As we neared the capital, I realised how very big and very modern Bangkok had indeed become. I remember my first trip many, many years ago where it was squalid and very third world. With a population of between 15 and 20 million (basically Australia's entire population) it has become a modern and thriving metropolis, where nothing is unobtainable, if you know where to go. And if you don't, and you are like me, you find out quick smart. On these last days we were on a mission, and that mission included fitting in a few decent massages, visiting the dentist, getting Alex some glasses, and doing some shopping. Yes, you heard correctly, shopping! As most of you know I am so not a shopper, but there's something about Bangkok which at first lures and then unleashes the "bargain shopper within". It was a bit of a tall order to try and fit all that in, but after 16 months, a new outfit of clothes (or two or three or four....) was more of a necessity than a desire. A large number of our clothes were most certainly not going to leave Thailand. They had been worn to death, and we totally over them. OK enough excuses, we just wanted a few new things that we hadn't looked at each and every day for the last 16 months.
We went straight to Lamphu House, where we had also stayed when we were here in mid 2005. It's a treasure of a place which we found coincidentally on our last trip here. Whilst only a block away from Khao San Rd (aka, backpacker central), and the bargain shopping area known as Banglamphu, it was a clean, safe and serene little spot. A good place to come back and relax in between doing all of our bits and pieces. And read on...there were many "bits and pieces to do. When we arrived at Lamphu House, not only did the owners and workers remember us, but they proceeded to show us a picture of us in a Thai Travel journal........of when we were in Cambodia a few years back. We were flabbergasted! The story goes like this: On our last trip here we visited both Thailand and Laos, including some really off-the-beaten track destinations in Laos. We very vaguely remember being photographed, and we end up in a magazine, the photo taking up half a page. What are the chances!
We had arrived in Bangkok on the Friday night. Perfect timing, as every weekend, but only on weekends, Bangkok holds its famous Chatuchuk (or Jatujak) Market. Even the most hardened of shoppers or bargain shoppers would find this a mind blower. I have been here many times on subsequent trips, but it never fails to amaze me. This market is not only the largest in Thailand, but the largest in the world! Consider this: It covers over 35 acres (1.13 km²) and contains more than 15,000 stalls. It is estimated that the market receives between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors each day. The market sells, but is not restricted to, household items, clothing, Thai handicrafts, religious artifacts, collectibles, foods, and even live animals. Check out http://www.jatujakguide.com/main/index.php A sight to behold. So, it was an early rise the next morning. May the shopping begin!
We were knackered after several hours at Chatachuk, but with only days to go before our imminent return to Australia, "cram, cram, cram" was steadfastly becoming our middle name. Making our way back to Lamphu House, we dumped all of our stuff, and continued with our quest to achieve the near impossible. Oh, glasses for Alex. You can get your eyes tested for free here, and the glasses are way cheaper than in Australia. We ended up checking out a few optometrists in the Sukhumvit Rd area (by this stage, it was already Saturday night and we were leaving on the Monday afternoon), and finally found a place with decent designs, and which could have prescription glasses made up by Monday morning. We were cutting a fine line, but it was the best we could do. I had my eyes checked, and it seems that they are still OK.
Megs, Bec and Birdie were all in the Khao San area. Megs was about to go off to Vietnam, and Bec and Birdie had just come back from Cambodia. They were going to spend a few days with Pong and Link, and then make their way to the islands that the rest of us had been to. So, it was time to say goodbye. Unfortunately, both Becs and Megs, got a bit sick, and unfortunately I did not get to see Bec off. Nothing major, just that "dodgy stomach syndrome" which seems to afflict so many western travellers in third or second world countries. We did have a catch up with Bird and Megs though. I couldn't help but wonder where we see them next. Megs would be going back to New Zealand, and Becs.....well, in what "exotic" location would I see her next?
Sunday was spent doing more shopping, and I think a haircut was thrown in there somewhere. We made the most that we could munching on street food, including pad thai and spicy papaya salad. How I am going to miss the Thai street food, which I believe is unrivaled world wide. I can always dream about it! On the Sunday Alex also visited Pantip Plaza, a veritable techno-head's dream come true, with some five storeys of computer stores and stalls, selling everything from the most genuine, as well as openly pirated goods. As my techno interest is somewhat relegated to punching in a few digits on a mobile phone and using e-mail, I decided to visit the MBK shopping centre close by. We both came out of our prospective shopping venture with a few more goods.
