Having evacuated from China just over 2 short weeks ago, it was with borderline trepidation that I boarded a flight back from the relative safety of Frankfurt bound for Bangkok, via Bahrain. The ‘via' in that sentence is of crucial importance as it would play an important role in how the journey would go. My Mother has suggested in recent times perhaps considering the Middle East in future as somewhere to go spend a while in might be an idea and from the 50 or so minutes I spent in Bahrain, I can honestly say that Bahrain is to Dubai as somewhere like China is to Japan – we're talking poles apart. To start with, I ate some cold pasta on the flight to Bahrain that a certain someone else refused to eat, stating it was ‘disgusting'. It sure was; 4 hours on and something distinctly unpleasant occurred in my stomach that necessitated a swift trip to the toilet, any toilet, initially the business class toilet in order to relieve myself post-haste. In total, by the end of the flight, I'd imagine I could have spent up to 40 minutes in the toilets – something was definitely amiss. Similarly, Bahrain was small, poky and generally pretty uncomfortable. Thankfully the stomach settled down for the onward journey to Bangkok during which, thanks in no small part to the energy no doubt expended earlier on going back and forth to the toilet, I slept soundly for the majority of the flight.
When we finally touched down in Bangkok, it was time to face up to my fears and try to obtain and command another Asian taxi driver to bring us to the desired destination – right from the off, our man, Mr. Preech made it obvious he did not wish to listen to either of our instructions. After he'd spent a good 7 or so minutes reading the map we presented him with, he took off, needing to be quickly reminded straight away to a) follow the map we'd just presented him with, b) turn the meter on and within a minute after leaving the airport as he struggled to make for the toll road that c) there was no need for any toll roads if he was following our map. He didn't say a word, just persisted with trying to ignore our instructions up until we were nearly shouting them. Some hour later we finally made it to the guesthouse, having taken a journey that to be fair, only cost us about â‚¬4. Nonetheless, we were glad to be out of Mr. Preech's car. Or at least I was.
So what about Bangkok then? Well, surprise surprise, there's no doubt about it – it's definitely another Asian city; taxi's slow to a near-stop as soon as they see you whether you've given an indication you want one or not, people stare at you without a hint of shame for long periods of time and in spite of the many advertising campaigns, I have still to come across a single Asian territory that lives up to any slogan that proclaims to be anything similar to a ‘land of smiles' – a land of stares maybe, but not smiles. Similarly, I think what's slowly starting to eat at me (and from my brief time so far in Vietnam, things seem to be the same here) is just the way everything appears to have been thrown together any old way – shops are almost hidden behind ramshackle street stalls, which in turn are nearly hidden themselves behind low-hung electricity cables that I'm constantly afraid of coming into contact with. Next up came the problem of the traffic; from my relatively small knowledge of Irish traffic rules, it seems that basically the object on a road with the greater power yields to the object with the lesser power, i.e. Pedestrian. Things don't really seem to go down like that over here – instead, The Law of Tonnage seems to apply, which is basically the complete opposite – the heavier the vehicle, the more rights it has to continue on the road without stopping or yielding to anything. As a result, from my brief stay in China, what seems to work best is to pretend not to be nervous at all in the face of a 4-lane road full of irate, speeding drivers and just take a breath and walk in a straight line from one side to the other without stopping at any time.
One day, when we'd finally managed to rid ourselves of the jet lag, which I'm embarrassed to say took a few days, we tried with all our might to get to the old town. Anna, to be fair, had obviously envisioned the old town being something like an old town in Europe – a few nice cathedrals here, some old winding streets, you know the sort. For some reason, right from the off, I recalled how the temple in Japan had been surrounded by tatty souvenir shops and reckoned that since that was Japan and given that Thailand still does a lot of its day-to-day trading on the street, things were likely to be pretty rough and less of an old town and more of a ‘slightly older' town. So when we'd finally figured out what boat to take, we hopped on. No matter how many times it happens, I don't seem to be able to get used to the fact that a ‘boat journey' in Asia is not the same as a boat journey at home which usually involves some well-upholstered comfortable seats, one for everyone in the audience and some sort of attempt at pleasant dÃ©cor. This boat on the other hand had barely enough life-preservers for everyone, let alone seats. Off we went, cruising at sufficient speed so as to allow the dirty river water to splash right up into the boat and all over us. When we did finally manage to disembark in the ‘old town', I have to say that unfortunately it met my dreary expectations much more than it met Anna's. Unfortunately, similar to the rest of Bangkok, the streets were also throbbing with people trying to hawk their goods on us, take us for a trip to some unknown place and give us directions to places we didn't want to go. It'd be safe to say that our trip to the old town was very much a flying visit. Within about 2 hours we were stood back on the boat, listing heavily off to one side as too many people remained standing on the left.
A day or two later, we all decided to take a day trip to Ayutthaya, a town supposedly about an hour and a half by train from Bangkok. Once again, we were foiled in our efforts to actually make it to the place in an hour and a half due to the fact that about 20 minutes outside of Bangkok, the engine pulling our train actually steamed away and deserted us at some platform in the middle of nowhere. Which wasn't a huge problem except for the fact that there was only a 3rd class on the train, with no air conditioning and pretty solid benches to sit on. The sweltering heat on the train, coupled with the gradual decline of my bum from ‘comfortable' status to ‘very definitely uncomfortable' status meant that when we finally made it, I was literally fading away from heat. But there was to be no relief before another deeply memorable boat journey – this time round, we rented bikes so we had to get them onto the boat too and as our long-fingernailed (male) boat driver essentially drove the boat into its mooring, refusing to get caught up in any of that tying ropes to the shore nonsense that some people do, preferring instead to just keep the boat propelling itself into the mooring to keep it parked or at least briefly stopped, things got quite difficult as the boat continued to gyrate and tilt away from the wall impeding its path.. The boat itself was even smaller than before and to be honest, it was funny, but I was more than happy to be off it. Ayutthaya in general was a cool place, it had temples, it had Chris giving out to people charging us more ‘for being white' and it gave us an opportunity to try cycling on Thai roads, which I enjoyed despite the fact the VHI probably would've been unwell knowing this was taking place while they're insuring me. We cycled from place to place for a couple of hours before finally taking the boat back and boarding our charming, packed, sweaty train again for Bangkok.
So now, as I write – this has been written in 2 places, last night on the flight to Hanoi, which unfortunately was extremely bumpy so it was more trying to hold the laptop on the table than typing; and this evening from my hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam – I'm already in the next place and due to take a train to Saigon in a few days but hopefully I'll catch you all again before then,
Cheers & Hugs!