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Thailand with Kids: Bangkok (part 1). Thai massages at Wat Pho, and crazy catfish at the Thewet Jetty.

Do people eat these (eels)?

Do people eat these (eels)?

Bangkok is only an hour’s flight from Yangon, yet in every other way the two cities are light years apart. Everything in Bangkok screams “Asia Rising” at you – the new airport, the multi-lane highways, the skytrain, the massive malls.

We had heard mixed reports from other families – some really tried to put us off going. But we really  had a wonderful time.

We saw two sides of Bangkok – the area near the hospital is exactly as I described above – brash, glitzy, dominated bu huge malls and skyscraper hotels. We didn’t like this area. The malls bored the kids, and the only thing that seemed attractive, the 4-D movie, was booked out every time we tried to get in.

Staying at Phranakorn Nornlen

So we quickly moved to another part of the city. We found ourselves in an area called Thewet – that looked nothing like Sukhumvit Road. Here was the Bangkok we had hoped to find – small streets, outdoor fruit markets, a wet fish market, little neighborhood grocery stores. No tourists and lots of locals going about their daily lives. The hotel we were staying at was called Phranakorn Norn-len – really a guesthouse more than a hotel, but there was something really special about it. Firstly, the decor. Every room is different, and don’t expect many mod-cons. Our room had a 50-year-old TV, that wasn’t meant to work – it was just decor. We were in the fish room, and the walls were painted in hundreds of fish. In the outside courtyard with a garden on one side of it, was the restaurant. Just a few tables, serving home cooked organic vegetarian food picked from their garden. Our room was not cheap – in fact it compared with 4* hotels elsewhere in the city – but our memories of Bangkok are of this wonderful place, and not of the modern glass and steel tower we stayed in before.

From Phranakorn, it was a quick walk to a few very local markets – we wandered through a fruit market selling all the fruit that Thailand is famous for – rambutans, durian, longans and fruit we had never seen before. Next to the fruit market was a “wet” market – so-called because of the fish flopping and flapping everywhere – the kids were in awe of the eels (we don’t see eels at home) which looked a lot like snakes, slithering around in their buckets.  We saw for sale frogs too. Now there is no doubt that the lids found these markets way more interesting than wandering through the malls. Nearby was the jetty for the river taxi. On the jetty were women selling big bags of old crusts of bread. Looking around, we saw people throwing bread into the river and hundred of catfish rose up to fight for it. We bought our own bags, and the kids had a huge amount of fun throwing the old bread to the catfish.

Big Sights of Bangkok

Catching the river taxi, we went to see the big sights of Bangkok – the Royal Palace, the Wat of the Emerald Buddha, and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. Now these are wonderful sights, but there is a huge difference to the experience compared with Myanmar. Thailand receives (I think) 15 million visits per year, while Myanmar received 300,000. The difference is that in Myanmar one can wander about at will at the most magnificent sights, taking as long as you like and knowing you won’t have anyone else in your photograph. In Bangkok, it’s a circus. Thousands of tourists lining up, and some pushing and shoving, make seeing the sights something of an ordeal. We enjoyed them, and we did find some quietish spots, but it was incredibly busy. At Wat Pho we all went for massages at the famous massage school – the kids loved it, and so did I. Thai massages are not relaxing – you get pulled and pushed and some of it is excruciating, but I felt great afterwards. (It was toned down for the kids).

Feeding the catfish from the pier

Feeding the catfish from the pier

The monuments were grand, but the kids enjoyed little things, like the pink taxis driving around, or the manicured trees, that looked like they had come straight out of Dr Seuss.

Sightseeing done, it was back on the river taxi to the hotel.

(And what about the sleazy side of Bangkok? We didn’t go near it, and my kids don’t even know it exists).