When we went to Chatuchak market in Bangkok, we had a pair of jeans and a leaf monkey on our shopping list. But they were clean out of leaf monkeys. They did have fried quail eggs…..
…. helmets for dogs…..
…. fresh pomegranate juice….
…. fish (dead or alive)….
…. puppies next to pants….
… And all kinds of food, clothes, animals and presents, from Santa suits to very scared-looking owls.
Chatuchak is the world’s biggest weekend market, covering 35 acres, to the north of the city centre. There are 15000 stalls. We got round most of them. But in order to do so, and to not fall into the Chatuchak back hole never to be seen again, we had to take photos of the alley signs and keep a watchful eye on the central clock tower whenever it came into view.
This was a good meeting point right beside the fans. We were able to show an impressive level of interest in the varying fan speeds and directions, to allow us a 10 minute respite from the 32 degree muggy heat. We were also able, twice, to navigate back to the same stall, with 14999 other ones to potentially choose from. For a family who can get lost anywhere and often do, it was a very proud moment.
A top tip (thank you Douglas and Vicki), to help with the heat (and we are here in winter!) is to buy a cloth pre-soaked in icy water with a gel in it to keep it cool, for wrapping round your neck. They can be bought at many of the drink stalls in the market.
I did, to be honest, find it a little difficult to see the live animals tethered up and panting/flapping in the heat. The whole place is quite an assault on the senses.
We spent a great day in Bangkok yesterday. The starting point was our friends’ house to the north of the city. We first took a taxi across to the Chao Phraya river, to the most northerly stop on the orange flag river taxi line.
There was a little confusion in communication between us and the taxi driver, even after saying, writing, acting out and drawing where we wanted to go. We saw an unintentional number of back streets to the north-east of Bangkok. In itself an experience. And it’s much easier to relax and go with the flow when the meter is clocking up at 2 baht (under 4p) per kilometer. There’s an extra rate for traffic jams, but generally taxis are easy and cheap to use – once the driver knows where you are going. “Glai laxi” – near or beside – is a useful phrase to know in Thai if you are heading towards a big landmark.
Then we caught an orange line river taxi (fare 15 baht, nearly 30 pence) down towards the centre of town. There are other lines (other colours) which serve different jetties, but the orange line is long and covers all the main tourist stops. It’s also possible to catch “tourist” boats but they are very expensive in comparison. Take care because you can quite easily be shuffled into a tourist boat without realizing.
Someone rattling a silver tube comes round collecting fares, or you can buy one onland before you board. These taxis are busy, full of local Thai people, and just plain fun to take.
You can see from the river that flood work has been done all along the west bank, but the east is as yet largely unprotected except near the centre of town.
For our first stop we were aiming for Wat Arun, the “Temple of Dawn” and the most iconic of all Thai landmarks. It’s on the other side of the river to the orange line jetty, so we caught a cross-river ferry for 3 baht (each, not in total ;)) to the other side. These little boats do well to dodge the river traffic going up and down stream. They are a bit like the wee ones in the swimming pool doing widths when the adults are doing lengths.
Wat Arun is beautiful. From afar it’s difficult to make out what the surface of the wat looks like, but as you draw closer you can see it’s an intricate and impressive pattern of seashells and porcelain (originally ballast from the boats travelling to Bangkok from China).
The steps up to the top of the wat are steep, very steep. So much so that a few people before the descent look like they might want to cry. But the views are worth it, and in Buddhist iconography, you are moving up from the ground to the middle layer or tavatimsa – where all desires are satisfied – to the top layer or Devaphum – six heavens. So it’s really well worth a few tears.
The Emerald Buddha has also been kept here, until it was moved to another wat on the other side of the river. If you are choosing between which of the 31000 odd wats in Thailand to see, this should be one of them. For Thais entry is free, for farangs, it’s been 50 baht since the beginning of 2013.
We are glad that we weren’t tempted into breaking any of the wat rules by taking Barbie with us. We left her with a picnic.
Lunch by the jetty (number 8, next to the Grand Palace and Wat Arun) was lovely. Pad Thai is a very traditional dish made with noodles, bean sprouts, tofu, veg, fried egg and a choice of chicken, seafood, or other meat.
After finding a magnetic geocache at the wat, and a few on the other side of the river, we headed a bit further downstream – firstly by mistake on the “tourist” taxi as ticketless stowaways, then on the orange line again until we got to Central, the stop in the centre of the city. We took the BTS Skytrain back north via Siam Square; a very flash overland transport system with fares of up to 52 baht depending upon distance.
A great day was had by all, except Barbie.