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Phespirit goes to Thailand
Bangkok     April 2003

The adventures of Phespirit in Bangkok started almost from the moment that he walked out of the airport arrivals lounge following his flight from Singapore. To begin with his idle pick-ups at the airport waited ten minutes before bothering to identify themselves. Then the car broke down in the middle of a freeway, still two kilometres from his hotel. Phespirit was eventually chauffeured to his accommodation squeezed into the front seat of a mini police van with his luggage stacked on his knees. Some stylish entrance.

Bangkok is a big city with considerable distances between its main sights. Public transport connections are limited and the roads can become horribly congested, thus reducing the appeal of taxis and tuk-tuks in the stifling daytime heat. So Phespirit decided to open his explorations on shanks's pony, walking the full six kilometres from his hotel to the National Museum. (phew). Never again, though. Not at 39°C.

Most distinctive among the things to see in Bangkok are the many Buddhist temples. Phespirit visited:

  1. Wat Phra Kaeo: set in the heart of the Grand Palace, it houses the venerated Emerald Buddha;
  2. Wat Po: the oldest temple in Bangkok, it houses a 45m-long gilded reclining Buddha statue;
  3. Wat Arun: taking a two baht ferry across the River Chao Phraya from Tha Thien, near Wat Po;
  4. Wat Mahathat: home to the Mahachulalongkorn University, Phespirit had to sneak in uninvited;
  5. Wat Pichiyatikaram Warawiharn: a fine temple, off the beaten track on the west side of the river;
  6. Wat Traimit: containing the Golden Buddha, it sold Phespirit a harsh risk merit making ticket;
  7. The Erawan Shrine: a bizarre Hindu spirit house on the busy corner of Ploenchit and Rajdamri.

The enormous heaving sweltering throng of Chatuchak weekend market could not contrast more with the quiet serenity of these Buddhist temples. It has over six thousand stalls, hawking handicrafts, ceramics, antiques, clothing, food, plants, pets and all types of miscellany besides. Phespirit was most impressed by the stalls selling lifesize sculptures of sci-fi characters, made entirely from scrap metal; he was most disenchanted by the stalls selling rows of magnificently plumed roosters, especially bred for cock fights.

For an evening's entertainment, Phespirit went to see the kick-boxing at Lumpinee Stadium, rolling up at nine o'clock just in time to see the third fight on a bill of nine. This was a first round knockout with plenty of good value sweat-sprays kicked and punched off the head of the eventual loser: brilliant! The next fight was the most satisfying as it went the full five rounds and gave Phespirit a nice chance to appreciate the technical points. The fifth fight - the main feature - was all over inside two rounds. As the defeated fighter was stretchered out under the ropes an announcement came declaring it to be a "technical knockout". It must have been a great relief to the him that he wasn't properly knocked out. The night wound down with four sub-feather weight contests, including one with two fifteen year-old mini flyweights. Phespirit slipped away at that point, still having thoroughly enjoyed his first experience of live Muay Thai Boxing.

Beyond Bangkok, brief visits to Kanchanaburi - site of the bridge on the River Kwai - and Ayutthaya - the previous Thai capital - broadened Phespirit's view of the country. When the time came for his return flight to England he was tired, footsore, dehydrated and underweight, but content with his travels.

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