosen destination for the day, we headed back the way we had come until we spotted the garish gold and red colours of a temple peeking out from behind some trees alongside of the road. Peeking in through the entrance arch a lady sitting just inside beckoned us to come in to have a look around. “Free, free! Come have a look!”

“Wat Chanasongkhram Ratchaworamahawihan”, Google tells me, is a 17th century royal temple featuring opulent (you’re telling me!) details and a gilded statue of Buddha. Immediately inside the gate from the street a small building houses a small shrine that was quite busy with people leaving gifts and praying. Behind this small building was the massive main building of the temple with white walls, red roof, and many tall large windows framed with massive amounts of gilt decoration. Removing our shoes and placing them in the racks provided we headed into the building. The main shrine is in the centre of the building with a large gold statue of Buddha surrounded by flowers, pictures and other tributes. This area is covered with red carpet with people sitting on the floor either in prayer or worship or just looking around. One thing I had read is that you never show the soles of your feet to the Buddha so most sit off to the side with their feet tucked behind them. The roof of the shrine area and the top of the walls are elaborately decorated with scenes from the Buddha’s life. Everything is lit (despite the middle of the day and large windows letting in the sunshine) with dozens of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Surrounding the shrine is a massive marble-floored portico that itself has statues and other religious artefacts. It really is completely OTT and gaudy…or should I say “god-y”, more appropriately?

There were lots of people about giving us the impression that although historic this is very much a working temple that is part of everyday life for many. Sure there were tourists but mostly it was the local Thai people here.

We started to pay more attention to what people were doing on the street. It seemed a great deal of time is spent out on the street so you can see a lot of life here. We passed by a man working on an old foot-operated Singer sewing machine. Another man selling local exotic (to us) fruit from a hand cart crossed the road as we passed by.

Colourful Coach

Heading down a side street we stopped at a small shop for some coffee (Mel said it was quite good, thank you, a bit strong though). Everywhere people smile and were so polite - Freely agreeing for us to take their picture.

This side street, Phra Sumen Road, had a number of people off of carts on the pavement selling the same or very similar items. One thing we noticed being deep fried were what looked to us like peanut brittle cookies but stopping to buy them - They are absolutely delicious - Not sweet at all, they are a savoury crispy round cookie with deliciously roasted peanuts. Not expensive, only 20 baht (about 45p for those of us in the UK) for a packet of five.

Another lady was preparing what the sign said was “roti” served with various fillings but they are unlike any roti I have ever seen before (my thinking they are soft tortilla-like wraps served soft). She had a bowl of batter than she laid out on a griddle to form the roti into which she placed the filling. Mel had to try one so we went for the 35 baht (£0.79 - have not broken the pound barrier yet) chicken-filled one. She happily prepared it with great skill in front of us - Delicious - Served cut into small pieces on a paper plate with a vinegar sauce and eaten using wooden skewers. So much very good and tasty food to choose from!

Eventually we came to a large odd pyramid-shaped building in a part at a kink in the road. “Pom Phra Sumen” Google also informs me is a “…riverfront fort built in 1783 with an octagonal bunker and white exterior.” Huh. Now we know. Crossing the street extremely cautiously at a crosswalk we walked into the park which is right on the “Chao Phraya River”, the large, wide, river that winds its way north-south through Bangkok. There is a lot of river traffic here as we watched barges and ferries go to and fro. The river seems quite high, with trees sitting in the middle of the water at the edges, and a lot of debris floating in the river itself, no doubt because it is rainy season. We could see a modern bridge to the north spanning the river and a more conventional bridge just to the south. Lining the banks are buildings but very few high-rises. A modern concrete walkway follows the river to the south but we decided to forgo the calls of a man for us to take a trip on the river and walk back towards the hotel through the far side of the park. The park is very well cared for with the trees and plantings quite immaculately presented with not a spot of litter to be seen anywhere however a large rotting wooden building on the bank of the river was in obvious need of restoration.

