Actually, it was two, but then I wouldn’t have been able to use the line from that famous 1984 (is it really that old?) song by Murray Head!
This was an obvious starting point for my first trip to Thailand last year and I don’t mind admitting that I was more than a bit nervous about exploring Bangkok alone. I’m from the generation that didn’t really do the whole gap year thing, in fact, I don’t know any of my friends who took time out to travel in our late teens or early twenties. We all finished school went to college or to work and then aspired to get onto the property ladder!
But you hear so much about Bangkok – how it’s full of young backpackers partying up a storm, how unsafe it is, how you can buy or sell anything, and of course about the rather dubious nightlife. Even so, I felt as though I had to take a couple of days to see it even if my expectations were rather low.
But you hear so much about Bangkok. Was it safe for me to explore alone?
The first wonderful surprise was my hotel. I stayed in the Old Bangkok Bike Inn a charming boutique B & B located in old town Bangkok. I can’t actually remember how I discovered this place but what a find! It turned out to be perfectly situated for me to explore the city on foot, had only 6 large ‘suites’, served interesting, local breakfasts in the small dining area and had the friendliest staff you could imagine.
They could not have been more helpful and it was at their recommendation that I set off on a guided city tour. That was the second surprise and what an unexpected treat! The tour started at the famous Grand Palace, went on to Wat Po, which is one of the most important temples in Bangkok, with its impressive huge reclining Buddha image in bronze, meandered through China Town, with its old markets, and Chinese restaurants and finished at the city’s biggest flower market where beautiful varieties of local and imported flowers, leaves, orchids, and tropical plants are on sale from early morning till late at night.
After lunch, I boarded a traditional long-tail boat and enjoyed the scenery along the river banks ending at the royal temple Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) to see it’s magnificent pagoda and rooms lined with Buddhas.
And then there’s Thai massage!
Before heading out for the day I’d asked my hosts to book a Thai massage for me for later in the afternoon. I’d had a long, hot, sticky day so I was ready for some relaxation and a bit of pampering. Thank goodness they had chosen an indoor, air-conditioned spa and not one of the open air places that lined the streets (top tip for anyone wanting a massage in Bangkok, book a spa, they’re still very cheap and you’ll welcome the cool interior!) Feeling pretty pleased with myself I changed into the baggy 2-piece outfit on offer and laid on the bed in my private cubicle waiting for my massage to commence.
A tiny Thai lady had one foot wedeged in my groin and the other at my ankle and was trying to bend me in half. I made a mental note to self that maybe Thai massage was not for me.
If it was relaxation that I was after it didn’t take me long to realise that I’d come to the wrong place. I think it was at the moment when some tiny Thai lady – smaller in size than just one of my legs yet with a strength of a bear – had one foot wedged into my groin and the other at my ankle and was pulling on my arms trying to bend me in half that I wondered why the hell I’d thought this was a good idea! I tried to relax and to go with it but I’m just not that bendy and I knew to fight against her would only make things worse. Screaming at the top of my lungs would have been rude and inappropriate so it was with great British stoicism that I decided to grin and bear it. Later, back at my hotel, it’s fair to say that I did feel the benefits but made a mental note to self that maybe Thai massage was not for me.
Bangkok by night – not quite what I expected
As a solo traveller the evenings can sometimes be quite difficult so imagine my joy when one of the owners of the B&B asked if I would like to join him and another couple on an evening bike tour of the city – bikes provided free of charge by the hotel. That ended up being one of the highlights of my 48 hours in the city. On a balmy evening, the streets of the old city were quiet as we made our way around the sights stopping to take photos and to watch a group of locals playing kick-volley. We ended the evening in a small shop serving a traditional dessert where we could pick from a huge selection of sweet and savoury options such as candied fruit, nuts, and beans, which were then mixed with sticky rice and served with sweet syrup and coconut milk. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of it and I have to say it wasn’t really to my taste, but it was a fabulous way to end an amazing day and round off my stay in Bangkok.
In the end, it turned out that I couldn’t have been more wrong about Bangkok. I found it a fascinating city, crammed full of sights and history, brimming with culture and colour and not remotely scary. In fact, I then moved on to Chang Mai in the north and I felt much less comfortable there – but that’s a whole other story.
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