Sunday, December 18, 2011

Return to Bangkok and Ayutthaya

Our bus from Krabi arrived a lot earlier than expected at 4am.  We had booked accommodation and luckily they let us check in around 5.  We got a few hours rest then got a tuk tuk to the Grand Palace for Nev’s next world wonder, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

I’ve been to The Grand Palace before, I liked it on my first visit, but knew it wasn’t a world wonder.  This was maybe why I didn’t give it a proper go and why I can’t really remember much about the visit.   We got a one hour tour which was good, our guide spoke excellent English, he was very informative, was pretty sharp and really got our humour, with some great comebacks to a couple of our wisecracks.

I remember on my first visit I went alone, my friend Sally wasn’t keen on a repeat visit, she wasn’t really keen on The Grand Palace at all, telling me it was “over the top”.  I liked it though, it is over the top, but it’s a palace, it’s meant to be over the top.  It’s just over the top in Thai style with bright colours and lots of gold.  The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is an impressive building and very pretty to look at.  Like the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, it’s all about the bling, the gold and of course the emerald Buddha itself which is worth hundreds of millions of pounds.  But it’s just not a world wonder for me, I don’t think it’s a building of architectural prowess, it’s not iconic enough and not unique.  Your average person on the street could identify it, it doesn’t stand out from the crowd and it’s very similar to other palaces in South East Asia.  

The next day we got the train to the ancient city of Ayutthaya.  We picked a guest house from the lonely planet and it turned out to be a belter.  It was a great room and the guest house was very near the ancient ruins.  The owner was a helpful women, and a good sales person, we signed up for an early evening boat tour within a few minutes of checking in.  We hired bikes for a couple of days and set off straight after an early lunch.

We tried to first of all find the tourist information centre, but when we did it was shut.  Ayutthaya was badly damaged by the floods with over a metre of flood water in some areas.  The tourist information centre was closed for refurbishment, and when we arrived at Ayutthaya, we discovered that the charge for the site was waived, presumably to encourage tourism.

We cycled around stopping at several points of interest.  The area is fairly large and in Ayutthaya’s heyday I’m sure the ancient city would have been astounding.  But it is very ruined, most of what’s left is rubble after the city was sacked by the Burmese.  After the defeat the King moved to Bangkok and a new capital was established, the bricks from Ayutthaya were in fact used to build the Grand Palace.

On the first day we took an audio tour round one of the ruined sites.  It was very interesting learning about the history behind the Ayutthaya civilisation.  The first site we visited had the famous picture postcard photo of Ayutthaya with a Buddha head covered with tree roots.  It looked cool and reminded of Ta Prohm. 

We made it back for the afternoon cruise.  It was a good way to see the rest of the city, we saw ruins, some big Buddhas and an impressive sunset view of one of the temples. 

We went back in the evening as our lonely planet guide had informed us that the temples were illuminated at night.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, the recent flooding must have played havoc with the electricity.  It was an experience riding about in the pitch black.  I persuaded Nev to jump over the walls and check out one of the main temples in the dark.  As soon as we approached, about a dozen stray dogs intuitively new our intention and jumped up on the temple walls and started barking feverishly at us.  In the pitch blag we could picture the saliva drooling from the rabid mouths, and that was enough for us to abandon the plan and get straight back on our saddles. 

The next day we woke up early and set off on our bikes.  We went straight for the main temple we’d bizarrely managed to miss the previous day.  This temple was the best, with three large, almost identical stupas.  We got an audio tour which was again very interesting.  We checked out the other temples we’d visited the previous day, then had lunch and left for the train station for our return to Bangkok.

I’d arranged to meet up with Wee Dave’s brother, Ryan and his wife Lee in Bangkok.  They were here for a Thai beach holiday spending time in Railay and Kho Phi Phi, with a few days in Bangkok beforehand.  I was due to leave for the airport the next morning having booked and pre-payed for a taxi to pick me up at 6am so I planned to have a fairly civilised affair, but it certainly didn’t end up that way… 

Our meeting started off with the obligatory few beers.  We decided upon going to watch some Thai boxing, I’d been before and it was one of my highlights of Bangkok the first time round.  It didn’t fail to disappoint, with some good quality bouts, crazy Thai betting and a fist fight in the terraces next to us.  It’s a very interesting sight, even for people, like Lee, who aren’t a fan of contact sports.  The Thais go crazy for it!  The atmosphere can be quite intense, especially if the bookies favourite goes down.

