… and a little bit on diving.
Our last real blog post had us leaving the shores of Ko Lipe, heading to Phuket and then off on to a liveaboard, diving in the Andaman Sea.
Well, the diving was intense (4 dives a day) and spectacular with some amazing sights from the start. Overall the visibility was excellent – usually 20m – and in some places even better. Richelieu Rock was as stunning as other divers have claimed and again we were privileged to see manta rays circling as well as schools upon schools of fish. On our first ‘check’ dive into the water we stumbled upon a sleeping Leopard Shark (1.5 – 2 m) and were able to approach and see the cleaning fish nibbling at his gills.
Yet in some ways, as with the diving in the Maldives, there was also a profound sense of sadness at the damage and destruction to the coral and the depletion of so many species in recent years, caused by warming seas. Large areas, particularly of hard coral are dead and grey. Brightly coloured fish such as Angelfish, instead of blending with the variety and vibrancy of coral, stand in stark contrast to the graveyard beneath them. Of the 25 divers on the trip, we were the only group lucky enough to see a shark, whereas only a year or two ago the diveguides could say with confidence that divers would see sharks (and whalesharks) on the trip. In fact the Leopard Shark is now on the list of endangered species, the destruction of coral is global and this uniquely beautiful ecosystem that sustains so much life could disappear in our lifetime.
So we are lucky to experience the intense wonder that still remains. I do not have words to describe the profound beauty, but it is something that Anne and I feel so happy to share together.
Heading to Bangkok
The contrast between boat life and scuba diving with the Bangkok streets is pretty extreme. Add to that Anne going down with a bout of travel sickness and we were not looking forward to coping with city-life in one of the hottest capitals on earth.
In fact, Bangkok has been kind. While it’s about 34C every day, there has been sunny skies rather than low cloud and smog and a cool breeze has been blowing through the streets. We were intending to stay just one night before heading off to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital, but decided to slow down and chill out before our dash to Melbourne and back (where we head today for Niall and Gin’s wedding).
Every time we have been in Bangkok since the early 80’s we have stayed at the iconic Royal Palace Hotel. Currently it is undergoing renovations, which it has needed since the first time we visited, and the whole area is overwhelmed with Thais paying tribute to their dead king. We looked by lunchtime, the pool is there still, in disarray and the snooker tables have gone.
So this time we booked somewhere else, in Banglamphu neighbourhood and the Tara Place Hotel is quiet and relaxed, yet still allows us to wander the streets and see most things we want to by foot.
Beer top draughts
Having seen the ‘big’ sites before we are happy to wander along little roads (Anne is great with a map) and seek out the less explored Wats and the quieter marketplaces. So, despite our concerns, we have had a relaxed and stress free time in the city, and as elsewhere in SE Asia, we have seen how times have changed.
The streetstalls and nightlife are still there, Khao San Road is what it is (more later) and the traffic is relentless. Yet traveling on the Chao Praya river is quick-ish cheap and efficient via regular ferries rather than the longtails of old (they still mix it up, mostly shipping cargo). Bright pink and yellow taxis have replaced the Tuk Tuk by and large, although there are plenty around for the ‘farangs’ (in fact the taxis are cheaper), and the streets and cheap restaurants still serve great Thai food. In short it’s been good to be back in Bangkok.
One day out walking we came across some origami ! And shared.
Khao San Road, the field of dreams
Everyone is here. The crazy old dutch guy sitting on his own practicing his trance moves with a tower of Calsberg beside him. The young backpackers with their shiny new backpacks, the ones in their thirties with kids and backpacks the sizes of a lockup, rediscovering their past, but with kids. The midlife crisies, taking selfies of their henna tattoos. The Karen tribes people selling handwoven wristbands with obscene slogans in English, the tired and jaded hippies, the cool young Japanese with hats, blouses and selfie sticks. And us, sitting with a cold Chang, people watching on Valentine’s Day.
As Alex Garland said in the 90’s, there ain’t no Lonely Planet on the Khao San Road. All life and dreams are here on a warm and balmy Bangkok evening. There are no mosquitos or cockroaches, there is Boots and 7-Eleven, it could be Camden on a Saturday night in the summer. But it’s Bangkok, it’s relaxed and happy, and so are we.
We’re off to Melbourne for a week to celebrate Niall and Virginia’s wedding before heading back here. Really looking forward to the celebrations in Melbourne and catching up with our friends, young and old.
Glad the blog is back on track, all lost pictures restored. If you want updates, click ‘follow’ below. ☺