Freitag, 9. März 2012

Time to kill in Bangkok, Thailand? Here´s some "not-so-usual" stuff to do. Part 1

When you stay a couple of days in BKK you are likely to do at least the following three things:

1. visiting buddhist temples like Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho with it`s 30m long reclining Buddha statue or Wat Arun with it´s fascinating architecture on the other side of Chao Praya river. Those are only three of the most known temples - there are hundreds more of´em scattered all over the city. Or other sights like the old capital Ayutthaya near BKK.

2. shop´till you drop on locations like the MBK shopping centre or the JJ Weekend Market next to Chatuchak park. (supposed to be the biggest outdoor market of the world, I heard. It´s a huge maze of small stalls selling everything tourists might be interested in. I haven´t seen all of it after walking it for more than four hours.) Or on any other of the numerous malls, night or local markets you encounter everywhere when you walk around - the whole city is more or less one big shopping centre. Imho the best place for clothes shopping in the world - they´re cheap there, even cheaper than in China, and meet our "Westeners" style far better than the Chinese do.

3. partying on and around Khao San road and Siam square, Pat Phong area or wherever. Have beers, cocktails, buckets of Samsong-Whiskey and Coke, eat cockroaches and other insects offered at street stalls (or just an overpriced Pad Thai if you`re a wuzz :-) ), and if you are into it, see what BKKs red light districts with their strip clubs, ping-pong shows, massages with happy ending and what else not have to offer.

If you spend some more time in BKK (e.g. three weeks (!), as I did...) or are just not a fan of the above-mentioned things, I´d like to share some of the stuff I did when I was there and which are not THAT common or well known among tourists. Doesn´t mean you won´t meet the one or another "farang" (foreigner) there, maybe just not as many as in the usual tourist spots. And not all of it is really fun, either. I´d say it´s just a little less "touristy" than most of the activities that, well, tourists, do in this town. Decide for yourselves as I present you now in two parts what I did when I was there. Besides visiting temples, shopping and partying, of course.

1. Museum of Pathology, Forensics and Parasitology at Siriraj Hospital.

Let´s start with maybe the strangest one - this museum is part of Siriraj Hospital and divided into six small exhibitions about almost everything cruel or disgusting that can happen to a human body - a friend described it best as a to walk through. One exhibition exclusively displays deformed human fetuses and babies with either body parts missing, too big, small or too much of them, all preserved in formaldehyde. Another one shows pictures of poor fellows or their leftovers after they got hit by a car or a train, after a grenade exploded next to them or they got shot into the head with a shotgun. And again a lot of jars, containing every part of a human body starting from smoker`s lungs to legs severed in car accidents. They even display the mummified bodies of several executed murderers there (that`s what you can see on the picture).

There`s some informative sections, too, e.g. about the history of forensics where there are old medical instruments are shown, as well as an exhibition about the big tsunami in 2004 and how rescue measures as well as searches for bodies were conducted. I must admit the bloody severed body parts sections were somehow more exciting.

How to get there: Take the river ferry to Siriraj pier.When you exit the pier the hospital is directly to your right. Enter the hospital area through the first gate you encounter. After 50 m there`s a display showing all buildings of the hospital. Should lead you to the museum. If not, just ask someone.

Entrance fee: 40 BHT

2. Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden & Rot Soi Park

These two parks which are in fact just one big one became my favorite place in BKK over the time for offering some nature, peace and tranquility in this else so bustling, noisy and smoggy city. Drive with the mean of transportation of your choice to Mo Chit station, cross the Chatuchak park, which is nice, too, but not nearly as laid-back as the other two, and then enter this beautiful green garden. The landscapers there did an exceptional job designing the area, - with a little river, several lakes and bridges, vast meadows with all kinds of different plants, trees, flowers. If you`re able to read Thai, you can educate yourselves as there a lot of signs next to the plants displayed. It´s really lovely. And quiet, as you can`t hear any traffic. And pretty deserted, too, at least during daytime. Everytime I was there I encountered another visitor maybe every half hour. It`s like it`s all just set up for you, and this is a nice feeling.

Rot Soi park follows the botanic garden seamlessly as you just have to cross a bridge over a lake covered with water lilies. This park is more a local recreation area, with a loop for joggers and cyclers, a swimming pool (club members only) and a children`s playground. But this installations are separated by vast grasslands offering plenty of space to lie down and chill in the nature. As far as I know Rot Soi park was supposed to become a golf course, so you can imagine how huge the area is. And again, during daytime there`s virtually nobody. Only in the afternoons first teenage couples came cycled by to hang out on the grass, and in the after work hours some joggers appeared. Still, their number being so few and the park being so big you can uphold this feeling of exclusiveness you got from Queen Sirikit park.

So if you`re fed up with people, smog, street noise and being in a huge metropolis, go to this place and forget about all this while walking this vast and beautiful parks for a couple of hours. Forget Lumphini or Chatuchak park. They`re tiny and crowded compared to this alternative.

 How to get there: Get to Mo Chit station in the north of town. You can do this either by Sky Train, or when you`re staying in Khao San area, hop on the buses 44, 59 or 503. Takes you about 40 min. to get there and is incredibly cheap - 6,5 BHT, 16 when you hop on an AC bus. Beats every Tuk Tuk.

When you`re at Mo Chit, enter Chatuchak Park and cross it. When you exit the park, turn right and walk the street until you see another park entrance to your left - that`s probably one of the entrances of the botanical garden.

Entrance fee: It`s free.

3. Get a medical check-up at Bumrungrad International Hospital

If you`re a frequent reader of this blog, you already know why I was in an hospital for an afternoon. And I thank you for your interest in my "adventures". No, really, I´m serious. If not, I hope you will become one. And I had to do it as a medical check- up was one of the obligations in order to be able to apply for a working visa for China.

Actually, this hospital IS kind of a tourist spot - for health tourism, that is, as Thailand`s private medical facilities certainly fulfill western standards for only about one half to one third of the costs. So a lot of foreigners mainly from the States, Europe and the Middle East come here to get their yearly check- ups or complicated operations done that would cost them a fortune in their countries but are affordable here. In the waiting areas you could basically find either obese and/or old white people or Arabian sheiks with mummed wives. Some Chinese business man, too. Few to no Thais, except for the staff, of course.

And they do this in a fancy style - the interieur looks more like in a four star hotel than in an actual hospital. Marmoreal walls, suede couches and dark wood furniture everywhere, service personnel in neat uniforms greets you at every corner and surprises with decent English skills. So do the nurses. There was actually a Starbucks in the lobby and a McDonald`s branch in the food court on the second floor. 40´ flat screens on the wall show TV shows, or you read about "the six most common injuries of amateur golfers" on wall posters.
If you want to feel rich and important for once in your life, go there and get a check-up. It´s cheap, too. At least if you`re from a country with no free (or crappy) health care system.

How to get there:  I took the Khlong Saen Saep canal ferry. The closest pier to Khao San is Panfah pier. Exit at Nana Nua pier, cross the bridge over the canal and the hospital appears to your right.