Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Malaysia: Georgetown

New country, new currency, new language but, like the Thais, Indians and Australians, Malaysians also have the good sense to drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Friday 17 September:
Georgetown is the oldest British settlement in Malaysia, established in 1786 by Captain Frances Light, whose son later went on to found Adelaide. Fort Cornwallis was build where he made landfall, first a bamboo stockade then, in 1793, a moated brick and earth bastion in the shape of a star. Only the cells, chapel, powder-room and battlements remain, together with a string of cannon. Like most defences against the French it was never used in anger, not even when the Japanese arrived did it see action. In the evening I order a chicken meal from one of Little India's restaurants and I'm rewarded with a large portion of rice, three-ladles of vegetables and spicy dip-in sauce, all served on a banana leaf, plus a side dish of dhal and a main dish of tandoori chicken, but no cutlery. This is authentic, so I wash my hands and get stuck in - it tastes great, worth writing home about.
Saturday 18: In the port area posters on travel agent windows tell me that the next ferry to Medan (Sumatra, Indonesia) is on Monday morning - good, I have time to explore the old colonial town. I just love the porticoes of the yellow-ochre Town Hall, white City Hall and gun-metal powder blue of the Victoria Memorial clock-tower, built by a rich local Chinese trader to respectfully celebrate the monarch's diamond jubilee.
Sunday 19: Georgetown is now a World Heritage Site, not just for it's colonial architecture, but also for the building styles that the East India Company workforce brought with them. Within a short walk there are Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, Chinese clan temples (each extended family of the same name built one), Buddhist temples, Christian churches and a Protestant graveyard. I try to book my boat ticket to Sumatra - I'm sorry Sir, the ferry no longer runs due to competition from cheap flights, it was cut to three days a week and still they couldn't make it money - the last sailing was on 14th June.
In the evening, dressed the part, I saunter into the cocktail-bar of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, the precursor of Raffles in Singapore. I'm disappointed, apart from the white-jacketed waiters and slender pilsner glasses - I've tasted better beer in plusher south-London pubs. In fact, the whole hotel has a tacky British holiday-camp feel about it - piped
country & western music, with all the edge and grit taken out, what I call shopping-trolley music, doesn't help.
Monday 20: I move to Stardust Guesthouse where the breakfasts are better and in the morning visit the Indonesian consulate - perhaps I can get a sixty-day visa here before I leave. Sorry sir, you need a valid British passport (okay), passport-size photo with a red background (I only have blue, but this can be remedied) and a return ticket (which I can't get because there is no ferry!) - try the Kuala Lumpar (KL) embassy the smiling official suggests. So, I get my sandals fixed (glued this time) again and explore Chinatown.
Tuesday 21: Having slept on it, I reserve a sleeper to KL. The nearest ferry-crossing to Sumatra is further down peninsular Malaysia at the old Dutch port of Melaka, south of KL. Yes, I could enjoy a few relaxing days in Melaka waiting for a boat.
I've chosen today to see the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and I like it on several levels. In the centre of Penang island, outside Georgetown, it's not huge but nevertheless it's delightful, with lots of little temples, prayer halls, statues, gardens and a pagoda linked by cable-car to the highest level.

Photos of Georgetown and Panang Island.
The 9:00pm ferry to Butterworth gives me plenty of time to catch the 11:00pm sleeper to KL.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Thailand summary

Water: Bottled drinking water is readily available.
Drinks: Wine - local rice wine or Mekong is a cheap, if oily, substitute for white rum but is okay with Pepsi and ice. Beer - Chang (6.4%) or Singha (5%) pilsner style lagers taste the same but Chang is a little cheaper, take your pick. There is also a light Chang. Tea - Black Lipton Yellow Label and 'English' brand teas in tourist areas. Coffee - Strong and black but Nescafe with milk is also served in tourist areas.
Toilets: Mostly upright in hotels, guesthouses, cafes, restaurants with both styles in trains. All mostly with a Thai style 'flush' - a bucket of water and a plastic scoop and maybe a douche.
Thai Baht (currently £1 = 48 bhat, say 50 for ease of mental arithmetic).
Language: Just about everyone in popular areas speak a little English.
TICs: Friendly and keen,
Variable can be B&B, en-suite, simple room with shared facilities. All normally adequate - you get what you pay for.
Delightful lightly spiced flavourful dishes think lemongrass and coconut, plus a lot more.
Seven-elevens are ubiquitous, on every street corner with cold beer and most everything else you might like. Tesco Lotus, a great marketing name as the lotus flower is seen as pure white beauty growing out of grime (and has strong associations with Buddha), are fewer but are larger and have a wider range.
All are cheap but trains and boats are an interesting experience whereas air and land buses are just a boring, environmentally unfriendly, if quick way, to get from terminal to terminal.
Medical: No problems if insured - Thailand has a wealth of medical, dental and cosmetic tourists.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Special Express Sleeper to Butterworth

