A somewhat interesting if not amazing morning. Deciding against the train trip to the country I stuck with the walking the city streets plan and headed off early to the Old City quarters tucked away west of Chinatown in the curve of the river. It was going to be a long walk but it’s my last full day so may as well get cracking and see a bit more of Bangkok. It started off well, zig zagging through the streets to get to the northern most point of my journey before heading west.
I left home around 8.30am, and saw the breakfast crowds lining up at their favourite stalls. It never ceases to amaze me how someone with a couple of pots and burners, a few bags of garnishes and a seat on the footpath can feed so many people from such a small space. Walking past the lady with the amazing smelling soup that I’d seen on my first day, she had a large crowd patiently waiting while she ladled meatball soup into take-away bags, or bowls for those willing to “dine in” on a shop step or leaning against a wall.
Continuing on and taking short cuts through laneways with markets just opening up for the morning I got close to where the main road crosses the canal to the old quarter. A friendly fellow walking down the street bailed me up, asked where I was from, talked about his visit to Australia and what he did here – then started talking temples and writing things down for me. The advice was given to only use government tuk-tuks and when I said I just walk, he got a bit narky and walked away – to a tuk-tuk parked a little way up the street. Then the abuse flowed “You are stupid, stupid, stupid!” he shouted. Well so I maybe but I’d be even stupider to get into a tuk-tuk with someone who treats visitors in such a way. So I veered off course to get away – thankful for one way streets and busy traffic!
This was my first encounter in Thailand of such devious behaviour and left me a bit cranky. Cursing I walked up over the bridge and into temple zone. On my gosh – then it started. Tuk-tuk drivers everywhere! I was beginning to wish I hadn’t come this way. I skirted around the temples in the vicinity and found myself in “chippies’ lane”. Timber suppliers and carpenter shops spilled their wares out on to the footpaths and some lovely looking items were being crafted on the street. Up ahead was a very nice new “heritage hotel” with lots of timber panelling and an open courtyard off the street with a café for guests. Needing a toilet break I ducked in to admire the etchings on the wall and found a Ladies Room handy. I was in and out in a flash and back on my journey.
By this stage I wasn’t quite sure where I was and looked for some landmarks to compare with my map. When I finally found my position I was miles from I thought I was. In all the kerfuffle of the tuk-tuk drivers I got myself horribly lost. Oh well, at least I could see the river and there was a nice path along the bank for a little while.
When the walkway ran out and I had to come inland I was in the middle of Culture Central; the Museum, Theatre, University, Palace, Wats galore and grand government department buildings plus hundreds of tourist buses and thousands of people following little flags. Oh my goodness. Please never let me feel the need to do this kind of tourism. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.
In the distance I could see my landmark that I knew was in the direction of home – a very tall hotel with a “golf-ball” on top. You bewdy – off I went as quick as I could towards the safety and sanity of Chinatown. So folks, yes the old and official buildings are grand but trust me, buy the postcard. Not just the crowds but the whole industry that builds up around such attractions is not pleasant. Or perhaps take a taxi ride around at midnight when everyone else has gone home.
So it was past midday and I hadn’t had my second breakfast yet! Must be time for an early lunch. I was close to Little India by now and remembered some good pure vegetarian stalls from the other day so headed in that direction. The samosa man on the street corner which marks the entrance to the precinct, was busy frying pakoras while his wife was stuffing and folding samosa with a very deft touch. Best get some snacks for later I thought and $2 got me two samosas and a bag of pakoras for dinner. Then down into the market to find a perch in a corner next to a sack of onions for a much needed rest and plate of tucker.
Feeling more relaxed I wandered back home through the market lanes and holed up in my room for an hour or two to rehydrate, cool down and rest my weary legs. I’d walked a hell of a lot further than I planned this morning but it was all part of the experience.
I could hear the cleaners outside in the corridor and figured I’d better get out for a while so a snap decision of a trip to the flower market might do nicely to fill the late afternoon. I’d seen a flower market the other day but apparently the big proper one is just up the road and around the corner a bit and is supposed to be stunning. And open 24 hours a day, every day.
What a place! The entire street is lined with stalls selling flowers – bunches, bags of petals, fancy displays, temple offerings – you name it, they had it. Each shop specialised in different varieties and different purposes for the flowers. It is wildly colourful and heady with scent. And I hadn’t even gone into the main market yet.
Opposite the market is a huge wholesale veg market, packing up for the day but there were still massive bags and baskets of greens, chillies, onions, eggplants, etc. And ginger! 100 Baht for a 5kg bag. That’s less than $1/kg! I was more fascinated by the veg market than the flowers but that’s what I’d come to see so over the road I went.
If you come to Bangkok – this street is a must see! Apparently the best time for the flower market is 3am but even at 4pm on a Sunday it was busy with tables piled high with bulk stems, bags of flower heads and petals, etc. A photographer’s dream for the riot of colour and arrangements. At every stall, ladies were threading flowers for temple offerings or destemming flowers for bagging. And in amongst it all people were slurping bowls of soup. Everywhere in Bangkok stallholders sit eating.
My legs were complaining and it was time to head home. On the way out I bought a couple of bunches of orchids so I could take a photo. I spend more money buying things so I can ask for a photo than what I could ever possible eat or use, but it makes me feel better than just randomly snapping a camera in peoples’ faces. And at 10 Baht (40c) a bunch I’ve now got some lovely flowers in my bathroom for the next 24 hours before I check out and leave them for the cleaners.
At the end of each day I’m so glad I’m staying in Chinatown, Bangkok. It’s a wonderful part of the city. So welcoming, colourful, interesting, safe and crazy. Great food all around at any time of the day and night and a myriad of things happening in the streets to keep you entertained. I’m not sure if I’ll be back but it was fun while it lasted. And I can recommend a good hotel with or without “joiners”.