The far side of the park is beside the canal that runs behind our hotel. We noticed that there is a barrier here preventing boats from entering the river from the canal. I am kind of hoping we will be able to take a trip on it. The river does not look that interesting but our small local canal seems to have interesting buildings on either side. Here where it meets the river there are some hostels painted in bright colours. We needed a bit of a break. It is a lot to take in after only a few hours in the country.

Back at the hotel I laid on the bed fighting to keep the eyes open as I knew it would not be a good idea to go to sleep if I wanted to beat the jet lag. Having connected to the free wi-fi in the hotel I was investigating possibilities for dinner tonight…

An hour later, just before 5 pm, we headed out to find the restaurant I had found on-line. Supposedly it serves the best Pad Thai in the world “Thip Samai” ( . Well, we would soon find out.

Having studied the directions we left the hotel and circled around behind to the canal. The path alongside the water went by a few fairly touristy looking restaurants but also a covered area that looks to be a small local market that is now closed for the day but having places where fish are sold and other areas where it looks like vegetables are sold. This area is surprisingly busy and several times we had to get off the narrow (walking) path to let a scooter get by - Admittedly, the drivers were quite careful and paying attention to us.

Coming to a narrow bridge over the canal we stopped to have a look along the water. Hearing odd sounds coming from below us we spotted a number of large catfish gasping for breath at the surface. It was extremely odd so we watched them for quite some time. A ferry passed by but otherwise it was very quiet compared to the street. There are, yes, hotels, but also a large number of what looks to be apartments along the water’s edge. Just past the bridge where we were standing there is a small shrine with it’s striking ornamentation. Everything it spotlessly clean with not even a smell coming from the water.

Crossing the bridge we returned once again to the busy streets of Bangkok. We needed to follow “Phra Sumen Rd” quite some distance as it ran alongside the canal to the restaurant (I was keeping this simple knowing we were going to be suffering from the jet lag tonight). We passed several large building complexes, possibly schools, as we walked along. Stepping inside one of the compounds I immediately was looking into a pond for fish. Extremely over the top gaudy but clean and bright (Mr Google says it is “Wat Bowonniwet” - - a Buddhist temple).

A groundskeeper (or someone) seemed to think we should not be there so shooed us out of the gates and back onto the pavement which was quite narrow at this point along the busy street. At one point a banyan tree growing through the path forced us almost onto the street. Doing well I figured a small diversion to see one of the sights was possible so we turned south onto Dinso Road where we passed by a school letting out. A number of stalls selling the Thai version of junk food to the children as they piled out of the gates. Many were holed up in a massive McDonalds on the edge of a giant roundabout flooded with vehicles from rush hour and many picking up children. In the middle of the roundabout was our destination but with the traffic we were not getting any closer - The “Democracy Monument” which is four tall semicircular spikes equally spaced some distance apart at four corners with a pedestal in the middle. Looks to be a number of carvings in their base but hard to see from this distance…

We followed “Ratchadamnoen Avenue” back to the canal and Phra Sumen Road. This is a massive, divided avenue with several massive monuments to the royal family, again, garishly decorated with immaculately finished topiaries and gardens. At the corner we stumbled across another Buddhist temple complex (the “metal caste”) but we had to cross the avenue to get to it. Easier said than done. With something like six lanes of traffic even though there was a green man crossing signal for pedestrians traffic still seemed to be passing through without too much caution. Taking the lead from some locals we braved the traffic to the middle island (briefly stopping to take a picture of yet another monument to the king?) then passed the six lanes on the other side safely as well. This temple is quite pretty with lots of paved paths, lawns and hedges surrounding it, quite different than others we have seen so far. There are still the impressive and ornate temple buildings but they seem more human scale here.

