Most trips to Thailand start in its capital, Bangkok — the city of contrasts. High-rises are cheek-by-jowl with elegant red-tiled old buildings. There are as many beautiful golden Buddhas as there are “working girls” in every direction you look. The two faces of Bangkok are as rewarding as they are exhausting.
Bangkok itineraries can be varied, but the first of two unmissable temples is the Wat Pho, which is known as Bangkok’s most beautiful temple – and that’s saying a lot. Take the Chao Praya Express (river bus) there. People go for a glimpse of the giant reclining Budhha, but it is a huge temple complex, with a veritable cornucopia of beautiful golden Budhhas in every direction. You have to go a little picture crazy in there!
A tuk-tuk ride from there takes you to Wat Sakhet, the Golden Mount — this temple perched on a hill. Well worth the climb, not only for the exquisite emerald Buddhas, but also for an amazing 360 degree view of the city. While away your evening at a river-side cafe, people (and Wat and boat) watching.
If you are like us, you will find a few days in Bangkok are quite enough for your first visit. To get away and chill for a few days, I would recommend heading north to Chiang Mai, instead of Thailand’s beautiful but much-touristed beaches.
From Chiang Mai, which merits its own post, we went on to Mae Sai, the northern-most point of Thailand, to make a day trip into Myanmar.
Mae Sai was remarkable only for the strange names on display there: a hotel called Piyaporn Palace, and the Cabbages & Condoms restaurant – both perfectly respectable establishments.
We walked across the bridge to the tiny border town of Taichilek in Myanmar. It has a pagoda worth visiting, but mostly you go just to say that you did. The market right on the border, in addition to the usual complement of clothing and electronics, had on display: Neon wigs, Saddam Hussein playing cards, and blue opium pills!
Lunch was a smorgasbord of little bowls of stuff we couldn’t quite identify, and at least one of them was cooked with something strange, because we both started feeling woozy afterwards. I’m not saying anyone tried to drug us, but we did go right back to the hotel that afternoon, and sleep for four hours straight.
Despite this, we were left with a positive impression of the Myanmar people. Thailand is a relatively rich country – good roads, clean surroundings, no obvious signs of poverty. Myanmar is not. But the Thai people, like the Chinese, seem a tad too assertive from an outsider’s perspective. The Burmese, from our brief glimpse, seemed a gentler breed.
A final ironic picture from the road onward to Laos: A bunch of men driving down the road, precariously clinging to the back of a crane, all wearing orange shirts saying “Safety first”.