Pop gan mai
22.02.2015 - 24.02.2015 34 °C
We left Khao Lak with promises to return and set off for Bangkok. One problem with these multi-centre trips is that whole days are spent travelling, which is fine when you are travelling by car or boat, train or bus as there is always something to look at. When planes are involved you spend hours sitting around in airports. Even so, Phuket airport isn't bad as there's a pub called Bill Bentley's where they serve Brancott Sauvignon Blanc and provide free Wifi so it could be worse. This journey took us around six and a half hours, which wasn't too bad and which got us to our hotel in plenty of time to check-in and freshen up before taking advantage of the free cocktails and nibbles in the club lounge. For those who are concerned that we are failing to keep up standards, 'Gintonic' is classed as a cocktail in Thailand.
Diane enjoying the wine and streetlife at Suk 11
In the evening we went out to explore half of busy Soi 11 (where our preferred hotel is located), and just a little way along we spotted that 'Suk 11' had reopened. Joy!! This great little street restaurant is attached to a backpacker hostel and we used to enjoy eating there, either at one of the rickety tables set up in the street or inside at the low Thai-style tables (which my knee can no longer cope with!) The fearsome lady that ran it had retired and on our last visit they were only serving breakfast for the hostel inmates. Now it was buzzing and full all day again, but they found us an extra table almost on top of the bar, provided us with a fan and a bottle of wine, and we ate a delicious dinner watching the cream of Bangkok nightlife passing us by.
Chinese New Year dragon at a mall on Sukhumvit Road; Wat Pho temple rooftop
The city is in party mode as the Chinese New Year five day celebration is still in full force. At all the major shrines and tourist spots there are Chinese lanterns and dragons, dancing, music, firecrackers and lots of people. The next morning, after collecting Keith's new glasses... taking advantage of all these Thai opticians... we took the skytrain to Saphan Taksin and hopped onto an extremely crowded riverboat for a ride up to Tha Tien pier. Many of our fellow travellers were Chinese and we could see why when we got up to Wat Pho. The area around the temple was heaving, we'd never seen so many people there. The taxis and tuk tuks were lined up two deep all round the perimeter, and all the little street stalls selling everything from cold drinks to oil paintings had been cleared away. From the music and smoking firecrackers it seemed that there was the most enormous New Year party going on within the complex. We retraced our steps, making a hasty retreat to our favourite parlour, 'One Pho', tucked away behind the fish and fruit stalls near the riverboat stop, for a last Traditional Thai massage. We were very hot when we got there, so they cranked the air-con up, gave us cool clean Thai-style pyjamas to change into and we lay for an hour being gently and not so gently manipulated and stretched. By the time they had finished we were chilled and relaxed, ready to face the heat and the crowds again - and all for £5 each!
Chinese New Year celebrations at the Erewan Shrine; Traditional Thai dancers add to the atmosphere
Travelling back down the river was a bit sad when we realised that this would be the last time this visit that we'd ride the Chao Phraya riverboat, bumping and bouncing across the water, getting splashed if you are on the wrong side, and looking at the amazing selection of buildings along the water's edge. Huge glass and steel hotels and apartment blocks (new ones being built all the time) jostle for space amongst the shrines and temples and the old colonial buildings and embassies. In every gap between these there are the still the wooden and corrugated steel dwellings that lean out over the river and where children splash about in the mud-coloured water below.
A longtail boat moored alongside a modern shopping mall; Bustling river traffic, with skyscrapers on shore
For this visit I'd had a yearning to visit one of the very high open air bars/restaurants such as The Banyan Tree (61st floor) or The Baiyoke Sky Tower (88th floor). Several years ago we visited the Sky Bar on the 63rd floor of The Lebua State Tower which was quite amazing, especially as they make you walk over a glass bridge to access it! All of these places have very strict dress codes, or indeed fancy dress codes as they do expect guests to make an effort. For men it's proper shirts, trousers and shoes, no shorts and flipflops here, for ladies it's pretty much anything you like! I'd lugged a proper frock and shoes with me, but this evening, when the time came, we just couldn't be bothered to do ourselves up! After five weeks of very casual dressing and, shock horror, no make-up, it was all too much trouble. Instead we changed and walked down to 'Above Eleven', a trendy glass and chrome bar, a mere 32 floors above Soi 11. It was pleasant enough and the views were pretty with all the lights, but it wasn't as literally breath-taking as being way up in the sky, so high that the city is spread out below you like a sparkly carpet and the horizon is curved from where you stand, daring each other to look straight down!
View from 'Above Eleven' (our hotel is I/2 way up and 1/4 way from the LHS); Li'l Monkey braves the precipitous drop!
On the way back to the hotel we encountered another old friend. We always used to visit a Mexican bar/restaurant called 'Coyote' when we were in the infamous Pat Pong area, for a great margarita. On our last visit it had vanished from its location on Soi Convent completely, not just closed down, but gone. We couldn't even identify the gap where it had been. But we stumbled across a reopened version of it on Sukhumvit Soi 11 (very close to our hotel) so we dropped in for nachos and margaritas, as you do. The tiny Thai waitress complete with cowboy boots and massive Stetson hat was much taken with our pronunciation of the Mexican dishes on the menu and made us repeat, over and over, 'pico de gallo' for her to learn how to say it properly.
Diane at Chatuchak market (sorry, I didn't photograph Pratunam, but it is a bit like this...)
For our last day, we decided on a final shopping trip and went to Pratunam market. Years ago this was a long hard slog along the hot streets from the skytrain, but now, with miles of sheltered walkways connected with new air-conditioned shopping malls, you can make most of the journey under cover avoiding the congestion and road crossings at street level. Pratunam, and the Platinum Mall opposite, comprise one of the areas where the Thais go to shop and so it's full of Thai-sized clothes, not necessarily the sort of touristy things I might have bought, but it's always interesting to look around. There's one section where they make the most fantastic dance dresses, which would put the 'Strictly' costumes to shame, another where you can buy carefully matched lengths of real human hair to add to your own, and which is sold by weight.
Diane with her last Thai meal of the trip!
We returned to the Sukhumvit area and had a last Thai meal before it was time to pack up and leave the hotel. Guess what Keith had, as his final memory of all the wonderful food we've had over the last month or so,... PIZZA! (Keith: But Diane had ordered Pasta Carbonara just the day before...)