After a bit of a crazy and indulgent weekend in Koh Samet the week before last I thought I should follow-up with a bit of a tamer one, so decided to split my weekend between shopping and sight-seeing, my two favourite pastimes.
Headed off to Bangkok on Saturday morning... at 6.30am! Why so ridiculously early I hear you ask in shock and horror?! Well, I was meeting a friend at Chatuchack market in the North of Bangkok and it turns into a chaotic busy place by around 11am so we thought we should make a good early start ahead of the hoardes, although I think lots of people had the same idea. We'd started our spending spree by about 9ish.
Chatuchack is souvenir central, mostly tacky but also has some good bits and pieces on offer so got loads of goodies. I had planned on only spending a few hours there then going off to see some parts of the city where I've not yet ventured, but it's a maze of literally thousands of stalls you get drawn into and you keep seeing things, and buying things, then seeing more things which were better than what you'd already bought, then buying more things... it's an overwhelming and inescapable cycle.
Managed to work my way out of there by about 2ish and accepted I wasn't going to fit in all the cultural things on my agenda so decided to just get the Metro to Chinatown and have a wander around there for a few hours as I'd not been that way before.
Probably good I got a dose of chaos at Chatuchack to prepare me for Chinatown, which is an equally hectic place. Busy is an understament; five people across a stretch of pavement barely big enough for a dog, and street sellers and hustlers all over the show. I visited a few Chinese-inspired temples, which were just as busy as the street!
Also had a very late lunch of noodles and a nice pink chinese bun thing (having only managed to grab a quick snack in Chatuchack at proper lunchtime, was famished). Didn't stay long, partly because I was fed up of the constant pushing, shoving, and possibility of being pickpocketed (even though I didn't have pockets!)
Headed back to Sukhumvit, a big big road with lots going on (good and bad :S!) around 6ish to meet another friend for an early dinner. She's heading home soon so thought it'd be nice to have a bit of a leaving dinner at a nice restaurant so we arranged to meet at one of the legendary Anna's Cafes which I've heard lots of great things about - basically posh, amazing food, and cheap! There's about five of them dotted across the city, but we chose one near a handy skytrain station to get us both home from. We looked, and looked, and found where it should have been, but spoke to the porter of the building where it was supposed to be only to be informed it'd moved. It was too far to get to another of the branches so we went to another place nearby which was a bit of a seedy 'ferang' restaurant (lots of old white men with gorgeous Thai women... that's Sukhumvit for you). Had what was supposed to be pasta but as is usually the case just tasted a bit strange, and my friend's tomato and mushroom sauce was actually made with ketchup! I was tempted to stay the night as had so much left to do, but decided to make another weekend of it next month so vanned back quite late, with a lot of shopping bags :P!
Decided to go off to Bang Pa-In, near Ayutthaya, on Sunday. Had a nice lie-in as the only train options for Ayutthaya are at 4.13am or 11.51am. It was a day of many modes of transport... train to Ayutthaya, boat across the river, songthaew to Bang Pa-In, and motorbike taxi to the Bang Pa-In summer palace I wanted to go to, and the same back again. All my days travels there, around, and back, came to about 100b (2 quid... I know I'm going to start complaining to bus drivers once I'm home about the ridiculous cost of transport). Plus with the Thai entry fee of 30b it was a pretty cheap day out all in all.
The palace was lovely and quiet so enjoyed a few hours there, got followed by a group of Thai guys and then realised it's because they wanted a photo with me... what can I say, it's like I'm a celebrity!
I then got into a strange shed-looking pulley-type contraption to take me across the river to a temple called Wat Niwettham Prawat (try saying that after a few Singha's!) I decided to just sit in there for a while as it was beautiful and very peaceful, it was just me and a monk, so a dramatic contrast to the day before. He spoke some English and we had a nice little chat and then before I knew it he'd got his alms bowl of water and wooden stick sprinkler thing and was blessing me. I was soaked... it wasn't just a flick of water, it was practically a shower. Still, I was grateful for whatever blessing he gave me, and it cooled me down I guess. He also gave me a little Buddha. I felt quite special.
Was back in Ayutthaya a bit early for the next train home, by about two hours, so thought I should check out some of the nearby temples I'd not seen before. I walked to one where I met another monk, but speedily left before I got another soaking. Then I walked along a bit more and got to a cross-roads where there was a temple in each direction. Spotted an elephant up one of the roads so decided to follow it, but it disappeared pretty quickly, well for an elephant, so I was just left there by myself with a pile of ruins and... you'll never believe it... another pack of wild dogs.
I swear they just lie in wait for me wherever I go. If you recall the little episode with the dogs at the cave... well, this was worse. I'll admit I was genuinely scared, these didn't keep their distance, they were yapping and growling infront, next to, and behind me. I decided to just keep walking the direction I was going as there seemed to be some form of civilisation and as I got closer a little Thai man came out of his house and rescued me. I think he saw the look of sheer panic in my eyes and when I said, in Thai, 'I don't like the dogs' he shooed them away like some kind of dog-whisperer. He was very sweet and proceeded to show me around Wat Maheyong and tell me all about it, all in Thai.
Afterwards I sat in his yard and met another nice lady who translated and said he'd like me to go back for a Buddha day which is on Feb 9th to celebrate with them (unfortunately I already have plans). He then gave me water, a Thai booklet with a monk on the front although I don't understand what it is, and took me on his motorbike back to the train station. How nice!!
When I arrived back in Saraburi I came out of the train station into the night market and was confronted by towers of chinese acrobats balancing on each other. Crazyness! It was part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, so watched that for a while and then headed home; I was all Wat-ed out.
My much-needed very early night would have been great had a woman who lives in my block, who I've met all of three times, not knocked on my door at 10.30pm and asked me about tutoring her and her daughter. Waking me up was probably not the best tactic of persusian; although the little Thai cakes she bought over would have been if I had the time to, which I don't unless I sacrifice my laundry/cleaning Monday evening.