The (tourist) bus from the Cambodian border dropped me off in the (tourist) area of Khao San Road, right in the middle of a huge water fight. At Songkran (Thai New Year, which runs from around April 13th to 16th), it’s traditional to splash water on everybody within range – which of course has evolved into complete chaos involving high-powered water pistols, buckets, hosepipes, flour and eggs. Any passer-by is liable to be soaked at any given moment with scant disregard for clothing, electronic equipment or shopping.The revelry permeated the entire city, causing thousands of deaths as drunk revellers drove around or threw flour and water onto cars. At the time of writing, things have thankfully quieted down.
Once safely settled in the Sukhumvit area, I went out to the international airport to meet a flight from Incheon – Amy had decided to take a long weekend in Thailand and we were all set to take advantage of the shopping, eating and tourism possibilities. One of the first places we found to eat was the charmingly-entitled Cabbages and Condoms; a delightful restaurant (with many condom-themed posters and clothing) whose proceeds helped to support HIV/AIDS projects and groups in rural areas. The pad thai was particularly good. Back in Sukhumvit, we gained peace and prosperity for the new year by sprinkling water on the Buddha statue in the hotel.
Later on, we headed out on the Sky Train to a gigantic weekend market and saw a mere fraction of it (mostly aquariums and small animals for sale). As we stepped out of the station, a sign advertising a butterfly farm attracted our attention and we wandered in the right direction but didn’t get that far as the Children’s Discovery museum with a fabulous Robot Zoo beckoned. This turned out to be a very well-designed place full of excited children trying out everything from crawling into a model womb to a robotic chameleon tongue.
High on my list of things to see was the Snake Farm out at the Thai Red Cross Society – a centre for snake research and venom extraction (for making anti-venom). As well as some beautiful examples of local snakes, there was a short lecture and demonstration given by a highly entertaining compere-cum-herpetologist. We were treated to some highly informative displays, plus the chance to handle a small python. On the way back to the metro, we checked out an atrociously hot Wat Hualamphong, where devotees scorched their feet on the sun-baked floor after removing their shoes.
During the remainder of our weekend break, we chilled out (literally) in a local cinema – the national anthem is played before the start of every film along with a photo montage of the King and the audience has to stand up for it; got some Indian fast food as all the vegetarian places were shut for New Year; shopped for (and bought) tailored clothes (something of a tradition for tourists in Thailand); found that all the other vegetarian restaurants I’d researched were also closed for New Year; stuffed ourselves at a fantastic breakfast buffet (including much-missed waffles and pancakes); had a manicure (actually that was Amy, not me); took a swim; said hello to the birds in the hotel’s bird garden and generally enjoyed the three-star lifestyle.
After Thai Air whisked Amy back to Korea, I returned to the backpacker area of Khao San Road and found it jam-packed with Western tourists – I had to escape, and so got the local bus (avoiding the overpriced tourist service) out to Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai. Yes, that River Kwai – it was this site on the Thailand-Burma Railway, built at the cost of around 160,000 lives, that was immortalised in print and film. Train services still run across it, but I scampered over on foot and took in the sunset from one of the many platforms. I also went to visit the cemeteries at Donrak and Chongkai – not an insignificant undertaking, as it’s easily five kilometres between the two sites and the mercury was brushing thirty-five. Thankfully, it’s a little better at night – especially as my guest house is built on a raft over the river. The floor is supported on old oil drums, the bathroom regularly attracts toads and lizards and the shower probably empties directly into the water, but it’s wonderfully cool. Tomorrow I head south, and I’m hoping that the temperatures will be a little more reasonable.