Friday, March 09, 2007 Thailand Thailand

Leaving Thailand

Khlong Mahanak [Enlarge]

Our time in Bangkok has drawn to a close. We've loved it here, although some of our love for Thailand is probably due to the fact that we came here straight after our bad experience in India. We've met many people who all described Bangkok as dirty, smelly, too busy and polluted. We can't believe they're talking about the same city.

After we picked up our Vietnam visas we decided that we didn't have time to do justice to an overland trip through Cambodia and Vietnam. We've done travelling on bad roads, and spending entire days and nights on board buses and trains. It's worthwhile if you do a journey then spend a few days at your destination before moving on, but we would not have time to stop because of the need to get to Hong Kong and source some more Malarone antimalarial tablets. To travel the length of Vietnam's reunification railway takes about 34 hours; we could split it into chunks of six to ten hours per day and do it in four legs, but we still wouldn't see much of the places we went through en route because we would be travelling all the time and only stopping to sleep. We concluded that we might as well pick one destination and fly straight to it—then we will be able to spend time actually seeing the place. So we chose Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, for no good reason. We are going to fly there later today with Air Asia for 6100 baht for both of us (GBP 96.43 / USD 186.23), which is cheaper than we could do it overland. We will have to leave Cambodia for the next time we sell everything to go travelling.

We've spent the last few days enjoying Bangkok (our new favourite city) and trying all of the different ways of getting around. Probably the biggest complaint that people have about the city is the clogged-up roads. It's true, the traffic is bad, but you never need to travel by road! Firstly there are abundant river taxis up and down the winding Chao Phraya river. You can buy a hop-on-hop-off tourist ticket if you like, but there's no need—at 100 baht (GBP 1.58 / USD 3.05) it is overpriced given that a journey on the normal service from the furthest north pier, Thewet, to Saphan Taksin in the centre costs only 13 baht (GBP 0.21 / USD 0.40).

Riding a torpedo on Khlong Mahanak [Enlarge]

Then there are the boats which speed along the famous Khlongs (canals). These have been our most used method of transport because there is a stop right next to our hotel, serving the large wholesale clothes market in the Bobae Tower. From there we could speed directly to the 'National Stadium' skytrain station. Like regular narrow boats, but on steroids, they are often known as 'torpedos' because of the speed they travel at. They have tarpaulins along the sides, against which the passengers can find a little shelter behind against the spray coming over the bow and into the boat. Getting a face full of canal water is the only drawback of this method of transport. Again it's cheap: 8 baht each (GBP 0.13 / USD 0.24) for the journey we did most often. Just leap on and pay the crash-helmeted ticket collectors who cling to the outside of the boats.

The Bangkok Mass Transit System (skytrain) is fab. Elevated high above the traffic chaos it whisks you in near-silent, deliciously freezingly air conditioned comfort across the congested city centre. The Mass Rapid Transit (metro) is even newer than the skytrain. The only similarity between it and the London Underground is that they're both subterranean railways. Bangkok's metro is so clean and shiny that you want to take your shoes off in case you make dirty footprints, and like the skytrain it has such good-quality air conditioning that you never actually want to leave it. To be fair to the London Underground, it has been open for 140-odd years longer than Bangkok's metro, so it has had time to get a bit grubby.

People of Thailand and City of Bangkok: we think you're fab. We will definitely be back!