‘The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.’ Rudyard Kipling.
Standing outside Hua Lomphong rail station I came to understand Bangkok as a manic melting pot of traffic, drains, lemongrass and construction dust, all cooked in a generous coating of sweet tamarind sauce.
Image: eGuide Travel
I had (less than) 24 hours to take all this in and suddenly felt a little daunted. Distracted by colours, broken paving slabs and not getting squashed by a scooter I journeyed to my hostel. After a much needed snooze and cold shower it was time to hit the town. Guidebook in hand I began the hour-long walk to the Amulet Market. A passerby stopped me and claimed I was going the wrong way before kindly flagging down a tuk tuk. It was then that I learnt my first lesson in the city: lots of people have cousins, friends or brothers who would very much like to sell you things. Be aware when accepting advice or directions!
Delivered to a kiosk by the river, I explained that I had no desire to spend £30 on a private cruise and showed the driver where I actually wanted to go: the Amulet Market.
Tiny and silver, life-sized and copper, the Amulet Market is a veritable sweet shop of Buddhist paraphernalia. I believe that it might also be the place to pick up an ancient magical charm that opens the gateway to another world when held by ‘the chosen one’, but this is only speculation. For anyone seeking a sparkly new pair of gnashers it is worth noting that the Amulet Market is also the place to shop for false teeth. Why? I don’t know, and I hope never to find out.
Tigers, tumblers, dancing ladies and drummers passed me as part of a parade headed for the Royal Palace. A masked man handed out glinting paper spears to children and grandparents who joined in the dancing. Magical!
After a delicious plate of vegetarian Pad Thai and a nice cold Singha beer I headed to the river and hopped on the public boat. Incredibly cheap, this is a fantastic way to see the lofty spires of some of the city’s most impressive temples including the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
Later, picking up some beach clothes on Khao San Road I learnt Bangkok rule two: Ladies over size 0 may struggle when trying to buy clothes in Thailand. The promise of a perfect fit may be well intentioned but not always accurate.
A perfect fit for my left leg, perhaps...
Four hours later, I was sipping orange juice on my night train to Surat Thani. Next stop Koh Samui. Bangkok had been confusion and chaos, but I was already planning my return trip. After all, what magical mayhem might occur next time?