Thursday 16 September: This time I enjoy lunch at Hua Lampong station, take some photographs and board the 2:45pm 'International Express' to Butterworth, Malaysia. I opt for a forward-facing window seat and a wider, more-expensive, lower berth. There is no restaurant car just a galley-kitchen that will be unhooked at the Malaysia border, so meals are served at your table. Dinner is simple - soup, chicken with cashew nuts, mixed vegetables with rice, plus pineapple slices as desert. It's good but beer is expensive.
Friday 17: I wake at 6:30am but my breakfast has already arrived - orange juice, ham sandwiches, cold French-fries and pineapple slices, hot tea arrives a little later. This is okay.
The border crossing is reasonably painless and my passport has a free ninety-day Malaysia visa stamped in the corner - quick and simple. The engines are changed, carriages unhooked and we continue to Butterworth arriving at 3:30pm where the handy ferry takes me to the island of Panang, and Georgetown. The whole journey, including the berth, food and one beer costs 1,620 baht (around
Photos, for train-spotters and the like, of the Special Express to Butterworth.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Bangkok revisited

Monday 13: The Indonesian embassy is closed today. I'd forgotten about, Idul Fitri, the two-day holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan - no doubt, much eating, drinking, smoking and frolicking goes on around the Muslim world.
So, I take the canal bus to Golden Mount temple with views over Bangkok. I can stroll back to the Merry V from here via Wat Ratchanatdaram and Bangkok's iconic Democracy Monument. At night, Kao San Road is alive with people eating, drinking and being entertained. Locals come in hoards to look at foreign tourists, who themselves are the main tourist attraction for the visiting Thais.
Tuesday 14: The Indonesian visa section tells me I need proof of entry and exit (tickets, in short) in order to get a sixty-day visa - it would be far easier for me to get a thirty-day visa on arrival, then extend it as and when. I knew this, but I really wanted a sixty-day visa that I could further extend rather than a thirty-day one. No matter.
In the afternoon I take in the whitewashed Phra Sumen Fort and The National Museum. I've not been in the museum before (probably because inside photography is not permitted) but it's better than expected and does pull a lot of the historical sites I've seen together as a Siamese whole (and I squeeze in a few photos).
In the evening an e-mail alert from the Foreign Office reads:

" Thailand . . .There is an increased risk of violent incidents, including further bomb attacks around the time of the anniversary of the 2006 coup on 19 September. In response to this, security has been boosted in Bangkok with troops positioned at key locations, including Skytrain and underground (MRT) stations. Riot police will also be deployed in Bangkok to control events commemorating the anniversary.

Probably a storm in a tea cup, but I'm off . . .
More photos of Bangkok.

