Thailand: Bangkok, Beaches and Buddha
Thailand has everything from rainforests, through to exotic islands, fun nightlife, delicious cuisine and a historic culture. Thailand means, “land of the free”, a reflection that the country has not been colonised throughout history, unlike her war-torn neighbours. The country now features a peculiar blend of traditional culture in parallel to considerable western influences, as you will see on your first glimpse of Bangkok on a taxi ride from airport to hotel. This bustling city is home to 8 million people and is the epitome of the modern, steamy Asian metropolis. When you have exhausted yourself here then you’re ready for paradise on some of the world’s finest beaches.
I left the airport in taxi bound for the much-famed Khao San Road, a hangout of western backpackers. I sped along double-decker, five-lane highways, bursting with motorbikes and four-wheel drive vehicles. My first impression of Bangkok? I thought that I’d arrived in an eastern version of Los Angeles, such was the intensity and culture shock of flying in from medieval Kathmandu. However with a little more exploration I found it to be not so bland. On my first afternoon I took a walk to the Golden Mount temple in the heart of the city, which offered a high vantage point to gaze across the vast sprawl of the city. Through the thick smog I could barely see the city perimeter, but I noticed that dotted amongst the high-rise modern buildings were more traditional Thai buildings, and literally dozens of Wat temples.
After sundown the city became even more alive than by day. Around the Sumkhuvit Road by all the major hotels I could take my pick from Thai, Indian, and Chinese food through to all the farang (western) varieties. However the following day I was persuaded to visit the night markets in the district of Pratunam to get real Thai food and experience more of urban Thai culture. I found it to be a labyrinth of corrugated tin roofs and dazzling fluorescent lights. With no real menus I took a gamble on what to eat but it tasted great (whatever it was!)
I left the smog-haze of Bangkok with my head in a spin, having only had just a flavour of what the city had to offer. I’d not encountered the late night sleaze of Patpong, or a Thai boxing match, but then there’s always my return here before I flew on to Australia. I ventured north by bus and was pleasantly surprised to find the overland transport more comfortable than in Europe. I found the northern city of Chiang Mai to be visually striking with all the temples, and only marginally less bustling than Bangkok. Almost everyone visiting Chiang Mai is encouraged to visit the nearby hill tribes. It seemed a touch voyeuristic in principle, but fascinating to see the existence of a traditional subsistence culture in operation.
The finale to my stay in Thailand was a laze around the islands of the south. I had been warned of how touristy and crowded some of the islands have become. I visited one of the largest and developed, Ko Samui, but even here I was pleasantly surprised to find miles of uncrowded beaches even near some of the more popular hot spots such as Chaweng. I rented a beach hut for the equivalent of £2 a night. In the day I sizzled in the sun, slept in the shade of palm tree and occasionally went for a dip in the sea. During my week on the island I hired a moped to zip around and explore for just one day. I found the temple of the Big Buddha on the north of the island. The 30 foot-high golden Buddha statue makes an impressive sight at the end of a causeway, with tropical sea and sky surrounding it. Further around the island and less frequented are the waterfalls of Lin Hat and Na Muang amongst lush rainforests. I arrived back in Chaweng and what better way to end the day than have a traditional Thai massage on the beach.