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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 14 - Jan. 2001

Thailand - Bangkok

As our train pulled up at the station and the sun rose through the thick purple haze, the smell drifted through the window; it was the unpleasant smell of the big bad city. Notorious for its traffic jams and fume filled air, the roads were already approaching gridlock on our arrival at 6.00am, and by the time we reached the Khao San Rd, the music was relentlessly pumping out of the street cafes. Like any other Asian capital, Bangkok is far from perfect, but for a taste of Thailand, it is an accessible capital with enough entertainment to keep the young amused and enough sights to keep the package tourists arriving en mass. Big, but never brash, Bangkok buzzes by night and bellows smoke by day.

Bangkok's main tourist attraction is undoubtedly the Grand Palace (the King's former residency) and the adjourning Wat Phra Kaew, better known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. By this stage in our trip, we were getting a little wat weary, but the beautiful, vividly coloured mosaic temple was astonishing enough for us to regain our interest. The main focal point is the Emerald Buddha itself, the most sacred Buddha image in the whole of Thailand, which really does gleam immaculately. Unfortunately it is only small and sits so high up in the temple it is hard to actually see, but the grandiose temple is well worth fighting through the crowds to visit.

It was really through the search of Thai culture that we ended up attending a Thai boxing match, an experience not to be missed. Ferocious and bloody, Thai boxing is big business in Bangkok and, with even bigger money riding on the outcomes, the Thai's take it all very seriously. Sitting in the ring shaped stadium, we could not help but feel we had been transported back to the Coliseum as the crowd roared for blood and the boxers kicked and punched each other to the bitter end. It was hard not to get a bit carried away with it all; the atmosphere was electric as the punches came flying in.

The next day, our interest reawakened in temples, we decided to visit the oldest and largest of all the wats in Bangkok, Wat Pho. This temple's star attraction is its reclining Buddha, a massive 46m long and 15m high, it is a very impressive sight. The rest of the temple is adorned with stunning Buddha images and many shrines, but the big Buddha really steals the show. The main temple that houses the huge Buddha is covered in intricately painted murals, but the international phone box inexplicably placed there helped spoil the spiritual feel a little.

Wat Pho has another claim to fame - it is also the national headquarters for the preservation of traditional Thai massage. Now, with your average single Thai male visiting a prostitute a rather shocking two times a month, it is not unsurprising that many of the boutiques that offer 'Thai massage' in Bangkok have a few extras on the menu. At Wat Pho however, everything is legit, and the hour long massage that we underwent can only be described as extraordinary. Walking a fine line between pleasure and pain, our bodies were twisted, pulled and beaten into all sorts of weird and wonderful positions. Possibly better described as involuntary yoga than a massage, we were left feeling refreshed and limber, if a little bruised!

The next day we opted to head a little out of the centre of Bangkok to check out one of Thailand's famous floating markets. The market 'floats' because the stalls consist of canoes laden with exotic fruits and spices that are steered on their course by women who wear traditional bamboo headgear. The market was unique and colourful and it was great to drift past the stalls, haggling all the way. Unfortunately, more of the canoes seemed to be selling souvenirs than fruit, spoiling the effect a little but you can still imagine how it would have been before the coaches started shipping in tourists en mass.

Bangkok may be suffering from a little tourist overload. As it has grown into one of the trendiest destinations in Asia and smog and smut are the reality. It was more European than we had expected, with wide streets and tree lined avenues; maybe after the filth of Mumbai our expectations were a little lower. If you can stand the heat, and the noise, Bangkok is full of charm, culture and character, but you may have to dig a little deeper below the tourist veneer to find it.

Jon & liz
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Thai boxing


reclining Buddha


Liz tries a massage


floating market

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REPORT ARCHIVE
The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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Produced by John Bentham - Copyright 2000/01 Jonathan Enoch & Elizabeth Wigg / John Bentham

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