Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bangkok At Its Best

The night ferry touched down at Chumpon at around 5 a.m. The officers told us and other passengers to go to the nearby shop. The shopowner could not speak English fluently, she could only point to the seats. So we waited there. About half an hour or so, a small minivan picked us up and dropped us off at a cafe.

While waiting for the bus to Bangkok to arrive, we shared a pot of coffee (could serve five cups of coffee). I'm not a coffee drinker, but the coffee served at this cafe was so good that I drank two cups.

The bus journey to Bangkok was very long as the bus stopped many times for toilet stops, lunch and gas refill. We finally arrived at the Southern Thailand bus terminal (not Northern Thai bus terminal Mochit) at around 4 p.m., which was way later than my estimation.

Since it's too late to do wat-hopping, I reckoned we should go to Chatuchak Market before it closed at 6 p.m. I'm not a big shopper, but I'm curious to see the market that everyone is talking about and I reckon Aneen would love this market. 

After asking around on how to get there, we finally took a taxi because the bus to Chatuchak was nowhere to be found and we raced against time. Once we got there, we did the search-haggle-buy operation and managed to secure several souvenirs for the colleagues we left behind. 

Then the next problem arose: where were we going to sleep? I suggested Udee Bangkok, a hostel near Chatuchak that my friend Lilian recommend. But Aneen wanted to go to Khao San road because there were many hostels there, so if one hostel was full, we could always check the next one. 

I asked her if she was really sure about it because Khao San road was the center of all Songkran festivities and it would be very difficult to walk there. She said yes, so off we went. I didn't mind getting wet during Songkran, I was there to experience it. I just didn't want Aneen to feel uncomfortable.

A kind street vendor told us to take the number 3 bus to Khao San road. We got on the bus and the bus conductor said we didn't have to pay the fare. Yay!

As the bus approaching the city center slowly amidst the traffic jams, we got to see the Songkran festivities. People gathered around huge water containers to refill their buckets, water guns and whatever things that could hold the water. Once they found the targets, they waved their hands to stop them and the targets obliged without reservations! 

We soon landed at Khao San road, right in the heart of the Water Festival. Water and white chalk powder was everywhere. Aneen casually asked a woman at the road side if she knew any good but cheap hotels around. She looked at our faces and asked our homeland. 

"We're from Indonesia," I said.
"Selamat malam (Good evening)," she said, smiling.
Upon hearing the words, Aneen and I just wanted to hug her.

She says that her husband is Indonesian, that's why she knows several words. She has been to Indonesia several times. She was on Khao San road to accompany her daughter for Songkran festival.

She took us to Sawasdee hotel, which offered two beds, TV, AC and bathroom ensuite at 750 Baht. Whoa, it's a bit higher than our budget. We asked the hotel staffer if the hotel had any room within our budget. The answer was 'no, the other rooms were full', so we declined the room politely. Another reason for our objection was the hotel had a very noisy bar downstairs. As a good Catholic and a Muslim, Aneen and I felt uncomfortable staying at such place.

Our kind friend asked if we did not like the room. I said we liked it, but it was beyond our budget. She asked how much we had left and quickly added that she would help. Oh no. Getting help to check in to a hotel is one thing I can live with, but accepting money from a stranger is just not me. We thanked her for her kind offer and ensured her that we could make it our own. Before she could stop us, we quickly mingled with the crowd and disappeared from her eyesight. Yeah, we are poor and proud (read this the way Mystique in X-Men's First Class says 'mutant and proud').

We tried asking several other hostels, but most were fully booked. Anyway, we took a turn somewhere in the maze that is Khao San road and I read a board saying 'cheap room 350 Baht'. I showed the sign to Aneen. We asked if they still had a room and they did! Alhamdulillahirobbilalamin, we had been facing difficulties along this journey and always got the solution.

The place is called Popiang Guesthouse and, in my humble opinion, it makes a good setting for a horror movie because it has wooden floor that creaks everytime there is a person walking, the walls are also made of wood and we can hear a TV playing on another room and everytime we turn on the shower there is a humming sound coming from the pump machine. I was very tired that I could sleep like a princess, but I woke up several times that night because I heard noises. What kind of noises? I'd rather not say. At least, we had a place to sleep for the night.

By the way, have you ever watched a Thailand horror movie? This scaredy cat's suggestion is don't.

But of course, there is a good side of this place. The next day, we left our wet clothes inside the room while we did wat-hopping and we found them dry as desert when we came back. All in all, it's a good price for budget travelers, but perhaps not a perfect place for light sleepers.

Speaking of wat-hopping, we went to Wat Arun, Wat Pho and Temple of Emerald Buddha on April 15, which is the Songkran Day. The wats were brimming with activities as devotees and tourists flocked at those places. Here are the photos, which I tried to take at the most quiet places.

Before going to the wats, please remember that the wats are the Buddhists' religious places. Pay respect by wearing appropriate clothes.

A donation box to provide temple roof tiles

A devotee recited prayers before she hit the gong

A Buddhist monk gave blessings to a kid

And here are the less serious photos :)
Dancing with the apsaras

Cute cats statues
Speaking of cats, there are many cats at the temples and they just love to cat-bomb my photos. Here's cat #1.

Cat #2.
Cat #3.

Moving on to another batch of serious photos  
We crossed Chao Praya river to reach Wat Pho
The highlight of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha, which stands at 15 meters, spans at 43 meters and has mother-of-pearl on its feet

Last but not least, we visited the Temple of Emerald Buddha

The temple guards took refugee from the flood of tourists

The day's treats: ice and spice

Unfortunately, we forgot the road to our hostel and had to jostle with the crowd of Songkran observers. I had the time of my life, while Aneen shrieked everytime someone poured water on her. Songkran is literally a five-year-old's wildest wet dream and I'm a five year old by heart :).

I may forget to tell you that I bought Delima, the waterproof camera that I mentioned in this post. If you don't have any waterproof camera, then I suggest you to buy a dry bag to protect your electronic devices should you plan to go to Thailand during Songkran.

They keep refilling the waterguns

Riding on a tuk-tuk or motorcycle during Songkran is not a good idea

We had the late check out from Popiang (the check out hour is 12 p.m., but the guests are only charged half day if they check out before 6 p.m) and moved to Banglumpoo Place, a quiet guesthouse that is only several hundreds meters away and has a room with two beds, fan and ensuite bathroom priced at 490 Baht. These budget travelers were more than happy with the price.

On April 16, we initially planned to take a tour to Ayutthaya and then a night river cruise along Chao Praya. But all tours start at 7 a.m. and we arrived late at the travel agent. Being a considerate travel buddy, I offered Aneen if she wanted to do the shopping instead. She agreed to the change of plans, so off we went shopping. Justification: she did the major shopping, I only bought several things and just tagged along as I had no other things to do that day.

Now, the good thing about Songkran is it's the perfect time to experience Bangkok at its best. Everyone who have been to Bangkok complain about the awful traffic jams, but we did not face such problem because everyone leave the capital to be with their families across the country.

The bad thing is not all shops are open. Many shops hung notification boards, saying that they would close until April 17. This did not deter Aneen from finding the best bargain, of course :).

 The officers cleaned the streets the day after Songkran

Just like Idul Fitri is the best time to explore Jakarta, Songkran is the perfect moment to enjoy Bangkok at its best

The skywalk near MBK mall

Walking above Bangkok's traffic :)

We packed our backpacks that night as we had booked tickets to Siem Reap, Cambodia for the next day.

Next post: Siem Reap.

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