Continuing to the restaurant was going to be awkward as it looked like the only way was a narrow path between the busy road and a tall white wall. Behind this wall we could see a gold stupa on the top of a hill, what I now know is “Wat Saket (Golden Mount)”. Surely this can’t be right? Nonetheless we continued on, having to resort to stepping on the road once or twice when the path was simply not wide enough for us. Did not seem to get too many stares…

Finally at the end of the dangerous pathway the wall ended and we were afforded a great view of the temple’s stupa in the distance as we passed over another narrow canal. Looking to the south on the other side of the road we could see the canal was lined with somewhat simpler looking homes to what we have seen nearer to the hotel. These look more like shanties.

The restaurant was quite easy to find. Google Maps had pinpointed the location and with a bit of GPS on the phone we easily spotted the bright sign for the restaurant which is largely by it’s own in this neighbourhood - Nothing else is anywhere near as big, or, as busy. The restaurant spills out onto the pavement with cooks at woks doing their thing and a queue for what looks like takeaway. The front section of the restaurant was jammed with people but a sign indicated that for 10 baht (£0.22) we could sit inside in the air conditioning. We took them up on this offer as by this time we were quite hot from our longer-than-expected walk. Through the hot front section of the restaurant we passed through a small gift shop into the back area with dark wood walls covered with newspapers articles from around the world praising the restaurant - We were in the right place. This area was not as full as the front (presumably because of the service charge) and it looked like not everyone was a tourist (thankfully).

The air conditioning was welcomed as we sat and looked through the menu. I ordered a “Superb Padthai” (big prawns; Padthai with shrimp oil, fresh deep-sea prawns; 200 baht or £4.50). Mel ordered the “Vegetarian Pad Thai” as she does not like prawns (60 baht or £1.35). Looking for something refreshing we both went for the “fresh orange juice”. We are very glad we did - It has to be the best orange juice either of us have ever had. So sweet and juicy. “Surapong Fruit Orange Juice” It seems this is also something that is very popular here as they have signs on the walls advertising it and there was a “today’s orange juice prices” sign on the wall (160 baht for “big”, 85 for “small” - we went with the large…and I ended up having two!).

The Pad Thai was served quickly and was absolutely delicious - Only slightly sweet with perfectly cooked noodles (slightly under, as they should be), egg wrapping and large, tender, prawns.

At 600 baht (£13.46) for dinner it was a good deal (for us) and we left very happy indeed and convinced that Thip Samai’s claim to be the best Pad Thai in the world is well justified (see Review of 'Thipsamai').

There is another restaurant close by that I was determined to find (เจ๊ใฝ). More expensive with a single woman running the show it is supposed to be worth a visit but as all of the other shop signs were in Thai we never did find it. I suspect it was a large restaurant on the corner with a lady cooking over a wok but with only one or two people seated despite being quite a large number of tables.

On our return trip we avoided the narrow path and followed the full-sized pavement on the opposite side of the road (yeah, yeah, we did not know the pavement was there as we could not see it through the traffic, or, at least, that is our excuse). With the sun setting we walked through the Buddhist temple grounds (the “metal castle”). Spotting someone with a fancy camera taking pictures using a tripod we followed their lead to get some nice pictures of the waning light hitting the ornate golden roof of the shrine.

All along the road now there were stands set up selling street food - Skewers, noodles, fried foods, fish, meat, etc, etc. They had not been there when we passed by earlier but we did linger to see what was on offer. Aside: A brief stop in a 7-11 showed it to be sadly slurpee-free (not that I could drink one after the meal).

Earlier today Mel had noted several shops near the hotel that offered nail services such as pedicures and manicures at very reasonable rates so was willing to give them a try as her nails needed a bit of attention. The small cluttered interior of the shop was cool with air conditioning (shut the door!) and I sat in a low chair on one wall as she talked about what she wanted done but was told to come back at about 8 pm so we left for the hotel. She eventually had her nails done though she was not happy returning to the room at about 9.

I have been busy soaking/washing the white shirt I used today in the sink as it has been soaked through with sweat several times already. Wow, we have been busy and this is just the first day! I have a feeling it is going to be an eventful trip but for now jet lag sleep awaits.

>> Thursday, August 31st