The bus leaving Battambang at 7:45 am and an estimated duration of the bus ride of 8 to 9 hours let us hope that we would reach Bangkok before nightfall. On time we were picked up from the hotel and shuttled to the bus station in Battambang. Passengers to Bangkok, that was one more person besides us, were asked to board the bus to Siem Reap to reach Banteay Meanchey, the place we already knew from the trip to Battambang. The bus to the border was running late and after a wait of more than an hour we finally sat on a very comfortable bus to Poipet, the border town on the Cambodian side. The conductor swapped our bus tickets for Capitol Tours badges which made us easier to identify on the Thai side by the bus company which was picking us up. More by accident we found the proper place to get our exit stamp from the Cambodian officials and a little confusion and switching road sides later we stood in front of the large Thai border station, entry and exit cards in hands and signs to follow. Along with a surprisingly large group of foreigners we queued to get our passports stamped for Thailand. While Lenka passed through in a breeze, it took the official checking my passport a little bit longer since he was surprised to learn that this was my first time entering Thailand. Eventually I had my stamp and was happy to have mastered yet another border crossing by land.
None of the tourists aboard the minibus had any idea where in Bangkok we would be arriving. When the driver asked everyone told him we wanted to be dropped off near Khao San Road, the epicenter of guesthouses and restaurants in Bangkok. Much much later and already after dark we were dropped off right in front of some guesthouses and restaurants, which was more than we had bargained for. We immediately set off to find a reasonably priced room, which we found a little bit outside the main tourist strip. Once we were checked-in, we set off to refill our stomachs and get a first impression of the tourist craziness which is that particular area of Bangkok. After Battambang which had close to no tourist infrastructure and tourists, this was a culture shock.
We had planned to spend two days to get a first impression of Thailand’s capital city, before we would head south to Surat Thani and the Khao Sok National Park. Since it is recommended to buy sleeper train tickets ahead of time, our first action the following morning was to head to the Hua Lamphong train station to buy those tickets. We left the officially looking agents at the train station entrance to themselves and headed straight to the ticket counter. Two minutes later we were proud owners of our first Thai train tickets. Since the onward journey was organized, we could focus on sight-seeing in Bangkok.
Near the train station on of the probably most expensive (by earthly measurements) Buddha’s of the world is located. The more than 3 m-tall Buddha is made of solide gold and invited us to cut at least a small piece off. However the presence of security and quite a few other tourist kept us from doing anything stupid and thus the only thing we did take were pictures. Apparently it is considered impolite having one’s picture taken in front of the Buddha. I tried to explain to a French lady with the result that she was posing to the right of the Buddha instead of the left. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to care about local do’s and dont’s too much…
We criss-crossed through Chinatown where we tried the bird’s nest soup (ç‡•çª, Yan Wo) and eventually reached our next sightseeing target at the famous Wat Pho and it’s giant reclining Buddha. We hadn’t paid our entrance ticket yet when we were already approached by a guide who offered to tell us about the Wat nd Buddhism in general. Happy to learn more about the local religion we accepted and listened to the stories of karma, the differences between Tibetan and South-East Asian Buddhism, the different poses of the Buddha as well as the many statues around the temple complex. Once the guided tour had ended we set off on our own discovery tour to take a few pictures of the beautiful place. We left the Wat Pho and this side of the river to reach the Wat Arun by ferry.
Since we were getting hungry we were happy to discover that in front of Wat Arun a few hawkers had set-up a small food court. We used the opportunity to taste a stuffed omelett and the content of a 1.5 liter water bottle also put our water household back into equilibrium. With full stomachs we climbed the very steep steps of the stupa at Wat Arun. The richly decorated stupa provides a nice setting for a magnificent view over Wat Arun, the river and the city, including Wat Pho and the Grand Palace on the other side of the river.
Once again we used the ferry services to return to the east side of the river where we had to keep tuk-tuk drivers and their translators at bay. Instead of grabbing a tuk-tuk we opted again for the water bus which brought us north to the tall standing Buddha. Since we had an appointment with one of Lenka’s former colleagues we only had time to take a quick look, snap a few photos and head back to our guesthouse to freshen up. Through the Bangkok traffic jams we managed to be only 15 minutes late and successively enjoyed an amazing Thai dinner at one of the finer restaurants in Bangkok. To round-off the evening we were brought across the city in a Mercedes S-class and dropped right in front of our modest guesthouse.
We started our second day in Bangkok with a breakfast a little bit outside the touristy zone, before we moved to the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaeo. Since it was around 9 am when we arrived at the Grand Palace it felt like thousands of other tourists had exactly the same plans as we did. We had arrived at the epicenter of sightseeing in Bangkok, there were no doubts about that. Among the throngs of people we made our way to visit the jade Buddha inside the Watand to soak up the atmosphere of the fairytale-like area. It was incredible to see all the richly decorated buildings and beautiful statues. It did feel like from another world.
Through narrow alleys we made our way to the next stop on our itinerary: the Wat Suthat. Despite the Wat being very positively mentioned by guide books we were almost the only visitors at the place. Even though there were not many tourists in sight, there were plenty of signs informing foreigners about the trickery going on with tuk-tuk drivers and guides.
Our walk led us to the Golden Mount, a temple mountain offering stunning views not only of the old town of Bangkok, but all around including the modern high-rises surrounding the old town. The dark clouds above the skyscrapers did not give us an impression of an immediate weather change. Following the view we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Wat Rajnadda and Loh Prasat. We spent some time in this meditative atmosphere before we passed by the Democracy Monument on the way back to our guesthouse. At the guesthouse we collected once more our belongings and went out to look for a taxi driver for the ride to the Hua Lamphong train station. None of them felt like using a meter, so we opted for a cheaper tuk-tuk instead. Our driver didn’t even need 15 minutes through the traffic to reach or destination. Much earlier than planned we sat at train station. It turned out that this wasn’t too bad after all because while we were waiting for the clock to turn to 6 o’clock a heavy downpour flooded a couple of the tracks at the train station.
Around 6 pm we headed out to platform 10 to board the train with destination Kanlang in Southern Thailand.