The River Kwai and Death Railway

Wednesday 8 September: My local bus arrives here in Kanachanaburi, a dormitory town, once during World War II, for enslaved allied PoWs, forced-labour coolies and their Japanese persecutors. Now it's for tourists of every shape, size and complexion. I book into the Jolly Frog - reasonably priced and cheerful with movies nightly, western food, cheap beer and river views from the balcony - what more could a man want? It's in the hotel and bar strip, a microcosm of Bangkok's nightlife areas. There are backpackers bars at one end, with names like "No Name Bar", "10 Bhat Bar" or, my personal favourite, "Get Shit-faced on a Shoestring". At the other end, just a couple of hundred yards away, are neon-lit girly-girl bars (and one boily-boy bar) with names like "No Money, No Honey" or "Love Nest". As you walk past, the bar-girls howl and scream, some run out and squeeze your bum or pinch your midriff . . . this is how it starts. Bizarrely, some of the satellite TV sport bars on the strip are run by fat bald-headed Londoners with tattoos, who also give you a, much gruffer, cry of "ello mate - cold beer". I walk past them even quicker.
My pace speeds up again - chin up, stomach in, chest out - and I march two miles north of town to see the famous bridge. Now, I defy anyone who has seen the movie Bridge over The River Kwai (1957), to do this in the mid-afternoon heat, and not to start whistling "Dhara, dhara da da dee - dhara, dhara da da doe . . ." - I couldn't stop!
The curved end spans of the bridge are original - the two central spans, shattered by allied aerial bombing in 1945, were later replaced by Thai State Railway with angular sections supplied by the Japanese as war repatriations. Nearby, original locomotives, including a Japanese truck converted to run on the railway line, are gradually decaying in the moist tropical atmosphere.
Several historical errors appear in the movie - conditions were worse than the film-makers could show -
the main bridge was steel and concrete, dismantled in Java and reassembled here - a temporary wooden bridge was built but it was primarily used just to aid construction of the main bridge. The pronunciation of 'Kwai' is as in 'way' (not as in 'why') - the movie pronunciation means Buffalo in Thai, Thais would never call a river that - also, the Alec Guinness character would have been quietly removed by his men (in actuality there was much subtle sabotage).
Thursday 9: What I didn't know, were the words that the British soldiers put to the Colonel Bogey March tune and why the PoWs whistled it as they marched past Japanese officers (and fortunately, for them, neither did the Japanese) - "Bollocks . . . and the same too you". This, and more, is explained in the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, which is also a free research resource for bereaved families seeking closure. Adjacent is the war cemetery where many of the 13,000 PoWs who died building the railway were reburied (the 100,000 or so forced-labour civilian coolies, from all over Asia, who also died, lie buried beside the railway). Alex Salmon, the First Minister of the Scottish Government, had also recently paid a visit to the cemetery and left little tartan-ribboned poppies at the end-of-row headstones.
The JEATH War Museum (Japan, England, Australia, Thailand, Holland) is in bamboo huts of the sort the PoWs were quartered in during the war - it's very realistic with real fungus growing on the decaying exhibits.
Sunday 11: Today Ramadan ends and I've reserved my seat on the Death Railway heading north towards Burma, then back south to Bangkok (to get a visa) before heading for Indonesia. Nowadays, the remaining 'Death Railway' stops-short of
Hellfire Pass and Three Pagodas Pass on the Burma border, so I leave from Kanachanaburi's pretty little station, trundle over Kwai Bridge, and get off two stations short of the end of line at Thamkra Sae Bridge. Built by forced-labour during WWII, trains still run over this original wooden structure. The ride back south is slow, rickety and bumpy but I arrive at Bangkok, only three-hours late, at 8:35pm.
The River Kwai and Death Railway photos.

Monday, 13 September 2010


Saturday 4th September: An island at the confluence of three rivers, Ayutthaya was the royal capital for nearly 400 years, 1348 to 1767, and is now a World Heritage Site. Hiring a cycle for three days this time, I'm off again - map in hand. Northeast, off the island, to the Golden Monument of Wat Phu Khao Thong and it's little golden shrine. Adjacent is King Naresuan's statue, guarded by colourful fighting cocks.
Sunday 5th: Southwest on the island is modern Wat Suuan Dararam with a fine Buddha and frescos depicting scenes from King Naresuan's life. Then from Fort Pom Phet it's onto Wat Maha That, famous for it's Buddha head strangled in tree roots. Next door is the less ruined Khmer-style tower or prang of Wat Ratcha Burana. Off the island is the well-kept Wat Na Phra Men with a wealth of offerings stacked outside. Back on the island Wat Thummikarat's chedi has guardian lions around it and a Buddha head set in a lotus flower. Wat Phra Si Sanpeth is Ayutthaya's largest with three giant chedi in a row. I'm not far from the elephant camp and giggling Thai girls pose for photographs on top of these great beasts, saved and put to work carrying tourists around the phallic Wat Phra Ram.
After lunch, southeast of the island, I get caught in a downpour but Wat Chai Watthanaram's impressive prang looks great in the rain. Then it's further out of the city to Wat Putthaisawan - not even mentioned in my guide book, this one's my favourite - it has everything - large prang, Buddha gallery, several chedis, an exquisite orange-robed reclining Buddha and even a musician playing sweet music at the entrance. I return via St Joseph's Church, a Portuguese relic as old as Ayutthaya.
Monday 6th: Today I'm cycling off the island, first southeast to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol with a reclining Buddha, many sitting Buddhas and a chedi, all draped in orange. Then I head northeast to leafy Wat Maheyong and Wat Chang where elephants carry passengers over flooded fields. Cycling back, Phra Chedi Sri Suriyothai gleams across the river in Ayutthaya, but the day is not over yet . . . not by a measure.
Until you have seen elephants bonking, you haven't lived, it's extraordinary - the bulls huge maneuverable appendages feel for their target (and I don't mean their trunks!). Surprisingly it's over in just a few seconds. The female seems to enjoy it though and takes two big slimy bulls in as many minutes. What a great day.
Tuesday 7th: I cycle out to the Elephant Kraal and in the evening end my stay in Ayuttaya with a dinner, of crispy pork over rice, at the night market, and a few beers.
Photos of Ayutthaya.

