It’s been 6 weeks since we left home and it’s starting to take its toll. Everything aches and stretching has become my favourite pastime.
We decided to go to the Grand Palace although we now know it’s very expensive. Our tour guide yesterday gave us some hot tips for places to go. One was a bar that sells seafood where hetero guys with muscles wear women’s clothes and dance. It’s all done for fun and I tried to ask if it was to parody the lady boy culture but our guide didn’t catch what I was saying. Another option was Wat Pak Nam. He showed us these amazing pictures that looked photoshopped. He told us it was free to enter and not well known amongst the tourist community. We headed there instead, and what a treat it was.
We got the overhead train so far then walked the last fifteen minutes. The site was under renovation, the tiled floor surrounding the area was being pulled up. The path lead to a giant 50ft tall Buddha. There was no information regarding if it had always been there or if it was a recent addition, but it looked new. The head was covered in gold but the body was just cement and covered in scaffolds. Patches of the cement were darker, looking like fresh filler jobs.
The temple itself was a white building with a pointed top, regarded as a pagoda here. Somewhat different in design to pagodas elsewhere in Asia. We take off our shoes and climb up 5 flights of stairs to the main room. It’s quiet but by no means deserted. The emerald coloured, glass pagoda centre piece is simply stunning and the roof is a tranquil green with a luminescent glow. The lighting compliments the decor perfectly and it’s impossible to take a bad picture. It’s not too bright and not to dark. It’s like a photographer built it especially. The columns supporting the roof are each uniquely carved and covered in gold leaf. Wherever you stand, whichever angle you view from, it’s jaw dropping. There is even an outside area to view the giant Buddha where we caught sight of another interesting temple over the river we decided to visit next.
We left the temple area and consulted a display map. The route to where we want to be is on there but I was sure it was blocked by people selling street food. I was wrong. I used Google maps and found us an alternate route down some side streets. We walk and find the way but get a few curious looks from the locals.
We found the white bridge that we had seen from the balcony and cross over to get a better look at another large Buddha statue. This time set upon three elephants. All of which had large, human looking penises. No explanation wass given as to why. There was an entire street here filled with stray cats, Monks and ornate buildings.
Behind the elephants we found a reclining Buddha with a collection of statues of lions and tigers (no bears). Here sits a small dock where you can board long boats with ridiculously over sized engines, that look like they have been lifted from old 4 litre cars. There were several buckets containing pellets and some youngsters threw them into the river. We could see that the water was brimming with catfish. No one was fishing though.
Having seen enough we head back to the station. We can’t think of anywhere else to go having written the Grand Palace off for good. Instead we returned to the hotel for an early night and much needed rest.
The next day we’re lazy all morning catching up with social media, Brexit and election news.
We had to catch a bus to the other side of town. We scoped it out the night before, discovering that the bus stop Google maps told us to use does not actually exist. It can’t get it right all the time. We found another one behind our hotel, only a short walk with the back packs. We stayed long enough to see the bus we need pull up and stop there. The real run went without a hitch except for H losing her balance on a wonky step and tumbling head first into a pole. She bumped her head and bruised her knee, thankfully that was all. She spent the entire time we waited for our bus counting backwards and recalling her date of birth and national insurance number. She didn’t have a concussion.
The bus we needed turned up and it was actually quite nice. The buses that went by in the meantime had ranged from small, packed buses with only open windows for air con, to large rusting shells that looked like they had needed retiring ten years prior. Our bus is large, modern, clean and air conditioned. The conductor came over and I showed her my phone with the stop we require, she nodded and asked for 20 baht each, an absolute bargain compared to the 300 baht that a taxi would cost. The ride took about an hour and dropped us slightly short of where Google told us the stop would be. I think all the stops may have been recently moved. Either way, we were infinitely closer to our target than before. We walk for fifteen minutes into a touristy area and find the Stray Asia office where we left our bags to go and find food and train snacks.
We retraced our steps to the main road and ate fried rice in a cheap restaurant then head next door for a coffee for me and a green tea latte for H, still shaken from her fall.
We bought water and crisps from a 7 Eleven before heading back for a briefing.
We got a mini van to the train station. It’s not like any station I’ve been to before. You simply walk in and there are the platforms. It’s a terminal where all the tracks end, so you can walk from platform to platform without having to use bridges or stairs. Our train is already here and we are able to board over an hour before it’s scheduled to leave. This is a far cry from the high security in China.
We left our bags on board with one of our guides and went back out to the street. Last chance to buy food. We buy two take away meals and fruit.
The train was also very different to the ones in China. The beds there were narrow and stacked three high. This train was all seats to begin with. The chairs became the lower bunks and the top bunks folded down from above. We all have lower bunks that are spacious and have a curtain. So, much better than China all round. I got comfortable and sit down to write my notes as I have my first private space in some time.
Tomorrow we will wake up and have breakfast in Chiang Mai.
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