by Jane | Dec 16, 2015 | Asia |
Highlights of Bangkok
This was my first visit to South East Asia and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Most people told me to head out of Bangkok at the earliest opportunity but I had to be there for a couple of weeks and I intended to make the best of it. I wanted to know what the best bits of Bangkok were and I was offered a place on a tour which was designed to show off the highlights of Bangkok in a day. After checking into my hostel with its 34 bed dorm!! (more about that later) I set out to explore the city. I set off with several other travel bloggers and writers to experience the Highlights of Bangkok tour which was organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. As the sun beat down on us and the humidity rocketed we were treated to a whistle stop tour of some of the best sights in the city. Our first stop was Wat Pho – better known as the place which houses the reclining Buddha. I would get to see a lot of Buddhas over the next few weeks, but this one, my first, holds a special place for me. The Buddha is MASSIVE. And gold – and it has hordes of people around it all jostling to get a better photo with their selfie sticks held aloft. It’s so big that it’s impossible to get it all into one picture on an ordinary camera so you can only capture tantalising glimpses through the pillars.
Those pillars which hold the ceiling up and hide the Buddha from you are a work of art in themselves and they are covered with intricate paintings and pictures; as are the walls. Along one side of the hall is a long row of little brass bowls. You buy a tub of coins and then walk along the row while dropping a coin with a gentle chink into each pot. At the end, if your coins match the number of bowls then your wishes will come true. The entire complex of Wat Pho is magnificent with chedis and stupas (pointy bits) in every direction and it has to be top of everybody’s list of the highlights of Bangkok. There are ancient drawings depicting the pressure points for Thai massage and small outcrops of rock gardens. The sun bounces off the jewelled walls, the colourful tiled roofs and the mosaic encrusted snakes and everywhere there are tourists. But if you want a really magical experience, get along to Wat Pho in the evening. You will virtually have the place to yourself and it takes on an unearthly glow under the floodlights (click here to read about my night time tuk tuk tour of Bangkok with Expique)
After Wat Pho we went to the Grand Palace where the word grand is an understatement. Like Wat Pho there is simply glitter and bling and grandeur in every direction. Strangely, at first glance, many of the buildings appear to be decorated with cups and saucers and plates….and when you look even closer, you realise that they ARE decorated with cups and saucers and plates
Hundreds of years ago, silk was brought in ships from China in exchange for rice from Thailand. Silk is relatively light in weight so the Chinese used bricks as ballast in the holds of the ships. Once the ships had docked, the bricks would be dumped – it wasn’t required for the return journey because rice is heavy and the cargo didn’t require additional ballast. A couple of enterprising Chinese sea captains decided to use crockery as ballast instead of bricks –they could sell this in the ports and make a little profit from what would otherwise be a waste product – and this did indeed prove to be a lucrative side trade. The Thais, who were building their temples at the time decided that rather than waste the inevitable broken pieces of crockery that arrived following storms at sea, that they would decorate the walls of their temples with the shiny colourful pieces. The funny thing is that somewhere along the way they took this a stage further and used whole cups and saucers and plates to make flowers and random patterns. It seems a weird product to use but it does actually work.
The Grand Palace was even more chaotic and packed with tourists than Wat Pho so eventually we were quite relieved to get out of the relentless sun and find refuge in a riverside restaurant for lunch. The Supatra River House was a peaceful haven from the crowds and we all enjoyed a tasty, traditional lunch in the upstairs restaurant before boarding one of the longtail boats which ply the river. We were given a tour of the canals -the klongs that Bangkok is built around and we buzzed among the waterside neighbourhoods where mail boxes stand on posts at the water’s edge, a hat shop was operating from a rickety wooden jetty and a fish feeding frenzy was taking place outside one of the temples. In the klongs, ramshackle wooden houses balance precariously at drunken angles over the water next to upmarket and very expensive riverside real estate. This was a glimpse into another part of city life. We spotted a water monitor basking on a rock in the sun, boys bathing in the water and wizened old men swinging in hammocks in the shade on verandas.
Our final stop of the day was to the iconic Wat Arun. Much of this temple is currently covered in scaffolding as it is being renovated but we could still climb some of the steps and look out over the other buildings. The teacup art is taken to a new level here with whole pieces of crockery adorning the walls. Despite the renovation work taking place, Wat Arun should still be on your highlights of Bangkok list. We had a lovely introduction to Bangkok, if tiring day, thanks to our guide Dom and the cute On and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. I was also pleased that On was able to accompany us the following day when I went to the Silom School of Cooking, and we had a chance to chat a little bit more
A hostel with a difference
The 3Howw Hostel, Sukhumvit
After a hot busy day it was back to my hostel. Always wanting to try something new I had snubbed the standard 10-bed dorm and chosen the 34 bed dormitory at the 3Howw Hostel in Sukhumvit. I like to be different and this certainly was different. On my arrival I was greeted by the delightfully friendly Pon and shown to my bed. Described as a pod it looked remarkably like one of the chambers in a Spanish or Latino graveyard. Chambers were set into the walls and you climb in and you lie down head first with your feet pointing out.