December 24th, Monday morning! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah only hours to go before we would be returning home. So much was rushing through my mind, with one thought constantly trying to pole vault over another. I was trying to wrap my head around the last 16 months, as well, as do the last minute cram! Of course we still had things to do! Alex had his glasses to pick up, we both had a dentist appointment, and we also both "had" to have a massage. Oh, and I was going to do my best to have a pedicure, manicure and facial as well. Hammer and tongs! That's my style. And let me tell you, it would only be when we finally sat on the plane that we would breathe a sigh of relief, before virtually collapsing. Needless to say, we were able to fit it all in.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, well hotel room, we were packing and culling. Out with the old and in with the new! Many of our tired (as opposed to tried) and true clothes and bits and pieces, would be left behind in Thailand. To be perfectly frank, we were over most of our clothes which we had not only worn to death, but were sick of looking at. And so, with our backpacks full, and a few other bags ready to give away to the reception of the hotel, we said our goodbyes and we were off.
As we sat in a mini-bus on our way to the airport, I could not help but feel how final this all was. It really was coming to an end. I stared intently at the road we were on, and the houses and people we passed, as I grappled with the thought that shortly, very shortly, we would be back in Australia. Hmm, Australia, a world so very different to the many places I had seen and visited. Waves of lots of things actually came over me. How would I fare? How would I feel? What would I think? I was soon about to find out.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we checked in and walked around a bit, before sitting down. We had brought our own snacks and food, as we were flying Jetstar, who does not get an A1 rating as far as its food goes. Before we knew it, we were boarding. As luck would have it, I got a "bed" for the night. Backtrack.....as we were flying home on Christmas Eve (to arrive on Christmas Day) the plane did not have all that many passengers. What I eyeballed almost immediately was the row of four vacant seats behind me. Thank you very much! A backpacker 'till the end, I popped up all the armrests, extended my body across the entire space, placed my ever faithful sarong over myself and placed my eye cover on. I had a fantastic night's sleep, thank you very much!
I woke up not long before touch down. Flying over Melbourne was just as I remembered it. Too much like I remembered actually. Everything went smoothly, we picked up our bags, went through customs, where we had to wait ages to declare a couple of sets of chopsticks. If our biggest problem was having to line up for a little too long, it was minuscule in respect to many of the world's problems as we had seen them.
Alack and alas, we finally made it through the automatic doors, and waiting for us, ever faithful as always, was Dad. Hugs all around, many kisses, a decent caffe latte, and we were off. We were off to Fulvio and Karen's (my brother and sister-in-law) for lunch, and they had no idea at all!
And with this, our phenomenal 16 month sojourn came to an end! Only time would tell, how we would fare with "normality" and routine. As I walked outside into the open, fresh air, I sighed deeply. I was indeed happy to be back home!
Dedication: This one is for my Mum, Adiga (Addie) Zanetti. Thanks for watching over me Mum. I felt your presence with me and know that you were always by my side. Your physical persona is gone, but your love, passion and strength of character have been my guide. Thank you for making me who I am today.
"If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything".
NOTE: It is the 20th of July 2008, and this blog is being published some 7 months after the end of our trip. It is the last one on these travels. So much has happened since then. Alex and I are both working, and we also both went back to Thailand for 10 days in May/ June. Whilst I feel that this blog somewhat concludes the stories of our long time away and gives an insight into "the world according to Ombi and Alex", there is still so much that I would like to talk about and share. Both with full time jobs, whilst time is not our worst enemy, neither is it our best friend........WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!!!!!!
(Photos: 1.- On a pick-up truck back to Trat, making our way back to Bangkok. 2.- Bangkok aint what it used to be! 3.- Khao San Road by night, Bangkok. 4.- Chatuchuk Market, Bangkok. 5.- The many exotic flavours of Thailand. 6.- The Bangkok sky train. 7.- MBK shopping mall; a veritable shopper's paradise, Bangkok. 8.- Alex having a massage, Khao San Road area. 9.- Tuk-tuk parked near the Grand Palace. 10.- Coming home; flying over Australian soil, well, water! 11.- A map of all the places we visited.)