Anti - government demonstrations in Bangkok were hitting the headlines. En route to our accommodation, we saw protests outside Makkison and Huamphalong stations, but they appeared to be trouble free and the protesters were in good spirits. Apparently, four people had been killed in protests elsewhere in the city, and they looked set to continue leading up to the elections in early February.
We had one night at the new Centra Central Station Hotel. www.bangkok.com/centra-central-station-bangkok With a lobby on the 12th floor (and great views), it was just across from Huamphalong railway station. Recommended.
Next morning the alarm went off at 5.45 am. A metro train, a sky train, a mini-bus, a songtheaw and a ferry later, we arrived on the island of Koh Chang!
Our homestay, ‘Blessed’ was on the deserted east side of the island, unlike the majority of accommodations, which were on the west. The songtheaw drivers clearly didn’t want to take us, as they loaded everyone else into the back of the open trucks except for us. They eventually ascertained where ‘Blessed’ was and we headed off.
From the singular road which went around the island, we were dropped off and walked down a long gravel track through the coconut trees, until we came to the hideaway that was ‘Blessed’. We were greeted by Orly (from Holland) and Greg (from Australia), who were artists and the creators of ‘Blessed’.
There were only two bungalows and the house where Orly and Greg lived. There were Gaudi-esque inspired mosaics, sculptures, masks and vibrant colours everywhere you looked, set against the lush jungle vegetation. Every nook and cranny revealed something of interest.
There were various seating areas on a large grassy area next to the beach, hammocks, a bed, a pagoda with swinging chairs and cushions, all brightly coloured. The bungalows and house were situated around a creek with a small bridge and pathways connecting them. Birds, butterflies, geckos, frogs and grasshoppers were abundant. There was also a residential snake (harmless!) and a dog called Manji. We were looking forward to spending Christmas in this very unique place.
Because we were so remote, the only way to get around was by scooter. Never having ridden a scooter before, Greg gave T a lesson on Christmas Eve. We set off to explore the island (or at least our side of it). It was fun whizzing along the road, with the sea on one side. We continued until we the road ran out at a fishing village. We found a beautiful temple, stopped for coffee and a coconut smoothie and brought some rum at one of the tiny stores for Christmas day.
In the evening Orly and Greg organised a BBQ in the pagoda and we had a fire by the beach. We ate with the couple who were staying in the other bungalow and John, a young Danish guy who helps out here. The stars were really bright – a very special Christmas Eve.
On Christmas day, Ku took a kayak out in the morning, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant, washed down by some long island iced teas and we returned to ‘Blessed’ to build a fire and play gin rummy. Orly was leaving the island early the next morning to have a kidney stone operation, so we signed her visitor’s book, took some photographs and said our goodbyes. They had been so hospitable, encouraging us to treat their home as though it was our own. They said we could go into their house whenever we wanted to and borrow their DVD’s, books and help ourselves to filtered water. There was a hut with a fridge full of beer and soft drinks, which we just helped ourselves to and jotted down what we had.
On our final day, Ku went out kayaking in the morning. At lunchtime, our friend Lars, who happened to be staying on the other side of the island, came to visit us. John went out on his scooter to pick up some noodles and we spent a few hours catching up with Lars’ adventures in Thailand.
‘Blessed’ was a very special place and it was sad to say goodbye. Wherever we travel, we don’t think we will ever come across a place quite like it in the world.
Back in the real world, we headed to Bangkok. It was just the two of us and a mini bus full of Thai soldiers! We thought that perhaps they were in Bangkok for riot duty. Yesterday, one of the airports had been cut off by protesters.
Our new abode was The Warehouse, warehousebangkok.com an industrial style hotel located close to The Grand Palace. The area it was located in was not a tourist area and was the only hotel in a local neighbourhood. The streets were lined with locals selling second hand items laid out on the pavements and food vendors. The hotel hallways had the appearance of a prison, but thankfully the rooms weren’t like cells! They also did a great breakfast – we ticked off the items we wanted on a list, and a few minutes it all appeared in front of us on a tray – all very efficient and delicious too. Highly recommended.
We arrived at The Grand Palace at opening time and managed to nudge ahead of the tour groups that were starting to appear. Consequently, we were able to spend some of the time in relative isolation. Apparently, it gets horribly crowded later on.
It’s a spectacular complex – a temple housing the revered Emerald Buddha, a golden dome, intricate detail on a massive scale, mythical statues and gold glistening in the sunlight wherever you looked. It was worth the hefty 500 baht (£10.00) entrance fee!
Afterwards, we walked through the amulet market and the narrow covered alleyways to the river, where we took a boat to Wat Arun on the other side .Wat Arun is a working monastery, where monks mingle with worshippers and tourists. Otherwise known as ‘Temple of the Dawn’, it is 79 metres high.
The steps up are so steep that you have to pull yourself up on a rope!
We paid a visit to Khao San Road, the backpackers’ haven. Crammed with guest houses, restaurants, bars, shops and all manner of traveller services, it hadn’t changed much since we were last there. It did appear to have grown into more of a traveller village than a single road as streets adjoining Khao San absorbed the overflow.
On Sunday, we set off for a day of temple hopping. We passed the Democracy Monument, where protesters had set up camp. There were tents, a huge stage had been erected, stalls were selling whistles and T-shirts and people stood in line waiting for breakfast. It was all very well organised.
We started at The Golden Mount, where a stairway up to the temple led us past waterfalls and statues. We passed many bells of all sizes, which pilgrims rang on route. Red prayer flags fluttered against the yellow and white temple.
Adjacent to The Golden Mount, was Wat Saket, which appeared to be dedicated to the animals of the Chinese horoscope. It did seem somewhat strange to see someone worshipping a giant bunny!There are temples on every street corner in Bangkok and we visited several in the immediate neighbourhood. They all have slightly different features and layouts and we never tired of exploring them!
On our last day in town, we checked out the Paragon Centre at Siam - a huge modern shopping mall full of designer shops and food courts. Crowded with Westerners and wealthy Thais, it was a world away from the street our hotel was located on.
We bought a couple of maps in the bookshop, one of Chiang Mai and one of Myanmar. We were ready for our next destination!