Thailand is rich in art and culture, but also full of exotic scents, spices and enchanting music, produced mostly by hand made xylophones. The first stop of the journey is Bangkok, one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited. Arriving from the airport, I was amazed to notice the contrast between the ultra modern buildings with its skyways and the ancient ways of life along the river. The traffic is intense and moves slowly. Roads are opened or closed according to the time of day, to help the traffic move faster. The skyways are labyrinths of walkways and subway lines built meters above the ground, from where, if there is no street below, one can see everything from markets to shantytowns. Apart from the roads, the river is very busy too. The Chao Praya runs through the centre of the city keeping the traveller company. One can relax along its banks and sip a beer, watching the many boats and barges, mostly of wood, darting in all directions. Inwards, channels become streets in residential areas, with wooden and stilted houses. Many people live along these channels. You can take a water taxi to travel through this maze. Although the water is not exactly clear, it is used for everything from washing clothes, dishes and of course for personal hygiene.
The most interesting scenario of river life is undoubtedly the floating market; located in the town of Samut Songkhram about 1-½ hours drive south of Bangkok, 70 miles away. I left early in the morning, when it was still dark and watched the sunrise during the journey, giving myself the opportunity to admire the rice paddies and the water buffalo. Upon my arrival, I took one of the typical thin boats that sail through these channels and entered the maze of waterways to reach the market. It was absolutely full of boats moving in an organized chaos, everywhere an explosion of colours and exotic perfumes, with people coming to offer their products and negotiate with tourists. The aroma of fried bananas, which could be purchased directly from boats equipped with pans and stoves, filled the air. It was an exciting and fun experience that I highly recommend to everyone who visits this city. Needless to say, I spent most of my stay on the river. To reach the Royal Palace, the Barge Museum and some of the temples, I took a water taxi that left me in front of each of these places and in the evening I had dinner with a wonderful meal aboard a wooden boat covered by a roof in typical Thai style. Folk dances and music enlivened the evening as our restaurant slowly floated along the Chao Praya.
Not wanting to spend all your time in the water, you can move around on one of the famous tuk tuks that can be hired everywhere. One must not miss the charming house of Jim Thompson. He was the one who revived the Thai textile industry, particularly the silk one. He was so famous that it was enough to write a letter with his name and Bangkok on the back, to be sure that the letter would arrive. He mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. His house is formed by a complex of typical Thai style houses in teak, with high pitched roofs, and the seven-headed serpent (Naga) to finish the corners.
But Bangkok at night becomes another city, another world, as we can image just listening to the famous song "One Night in Bangkok” (One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster).
One of the strangest things one can see here, are the street food stalls. They are similar to a hot dog stand, but have a showcase in which you can admire the merchandise on display. I was used to seeing crickets, in both fried and caramelized versions, but not grasshoppers, lizards and larvae.
Another must-visit is the ancient capital of Siam, Ayutthaya. Spectacular temples would once have dominated this area. Today it is part of the UNESCO world heritage. Everywhere there is a sense of peace and tranquillity, holiness and serenity.