After 3 lovely weeks in Phuket, we are now back in Bangkok. We arrived Wednesday afternoon at our hotel. It is located right along the river Chao Phraya, one of the main rivers running through Thailand, and a very important logistical point. The view from our room actually reminds me a bit of Canal Grande in Venice. The river is just as busy, if not more. Small ferries, tourist boats, long tail boats, freight carriers etc, are sailing up and down the river 24 hours a day. A fascinating sight that gives us a pretty good feeling of the heartbeat of the city.
Our time in Phuket went surprisingly fast and we did not see all the things we initially had planned. Apparently we needed relaxation more than sightseeing. The days went by, and mostly we just walked to the nearest city, Kata Point (2 minutes from our hotel) - well, all the cities along the coast of Phuket are more or less merged into one big strip - or to Karon Beach (just across the street) or to Kata Beach a brisk 15 minute walk away. Towards the end of our time there, we tended to favor Kata Beach as it was much less crowded and thus quieter. We spent many mornings or afternoons in the sand by the water, but none of us could stand whole days there. After a few hours it was usually enough, and we wanted to do something else. The hotel pool was also frequently used, and Anton generally had a blast!
One of the things on our list that we actually did, was a trip into Phuket Town. The main city on the island of Phuket. It has apprx 60.000 inhabitants but it seems much bigger than it actually is. This is because of the hundreds of thousands of tourists that come to Phuket at all seasons of the year. It gives the city a very hectic and vibrant flair. We took the local commuter bus from Karon Beach and paid 35 Baht per adult. We ignored all the “good offers” from Tuk-Tuk and Taxi drivers, offering to take us directly to the very best shopping malls and stores, for only 500 Baht. But for us, part of the whole adventure was the bus-ride. Just to sit there with the locals, and the few other crazy tourists like us, and soak it all in. As we got closer to the city center, the noise and activity increased. We got off at the last stop, and started our walk towards the harbor area. As we walked, we were (again) offered Tuk-Tuk drives to shopping malls and stores. We declined all of them. They had a very hard time understanding what on earth we were doing there, walking through the city slowly, just observing local life. Apparently most tourists want to go straight to the best shopping places, and then straight back to their hotel pools and beaches afterwards.
But we continued our walk and got a lot of great impressions. Not the biggest attractions, that we could all read about in our guide-book. We wanted to see the everyday life of a Thai provincial city. The rows of stores offering the “cheap copy-crap” were endless. We stopped looking at any of it. Every time we did, it was very hard to get away again without buying anything. Instead we walked into a store mostly selling clothes and shoes to locals. We found a nice pair of beach slippers for Anton. The sales assistant did not speak a word of english, but we did manage to get the price (140 Baht) and gladly paid. No need to bargain. This price was definitely ok.
We also stumbled over the nicest and most posh little café imaginable. Not in Thai style, but in old, romantic English style. It was located in a small side-street, and when we arrived we had the place to ourselves. We enjoyed our cake, cola and ice-coffee in the air-conditioned room, while considering where to go next. After a while a group of local girls entered. Apparently a popular place after school.
When we got out and continued our walk, the afternoon heat hit us like a wall. The temperature was around 40 degrees Celsius in the shade, and Anton fell asleep in his buggy. In an attempt to prolong his afternoon nap, we sat down on a bench by the harbor front, and just watched the “local life” around us. There is a great difference between the tides in the waters around Phuket, so for many hours a day, the fishing boats are actually standing on the bottom of the harbor. A fascinating sight! On our way back to the bus, we passed by a couple of local markets, where we could not even read the signs. They were all written in Thai. We had to observe closely what was on display, even though sometimes even that was hard, in order to determine what was sold. The prices were negotiable, although I am pretty certain that we paid a different (higher) price than the locals. Never mind! It was great fun, and Alexandra had some lovely squids, marinated in chili sauce. Anton and I politely declined her offer of a small treat, and trusted her word that they were good. We took the bus back to Karon Beach as we reflected on a great day, filled with impressions and experiences.