A little curtain gives the feeling of privacy and each pod has a light and an electric socket. The mattresses were the best ever and there were thick scrummy duvets, all with crisp white linen. I did wonder about the duvets in a city where the temperature hardly dropped below 30 degrees but the frosty air-con made them necessary and I had the best nights’ sleep for a long time. So much so that I extended my booking and I even returned a week later for more. The 3Howw Hostel Sukhimvit had its unusual 34 bed dorm, but it also had some nice little places to chill and relax. Despite the size of the dorm this was one of the quietest ones that I have slept in, and each morning there was fresh coffee and samples of different Thai snacks to try. And something else that is worth a mention – I think that the staff cleaned and mopped out the toilets and showers after every single guest! After the conference quite a few bloggers moved in to the 3Howw Sukhumvit and we commandeered one of the large tables in reception and converted it to our office. It was Rish’s birthday when we were there and the staff even went out quite late in the evening to try to find her a birthday cake and candles which was a nice touch.
I also experienced firsthand the benefits of a VA. A VA (virtual assistant) is like a PA (personal assistant) but as the name suggests, she (or he) works with you virtually. Louise has an awesome capacity for grasping concepts and new ideas, teaching herself from online seminars and courses and then puts into practice what she has learnt for the benefits of her clients. I mercilessly picked her brains, but we also got out and explored quite a bit of the city too. I will tell you some more about what we saw and did in a later post, but if you want a VA, check her out at Louisetheva.com and see what she can do for you. Hopefully I have given you plenty to whet your appetite with these highlights of Bangkok. It is worth spending a few days here – be brave – learn how to get about on the metro and the skytrain and find out for yourself what makes this vibrant Asian cosmopolitan city tick. Disclaimer: I must thank the Tourism Authority of Thailand for the Highlights of Bangkok tour and also thank the 3Howw Sukhumvit Hostel for a discounted stay. All opinions are, as always, my own and have not been influenced in any way
by Jane | Nov 3, 2015 | Asia |
Bangkok or to give it its full name: Krungthep mahanakhon amonratanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok, popnopharat ratchathani burirom ubonratchaniwet mahasathan amonpiman avatansathit sakkathattiya witsanukamprasit – also know as City of Angels in its shortened form, wins hands down the prize for the longest place name in the world.
It also wins in the culinary department with the food as diverse as you might expect in any capital city. It’s tasty and of course spicy and you can eat in high-end restaurants or sit on plastic seats with the wok-wielding grannies who cook by the side of the street.
Tuk tuk tour in Bangkok
I took a tuk tuk tour in Bangkok by night and I was especially lucky because my tour coincided with the annual vegetarian festival.
tuk tuk tour in Bangkok
Expique offer several different tuk tuk tours; and also walking and photography tours (you can read about their range here), but I was lucky because when I was in Bangkok they ran an extra special tour which coincided with the annual vegetarian festival.
For 10 days each year, the Chinese community holds a vegetarian festival during which people who normally eat meat abstain. The idea is to give something back to nature and to reflect upon your lifestyle. You can buy little birds in cages in the markets or turtles or fish and release them back into the wild. Many additional markets and street stalls pop up especially for the event and many places which usually serve meat will change to veggie options only during the festival.
Our convoy of tuk tuks buzzed around the bright neon-lit city streets with stops at a large Chinese temple where people were going all out with their celebrations, and the night time flower market, the Giant Swing and Wat Pho.
The vegetarian festival
At the temple festivities were in full swing and the air was filled with the sweet cloying smoke from giant incense sticks which gangs of men were hauling into position. These sticks were more like tree trunks and stood over 8 foot high. Drums, cymbols and chanting echoed around the giant hangar and everywhere were people with little carts cooking and serving all kinds of (veggie) delicacies.
giant incense sticks in a Chinese temple
There was a riot of Chinese red and gold and over on one side of the hall a side temple had been constructed and a religious ceremony was taking place and on a stage on another, some sort of musical play was being performed. It was a peek into another world with organised chaos and all types of food that I had never seen before.
The night time flower market
The night time flower market is a surreal place with the peak time for sales being at around 2am and maybe because of the darkness the scents were potent and more concentrated than normal.
roses in the night time flower market
Ladies were sitting behind long wooden benches and stringing golden chrysanthemum blooms into garlands, massive bags of white waxy petals like giant pillows were ready to be strewn as confetti and armfuls of roses stood to attention, held upright by their wet newspaper collars in readiness for the rush that would come after midnight.
The Giant Swing
Our tuk tuk drivers nimbly negotiated the crush of cars and took us to the Giant Swing which marks the centre point of the city. Constructed in 1784 the renovated swinging part was removed in 1935 for safety reasons. The custom or game used to consist of lying on the swing high up in the air and removing a sweet or a biscuit from a bamboo spike while swinging past….with one’s teeth.
