I left Saigon on a short flight to Bangkok. I flew with Turkish Airlines, which was surprisingly good. For some reason, Manchester United’s football squad was presenting the video safety briefing. I’m not 100% sure of Wayne Rooney’s reasoning capacity, so I found it a little strange to be getting advice from him.
The flight landed quite late in Bangkok. The first thing that hit me as I left the protective cocoon of the air-conditioned airport was the heat. Even at 9pm it felt very warm and sticky. I caught the express train into town, as walked out to find a cab to take me to the hotel. There were signs everywhere warning against taking the wrong kind of cab, so with a little help from a local student, I found one that looked safe. The driver was lovely, offering me a bottle of water from the glove compartment. “No charge”, he said. Of course this made me suspicious: what if he’d spiked the drink with a sedative? I sipped cautiously, my traveller defences on high alert.
We drove through a nasty-looking part of town. I was glad not to be staying there. “Your hotel is just here”, he said. I had unwitting booked a room in a nasty part of town. I should have known: my guide in Vietnam, a Thai, remarked, “Oh! You’re booked into a hotel near Sukhumvit? You can find there any type of human being for any price”. Yes, ladies and gents, I was staying at a nice hotel in the middle of the sex-tourist district:
It was late and all I wanted was a shower and a sleep. I put the shower off until the morning and was taking my time over when there was a knock on the door! Duncan had arrived from London and I shamefully made him wait as I got a towel on – I suppose preferable to the alternative.
The best way to fight jet lag is to not give in to it, so Duncan and I went hunting for breakfast. Everywhere looked pretty nasty: bars just reopening and getting cleaned up from the previous night, some working girls still sitting around. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and then headed over to Wat Poh to see the temple and the famous Reclining Buddha.
We got to Wat Poh by train and river ferry – both efficient and cheap. The train was air-conditioned and a huge relief given the heat and humidity, and the river ferry nice and breezy. We passed Wat Arun on the river – a Khmer-style temple.
Arriving at the jetty for Wat Pho, things took on a slightly carnivalesque tenor. We were in the middle of a bit of a tourist trap – stalls abounded selling souvenirs, Pad Thai and huge piles of dried seafood. I succumbed to the temptation of a cold coconut, which was pulled out of a chiller cabinet and opened in front of me with a machete. My Canadian chum Scott referred to chilled fresh coconuts as “Nature’s Gatorade” – not a bad analogy except they actually taste much better.
We walked into the temple grounds after paying a tourist fee. Worshipers at the temple don’t have to pay. The first thing we passed was a small building where people were gilding images of the Buddha.
The usual arrangement is that you go to a dormitory-style room and get a massage alongside complete strangers. For a small fee we were able to upgrade to a private room and share a small confined room in awkward silence and muffled giggles!
After changing into silk pyjamas, the masseuses got to work. They were inhumanly strong and the whole experience lasted about 90 minutes, culminating in my 6-foot, 2-inch, 80 kilo frame being lifted clean into the air by a small-framed five-foot woman. I was held in the air for a moment before my spine was folded backwards on her knee.
As I left the onsen, I felt a little lighter, so I walked up towards the Siam district to stretch my legs and test out my spinal cord. I passed a building site and spotted this guy ironing the uniforms: