Damn jetlag! I've been wide awake since 03:00 this morning, and the 24 hour free WiFi went off at 04:00. As I really didn't fancy getting dressed and going downstairs to get today's log in details and password from reception at that time in the morning, I had little choice but to stay unconnected. Much as I love the internet and the way it has opened up the world, I am not sure how healthy it is to be this dependent on staying in touch with the current affairs and your friends whilst travelling – it felt like my right hand had been cut off!
Songram Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum
My main reason for adding an extra couple of days in Bangkok on this trip was to see the Forensic Museum, having stumbled across photos of some of its grizzly exhibits on the internet. We caught a river bus right outside the hotel to take us along the river and across to the opposite bank where the hospital is located. The museum is full of embalmed bodies (mostly babies in various stages of deformity) , wax filled remains and exhibits of ghastly deaths – a curious mix of gruesome intrigue and the surreal. It has to be one of more unusual museums we've been to. I found it hard to come to terms with the fact that these were not wax models, they were actual preserved human bodies. I am really not sure how I would feel if it was my loved one who'd died and was now being exhibited for tourists to gawp at! No photos allowed inside, but it appears that my hand must have accidentally rested on the shutter button at some stage....
Jim Thompson House
A tuk tuk ride took us across the busy streets of Bangkok to Jim Thompson House. Jim was an American entrepreneur who settled in Bangkok and brought his love for architecture with him – purchasing several old teak houses from different places in Thailand and having them lovingly re-built as one large mansion in a small oasis in the middle of the city. Filled with antiques and curios from his various shopping trips in and around the country, Jim Thompson wanted to help preserve the local customs and culture. The house is now a beautiful fusion of different styles with elements of traditional Thai, European, Chinese and Buddhist architecture. Entry to the house is by guided tour only, although you can wander around the grounds at your own leisure.
Jim Thompson built his home on the river side, and we walked along the somewhat scruffy canal-side path for a while, until we came to a pier. Jumping on the first boat that arrived, we had no idea if it was even going in the right direction, let alone to 'our' landing stage. The driver didn't speak any English (which is also the extent of my Thai), and didn't seem to have heard of the Navalai Resort. Hoping that we'd recognise the pier we wanted when we approached it, we found ourselves on the boat until we reached the end stop and everyone had to get off.
As soon as we reached the road, we were approached by a tuk tuk driver who was offering some sort of deal for some gasoline vouchers, but as we had no idea what he was talking about and it sounded too much like a scam, we decided to walk along a little further. Trying to find our bearings not knowing whether we were east, south, north or west of the hotel, we were looking intently at the map when we were approached by a very nice local chap who spoke excellent English. Explaining about a government sponsorship this week to try and increase tourism and trade in Bangkok whereby the tuk tuk drivers get vouchers for gasoline for each tourist they bring to certain government shops, our new found friend negotiated a deal of 40 Baht (less than £1) for the two of us for a guided tour of the city and then onwards to our hotel provided we also visited to the approved shops.
I have been reading on the internet since returning home about this Petrol Coupon 'scam' and the outrage it is causing some people. Surely it is only a scam if you don't get what you expect? We knew what we were letting ourselves in for - the driver gets a reward (be it vouchers or cash) for taking us to shops. We then have a choice whether we accept his offer, and also whether we buy something at the stores (we did not).
Today is a Buddhist holiday, and our first stop was to see the Lucky Buddha where locals come to pray for success and good luck. We met a chap from Phuket who had also benefited from the government drive to increase tourism and trade in Thailand in the form of a free trip to Sydney, Australia with his family! Can't be bad!
At the Wat Indharavihal Temple I was dismayed to see western tourists showing complete lack of respect for the Buddhist religion – whatever makes young girls think that walking around in a pair of skimpy shorts so minimalistic they were almost obscene and a strappy top with a deep, plunging neck-line is acceptable to wear in a place of worship? That kind of attitude makes me ashamed and embarrassed to be a tourist.
The temple is famous for its 32 metre high standing Buddha, which is covered in gold tiles and is very striking.
Now it was time for us to fulfil our end of the bargain by visiting the participating stores. Not being the least bit interested in shopping we made each of the visits short and financially painless.
Back in the hotel I went for a wonderful Thai massage and reflexology while David checked in on line for our flight tomorrow and arranged transport to get us to the airport. The problem with a massage when you are suffering from jet lag is that it is all too easy to fall asleep...
Today's finale was the Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret, and what a show it was. Humour, tragedy, glamour, talent – it was a breathtaking extravaganza that had me looking at the performers in a way I never have. The ladyboys in Thailand are known as katoyes, they dress and live as women, and are largely accepted into society as a whole. Thais believe being a katoey is a result of transgressions in past lives and that they deserve pity rather than blame.
The show featured performers at every stage of their transformation from boys to ladies. They undergo hormone replacement therapy but some shows don't allow them to perform after the final op, as technically no longer ladyboys. There is no way however that some of those performers in some of those outfits were able to disguise their masculinity! These are some of the most beautiful women around.