DAY 53: Travel day – very kindly picked up by Roz (and her grandson Trent) and delivered to the airport, we spent the rest of the day either on a plane or waiting for one. Arriving in Bangkok about 10:50 (after circling for about 20 mins because a VIP was taking off and no-one was allowed near the airport). We had put our watches forward half an hour to deal with Sydney time, now we put them back 4 hours for Bangkok. There was a beautiful sunset during the flight, with us looking down on the reflections on the whispy clouds (unfortunately no camera to hand!). We also spotted what at first looked like one of the clouds raining, but slowly became clear that it was smoke rising from an Australian bush fire. At the airport we walked into particularly hot and humid air, but the hotel chauffeur was ready with limousine, free scented freshen-up flannels and cold bottled water. We were whisked across the city (reaching 150kms/hr on the way) – they drive on the left!
DAY 54: We chose an afternoon tour of the Royal Palace, a complex of buildings which we were told took 3 years to build and 100 years to decorate – this was no surprise, as all buildings and towers were highly decorated with gold leaf, mosaic tiling, coloured glass, ceramic flowers etc with statuary everywhere, similarly decorated. Bells hung from the eaves ‘to deter birds’. One entire building was painted externally, in intricate detail including gold leaf, telling a Thai story. Another, with very high ceilings (25’+) appeared to have a complex patterned wallpaper on all walls. We were asked not to touch it because it was all handpainted! Our guide told us that no-one lived in the palace and only visiting monarchs and presidents could stay there - sorry Mr.Blair!
We have not had enough time here to give the city a chance but it appeared to be one of a few stunningly attractive buildings amongst much dirty concrete, multiple overhead cables, 2-stroke 3-wheel taxis, brightly-coloured normal taxis, mopeds and motorbikes everywhere …and fumes. The 2- and 3-wheelers were often seen strapped high and/or wide with packages of all shapes. People were often seen travelling in the back of pick-ups and lorries, even standing on the back bumper on one occasion. Female pillions rode side-saddle and often without a helmet. The paper reported 432 road deaths in a 5-day period over the new year This was good(!) at 5% less than last year. 90% were motorcyclists, of which 45% were not wearing crash helmets.