Jim Thompson’s House, Bangkok
Flights to Phnom Penh from London cost substantially more than flights to Bangkok. Consequently, we decided to fly to Bangkok and catch a train down to the Thai-Cambodian border. We had a couple of days in the city before heading out of town.
We had both been to Bangkok before, so didn’t feel the need to rush around seeing the sights, but we were both keen to visit Jim Thompson’s house, which neither of us had been to previously.
Jim Thompson was a successful and wealthy textile trader who went for a walk in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia in 1967 and was never seen again. He built his Bangkok house in traditional Thai style, consisting of six teak buildings and a surrounding lush tropical garden. Inside the buildings were an impressive collection of Chinese ceramics, Thai paintings and 13th/14th century Buddha statues. The house was an oasis of calm amidst the chaos of the metropolis and we enjoyed a sandwich in the peaceful café before leaving.
New Year Festivities at Dusit
Afterwards, we made tracks to Dusit Park, a leafy area and home to a complex of palaces, royal residences and elephant stables. Instead of the peaceful stroll in the park that we were anticipating, it was bursting at the seams with excited children and their parents celebrating the Thai New Year (Songkran).
Completely unintentionally, every time we have visited Thailand it has coincided with the festival. Songkran is basically an excuse to spray, throw or squirt water over passersby. Foreigners (farangs) are particularly targeted by the fully armed Thais!
There was a fun-filled atmosphere in the park. In addition to the abundance of brightly coloured plastic water guns present, balloons and candy floss were everywhere. The lake was full of boats and families were enjoying picnics on the grass. Amusement stalls and food stands were doing a roaring trade. Adjacent to all this activity, there was a zoo, which was home to a surprising number of animals from capybaras to tigers.
Somehow, we miraculously managed to avoid a soaking at the park, but this wasn’t the case on the way back to our Chinatown hotel. We stopped at some traffic lights in our tuk-tuk and before we knew it, were attacked on both sides by laughing youths armed with over-sized water guns. We consequently walked into the hotel looking like drowned rats!
The Shanghai Mansion
We stayed at The Shanghai Mansion, a boutique hotel incorporating the style and atmosphere of 1930’s Shanghai. There was a lovely pond full of fish above which Chinese lanterns were hanging. It was a special place to stay and at only $40.00 a night between us, very good value.
The Cambodian Border Scam
Our train for the border left Hualamphong train station early in the morning. At $1.50 per ticket for a five-hour journey, it was the bargain of the trip. We had read about a scam used on unsuspecting travellers near the border, and we were ready!
Sure enough, our tuk-tuk driver didn’t take us direcctly to the border (where we had asked to go). Instead we were taken to a tiny office, where we told we had to purchase our visas. Naturally, they were going to charge us two or three times the going rate. We refused to get out of the tuk tuk and once again explained that we wanted to go to THE BORDER! After T raised her voice considerably, the driver relented. We were taken to the official border where we only had to pay a small bribe to the officials to let us into Cambodia!