On Antons birthday, the 25th of April, we had something exciting lined up. He turned 3, and we cannot understand how fast the time has flown since he was born. This was also the first birthday where he could really understand what a birthday actually is. So of course he was excited! Here in Thailand we have given up buying toys for him that can actually stand normal “childs play”. Right after our arrival in Phuket we gave in to one of his wishes for a set with Woody & Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story”. The price was 400 Baht, apprx 12-13 USD. After no more than 12 minutes it broke! So we have decided not to buy anymore toys while we are in Thailand. We only find copied toys and they simply do not last. Therefore Antons birthday gift was a whole-day excursion, by speedboat, to 3 small islands, filled with coral reefs, where we could snorkel and enjoy some very nice beaches. Needless to say, this was an excursion designed for the masses, which meant that wherever we went, the beaches were packed. As was the speedboat in which we were sailing. It did not matter to us. What mattered was that Anton had a great day and some funny moments, which he certainly did. I had not thought that he would actually snorkel with full mask and everything. But he did, and even though he cannot really swim yet, it went pretty well with some help from his mum and dad.
A few days before we left Phuket and flew back to Bangkok, we talked about what we wanted to do the remaining time there. Was it important for us to see the Big Buddha? Did we really, really, really want to go on that Elephant Trekking through the jungle? Yes, obviously these would all be great experiences, but for some reason they were just not so important to us, that we actually went. The relaxed and cozy daily life we had there as a family meant more to us, so we decided to let it be. On the other hand, Alexandra DID go to an interesting Thai Cooking class (with plans for at least one more here in Bangkok!) and I frequently had a one-hour foot massage. At 300 Baht (appx 10 USD) this wellness experience is simply one I cannot pass!
But after 3 weeks of pure relaxation we are ready for some adventures. Bangkok is one of the most overwhelming and intense cities I have yet visited, and it quickly becomes too much to take, if you do not plan your day trips carefully. We have decided to keep taking it slowly, and not plan too much for one day.
Today we went to China Town. We began our adventure by walking down to the local ferry, that would take us across the river to some of the bigger express boats. We almost went into yet another one of the classical tourist scams: An overpriced one-hour harbor cruise for 500 Baht (90 USD) per person. Having now spent almost a month in Thailand, everything over 200 Baht sounds expensive to us, and immediately we declined. To some surprise for the sales assistant trying to get us onboard. Instead we took the ferry across the river and went with a much cheaper tourist boat (no harbor cruise), and still got the local highlights over the speaker system, for just 40 Baht per person. Anton was free of charge. At the last stop we got off. But this was on the wrong side of the river in relation to what we initially had in mind when we planned the day, so we took yet another small ferry and went back to the other side. We jumped off near China Town and started our walk.
As already said, Bangkok is a very intense and vibrant city with impressions for all senses. No matter where you look, your eyes will never rest! This intensity is even greater in China Town! And I did not think that was possible! Stalls and small stores seemed to be lined up in endless rows, even closer together than anywhere else in the city. Food, clothes and souvenirs were spread out all over the sidewalks, making it a bit of a struggle to pass through. Yet we enjoyed the adventure and took it all in. The further we walked, the more “sophisticated” the food on display got. I am not sure I will ever try all of what I saw, because some of it really was specialties! Insects, snakes and parts of poultry, pigs etc that I have never seen in any european supermarket or food store. It was an interesting experience!
However, Anton was not really himself, and such an intense trip through a very crowded part of the city really is no fun at all, if you are not fit for fight. Once again a small reminder that children cannot (and should not) manage the same things as we can. So we decided to end the trip earlier and took a taxi straight back to the hotel, in order to get some rest and some fun by the pool. By the end of the afternoon, Anton was once again in great shape!
We still have some very exciting days ahead of us here in Bangkok, before we fly to Brisbane, Australia. We plan to see temples, palaces and monuments. But no fixed itineraries. We will take it all as it comes. And if we do not get to see it all, it doesn’t matter. When we get to Australia, we have 4 days in Brisbane, before we start our drive north towards Cairns. We go by campervan along the coast, and we will see The Great Barrier Reef and many, many other exciting things during that part of the trip. We will snorkel, build castles in the sand and “wedge out” on the beach. We have no idea about life in a campervan, but won’t it just be cool?
The photo album with impressions from Thailand is getting filled by now. You can see it all by clicking here! Enjoy!