There’s never a good time to judge a city, and I’d say at the top of that list is after a 12 hour long haul flight half way across the world. HOWEVER, when that flight is business class and you get the chance to have some sleep, it gives you the opportunity to see your destination as the sun comes up.
That was the case on Sunday morning when I arrived in Bangkok. After chatting with the rest of the U.K contingent it was clear we all had some of us slept while others were enjoying the luxury experience of flying business, of which I seemed to have the most of both.
So as we headed out of Bangkok airport to head to the centre on our bus at 6.30am, and while everyone else was napping, it give me the chance to see the city as the sun rose. And what a sight it was.
Imagine London but less built up, less manic, but hazier. That’s Bangkok, a city that hosts more than nine million people. I couldn’t get over how lush the city was, and not just the outskirts. Locals say 2016 has been a bad year as its ‘too dry’, but to the naked eye the greenery was more abundant than the skyscrapers.
On the way to the hotel I soon discovered a trademark of Thailand – the roadside markets. You can buy anything. Literally anything. Deep fried banana. Chicken. Chickens. Sofas. TVs. Beds. The list is endless. All of the simple, handmade shacks and signs have an old man or lady sat on a plastic chair nearby smiling constantly, selling their wares. It’s their way of life, and nothing will change that.
As the drive ended and we pulled into our hotel, we were informed that actually, our hotel wasn’t quite complete yet, so we were staying in an older one. Usually this strikes the fear of God into you, dreaming up images of wooden beds with springs popping out, and cocktails scuttering around climbing the walls.
Not the Anantara Riverside. If this was ‘old’, I can only dream of what its newer sibling looked like. The slightly colonial solid dark wood feel was amusing, topped off by the Elephant Bar. It’s the kind of place you can just imagine colonial Generals and Lieutenants meeting one hundred years ago. The rooms were smart and sophisticated, with each guests being given their own personal MOBILE PHONE for making calls and browsing the web. It really was something else.
As we had a couple of hours to relax and recover from the journey, I decided to take a dip in the massive pool. Normally I’m a recreational ‘float on my back’ swimmer, but I did I few lengths to get the flight out of my system. Before I knew it, it was time to get dressed and head for our first Thai massage at the aptly named ‘Health Land’.
For the eagle-eyed and elephant-minded you’ll know I’ve already had a Thai massage, but I can safely say there’s nothing like the real deal. Every sinew was massaged, and it felt amazing. Right up until the point she started bending me backwards over her knee. OUCH.
All the relaxation made us (well, me) hungry, so to a riverside cafe for lunch we headed. It was perfectly located for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, our first real taste of what and why Thai culture is as it is.
As a fairly middle-of-the-road happy-with-anything kinda guy, I was struck at how simplistic Buddhism was, and how enthusiastic and passionate the locals were about their way of life. We even bumped into a ceremony ordaining a young man, who would soon become a monk. It also happened to be around 39 degrees, so I have no idea how they did laps of the temple.
After leaving the monks to their meditation, our first evening began with a reception hosted by Tourism Authority of Thailand, where we caught a glimpse of what we would experience over the next eight days. We were particularly interested in the steamed chicken experience, but more of that later.
After some utterly amazing food – during which I conquered my apparent seafood fear – it was time for the night to begin. We caught a quick boat across the river to Asiatique, a shopping and market complex where I introduced myself to the beauty of Chang Beer. It seemed to get a few of us in the mood, so a quick hop back to the hotel saw us settle down with some Mai Tais, which really was the end of me.
Sitting through the haze of the cocktails gave me the chance to reflect on my first day in Thailand. It was like going to London, but not heading to Leicester Square or Buckingham palace. It was like heading to an authentic London restaurant or bar and living like a local, which as a tourist is incredibly hard to do in a city known for its incredible tourist trail. I already want to go back and see more, including the Grand Palace.
And coming from me, that’s pretty amazing.