Monday was a day I have been dreading for a long time, a ride into the centre of Bangkok. Each time I have met cyclists that have come through Bangkok I have asked them about it and they always say they took the bus or train. Well I made my way south on a road a few k west of the main north/south motorway and it wasn't too busy to start with, the junctions not to bad and I just followed the signposts. As it started to enter the city signposts were all to suburbs, none of which were marked on my map, so I just followed the compass south or westwards if that was not possible as the river would stop me going too far wrong. The road was dualled all the way, but a busy city road rather than motorway style, so most main junctions were traffic lights which was slow going but at least pretty safe. I wasn't technically lost, but nor did I have any idea where I was, I was just waiting to see a landmark, then I would find out where I was. Then I saw a signpost to Banglamphu, the area I was aiming for and a few minutes later, to my amazement I was at the end of the road I was looking for. I hadn't taken a single wrong turn, how can you if you don't know where you are, no back tracking, I had given up using the map and yet I had arrived far more easily than I could have ever dared to wish for. I checked out a few guest houses including the one where I stayed when I was last here, before opting for a very big but clean place that offered far better value for money than all the others. I went out in the evening to roads that were closed to traffic and thought it was normal until I saw crowds of people behind railings waiting for something top happen. Enquiries informed me that the Queen was in the wat, so I waited around too, but it was so still and hot the sweat was pouring off me. I decided to wait another few minutes until 8pm and sure enough out she came. Lots of other people came out first but she was the only one escorted by a huge umbrella despite it being neither sunny or raining. She even came around to our side of the car to wave to the adorring crowd, no mean feat, it was a very long car and she is a very old lady! I carried on down the Khao San Road, the main backpacker hang out in Bangkok. It was exactly the same as when I was last here, only more so. A mass of neon lights, bars, hotels, shops, all the usual stuff. It's only 200m long and get to the other end, turn the corner and it's dark and not a soul around, very strange.
The following day was a complete waste of time as I went to pick up my bike bits from the post office. I went there on the river ferry, a nice change from the hectic roads and just a 5 minute walk either end of a 30 minute boat ride. I found the Poste Restante easily, not even a queue, found the details of my stuff and then was told I had to go to the customs house, that could only mean bad news. It took me half an hour to get there, the place was packed, I filled out some forms and collected my queue ticket and sat and waited....and waited....and waited. Lunch hour stopage didn't exactly help, but after 2 hours 45 minutes I spotted the parcel and was called over. I opened it up for them to check through it, then out came a calculator. The calculation took too long with far too many number being put in for my liking, but at last they came up with the final figure 4106 Baht, I had expected to pay 2 for a parcel at the post office! That's 68 pounds. I was staggered, my worst estimation had been 10 pounds. I threw a wobbly and refused to pay, so they fetched a manager and once again I had to show him the contents of the parcel, and I asked why I had to pay import tax on the postage as well. I also pointed out that I wasn't really importing it as I was taking it with me and out to Malaysia. Without the aid of a calculator he said I would have to pay at least 2000 Baht. At least 2000! What's that all about? Surely there is a fixed import tax rate, but I decided to try my luck anyway. I suggested 1000, but they wouldn't budge below 2000. Now for a bit of a fun and a gamble, I said I would pay no more than 1000, put it on the desk, took the package and went to leave. I got as far as the door before being stopped and told to go back. Back I went but still no less than 2000, so this time I went with the real intension of leaving, I got out of the door but was then stopped by security and told I would be arrested if I went any further, back I went. More negotiations followed and I eventually agreed to pay the 1500 they were now asking for, that is still 25 pounds but somewhat better than 68 pounds. I don't really know who got the better deal as I am not sure if I should really have had to pay at all, but I made sure I got a receipt. The people of Bangkok seem to be duty bound to rip off a foreigner, aren't we lucky? I paid with a large note in a shop and soon realised I had been short changed and as I was about to mention it the rest was handed to me with a receipt, a slick operation that has clearly been well rehearsed. Then I went to buy a mango off a little fruit stall, but declined at the asking price of 83p. I bought 2 for 12p in Cambodia and got a 3rd one free. Later on I had a sticky rice with coconut milk and mango, a whole mango, yet it only cost 30p, work that one out. Incidently it was absolutely delicious and it is safe to say it wont be the last one I have.
Bangkok hasn't changed much since I was last here, though transport is noticably different. There is now a metro and a skytrain, very few boats of the river and very few tuk-tuks. Boats before were every few minutes and the river was like a motorway, but this time I had to wait 20 minutes during which time nothing else passed. Tuk-tuks seem to be aimed at tourists and they are sound as they should be on a race track and have big wide tyres to add to the image.
My first day of sightseeing included Bangkok's highlight, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace. No description of mine could ever do the place justice, but I have so say it was jolly nice. There are more photos opportunities there than you can shake a camera at. The Emerald Buddha is the most reveered image in Thailand, yet he is only a little chap, no more than a couple of feet tall in a seated position, but it sits on a whole stack of gold stuff, pushing him well up towards the ceiling. Added to that the walls are covered in wonderful frescoes, all of which you are not allowed to photograph. In the afternoon I went of to some of the further away sights so took the bike and tested the sandals. The soles must be thicker that the other ones so I might have to raise the saddle a little, otherwise they were fine. I didn't manage to see anything that I hadn't seen before, but having stayed here for a week last time I think I pretty much covered the place. I went to the Vimenmek Teak Palace, the largest teak building in the world. When I arrived I was told the English speaking tour had just left, so I was lead at break nack speed whilst being given a quick look at each room and brief description. Even though it had "just left" we still had to overtake 2 other groups. Once with the English group the guide wasn't hanging around and I was heading out of the place before I had even realised I had arrived. Phew!
Today has been my third and final day in Bangkok, only 2 of which have been for sightseeing, and to be honest I struggled for motivation this morning, I have too many other things on my mind at the moment. But I forced myself out, and it was worth it, though once again I didn't see anything that I hadn't seen before but I did have a ride on the Skytrain which was good. Wat Pho was a highlight, really a complex of wats with the main attraction being reclining Buddha, 85m long and 15m high, with wonderful feet inlaid with mother of pearl. I took a walk through Chinatown, then went in search of the Buddha which is 5.5 ton of solid gold, before heading back by boat again.
So tomorrow I move on. I am heading for.....hmm, I have forgotten the place name, but it is where the floating market is and about 105k from Bangkok, so an early start the following morning will see me at the market well before the tour buses arrive. From there on in I am new territory the whole way, and the beach beckons. I can hardly wait for a paddle!
I have just uploaded another load of photos, are you a lucky lot!