After spending two days in Khao Sok National Park (I’ll write about that another day) Therese and I walked out to the road to catch our bus to Surat Thani where we would take a night train to Bangkok.
Rain started to drizzle as we walked along the road to the bus stop an hour early. We had a train to catch at 9:30 p.m. and wanted to make sure we caught the last bus into town.
After 1.5 hours it became clear the bus wasn’t going to show up. To be honest I was a little panicked and we sat on the side of the road weighing our options. We could wait another hour for a minibus ride at 5 times the cost of the local bus we were going to take or we could try to hitch-hike the 2 hour drive into town.
It didn’t take long for Therese and I to agree we may as well try hitching a ride.After a few tries a minivan pulled over and we walked up to the window to see the faces of 7 Thai Navy men staring back at us. One of them spoke English and said they would take us an hour toward’s town where we could catch a different local bus to take us the rest of the way, so we climbed it.
It was a pretty surreal experience. I sat next to the fellow who spoke English and discovered this was the Seahawk Squadron II, a helicopter squadron that flies off of a air-craft carrier (apparently the smallest ship of its kind in the world). They were on their way back to the base after spending five days delivering doctors, dentists and supplies to a remote tribal village.
When we got to our destination we discovered no buses were running – it was already 7:30 by this time and I started to think maybe we should have just taken a minibus. Luckily we had become quite chummy with our new Navy friends and they were determined to get us to our train in time. Calling up a friend they managed to get us another ride the rest of the way into tow. Their kindness still astounds me – we were quite lucky the situation worked out.
When we arrived in Surat Thani we found out our train had been delayed an hour so at 9:30 we found our way to a little street food stall with folding tables setup in an alley way and sat down to one of the best meals we had in Thailand. Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, vegetables with ginger! Delicious.
The train ride to Bangkok was pretty terrible – our cheap pocketbooks convinced us to get second class seat tickets instead of sleepers for the 13 hour ride and we regretted it instantly.
We arrived in Bangkok eventually and took a city bus downtown to a backpacker neighborhood near some of the city’s main sites. That night we ate some street food and wandered around the neighborhood agreeing to split up the next day to take on Bangkok.
I woke up at 7 a.m. and got dressed in pants, a tank top and light sweater. I was going to tackle some of the city’s famous temples and needed to be covered up. I walked along the canal to the Grand Palace and its accompanying temple Wat Phrakaew. I arrived as it opened at 8:30 a.m. and quickly discovered some sort of ceremony or event was happening as groups of school children, monks and the royal guard processed through the grounds.
The temples in Thailand are unlike any others I have seen so far on my travels. Unlike the ornate carved wood style of Korean and Chinese temples or the intricate stonework in Malaysia, Thai temples are towers of gilded mosaic. White stucco adorned with jewel-toned glass and gold-plated spires. In the sun everything sparkles, forcing you to blink as you try to take in the sights.
The Grand Palace is part of the Wat Phrakaew complex. Although it is not the official royal residence anymore the site is still used for special occasions and ceremonies and the grounds are meticulously cared for. My favourite part of wandering the complex was seeing the maintenance staff painting the white stucco and watering the elaborate gardens, all with smiles on their faces.
After spending a couple of hours I made my way along the canal to Wat Pho – another main temple in Bangkok known for being home to a massive reclining Buddha. I am realizing now that pretty much every city has some sort of giant Buddha it is known for. Wat Pho kept up with the glitzy nature of Thai temples, each surface covered in blue, green, red and gold tile work and ornate roof lines. The reclining Buddha was covered in gold leaf, its giant feet inlaid with mother of pearl.
The rest of the day I spent riding a boat along the canal and wandering the streets trying to take in as many sites as I could. A lot of walking, wondering where I was and stumbling across a great site or picture of daily life in the city made for a great day.
Now I have crossed the border into Cambodia and am staying in Siem Reap. I will update on our visit to Angkor Wat soon.