I got inspired by the minimalistic paintings from Alfred from June’s Le Monde diplomatique and did a bit of painting myself. I took three photos from this year’s trips to Florence, Thailand and Croatia and sat down today with some colours. I struggled a lot with the cartoonish minimalism in Alfred’s pictures, which got me inspired in the first place, and ended up painting a pretty realistic looking bridge and a hermit crab (jellyfishes are so out of this world, you can’t make them to look realistic howsoever!). Well, I still have plenty of photos from my vacations left …
I admit that I have a serious problem – I’m addicted to diving. Wether you love or hate the ever touristic islands of Thailand, the diving sites there are fantastic and worth to visit! We dived in Koh Tao (Chumphon Pinnacle, Hin Wong Pinnacle, South West Pinnacle, White Rock) and Koh Phi Phi (Bida Nok and Garang Hang) and those pictures were taken by Bill from Phi Phi Diving. I’m not going to bore you with words, the pictures will speak for themselves.
Here is a list of good diving sites in Thailand from PADI. And I seriously recommend this video about diving in the Andaman Sea.
Getting around in Bangkok
Bangkok is not a very pedestrian friendly city. The sidewalks are narrow, dirty, often blocked by something. There are almost no pedestrian lights and the air is polluted. Public transport with the BTS (also called the Skytrain) and MRT is not super cheap, but very fast and you won’t get stuck in a traffic jam. We often took the public transport to a certain part of the city and then a taxi for the last few kilometres.
A taxi starts at 35 THB and you have to make sure that the driver uses the meter, otherwise he can ask you to pay whatever he wants at the end of the trip! Don’t try to pay with a banknote bigger than 500 THB, the driver won’t be able to change it or might give you incorrect change, since they know that you are not familiar with the money (this happened to us on our 2nd day).
Capital of the Kingdom of Thailand.
1 568.737 km2, 8 280 925 population in the city.
Bangkok is huge, so taxi drivers oft don’t know a specific hotel or restaurant. It’s good to have an offline map on your smart phone, which you can then show to the driver. Most of the time we used Nokia’s Here Maps (you can download maps for a specific country and use it offline) and sometimes Ulmon’s Bangkok Offline Maps, which has all street names written in Thai, since not all drivers are familiar with the westernised street names.
We tried to take a tuk-tuk for a few times, but each time the driver wanted an unreasonable high price. We were way too sweaty to bargain and retrieved gladly into an air-coned taxi.
Chatuchak Weekend Market and Rooftop Bars
Our plan was to only spent the morning at the Chatuchak Market. But it turned out to be this huge, labyrinthine market, where one can find anything. Seriously ANYTHING! We got lost several times, and ate and drank our way through hundreds of sales booths, jam-packed with cloths, accessories, housewares, trinkets and even pets. The whole experience was kind of surreal and overwhelming. It’s by all means one of the biggest market in the world!
Bangkok is famous for its rooftop bars. So after a Japanese BBQ feast we decided to go to the nearest rooftop bar, which was one on the 32nd floor of the SOFITEL Hotel. The view was beautiful (although not breath-taking), the air was bearable cool and the cocktails were decent. My mind and body, both at first in shock and dizzy because of the hot temperature and the general frenzy, became calmer and more relaxed.
Jim Thompson House and China Town
Jim Thompson was an American businessman, who built a prospering silk company after the WWII in Thailand and became a household name after providing silk fabrics to the musical The King and I. Thompson later disappeared mysteriously in Malaysia and left behind i.a. his estate in Bangkok, plus some conspiracy theories about his life and disappearance. We took the guided tour, which is offered frequently at the entrance. The guide showed us the architectural specifics of Thompson’s house and his large asian art collection. It’s a tranquil and good place for retreating from the otherwise very touristic Bangkok.
ขอบคุณ[มาก] khop khun [mâak]
Thank you [very much] in Thai.
Afterwards, we went to Chinatown! I was pleased to be able to read most of the signs again and became much more adventurous about the street food. We didn’t try the shark fins or bird nests, which were offered everywhere, but a variety of Dim Sums, some barbecued stuff (yeah, we weren’t sure what it was…) and a delicious noodle dish. Just when we had to leave, we realised that the night food market has just started… Bummer!
Traveling to Thailand was a semi-random decision we made by searching for the cheapest flight in April on Skyscanner to somewhere outside of Europe. April and May are the hottest months in Thailand, followed by the monsoon season, which means less tourists (or at least that was what we imagined).
Berlin > Bangkok
We flew with Qatar Airways, with a short transit in Doha’s Hamad International Airport. The services on the planes were excellent and I got my preordered vegetarian meals and watched The Imitation Game (Cumbabaaaaatch!!!). The Hamad International Airport opened last year (with 5 years of delay, so maybe they can exchange some war stories with the BER guys?) and is pretty spacious and luxurious! Everything is still new, clean and they had free drinking water + free Wi-Fi, rows of Apple’s Macs with internet access and lots of shielded rest area with comfortable loungers everywhere. I was impressed.
We arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhomi Airport after ~16h, took the Airport Link (here is an iOS App) to the nearest station to our hotel and changed into a taxi to make the last few kilometers. Our hotel was OK and it reminded me so much of the one we had in Hongkong – dark side street, badly lit stairway, a tiny green painted room with loud air-con and a glass bathroom door, so one should not be pee-shy.
สวัสดี ครับ/ค่ะ sawadee ka/krab
Hello in Thai.
Use ka, if you are female; krab, if you are male.
The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The next morning we took the Skytrain, the MRT and then a boat to get to the Grand Palace (read here about how to get around in Bangkok). The night before we had read in our Lonely Planet Thailand that there is a strict dress and behaviour code for temple visits, so Simon wore long trousers and sneakers and I brought my shawl with me to use it as a long skirt over my shorts. Upon arrival we realised how buzzy this place was and some people tried to stop and convince us that I won’t be able to get into the palace due to my shorts. But since we were prepared, we didn’t pay much attention to them. We later found out, that they probably tried to scam us (definitely click on the link!). Anyway, there is also a place at the entrance of the palace which rents cloths, in case you decide to visit the palace spontaneously!
We took a free guided tour in English, which is offered inside of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Our guide (a woman in khaki uniform) seemed to be very proud of her culture and the royal family, and we learned a lot about the history and symbols of this place.
The tour ended after ~1.5h at the entrance to the Grand Palace. Our guide gave us a brief overview about the layout of the Grande Palace and the rest was ours to find out. We retrieved immediately to a shadowy place, because the sun was burning above us, and we finally realised what it means to be in on of the hottest cities in the world!
The Big Buddha and the almost scam
After the Grand Palace we tried to find some food and weren’t sure what to do next. We were standing on a street corner, browsing through our Lonely Planet, when a middle aged guy approached and asked us in a very good English whether we were lost. He involved us quickly into a friendly conversation, in which he mentioned his brother who lives in Germany (“Somewhere near Frankfurt.”) and that today is the last day of school for Thai children and therefore there will be a big celebration in a night market in Silom. (“There will be fireworks, Thai boxing, music and food!”) Of course we were intrigued and asked him to tell us more about the market. He showed us the place on our map and told us that it would be very cheap for us to get there by a tuk-tuk. (“A taxi will cost you 100 THB (~3€), but a tuk-tuk with yellow plate can take you there for 30 THB (<1€)! Yellow plated tuk-tuks are subsidised by the government and therefore very cheap and very safe! And before you go the night market, you should have a look at the big buddha statue, which is not far from here! I can help you telling this to a tuk-tuk driver with a yellow plate!” And he held out a hand and winked by a passing by tuk-tuk with a yellow plate and started to explain everything to the driver in Thai.) At this moment we were feeling very lucky about meeting this friendly and helpful local who spoke English so well. The tuk-tuk driver reassured us in good English that it really would cost us only 30 THB and so we decided to go to this night market.
Thai Baht is the currency of Thailand.
1 EU are approx. 37 THB
After 2 minutes driving, in which the driver involved us into a conversation about German soccer, he insisted to show us the big buddha statue (“It’s for free today, because it’s a special buddhist holiday!”). Despite our protests he made a quick u-turn and drove us into a side street. (“There is the big buddha, take some photos and I’ll wait here!”). At this point we were a bit annoyed by the driver because we were really not interested to see the big buddha. We also became suspicious, because sitting in front of the statue of the big buddha (which turned out to be a huge golden buddha glittering in the sunset) Simon found out on his smart phone that Silom is almost 8km away! Government subsidised or not, 30 THB are far too little! We were smelling something fishy, but couldn’t figure out what the catch was. We decided to go back to the tuk-tuk, but to be very careful about what is going to happen next.
The driver was still waiting for us and when we took our seats again, he told us that he has to go to the toilet, because of his stomach ache. (“Wait here, I’ll be back in a second.”) The thing became even more strange when another guy took a seat on a chair, which was next to the tuk-tuk, and started to talk to us – and guess what? – in perfect English! (“I’m a English teacher at that school.” He pointed at a big gate behind us. “Don’t be mad at the driver! Those people are very poor, they don’t eat properly and become sick very often! Where are you from?”) Simon ignored him and said to me in German: “This whole thing is becoming more and more fishy! Let’s get out of here!”. We left some money on the driver’s seat and ran out of the side street.
The Patong Night Market
In the end, the taxi ride (with meter) to Silom costed us ~250 THB (~7€). The taxi driver had no idea about a night market with fireworks, Thai boxing, etc., but suggested the Patong night market, which is also in Silom.
The Patong Night Market turned out to be the a red light district – code word: ping pong shows! Several guys tried to talk to us and held a “menu” into our faces with different type of “shows” on it. I was a bit bemused by the fact that we accidentaly landed here, but also a bit shocked by the girls sitting in front of all the “bars”. They looked so young! Luckily, there was also a part of the market which were not selling shows of some sort, but touristic trinkets, cloths, toys and fake design stuffs. And I found this stand selling beautiful cut-out 3D postcards of famous buildings from around the world and bought my first souvenirs.
Back in our hotel in Sukhumvit we felt tired, dehydrated from too much sweating, a bit annoyed from all the (other) tourists and disoriented by 6 hrs of time difference…
We were on the road again! :-)