After the boxing we decided to have a night cap near Ryan’s hotel.  The night cap, which was a tequila slammer, turned into a sesh, and when all the bars closed we found ourselves in a Go Go Bar.  I don’t know what time I left, but I remember getting in to my hotel room at around 5am, my taxi to the airport was booked for 6.  I stupidly went to bed and set my alarm for 5:45.  I woke to find Nev trying and just succeeding in shaking me awake.  It was 7:30am, and I had just under 2 hours to get my flight.  I hadn’t packed, and literally started chucking things in my bag.

When I got to reception I asked about my taxi and they told me it was long gone, and I had to pay full price for a new one.  I was initially furious until I found out that they had tried everything to wake me up.  They’d been ringing me phone and had been knocking on my door, they’d even gone into my room and tried to shake me awake but had no success.

I had carefully budgeted for my last day in Thailand and had 200 Baht left (about a fiver).  Due to my recent credit card fraud, only one of my credit/debit cards was working and I’d maxed it out that night to lend money to Nev as he was staying behind in Malaysia for Christmas and his Maestro card wouldn’t work in Thailand.  I only had 200 Baht to my name and no way of withdrawing anymore cash.  In my desperate looking state, the cheapest fair to the airport I could get was 600 Baht, so I took it and jumped into the taxi.  I made it there in the nick of time.  After I arrived at the airport I made it look like I only just noticed I didn’t have enough money for the full fair.  I assured the taxi driver that I’d get money from an ATM inside the airport and meet him back at his taxi, then pay the full amount.  As soon as I got my bags on a trolley I legged it, not feeling too guilty knowing that the correct fair shouldn’t be more like 300.

I checked in and went through to departures.  I had a thirst you couldn’t imagine, fortunately Bangkok airport is pretty slick and had water fountains outside the toilets.  I managed to rehydrate myself somewhat before getting on the plane for my short hop to Kuala Lumpur’s LCCT Airport.  LCCT stands for Low Cost Carrier Terminal, and as you can imagine it’s a total dump.  It was a world of difference from the new, shiny, Bangkok International.  No water fountains were available, and unsurprisingly none of my cards worked in any of the ATMs but I had one that would have worked if I was to buy something with it.  None of the shops, absolutely none of them, accepted credit cards, not even the Bureau de Change.  I had an unbearable thirst, and in shear desperation went to the smokers lounge to see if there were any leftover drinks.  I was in luck, and managed to mine sweep a couple of half finished bottles of water which made me feel marginally better.

At this point I’d better explain that I was flying Air Asia, they are like the Easyjet of South East Asia.  You have to pay for food, drinks and even blankets.  I noticed in their magazine that they accepted credit cards for duty free items and thought that I might be in luck.  When the air stewardess’ starting coming round and offering, or should I say selling drinks, I asked if it was possible to buy any food or water using my credit card.  They told me that only duty free items could be purchased in this manner, and for everything else I had to pay with hard cash.  This was the one thing I didn’t have, and they refused to give me any water.  The hangover was starting to kick in big time, and my unquenchable thirsty was back with a vengeance.    When the air stewardess’ were dishing out dinner, I snuck to the back of the plane and had a rummage in some of the drawers.  I managed to hit the mother load without too much trouble, and packed the pockets of my combats with us much water as I could squeeze in.  I crept back to my seat, gulped down some water and distributed the rest of bottles in the seat pocket in front of me.  I managed to drift into unconsciousness confident knowing that if I were to wake up thirsty that I’d have ample supplies.  Although I did wake up with the occasional embarrassing flash back of myself pole dancing in the Go Go Bar the previous night.

The 14 hour to flight to London passed with relative comfort although I was ravenous when I finally got off the plane.  24hrs had passed and I could use my debit card again.  I went straight into Marks and Spencer’s bought two sandwiches and scoffed them down in record time.  I then met up with my wee bro, who I hadn’t seen since the summer, and we ended up staying up very late catching up.  Our flight the next day was at 9am, and we had to get up at 6.  We only managed to get a couple of hours sleep, and we almost slept through our alarms.  I really should make more of an effort in future to get a good night’s sleep before a crucial early morning flight.  We got to the airport in ample time for our flight to Inverness where I was to spend Christmas.

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