When you’ve been together for 11 years and married for five of those, travel becomes the perfect outlet for keeping the adventure alive and making new memories.
Spoiler alert; this write-up is about to get very wanky, very quickly.
Eight weeks ago, having debated how to spend our five-year wedding anniversary, we decided to take a punt on an 11-night break from Secret Escapes which would take us across the world to Thailand, Singapore and Dubai. All places we’d never explored.
Our staple holidays have traditionally been breaks where we spend most of our time running about, eating too much, drinking many beers and riding roller coasters. So, predominantly USA.
Granted we’ve done city breaks to other places too. Rome being a standout in our long list of trips we’ve taken over the years. Our Mexican holiday in 2018 also saw us break with tradition for ten nights of relaxation.
I’ll admit that for me the cultural differences have been a barrier, stopping me from taking the plunge and travelling further east. However, speaking no other languages and leaning towards ‘fussy bastard’ territory on the food front are hurdles I’m proud to say I’ve overcome during the past fortnight in an effort to see more of the world.
Bangkok, Thailand’s humid, bustling capital, has a reputation for excess, unusual eats and backpacking westerners that really doesn’t do justice to its vibrancy, spiritual heart or the kind, welcoming nature of its residents.
Prior to visiting, the only impression I had of Thailand was that shown to me by Hollywood, with The Beach and The Hangover Part 2 burned onto my brain. So, when we finally arrived at our hotel after a 19-hour journey from Manchester to Bangkok via Dubai, I was happy to see there was more to Bangkok than drunken tourists.
Our hotel was located off Sukhumvit Road, a major route in Bangkok with a plethora of restaurants, shops and bars and a handy location for grabbing the underground or sky train. The first day was something of a blur, as we were suffering from serious jetlag only to arrive and be told our room wouldn’t be ready for another two hours. I’m pretty sure I spent those hours asleep on a sun lounger looking like something that’d been scraped from the bottom of the litter tray, but I was only half-conscious so can’t be certain.
When we woke up the following morning (having finally checked into our room the previous day), refreshed and ready to get out and about, we had our sights set on exploring some of the must-see temples the city had to offer. Not being especially (at all) religious, I’ve always felt a bit uneasy about visiting sacred places all in the name of tourism. I feel a similar unease about church weddings for the non-religious; but this was Bangkok and I was assured by everything I’d read that the temples were a must see.
The first thing to consider was the dress code. To enter the temples, women must be modestly dressed. Skirts or trousers must be at least knee length, while shoulders and cleavage must also be covered – tricky for those of us with bountiful bosoms. For men, pants are preferred although shorts past the knee are also acceptable.
One train journey, a pushy tuk-tuk driver and many sweaty body parts later, we made it to Wat Pho, home of the famed ‘reclining Buddha’. A complex of shrines and beautiful décor, Wat Pho – originally named Wat Photaram – was built in 1788 and is among the highest-grade royal temples in the country.
The reclining Buddha itself measures 150 feet in length, with the base of its feet ornately decorated with symbols of Buddha including flowers, elephants and dancers, picked out with mother of pearl. It’s an awe-inspiring sight even for someone of no faith.
Next on our list was The Grand Palace; a short walk from Wat Pho and the former seat of the royal court up until 1925. It’s also home to the Emerald Buddha, whose plinth is more ostentatious than the Buddha itself, but still worth a look.
It was obvious to us upon arrival that The Grand Palace is considered something of a pilgrimage, as swarms of people battled it out to kick off their shoes and enter the main Temple, with Buddhist visitors taking the time to light incense and say a prayer in the presence of Buddha. One of the stand out moments though, was me being asked to purchase a sarong upon entry (leggings weren’t allowed) and Alex taking it upon himself to kick off his jeans and invest in a pair of floaty elephant adorned pants that would allow for more crotch circulation for the remainder of the day.
In the afternoon, we meandered our way through the streets towards Amulet Market – where visitors seek out amulets and charms that will bring them good fortune – and found ourselves struck by hunger. It’s difficult to know where to eat the best Thai food when in Thailand, but we lucked out with a restaurant by the Chao Phraya River, with an impeccable Thai green curry and a Thai yellow curry with crab that I’m assured by Alex was mind-blowingly spicy.
The day wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Khao San Road; an infamous tourist trap and backpacking zone that I’d been reliably informed was worth a look by friends who’d visited. Historically the home of a major rice market, this small stretch of road is now home to hotels, bars, traders and such visual treats as vendors selling scorpions and tarantulas as light snacks. I’m also advised that you can find tickets to some of the cities ‘ping-pong shows’ here. In all honesty, it wasn’t my favourite sight, offering more of the seedy side of Bangkok that I’m sure many visitors anticipate prior to visiting.
An evening of rooftop drinks and a curry was everything we needed to fuel us up for a second day of rampant humidity and getting our bodies adjusted to a brand-new time zone.
Our second and last day in the city meant a visit to Chatuchak Market – a must-see weekend market housing more than 8,000 stalls selling everything from fashion to food, pets to plants, and the occasional massage for weary tourists.
The layout of the market is split into 27 sections with numbered alleyways or ‘soi’ allowing you to navigate all there is on offer, while simultaneously being an utterly useless system, as there are multiple stores offering different items in every section of the market. These are often repeated in each area, making it a bewildering yet unmissable experience if you only have a few days in Bangkok.
I was surprised by the sheer number of ‘stalls’ (small rooms) offering massages to people wandering past – and by the number of people seemingly indulging. In my head there’s nothing more unappealing than being shepherded into a small room, in which the only ventilation is a fan, and taking your shoes off to have your feet manhandled by a stranger whilst passers-by gawp through the windows; but maybe I need to expand my horizons.
Leaving the market before the afternoon mayhem could set in, we took the MRT (underground/subway) to the MBK Shopping Centre for a much-anticipated lunch at its seemingly never-ending food court, where authentic Thai dishes are cooked from scratch for a very small sum.
The Centre itself is made up of 2,000 shops across eight floors selling an array of items including electronics, fashion and furniture and, whilst not especially glamorous, it’s reasonably priced and the sheer selection of food on offer at lunchtime was mind-boggling.
I settled on katsu curry (or rather Alex got me one while I saved a table) which is possibly one of the most delicious and staggeringly cheap meals we had during our stay. Our visit also permitted me to take a selection of suitably childish photos in one of the stores, a couple of which are displayed here for your viewing pleasure.
Our visit to Bangkok was the shortest of our stays in the countries we visited and yet one of the most eye-opening. There’s no doubt the impression we were left with went a long way to combating any previous assertions we might’ve had about the city and, with our jet lag slipping away, we were now ready for the next leg of our journey.
It was time to travel on to Singapore.
Until next time, Thailand. You’ve been splendid.