We went to Bangkok for a day trip, on the nation's bloodiest day for two decades.
We didn't really want to go back to Bangkok, but just when we think we're leaving Ayutthaya, our bank card ends up inside an ATM again...
Oringinally we were told it isn't being opened until Monday 19 April due to the New Year holiday. Luckily the nice Thai girl at the bank could sense my panic and managed to arrange for the ATM to be opened this Monday. Thank goodness for that kind girl!!
Yesterday we took the opportunity to return to Bangkok to buy a replacement battery charger for our video camera. We had planned to just see if we could find one along the way (no luck in Ayutthaya) but since we had time and it was just 90 minutes on the train, we thought, why not?
We bought third class tickets that cost us 15 Baht each (50cents) as compared to the 40 Baht we paid for the Tuk Tuk to take us just under 2km to the train station. The trip to Bangkok was uneventful and we arrived in time to eat and walk about 2km to the Sony store.
Well, walk to the address given online. When we got there we found a bustling local clothing market stretching as far as the eye could see, but no Sony store. Some further investigations led us to a different address - 7km away. The first taxi driver we spoke to said something about red shirts and wanted far too much money so we kept asking drivers til we found one that could take us there.
Our visit to the Sony customer repair centre proved that the charger was not working, but they couldn't sell us a new one as apparently it was a national holiday and might be for the next week or so... So back in a taxi to the MBK shopping centre.
The taxi driver promptly placed on his head a hat with a an extra bright red band and proudly pointed to the red items that adorned various parts of his car.
On the way to the shopping centre we passed through a road block and group of protesters. Everything we'd heard on the news always talked about peaceful protests, plus we had the word of the dishonest taxi driver from last time we were in Bangkok that they only wanted to talk. So we weren't worried. In fact, we wound down the windows to wave and shout out with all the people streaming into the streets wearing red.
The driver loved it... But we did notice an unfamiliar, almost eery tension in the air, and although we may have denied it at the time, instinctively it felt as though something important was happening. This feeling only intensified when we stopped, got out of the taxi and saw riot police everywhere, it looks as though they were gearing up for battle, Sam mused, and we both wondered why there were so many of them about looking 'so serious.'
We weren't to know that this was actually the day when the normally peaceful Thais would break into violence, and 20 people would die. Bizarely I pointed out to Sam some Government soldiers were standing under a red tent, desperatly trying to avoid the searing 40 degree heat.
We ended up finding our battery charger after a long and protracted search (a MUCH cheaper fake) and returned to the station, with a train due to leave in 10 minutes. Perfect.
An hour and a half later our train finally arrived and the crowd waiting on the platform had now doubled in size to that waiting at its so called time of departure. Our platform was packed and lots of hot, hungry, tired people were waiting to get on. In third class there is no allocated seating, it's just first in. Usually though this isn't too much of a problem as there aren't many more people than seats.
Luckily, Sam was first in. But after a few minutes (when the train was full) one of the guards motioned that we couldn't sit in that seat. We quickly found two more seats but they they were given to second class passengers that had paid extra (ten times as much) for a guaranteed seat. We were standing up with masses of other people.
For half an hour they kept jamming more and more people into the train until there was no room to move. At every station, another platform full of people tried to force their way into the carriages. Some were strong and forceful and got lucky, but most were left stranded. There were lots of people wearing red and pink shirts in the train... coincidence maybe?
Strangely, just before we arrived in Ayutthaya a little man pushed his way through the tired, thick, sweaty crowd, and without a moments thought opened up the carriage adjoing ours. He then proceeded to yell something in Thai excitedly. Although with confusd looks on their faces, passengers standing body to body, leg against leg, began a mad dash for the empty carriage next to ours. We still don't know how that happened...
We arrived at Ayutthaya at 10pm, two hours after we were meant to arrive, and read on the news websites about the true nature of the violent protests that subsequently ensued.
As of Monday 11 April 1am Australian Eastern standard time there were 20 confirmed dead and more than 800 injured.
We've been in Ayutthaya a week now. It started as a short stop so Sam could get some dental work done, and then the inevitable sickness returned, and the dental work took longer than expected as new mouth plate had to be made (much cheaper than in Australia)... So we'll finally be leaving here tomorrow.
The temperature here has been HOT. It's been over 40 degrees for the past four days. I've been trying to get out at 6 or 7 in the morning to go for a run before the stiffling heat sets in, and we're glad we're staying in a room with air-con and wifi. We can understand better now why the streets are so much more packed once the sun has gone down.
Much time has been spent researching the next leg of our journey, through Laos and China. Working out where border crossings are, downloading maps onto our phone (free Ovi maps with Nokia), reading about others who have ridden through Tibet, and debating how to go about the Tibet part of the journey - do we pay for an expensive guide (the legal way to do it) or attempt to go it alone?
We've been plagued for the past few days by the same music playing over and over repeatedly - with a booming voice speaking over the top from time to time. Our investigations led us to a big festival right near where we're staying. It runs from about 5pm - midnight every day, but the music and booming voice run from 9am. It's like a cheap version of the show - with a couple of rides and games and lots of food stalls. It is running for two weeks as part of Thai new year celebrations. We went there one night and had lots of fun at the shooting and darts games, and tried some food including sweet corn off the cob (sweetened even further with condensed milk and sugar we discovered), omelette, noodles and barbequed eggs in shells on a stick.