The Giant Swing and Expique tuk tuks
It’s hardly surprising that this practice was outlawed following several fatal accidents – so nowadays the citizens of Bangkok find their kicks by riding their scooters on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic.
Our vegetarian dinner
We took another food break and stopped in a little backstreet cafe where we were served from their special vegetarian menu, all crammed into a sticky hot space fired by gas burners and some more of those wok wielding grandmothers.
Wat Pho by night
Our final stop of the evening was a surprise when we went to Wat Pho which is home to the Reclining Buddha. I has been there just the previous day courtesy of my Highlights of Bangkok tour that had been arranged through TBEX (the Travel Bloggers Conference) and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Then we had battled with the hordes of tourists and the searing temperatures but now at night we had the complex virtually to ourselves and it was magical.
Wat Pho on our Expique tour
The buddhas with their gold-leaf decorations and the mosaics on the chedis and wats sparkled under the floodlights and there was a powerful hush about the place. Few tourists realise that the complex is open at night and the Thais wouldn’t normally visit after dark.
Expique offer a range of scheduled and private tours and experiences. Our Bangkok day tours include walking tours, photography tours, cultural and culinary experiences, and of course the tuk tuk tours.
Mine – was the special vegetarian edition – the Bangkok Night Lights Tuk Tuk Tour – Vegetarian Edition, but you can check out their full range of tours here
I enjoyed the tuk tuk tour courtesy of Expique when I attended TBEX in association with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, although this has not influenced my opinion in any way.
by Jane | Oct 13, 2015 | Rest of the World |
Two and a half years ago I quit my job and I went exploring.
I thought that I may be gone for no more than a year before I satisfied my wanderlust and I settled back down again.
How wrong was I! I really threw myself in at the deep end that first summer in Europe.
- I went to to my first ever proper festival (in Lisbon),
- I worked on a farm in the Algarve,
- I was house sitting in Italy
- I looked after (sort of) 7 golfers in a gite in France
- I went to a wedding in Gibraltar
A year in South America
Scarlet Jones Travels – Brazil
And then I fulfilled my childhood dream (thanks Paddington Bear) of going to deepest darkest Peru. I was in South America for 364 days but I hardly scratched the surface. I usually travel slowly and I try to integrate with communities so I didn’t cover half of the ground that I had planned to, but I did manage to get to
- and Brazil
After a month or so in the UK over Christmas and the New Year I spent nearly a week in Tampere in dark snowy Finland before heading back to Spain for a break and I prepared for my next adventure – which was…..
Blasting through the Baltics.
The initial plan was to travel from Finland to Morocco in a camper van with a friend who I had met in Colombia but stuff got in the way and I had to fly back to the UK from Warsaw. However I did manage to see Helsinki, and then the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the top right-hand corner of Poland. Those few weeks were crazy and emotional for many reasons (you will have to wait for the book) and the weather threw everything at us from the most idyllic winter weather ever in Helsinki and Estonia to blizzards, icestorms and biting winds at other times.
Scarlet Jones Travels – Estonia
I spent my third summer away from my 9 to 5 job…
Cavorting in Catalunya
I worked hard and I played hard. I spent HOURS tapping away at my keyboard, designing an on-line course (watch this space as it will be launched very soon now). I would often put in more than 10 hours a day writing content but luckily I found plenty of time to explore the region led by my willing accomplice Debs.
And that brings me to now. Two and a half years on I am just beginning a new chapter – this time in South East Asia. I have a very loose, tentative plan, an idea of a route around the region, but if travel has taught me anything it’s to not over plan so I’m not going to set it out in print at this stage.
What I do know is that I will spend some time in Bangkok where I am very excited to be attending my second TBEX (Travel Bloggers Conference), and then…..well, you will have to wait and see.
I will also be launching my on-line course very soon and as a result of that I may have to rent a room somewhere and base myself in a place with decent wifi in case there are any last minute glitches with the launch.
And I don’t know why, but dramas always seem to follow me around and this trip so far has been no exception. Getting to Thailand was always going to be a bit of a slog but I had managed to buy an excellent value ticket with a decent travel time and just a 2 hour transfer in Mumbai. And then, just 17 minutes in to my overnight coach journey to the airport I received an email which told me that due to ‘an incident’ over Turkish airspace my flight had been seriously delayed and I would miss my connection.
Yes – things are back to normal!
If you would like to receive my blog articles directly by email and read what other dramas are going to befall me – you can guarantee that there will be many – make sure that you go to my site and sign up. You will also get a free copy of the ‘Top 10 things that you should know before travelling’ and you will be one of the first to learn about my course when it launches.
Are you ready? Watch this space for…
Scarlet Travels Solo in South East Asia
Scarlet Jones Travels – Bangkok