Sukhothia and Si Satchanalai

Tuesday 31 August: From Phitsanulok station a lovely lady peddles me two miles to the bus station for a local fan-cooled bus (67th mode of transport) to Sukhothai. You can tell from the river level just how much it's been raining here - the water is above the bridge spans, which are backed-up with debris, and just inches below the river parapet. Homes, some on stilts, are a several feet below that.
I opt for a lovely bright and spacious (upstairs) room in the teak-built Garden House, near the river, in the new part of Sukhothia.
After dinner, an e-mail warning from my friends at the Foreign Office reads:
"Indonesia . . . volcanic eruption - Mount Sinabung, 40 miles west of Sumatra's main city Medan, erupted on 29 August 2010 after lying dormant for 400 years".
I can't wait to get there but it's still Ramadan and travel is difficult in Muslim countries this lunar month. It will be a while before I see my first active volcano.
Wednesday 1 September: for 200 years, from 1238 to 1438, Sukhothai was the capital city of the first Kingdom of Siam and I jump on the back of a truck to take me to the old city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sukhothia Historical Park is an extraordinary place.
Hiring a red cycle for the day, I grab a map and I'm off. I start with the central group of temples - walled and moated, Wat Mahathat is the largest with nearly 200
chedi and a range of Buddhas, including an exquisite gold finger-nailed sitting Buddha - next is Wat Sa Si, or Sacred Pond Temple, beautifully set on a lake island with it's own little lake within the island - Wat Traphang is just a small Chedi set on the banks of a moat filled with crimson lotus blossoms - Wat Sri Sawai's three Khmer-style towers dominate the skyline.
Hunger forces me to stop for a quick lunch of tasty red pork and rice, then I'm off again - this time to the northern group. Tiny Wat Sorasak is ringed with elephants - massive and moated Wat Phra Phal Luang towers above me - the Buddha at Wat Sri Chum seems to watch you approach, he has an elegant hand and tapered golden fingers. Now it's serious cycling to the western group which are mostly in ruins but Wat Sa Phan Hin, three miles out, is worth a stop and I climb to the wooded hill-top and take-in the view.
Thursday 2: More wats today, but this time with a blue cycle, to see the eastern group - moated Wat Traphang Thong, now a living temple, has been rebuilt and houses an important relic, Buddha's footprint - Wat Chang Lom is another bell-shaped chedi circled with thirty-six elephants. In need of a wat-break, Ramkhamhaeng National Museum brings the whole city together with treasures unearthed from all over the site including a blue-glaze figurine in a bowl shouldering a child.
Back on my bike, it's a pleasant countryside ride to the southern group and Wat Chetuphon to see what remains of the walking and standing Buddhas - but where are his feet?
I end my day, as always, sipping Chang beer in the Chopper Bar where music plays nightly and there are views over the town, my sort of place - and the only bar in town.
Friday 3: I'm on a minibus for a day trip, 30-miles north to Sukhothia's sister city of Si Satchanalai, also part of the World Heritage Site, and yes, another map and cycle - a black one this time.
Some of the bridge slats are missing so it starts with a daunting ride over the Yom River to Phra Si Ratana Mahathat with it's huge tower, ruined chedi, sitting and standing Buddhas. Nearby is Wat Chao Chan with a much smaller Khmer-style tower. A few miles west along the river is the main site - steps lead up to the wooded hill-top Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng with a seated Buddha - below Wat Chang Lom is another bell-shaped chedi but ringed with elephants - Wat Chedi Ched Thaeo has seven rows of chedi - and lastly Wat Nang Phaya is another bell-shaped chedi. The countryside ride back is pleasant with waving farm-workers at the end.
Back on the main road the cycle owner promises to flag a bus down for me - to look after me, he says. It's a huge Scania double-decker with soft reclining seats (68th mode) and it's a few bhat cheaper than the minibus, nice man.
Photographs of Sukhothia and also Si Satchanalai.

