The overnight train started well, good track, I think had been rebuilt for the crossing to Laos, but after an hour or so it was shake, rattle and roll! The ac was on at full blast, too, even though it was not really that hot outside, so not another night of lost sleep! We eventually arrived in Bangkok Huamphalong Station; now for the battle with taxi drivers. After declining to pay 300 baht we found a driver who would do the journey to our hotel for 100 baht (that's only about £2, but it's the principle!)
We were welcomed like long lost friends and even the owner interrupted his breakfast to greet us. We like this place. The receptionist advised our room would not be ready until 12 but offered us the use of a shower and coffee. The manageress came on duty shortly after told us our room was ready! She showed us to our room, and surprised us again with a beautiful suite. Amazing hospitality and all done with huge smiles.
Eventually we ventured out to see the Royal Palace. We were told it would be safe because it is the King's area. The protests were around the government buildings but because of these the hotel recommended we use the klong water bus. The local dock is about 5 minutes walk and a bus turned up after another 10. So far so good. The bus was packed but we squeezed on as we were only going three stops; it was a bit of fun but Ruth was very uncomfortable so we got off and hailed a tuk-tuk, who after a short negotiation on the fare took us to the Palace. We passed a couple of protestors 'encampments' but all was peaceful.
The Grand Palace was exactly that. Several buildings, built at different times, by different kings, all absolutely over the top with their choice of decoration. Vivid colours, mirror tiles, grotesque statues, soaring rooflines. It looked so overblown and again we thought of the extreme poverty on the Palace's doorstep; a complete juxtaposition.
It was very hot, much hotter than we'd been used to in the mountains of Laos, so we bailed out of the crowds to find lunch in air conditioning. We found the Royal Thai Navy Wives' Club nearby, almost empty, with great a/c and they served food to the public. Result! Ruth stayed on afterwards as she was feeling a bit under the weather while I went off to look at Wat Pho, just behind the palace. Known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, its official name is Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan . The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. The Buddha is 160 feet length and occupies the whole building; it is about 150 years old. That really was it, the rest of the temple was much like all the others we'd seen in Thailand so I whizzed round and returned to Ruth.
Another negotiation with a taxi driver, who refused to use his meter (we later discovered the taxi drivers had not been allowed to increase their fare structure for over five years so they tried to bypass the meter if they could and offer a fixed price) but we agreed what we thought was a reasonable fare, well it was that or nothing as there were plenty of empty cabs around. Back to the hotel to relax.
I went for a swim while Ruth crashed, later we went for our massage, mine the full Thai and Ruth the foot massage. Feeling relaxed after that and some lovely ginger tea, Ruth went back to bed and I wandered off to find some dinner. I returned with some yoghurt for Ruth who by now was feeling a bit better.
Ariyasomvilla day 2
Woke with both of us feeling much better. Great breakfast, chat with the owner, telling him of our travels. Really friendly guy, he has lived in Thailand for many years and has a Thai wife, he seems very settled here though likes to hear tales from the UK. Walked up the road to find a street-side tailor who we'd seen before to carry out some repairs to travel damaged clothing. Very obliging; back in an hour. Dropped laundry. Now ready for the day.
Back for a swim, I managed 50 lengths of the 20 metre pool, it was cool and refreshing. Dry off in the sun for half an hour then lunch beckoned. We went to the end of our road, collecting the by now repaired clothing (and an excellent job he did) on the way, to the street cafe and had a soup-like dish, it had noodles, dark green leaves and wontons. Delicious.
We set off to the Skytrain to go to Jim Thompson's house. He was an American architect who 'discovered' Thai silk, it wasn't well known then - at the end of the Second World War. He set up a trade, buying in silk thread and garments from local weavers and selling them in the US. He developed a very successful business which enabled him to design and build his house and garden. Anyway, he mysteriously disappeared in 1967. No-one has discovered his body or what happened to him. His house, originally a row of 6 typical Thai houses, was altered to suit him. A lovely house and garden now open to the public. The house contains his collection of Thai antique furniture wall hanging and objet d'art; very impressive. The garden, he called a jungle. It is not formally planted but is full of lush growth and beautiful flowers. It was worth the visit, even if we had to put up with the obligatory tour guide. They offered a free shuttle bus back to the Skytrain station which we grabbed to save us the walk.
I tried to find an ATM that was free to use, most Thai banks charge 150 baht, about £3, or transaction. In the end and after walking miles I gave up and paid up.
Back to the hotel for a shower and to dress for dinner. We were eating at the hotel and we chose their seafood option; prawn cakes (on sugar cane sticks), Penang fish curry, deep fried soft shell crabs with stir-fried morning glory leaves, and a bottle of Proseco! It was lovely, and the chocolate tart just had to follow.
Ariyasomvilla day 3
Our last day. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast collected the clean laundry, packed the sat by the pool, or swam until lunch. 50 lengths seemed too much this morning, so just a gentle swim. Lunch at the hotel, it was good, then back to the pool. We were determined to just enjoy the day, so we did.
Evening and off to Hualumphong Station for the night train south to Surat Thani. Traffic was very bad; it was the kings 86th birthday and a national holiday, so it took almost an hour to do a 20 minute journey. Not to worry, we had plenty of time and the taxi was comfortable. On arrival, at 6pm, the national anthem was playing and everyone stood still.
After the anthem, the station was buzzing, many people in yellow shirts (the king's colour), huge photographs of the king and even a guard of honour formed near what looked like the king's private train - it was yellow! Many Thais bought small yellow candles and were waiting around but our train was about to go so we did not discover what was going on. We bought food supplies for the journey and boarded the train.