*Are* there any other places??
I’m now three countries ahead of this blog: two weeks and a day ago, I went back to Bangkok for a weekend, before spending a few days in Seoul, and I’m now in Japan. And in two weeks minus a day, I’ll be flying back to the UK…But despite speeding through countries with indecent haste, I haven’t completely forgotten the ones I’ve left behind, honest! The Kazakh parliament has just passed a motion which includes the proposal to rename Astana after their dear leader: Nazarbaevgrad perhaps?! (This is in honour of 25 years of independence. Errrr…). Uzbekistan held a presidential election last Sunday and elected someone who promises to keep up Karimov’s good work. The future’s bright. Well maybe not. Actually there’s a good summing up of what 25 years of independence has meant for the post-Soviet Stans here. (Yes, I get all my news from the Guardian. What do you mean, echo chamber??)
But, back to Bangkok…King Bhumibol is dead, long live King Vajiralongkorn. And you at the back, stop sniggering. There’s nothing funny about the name Bhumibol. Nor Vajiralongkorn for that matter. The Thai authorities really wouldn’t approve and they might lock you up (they have notoriously strict -don’t say bad things about the King- laws). And definitely don’t suggest that the new King has a ‘colourful’ past which might make him a tad unsuitable for Kingly duties. That well known bastion of monarchy-baiting radicalism, the beeb, dared to do just that and now finds itself under investigation by the Thai police (who also apparently nicked a delivery of Yakult from them. Nice touch). I guess those laws only apply to the monarchy though so you can probably say what you like about the military junta that took power in a coup in 2014??
When King Bhumibol died back in October, the entire tourist industry was thrown into a panic at the possible effect of a year long mourning period pulling the shutters on all the merriment that brings millions of visitors to the country. However by the time I passed through in November, it seemed to be business as usual, the only difference being the vast amounts of black and white bunting adorning public buildings and large corporate edifices, along with portraits and words of tribute.
While Thailand clearly has its issues, compared with other countries in the region (and other places I’ve been on this trip), it’s an incredibly easy and pleasant place to travel. Since arriving back in Bangkok, and given where I’ve been since then, I feel like I’m rather overstating things to say I’ve been travelling, in fact! Being on a nice holiday is a more accurate description, I’m afraid. ( Although writing that was probably a great way to tempt fate..). I haven’t had to haggle over prices, negotiate complicated taxi arrangements, haven’t met random people. No more flagging down any passing car or hopping on the back of a motorbike (actually you can do that in Bangkok, but I wouldn’t as there are so many other good options,unlike Cambodia).
There’s also the Skytrain (an elevated light railway), and the city buses, slow due to permanent traffic jams but cheap- in fact some of them are free. Bangkok is built up around the mouth of the country’s major river, the Chao Phraya, where it empties into the Gulf of Thailand. A network of canals (khlongs) also criss-cross the city, and so riverbuses/taxis are an enjoyable and traffic beating alternative and you can see another side of city life by the water.
As I think I mentioned already, the city is great for just wandering, eating and drinking (some of my preferred travel activities, obviously). You could also check out the huge gold reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, or see more bling at the Grand Palace, but I didn’t because I’ve seen them before (yawn yawn!). I did meet up with an old friend for dinner though. He and his wife live in Bangkok and I haven’t seen him for a decade. He didn’t appear to have aged at all so I guess that’s the benefit of Bangkok living 🙂
One day I took the riverbus to nowhere in particular and it was so nice being on the river that I just stayed on until the end of the line, which turned out to be a place called Nonthaburi. It’s apparently a separate city but also part of the metropolitan Bangkok region. There didn’t seem to be many tourists there but it was pretty lively with, as usual, loads of fantastic food on offer and an atmospheric market.
And a few more shots from the rest of my Bangkok wanderings:
Having arrived in Bangkok in what is probably the last ‘interesting’ form of transport that I’ll take on this trip – a casino bus – I left in a far more boring manner : a flight from Bangkok’s older airport, Don Muang. Just to keep things interesting, as my flight was at 8am on a Monday morning, I decided to spend the night at the airport in true backpacker style rather than have a pitiful 3 hours sleep then an expensive early hours taxi ride. It actually wasn’t that bad, or maybe I’m just way too used to disturbed nights by now…