Bangkok was warm and sunny, and very westernised compared to other places in SE Asia. They even drive on the left hand side of the road, tho' it did take us a while to notice. We were pleased with where we were staying in Khao San Road; the backpacker area had a real buzz and was very lively. We were only staying in Bangkok for a couple of days in order to catch our flight to Sydney, so were determined to make the most of them. The guide books say that the Grand Palace and nearby temples, Wat Pho and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, are the city's most spectacular sites - and they certainly were, they were magnificent. They're pretty strict about enforcing the 'no sleeves, no entry' rule. They won't even accept a shawl or similar over a sleeveless top and we wasted a fair bit of time when Margaret had to go back to the entrance to borrow a shirt (with Eric saying 'I told you so!')!
In the evening we met up for a drink and a meal with a couple of Margaret's ex-work colleages, Katherine and Peter, who've been working in Bangkok for about a year now, but are just about to set off for a stint in Nigeria. It was great to meet up with people from back home and catch up on some news. They chose a fabulous setting - the River Terrace in the Oriental Hotel - as you would expect right on the river so we could enjoy watching the brightly lit night river traffic. Katherine and Peter very generously insisted on the evening being their treat - many thanks again to you both for such a super time.
Bangkok taxi drivers have a bit of a reputation for being unreliable/rip off merchants and we experienced it first hand that night. The first taxi we jumped into had no idea where the Oriental Hotel was (so he said), so we only got as far as round the corner before we jumped out again (without paying, of course) and eventually found one who took us there no bother. On the way back, the taxi that the Oriental Hotel had ordered, with precise instructions from them, stopped in a completely strange area insisting this was Khoa San Road (which we knew perfectly well it wasn't) and refusing to go any further. In fact it turned out to be the red light district. Luckily we didn't have to wait too long for another taxi that saw us safely back to 'backpacker alley'.
This turned out to be quite a day, because as we were getting ready to leave the hotel to meet Katherine and Peter, a phone call summoned Eric to reception. Apparently housekeeping had noticed dark marks on our bedsheet and Eric was accused in reception of making the marks. He had noticed these slight, old, faded stains the previous night when he got into bed, but thought no more about it. Trying to explain this to staff who clearly weren't interested in hearing any explanation was very frustrating, especially as it was delaying us heading off for our date. One particular woman was a wee bit agressive and told Eric he had to take the sheet to a laundry for cleaning or check out! Those of you who know Eric won't be surprised to know that he refused to do either.
Things were left hanging a bit in the air so when we got back that night we decided it would be prudent to check the clean sheets on the bed (which everyone does as a matter of course, naturally!!!) and lo and behold there was a series of similar marks, this time on Margaret's side of the bed. So, a telephone call to reception brought a housekeeper to the room with a fresh sheet. She very impressively remade the bed but was extremely upset when we refused to let her take away the offending sheet, which we wanted to keep as evidence in our defence. Shortly, a knock at the door (and this was now after midnight) revealed the housekeeper, receptionist and security guard to see what was going on in room 1502. We tried to explain why we wanted to keep the sheet and eventually they left.
The next morning Eric went down to reception with the offending sheet in order to show it to, and discuss with the head of housekeeping or manager, neither of whom were available. The housekeeping staff wanted the sheet back and tried to grab it from him. But Eric held it high above his head and retreated into the lift, with the staff jumping in the air trying to snatch it from him and Eric shouting 'No, ye're nae ha'in it!'. This was turning into a right farce of Brian Rix proportions - right in the main reception in front of loads of people checking in and out. In the end we held the sheet hostage until we checked out and got our key deposit back.
After the taxi experiences yesterday, Margaret was a bit wary of taking a taxi across town on her own for a long overdue appointment with the hairdresser. Her roots were about down to her ears by this time - as so kindly pointed out in a Hanoi street by a hairdresser we passed standing in his doorway. But no taxi problems today. In fact the driver was great, very friendly and helpful, and got her there in plenty time to relax and have a coffee beforehand. Freshly coiffed, a short trip on the skytrain took her to meet up with Eric at Jim Thompson's house, an American who revitalised the silk industry in Thailand. He went missing years ago in the jungle in northern Thailand and has never been found. The Thai's seem to hold him in great esteem and the house was well worth the visit.
With the little niggles of the taxis and the hotel, and the more in your face tourism and commercialisation of Bangkok we realise we've long left behind the places we enjoyed most - Laos and Cambodia. It was clearly the right time to be heading to the next phase of our journey.