Oh my goodness, it’s amazing what you can fit into each day! Remember that I had mentioned that friends had given me a whole lot of itinerary and accommodation recommendations? Well, those very same friends arrived in Bangkok on Friday night, and stayed at the same hotel (we did know that this was going to happen – and we will also see them again later in Chiang Mai). It was lovely to see familiar faces – Clare and our friends’ eldest daughter are in the same grade at the same school – and we took every opportunity to pick their brains a second time while the girls were all splashing around in the pool. We decided to take a long tail boat tour around the river and the canals.
It’s fascinating how different things look from the waterways. There don’t appear to be any planning regulations in Bangkok. Fancy hotels are right next to shipyards are right next to small shops are right next to slums are right next to hairdressers are right next to car parks are right next to food carts are right next to mechanics are right next to residences are right next to temples are right next to restaurants are right next to schools are right next to jewellers are right next to….well, you get the general idea. The juxtaposition is very interesting but also often quite unsettling.
Our boat driver was keen to point out the many water monitors in the canals – I think that we saw about five! They look like a cross between a large goanna and a small crocodile, as far as I can see.
There were also what appeared to be a million temples. The Buddhist faith is such an integral part of the lifestyle here. Many of the temples are accessible from the canals. It was remarkably peaceful on the water, and quite a bit cooler – yesterday was a stinking hot day in Bangkok. We only had one lady with a boatload of souvenirs approach our boat.
For Stella – and Dan too – the highlight of the tour appeared to be when the boat went “faster, faster, faster”! It’s surprising just how much speed they can reach.
Lunch was back at one of the restaurants we had visited on our walking food tour. I was rather impressed that I was able to find it a second time! None of the staff there spoke English, and our Thai is pretty much non-existent. Another diner saw our plight and came to our rescue, suggesting dishes and writing down an order for us. And she was just enjoying a meal with her husband! As it turned out she spoke French and English as well as Thai. Very versatile.
We came across this little shop selling overlocker thread not far from the hotel – just superb! I wish that there was somewhere with this range of colours at home!
After another quick dip in the pool it was time to get our bags and head off to the main train station, Hua Lamphong. I had pre-booked our tickets to Chiang Mai from home, and they were waiting for us at our hotel when we checked in. So efficient. I had pre-booked and pre-paid all of our accommodation and travel arrangements online, as so far (fingers crossed) everything has gone very smoothly. Originally I tried to book first class air-con sleepers, but they were already sold out. So it was second class air-con sleepers instead. The main difference is that the second class sleepers are either side of a central aisle. What are seats during the day flip up to become beds in the evening.
As it turned out, we were the only family travelling in second-class. Our fellow passengers – around forty people in our car – were a few Thai and the rest twenty-something European backpackers. Up until then I hadn’t really thought that we were doing anything particularly adventurous by travelling independently through Thailand with our primary school age kids, but maybe we are! The internet and easy accessibility of information has made it so straightforward, however, and we do have the added bonus of English being such a commonly spoken language.
Both girls slept beautifully overnight. Dan and I were more restless – the lights in the corridor stayed on all night, and despite having curtains across the sleeper it was pretty bright. My advice to anyone taking a sleeper to Chiang Mai is to take an eye mask with you! The restaurant car was another funny experience, as it came complete with English language songs from the 1960s, none by the original artists, all made boppy. The food on board was quite tasty, and we particularly enjoyed having coffee brought to us in the morning after we awoke. Travelling by train is a wonderful experience.
So here we are, in Chiang Mai. It’s late Sunday morning, we’ve all showered and refreshed ourselves, I’ve found free wifi and time to update the blog, Clare has answered loads of iPod messages from friends – mostly questions about the toilets – and Dan and Stella have gone for a quick walk. Our guesthouse (another recommendation from our friends) is also marvelous. I am the chief researcher and organiser, so had better pull out the map and guidebooks again shortly. I wonder what today will bring?