Next day, truck to the bus station - bus to Phitsanulok - pedicab to the train station - 8:59am Rapid Train (fortunately it arrives at 9:45am) to Ayutthaya - foot-ferry across to the island, Siam's second capital city, old Ayutthaya.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chiang Mai

Sunday 29 August: The first time I arrived Chiang Mai I was riding on the back of an elephant, but that's another story.
I would love to trek in the hill-tribe mountains to the north, the same mountains that shelter Chiang Mai from the worst of the monsoon, but in these hills, during the rainy season, there are black clouds and even blacker leeches, thin enough to slime their way through a boot-lace hole or over a sock and feast-fat on your blood - another time perhaps.
Chiang Mai is an ancient fortified city, but only the moat and small sections of wall remain. It takes me all morning to stroll around in a clockwise direction. I walked the three miles around anticlockwise many years ago - I don't remember fountains. What do remain intact are the temples or wats for which Chiang Mai is famous. Top of my list of seven (there are more than a thousand!) is Wat Pra Singh, the most popular - then Wat Phan Tao, which I do remember for it's solid teak construction - I also recall Wat Chedi Luang's giant ruined chedi. I'm staying at Malik Guesthouse in a roomy en-suite with a teak floor, doors and furniture. There's a rooftop garden with tea and toast-making facilities, and free internet, all for 170 bhat a night (£3.50).
Monday 30: Four more wats today and one is quite a trek. Wat Chiang Man, the city's oldest is nearby - Wat Chiang Yuen, with it's white chedi is just outside the old city walls - Wat Suan Dok, further out, has a stunning bell-shaped chedi wrapped in gold leaf - Wat U Mong is a forest wat in the countryside, a long walk from town, is very different - green, spread out and peaceful.
I end my day, and my stay in Chiang Mai, with a dinner of tender venison fillet, at The Writers Club which (not surprisingly) gets good reviews, but no apostrophes. This is the first time I've eaten meat that hasn't been shredded or chopped and served mixed in a sauce since November 2009, nine months ago, in Iran. It tastes good, very good. It's also here, in the club, that I scribble these notes. The opening line is, of course, fictional.
Photos of Chiang Mai.
Tuesday 31: The storms have cleared further south, it's time to go. Out of time, I take a tuk-tuk (66th mode of transport) to the station for the 8:45am Special Express Diesel Railcar and a six-hour journey south to Phitsanulok.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Special Express Sleeper to Chiang Mai

I seem to have upset two of my friends, Andy and Ian. Andy's a tad jealous of my mountain escapades and Ian's envious of my rail journeys - so what can I do to appease them? Secretly speak to their wives and buy them both a train ticket from China to trek in Nepal? Would that be a good Christmas present?
No, no, no - they wouldn't want me to go to that much trouble or expense - it's far easier and a lot more fun just to wind them up, they really wouldn't expect anything less . . .
Wannabee Scotsmen both - you can tell this from their names, Andrew MacGregor and Ian McKenzie. Andy will have to wait until I get to the soaring volcanic peaks of Indonesia and the mountains of Borneo. This blog's for Ian:
My favourite station in the world is the efficiently run and wonderfully named Hua Lamphong. I've no idea what it means - it just sounds nice. There are no long queues and the happy smiling lady who sold me a ticket on Thursday spoke perfect English and wished me a good journey. What a difference from London stations where you're more likely to wait half-an-hour only to be served by some miserable faced jobs-worth, with a mouth like an arse that's been sucking on mouldy lemons.
Saturday 22 August: It's not a pretty station, but for me Hua Lampong is a place of pent-up excitement, where people wait in anticipation of arriving at some exotic destination - southern Thailand's islands and beaches, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Samet, Ko Tao or onto Butterworth in Malaysia - east to Vientiane and the Laos border - west along 'death railway' over the river Kwai towards Burma - or north, where I'm headed, to Chiang Mai. On the right as you enter Hua Lampong, hiding under the junk-food balcony, is the station's food court where you buy a coupon then choose the meal you fancy from those displayed. Each little kitchen-hatch specialises in a different dish - flat noodles, rice noodles, steamed or fried rice each with a different delicious topping or mixture - hand over your coupon and it's freshly cooked for you - it's great. But today I'm running late and take my place on the 18:10 pm sleeper, 2nd class, to Chiang Mai.
My seat is comfortable, no numb-bum here, and wide enough for two. Heading for the restaurant car I'm ushered to one of the six cloth-covered tables, the rest are bare. The food's good, not exceptional, and only slightly over-priced. The ice-cold Chang beers are too, but I can live with that. Here I meet Peter, an excited middle-aged Swede who has just flown in. He speaks a little Thai and has been here many times (he likes Thai girls). He reserves his next flight to Bangkok as soon as he gets home (he says he always needs something to look forward to).
At 10:00pm promptly, as the dining car fills with train attendants, we are thrown out - it's bedtime. This is no longer a restaurant, it never really was. It's the home of all the lovely train staff who, Peter tells me, live most of their lives aboard the train with only a few hours off at each end. They lay plywood boards across the restaurant car's seats and this is where they sleep, underneath the table-tops - we've been drinking beer in their bedroom! The manageress has been living this way this for five years, some of her staff longer.
In our absence, as if by magic, the carriage has been transformed - beds have been folded down, I have crisp sparkling-white sheets, a soft fluffy pillow and little blue modesty curtains. I've opted for a slightly cheaper upper berth (the lower ones are wider, more like doubles, but are for single occupation). I sleep very well.
Sunday 23: I'm the only passenger eating breakfast. The dining car is full of excited chattering train staff, some quickly changing into casual clothes, pulled out of plastic boxes from under the seats. They are lucky today, the train is only two hours late - this means a longer than usual break in Chiang Mai. But they really should change the translated name of the catering company - Bogie Gourmet is a no brainer.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Bangkok: temples and palaces

Wednesday 25 August: Arriving at Ekamal, Bangkok's eastern bus terminal, it's an easy Skytrain (64th mode of transport) link and motorbike taxi west to the backpacker enclave of Khao San Road. I usually stay in the Chart Inn but it's being going downhill for years, so I walk further west towards the river where the quieter Merry V Guesthouse, near pier 13 (Banglumpoo), is a far better choice.
Thursday 26: Quickly leaping onto an express river taxi (65th mode) to Marine Office pier 4, I walk to Bangkok's main Hua Lamphong station (more later) to pick-up timetables and make a reservation.

That done, popping into nearby Wat Traimit to see the world's largest solid gold Buddha is a stroll. I've been here before and the story is this: a modest plaster Buddha was given to Wat Traimit and when lifting the heavy statue into place the crane snapped, the Buddha crashed and the gold beneath was revealed. The Buddha was coated in plaster in antiquity to disguise it from thieves and looters but this revelation, at a poor wat in an unsavory part of the old city, was deemed as divine intervention, so here it remains. When I saw it last it was tarnished, poorly lit and housed in an old dusty ground-floor temple. Today, donations have obviously made a difference, it's now the gleaming centrepiece of a new three-storey temple towering over Chinatown. On my way back I'm tempted by Wat Arun which dominates the west bank - so I jump ship. Close up the main tower is decorated with thousands of multi-coloured shards of Chinese porcelain and the grounds are pretty too.
Friday 27th:
If you were trying to imagine a fairy-tale palace you would be hard-pushed to dream up one better than Bangkok's Grand Palace and adjoining Wat Phra Kaew. I'll let my photographs speak for me.
Saturday 28: Every time I pass through Bangkok I make a point of visiting Wat Pho and this trip is no exception. For me, this less visited living monastery is more magical than even the Grand Palace. A garden of multi-coloured chedi point skywards, a gallery of gleaming Buddhas line the cloisters, there are secluded courtyards and, if that's not all, the world's largest reclining Buddha rests here - 150ft long, made of brick and plaster covered in gold leaf. Arriving early to avoid the crowds I'm trying to take some tourist-free photographs of the temple grounds and the magnificent reclining Buddha. It's a long way from his head to his feet which, alone, are as tall as the open exit door. But, best of all is his benign expression - my favourite Buddha, and I've seen many.
In the afternoon I wander out to Vimanmek Mansion, a former royal residence. Built by Rama V on his return from visiting many European palaces. It is made entirely of golden teak without a single metal nail. Only five colours, in various subtle shades, are used in the cool restful interior (no photos, strictly enforced) - powder blue, green, peach, yellow and ivory.
Photos of some of Bangkok's temples and palaces.

Rushing back to pack, I grab my small bag, my sleeper reservation and head for Hua Lamphong station.