This morning, as I was site-seeing during my morning run, I was convinced to buy a set of postcards from a young boy. He was so adamant, and looked at me with eyes that seemed to say "You have everything, and I have nothing"... The set had 12 postcards and they ended up costing only Aus $2... (about 4 pounds lately I think). The postcards are not the nicest or best quality you will see, but I felt like I was supporting this young kid. And at least he was offering a product, unlike many children who simply beg.
Well I just wrote a wonderful post about the joyousness of easter in Thailand, but sadly the website deleted it before I was able to publish it, so you'll just have to settle with some trop about what we've been up to the last couple days.
I had my teeth jabbed at by a dentist wearing a red coat and wielding a deathly looking sickle, just picture the grim reaper and your half way there... Oh the pain...
We bought a meal for a three legged dog we found looking emaciated but sitting silently in the evening shadows amidst the ruins of a former Kingdom. The scene was eerily reminiscent of something grand and sad... I just cant remember exactly what.
We fed two little elephants, and then one of them grabbed a hold of my bicycle chain to see if it was edible. They enjoyed a good pat and a spray with the hose. And then we gave a bucket of capsicums to some big hungry elephants.
We cycled all around the city and saw some amazing archaic temples and ruins, the most incredible of which were featured in the film Mortal Combat.
Learnt that before the Burmese sacked and burned the city in the eighteenth century it was one of if not the most beautiful cities in the world (by the look of what is left we'd have to agree- definitely worth a geezer!)
Found out archaeological digs which uncovered untold amounts of gold, about more Government corruption and the thievery of aforementioned ancient artifacts.
And most recently, went to church and saw how the Thai's celebrate Easter!
That's all for now, hope you had a safe and joyous Easter weekend and didn't get caught speeding on the roads!
When the Atlanta Hotel turned us away with our bikes (the only place so far to do that) we ended up in the nice and spacious Omni Apartments, where bicycles were welcome (even on the 26th floor), the pool was shabby but clean, the gym had lots of equipment and the breakfast was free and delicious. It was very centrally located to the tourist attractions and public transport, so we didn't need to bring the bikes down until it was time to leave.
The apartment was also centrally located to western bars and massage parlours, and it seemed as though every single (we hope), overweight, 50+ year old, British man was staying in our street (Soi 4) to take advantage of the local hospitality. And the girls (and also lady boys, which we saw many of) were eager to make everyone feel welcome and loved in Bangkok.
We didn't like the city. It was dirty and made of concrete. I am sure there are some nice parks and pockets of beauty... but overall it is not an attractive place. And it seemed as though everyone was trying to get money out of us.
Internet is very expensive. Even the hotels and coffee shops that would normally have free wifi were charging high rates. The taxi and tuktuk drivers refuse to use the meter and if you won't pay them more than the locals they don't want to take you.
We took a taxi to the bike shop and the driver agreed to use the meter, but only if we went to a tailor and looked around for 5 minutes while he got his fuel voucher for bringing them Western tourists. He explained times were tough - tourist numbers were down with the protests and all - so we agreed to go to his tailor. It was WAY out of our way - in the opposite direction - and then we got caught in traffic. But we wanted to help him out so we didn't complain. But then when we got near the bike shop he kept driving around (even though he'd talked to the shop on the phone and knew where it was) to get the meter up. When we yelled at him to stop and let us out, he didn't give us enough change. We'd gone into the pushy, tailor shop to help him and he tried to rort us.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise though. When he'd first mentioned tourist numbers being down we asked him if he was a red shirt, which he admitted he was, and that he attended local meetings every day. We asked if there would be any fighting and he said no, only talking. He said they were very angry and wanted elections, because they loved the ousted leader Thaksin, who has been declared guilty in court of stealing billions from the Thai economy. When we questioned the driver about why he supported a thief who was corrupt he didn't seem phased, in fact he laughed and just said Thaksin looked after the poor people and they still loved him. It seems that most poor people don't care that the man embezzled billions, because as the driver said 'he would have done the same if given the opportunity.'
There were however some highlights of Bangkok - including Ocean World at the Siam Paragon shopping centre, particularly the little fish that eat the skin off your feet (they loved Sam!) and the sharks - everyone loves sharks (when they are behind very thick glass). The shopping centre also had a selection of prestige cars which was a definite highlight for Sam, not so much for Shanna. And we watched How to train your dragon on Imax 3D - not only a cute movie, but amazing in that cinema.
To keep the journey moving we went to a Cannondale bike shop to stock up on supplies like anti-friction cream, lube, tubes and patches. And Sam spent half a day putting new chains on both bikes (he is so clever) in preparation for the limited supplies and rough conditions of China.
Once we'd done all we needed, we quite happily went back to the station and caught a train out of Bangkok, to Ayutthaya.
Distance - 70km
Cycling to Hua HIn, seaside village.
Saw crazy accident.
Read about seaside village - not so much a village - SO busy
Horses on the beach
Rocks in the water - NOT good swimming, cut our feet, beach is chaos, so many people...
So many old men with young Asian women...
3rd class train carriage at 12:10am. SO uncomfortable. Horrible experience/ fantastic experience (Shanna/Sam)_ But that is how the locals do it.
Train was packed. Arrive 5am.
Riding through Bangkok in the dark. 11kms to hotel, one way streets.
Get to hotel we'd booked - The Atlanta (very strange,budget, art deco, in disrepair), not allowed in with our bikes.
Where do we go now?