We landed right in the thick of it. The city that has crammed in around 12 million people, or half of the Australian population, somehow felt like most of them had decided to spill out onto the streets of Banglamphu district effectively blocking our taxi’s arrival.
They had also told us that Banglamphu was a fascinating district of Bangkok..
Our driver carefully negotiated the masses of sweaty-faced tourists, crowded around locals flogging late night dinner along with shurikens, tasers, t-shirts and beer.
It was nearly midnight and the tiring effects of our 18 hour journey were rapidly dissipating, replaced with excitement and enthusiasm for a cold cocktail and a good night out.
We scrambled out of the air-conditioned taxi and out into the thick, steamy air of the Bangkok evening. We felt uncertain and a little ridiculous to have pull-along suitcases in the middle of such a scene. But after a local’s helpful smile and point of the finger, we were on our way to the reception desk.
We had chosen our first hotel based on a couple of things. Firstly, it served as a shelter during a torrential downpour some months earlier. My parents (or “Mama” and “Papa” to any Thai they met) had ducked in to the restaurant providing them with a cosy spot for a beer and a cigarette before the rain eased and they could be on their way.
Santichaiprakan Park provided us with free entertainment..
They had also told us that Banglamphu was a fascinating district of Bangkok, close to the river and the Grand Palace as well as offering up brilliant market stalls and good, cheap food.
We got ourselves checked in. Our room was on the first floor. It was $40/night. It was a king room, spacious and clean with a view of the pool area. It was brilliant.
We dumped our cases and went downstairs to the restaurant area. The laid-back feeling overtook us as we nabbed a road-side seat underneath scary-looking glowing lanterns made of long-dead puffer fish.
We had a week here so we needed to pace ourselves.
Food ordered, drinks on the way and we just people watched as we took in the scene around us. It was now about 1am yet it felt like we’d been thrown into the middle of a party. Everyone was smiling, laughing and listening to live music belting out from the jazz cafe across the street. It was wonderful.
Fast forward a few more hours and before we knew it, it’s nearly 5am and we’re barely ready to head up to bed. Filled with pawpaw salad, Singa beer and Mai Tais we could have just kept going, but thought better of it. We had a week here so we needed to pace ourselves.
It was mid-morning when we re-emerged for breakfast. We wandered around the local area, a block or so in either direction there’s fruit juice stalls, pancake stalls, omelette stalls… anything we wanted for breakfast was all there for us, all fresh ingredients, all at a ridiculously low price. We stocked up on fruit and purchased couple of litres of water and head off for a walk around the district.
We found ourselves down by the riverside, taking a break under one of the large shady trees. The heat was incredible, even for us having come from summer in northern Australia. We were in the Santichaiprakan Park, a beautiful open area for the public to enjoy at any time of day, offering welcome respite for locals and travellers in a city where space can be limited.
We sat for a while, grateful for a shady tree providing protection from the harsh sun belting down as we observed the barges, fishing boats, long boats and other fascinating vessels we’d never seen before, trail up and down the Chao Prahya River.
It was our first view of the vast expanse of water. Stretching as far as the eye could see it provides a vital source of income for many local Thai’s including fishing and transportation.
We glanced over and saw the unusual Rama VIII Bridge. Opened in 2002, it appeared to us as a very exotic looking structure in that its’ span is adorned with golden suspension cable and the single pylon is decorated with a flame-like golden shape at the pinnacle.
We’d not seen anything quite like it before. What we failed to realise at that time was that we were about to see many more uniquely-crafted structures and artefacts in Bangkok, without even trying.
We continued our walk by the Chao Phraya River. We meandered past the Phra Sumen Fort and eventually wondering into the Thammasat University campus, stopping at various food and drink stalls on the way.
We felt that it was easy to navigate this area of Bangkok. Trees lined the streets, there are plenty of eateries, stalls and an evening stroll back through Santichaiprakan Park provided us with free entertainment. Gen Y-ers hung out in one area, carefully honing their break-dancing skills to the sound of blaring music. A small group of hippy-like travellers and locals were gathered with torches, the flammable kind, juggling and trying out their luck as they throw torches in the air and catch them in dramatic fashion.
We head a little further down by the river, the sun well and truly set now. The air has only marginally cooled when we find a very enthusiastic Thai male aerobics instructor leading a group of around 80 children, adults and even elderly exercisers. We were captivated.
Close by are a series of carefully cobbled together structures, home to a number of Bangkok citizens. Out the front they offer chilled fruit drinks. A polite young lady starts peeling our fresh mangos as we consider everything we’ve seen in our first 24 Bangkok hours.
Banglamphu was a brilliant introduction to city life here. And we’d only just got started.
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