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Chinatown & Thonburi (Old Bangkok)

THAILAND | Saturday, 17 May 2008 | Views [1921] | Comments [2]

Made the decision to relocate again. I feel like I have explored all of they main tourist attractions in Bangkok, but I have yet to discover what life is really like for the average Thai in Bangkok. So I have headed further into the heart of Bangkok, near the main railway station, which also borders on Bangkok's chinatown.

I managed to find a charming little guesthouse not far from the station. The owners/management are very friendly and accommodating. Only problem with this place is the bugs.

I have so far come to the realisation that bed bugs are going to be an unavoidable reality of sleeping in guesthouses/hostels. The only evidence that they even exist are the tiny specks of blood stains on my sleep sheet indicating that they have somehow managed to get through my sheet in order to snack on me through the night.

Unfortunately, as charming as this place is, the bugs are not shy at all. They stroll across the woodwork and mattress like they own the place. I just close my eyes at night and try to empty my mind of the fact that they are probably crawling over me.

I spent two nights in this hostel, using it as a base to explore chinatown. The main streets of chinatown are bustling with activity. Every space adjacent to and on the pavement is filled up with, principally, food vendors. Just walking down the street, I realise that food is one characteristic and important feature of Thai life. Just leaving the hostel, one is immediately confronted with the appetising smell of chicken, pork, beef, duck, rice, noodles, chillis, and various sauces being mixed together by street vendors. Where the smell of food is absent, it is replaced instead by that sweet smell that often accompanies heat and humidity.

I found that many of the vendors were incredibly friendly and appreciated my curiosity into what they were making. I sampled all manners of sweet and savoury dishes that defy description - their ingredients a secret to me.

On the second day in this area, I had planned to visit one of the temples nearby which houses a solid-gold buddha discovered accidently when a stucco buddha was dropped, revealing the gold core underneath. The gold was covered by stucco in order to prevent the buddha from being looted, but its true value was ultimately forgotten until recently. It values at $20m.

Well, I didn't even get down the road before this elderly man started talking to me "Where are you from?" This is quite a common occurrence here in Bangkok - people are always eager to engage in conversation with foreigners, often with the purpose of conning you or selling you something. But, for some reason, I felt that this man was different. I humoured his conversation for a while, constantly trying to identify his angle into my wallet. Well, long-story short, my gut-instincts told me that this guy was genuine, rather than the many conmen which I encounter daily. He told me that he was a civil servant, a city-planner, from the Northern region of Thailand that was in Bangkok for a conference. He told me that his flight back home was delayed to later that evening, but rather than wait in the airport, he wanted to visit a temple in Thonburi (which is where the city used to be located) and then get a boat ride diwn the river. I accepted his invitation to accompany him, which turned out to be a great decision.

He turned out to be quite an interesting person, eager to show/teach me Thai culture. We spent that afternoon visiting the Temple of the Bells, where he showed me how to pray and how to use the various devices around the temple, and then we took a ride down the river in a longtail boat. He continued to explain everything that we were seeing and about what life was like in this part of Bangkok.

He asked the boat driver to stop at one of the houses along the river, where we enjoyed a snack for lunch. This was something I would never have experienced but for meeting Baipoon, my new Thai acquaintance. We drank ALOT - I was forced to ration my beer-intake to ensure that I kept my wits about me, just in case I was wrong and he was in fact after my money. But even so, we easily went through 3 large bottles of Singha beer between the two of us, and enjoyed pineapple chunks dipped into a sugar-salt mixture.

He certainly earned my trust by insisting that he pay for most of the expenses. He was glad to practise his English, particularly as his son is currently studying in London at Imperial College.

I have resolved to keep in touch with him. Indeed, he has invited me to stay at his home in Northern Thailand, on the border of Laos, for a couple of nights when I pass through that region next month. I will decide later whether to take him up on this offer.

I could not have been happier at my decision to move away from the other foreigners in Bangkok, and particularly at my luck in meeting Baipoon this day.

But I return to the backpacker's region tomorrow because I want to visit a temple that I forgot to see the other day.

I travelled in a longtail boat like this down the river.

I travelled in a longtail boat like this down the river.

Tags: boat, chao praya, chinatown, longtail, old bangkok, ride, river, thonburi



Great blog, Jonathan. Though I hated the bit about the bugs, yuck. I suspect you'll get used to the "friendliness" exhibited towards western tourists in LEDCs (ha, ha) rather quickly. I'm following...

  Milo May 20, 2008 4:06 AM


Fantastic day, very enjoyable to read through your day and almost felt that I was there too.
Keep on sharing your experiences with the rest of us.

  Mum May 20, 2008 6:30 AM

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