I’ve got to be honest with you. I am almost never up and about at 4:30am. But here I was, standing in Krungthep’s (Bangkok’s) Hualamphong Station at that ungodly hour! It was too early to find a hotel room for the coming night and too early for Bangkok’s public transit system to be up and running. I had no map, as I simply refused to shell out 50 Baht (about US$1.75), but I did have a decent knowledge of the city’s layout from my dozen or so trips here in 2006, so I started walking.
The city teemed with life in this predawn hour. Street side food vendors were already out in full force, their woks blazing as night workers crowded around them. Newspaper vendors staked out their stretch of sidewalk as they set up their wares. Bangkok’s familiar odors (on both extremes of the spectrum) filled the air as a lone man lit incense before one of Southeast Asia’s many elaborate spirit houses.
I hit the familiar Lumphini Park, with its statue of Rama IV, King Mongkut (better known as the King of Siam from The King and I, which happens to be banned in Thailand) just as light was breaking and barefoot saffron clad-Buddhist monks took to the streets to collect their morning alms. Silom was undergoing its transition from seedy underbelly to financial district at the last of Patpong’s (the “red light district”) tourist night market packed up. It was now 6:00am as the first ultra-modern Sky Train of the day quietly zipped by.
I walked north to Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok’s shopping thoroughfare. It was too early for the plethora of mammoth malls to be open but Bagnkokian’s had started their day. One small Soi (side street) found a man affixing a giant Thai flag to his motorbike as others stepped onto a bridge crossing one of Bangkok’s many khlong’s (canals).
By 7:30am, I was in the market for a place to sleep. I tried to think of where I had previously stayed with no reservations and actually enjoyed. I wanted to avoid the backpacker hangout of Khao San Road at all costs. As I hopped the Sky Train to head East, I came across one of Thailand’s many familiar quarks. As the clock struck 8:00am, the national anthem blared over the speakers and everyone froze in their tracks.
By 8:30am, caravans of Red Shirts, anti-government protestors in the continuing saga of Thailand’s political troubles which began with the 2006 Thai coup, loudly made their way down Sukhumvit, horns blaring, cymbals crashing and red flags flying. They are demanding that the current Prime Minister (who, I might add, was not elected, but appointed after the “Yellow Shirts” (Bangkok’s aristocracy) succeeded in shutting down both airports for a week a couple of years ago) step down and hold new elections. The military are again out in force, but this time they bear orange ribbons (versus yellow, the King’s color, which they wore during the coup), perhaps an indication of neutrality between the Red and Yellow shirts.
By 9:00am, I had lodgings for the night, a mere Soi over from where I will be staying with my family tomorrow night. It’s a bit spendy, but I really needed a break from the bare bottom budget accommodations I’ve been living in for the past 5 weeks! It’s quiet (thank goodness!), boasts a super comfy bed, a sink that doesn’t drain directly onto the floor and even a shower in a separate bathtub (these things are unusual for Asia)!
Stepping off that train almost immediately felt like a homecoming for me. This is a town I know very well and have a bit of a deep adoration for. I’m really glad that I gave myself a day alone here to take in my favorite sites. Tomorrow, my family joins me as I venture out to Suvarnabhumi (pronounced soo-whaw-naw-poom) Airport for the first of four times in the next two weeks to get them. It is then that I will take a two week “vacation” from my solo travels to Bhutan, smack dab in the middle of my trip!