Day 29: The day started with a leisurely breakfast, then we threw on our walking gear and headed out to explore a chunk of this crazy busy city.
We started by walking northwest through Sukhamvit, an exclusive district popular with expats and packed with posh apartments, restaurants, bars and clubs, along with little ‘pocket parks’ – small patches of green in between the densely packed buildings. Sukhamvit Road which runs through the district is one of the longest roads in the world, stretching 388km from Bangkok to the border with Cambodia.
As we walked through the area, we became fascinated by the electric and communications cables running overhead – how on earth anyone works out what cable relates to what, we have no idea. A guy was balanced precariously on a ladder in a tree, fiddling with dozens of wires – certainly don’t envy him his job.
Soon after, we were nearly run over by a cart selling brushes, mops, brooms and all sorts of other cleaning paraphernalia. It’s impressive that the guy driving the cart can even see where he’s going – though given he nearly ran us over, perhaps he can’t.
The traffic in Bangkok is dense and chaotic, and crossing the street is mostly terrifying. There are lots of zebra crossings, but whereas in Australia and Europe traffic stops at crossings to let pedestrians get across the street, that’s not the case here (as we quickly found out). So you have to hover at the side of the street for any sort of gap in the traffic to appear, however small – then run at breakneck speed across the road. Sometimes it means crossing halfway, and waiting in the middle of the street while cars and bikes fly past, often dangerously close, then sprinting to the next pavement. Perhaps assuming there’s safety in numbers, we tend to hang onto each other and run together, like some sort of awkward three legged beat-the-traffic race.
After a quick morning coffee stop to refuel with caffeine, we walked across to Lumphini Park, a 58 hectare open public space with an artificial lake and playgrounds. The park lies in the heart of the business district, and is one of only a few green open spaces left in the city. It’s extremely popular at the weekends, so we decided to go and check it out Friday during the day, when it was far less busy. The park was created in the 1920s by King Rama VI on royal property and was originally a museum. After the first world war, it was rebuilt into the first park in Bangkok. During the second world war, the park was a Japanese army camp. Today it’s a great and very welcome open green space to escape from the dusty noisy streets.
We were sitting on one of the park benches by the lake in the shade when out of the corner of our eyes we spotted, only a couple of metres away, a large water monitor lizard basking in the sun by the water – a real treat. We had a quick look online to find out more. Turns out a large lizard population has made Lumphini their home for some years, however it’s got a bit out of control and over 400 of the creatures now live in the park. In an effort to control the population, up to 100 at a time are removed and transported to a sanctuary elsewhere, however the population continues to increase. They grow up to 3 metres long and can deliver a nasty and painful bite if threatened – so we were very happy to watch from a safe distance.
Next we walked through Chinatown, a packed, busy precinct which is one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. We wandered up and down narrow lanes, narrowly avoiding being run over by motorbikes and cars, and taking in the sights and smells. And there were lots of smells. Food cooking, raw meat and fish, herbs and spices, all mixed with pooey putrid drains.
We wandered through streets full of different food stalls selling all sorts of meat, fish and vegetables – some recognisable, some not. Jim skidded to a halt when he spotted the food stall of his dreams – an assortment of different insects, some on sticks, others piled in bowls. Lil groaned, knowing what was coming next.
Jim scanned the selection, quickly decided on a large black scorpion on a stick, and handed over his 100 Baht (about 5 Australian dollars). The stall holder squirted the scorpion with some watery liquid, broke off its tail, added some peppery sauce and handed it over to Jim who was eagerly awaiting his insect fix.
Lil watched in absolute horror while Jim started to chew the claws and the body, then picked bits of flesh out with his fingers. The stuff of nightmares. Then for ‘dessert’, Jim had a silkworm pupae, at which point Lil insisted they leave as she was starting to feel really nauseous.
It took over an hour for Lil’s nausea to subside and her appetite to return (it’s safe to say she will never be the one eating insects). She suggested dinner at a ‘safe’ restaurant – no more dodgy street food for today, thanks. We had some fabulous food at a restaurant on the fringes of Chinatown – sensational roasted duck, pork belly and a great dish of minced pork, salted olives, lime, chilli and rice, rounded off with a pork and marrow bone soup.
Then we wandered across the river, and through lots of streets and laneways, a little saddened by beaten up phone kiosks, apartments that looked like they should have been knocked down a long time ago, a grimy canal with decrepit houses along its side, and so much poverty in amongst all the affluent buildings and cars.
We’d already walked a very long way, so decided to head to the Skytrain station at the National Stadium for the rest of our journey home. It was our first trip on the Skytrain, and it was awesome. The train whooshes along, is clean and safe, and cost around $2 for a 10km trip. It’s also a lot of fun to watch the city go past from above (so many shopping malls!)
Walking down the laneways close to our apartment, we stopped at a local shop to buy some more water, and were intrigued by six coloured eggs mixed in amongst the regular ones. No idea what that was about, but they looked pretty cool. The lady at the shop rearranged them specially for our photo. And finally we got home, had a shower, then enjoyed a couple of Chang beers, which was a pretty good end to a fabulous day.
In total, we walked about 26km today. Tomorrow we’ll likely take it a little easier, maybe take a look at one of the outdoor markets, eat some more giant insects, and perhaps go to some live music tomorrow evening.