We arrived in Bangkok with big hopes: our hotel, The White Orchid, looked great in the photos, with a jacuzzi, spa and massage room and a roof-top restaurant overlooking the city from the 12th floor. We were tired, smelly (nowhere to wash on an overnight train) and ready to just melt into a pampered, self-indulgent lifestyle for a couple of days. But as the quote goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” For us, the “straying” began with the room — upgraded, but still plain, old and under-maintained — and continued as we explored the hotel, ignoring “keep out” and “staff only” signs as, well, there were no staff-members above the second floor.

We were disappointed by the roof-top restaurant — empty, derelict, nice-enough views but nobody up there — but utterly dismayed to find the spa-room (jacuzzi!!) closed, locked and unlit from within. Why advertise this? (Answer: it gets people through the door.) Why have directions to each service prominently displayed in elevators and on signage throughout the hotel? (Answer: cheaper than taking them down.) Frustrating more than annoying, but also annoying enough that we would never recommend anyone stay there; for our final night in Bangkok, as we only booked three and want to stay a fourth, we’re looking elsewhere … and inspecting rooms before we agree to anything.

To escape our dismal hotel, we took a river- and canal-cruise. A tuk-tuk journey — and they are different here to Laos — down to the water, then a couple of hours sailing in a little boat (a “putt-putt”, maybe?) with a smiling but quiet “driver”. We sat and relaxed, enjoying the gentle swell and a beer bought from a canoe that pulled up next to us (on the floating-vendor’s insistence, we bought a beer for our “driver” (captain?) too, ‘though I didn’t see if she drank it while navigating the narrow canals or not). We saw the Grand Palace, the Thai Naval college, a couple of enormous lizards swimming through the water and about four hundred Wats, Buddhist monasteries replete with temples, stupas and enormous gold statues. We chose NOT to stop at the “Snake Park” because, frankly, “…dar[ing] to handle poisonous snakes…” is not our idea of fun — and we can do that in Australia just by setting up camp.

Cruise over and the afternoon well-and-truly underway, we headed for a little cafe for a bite to eat and something cool to drink, avoiding (and after a short while, ignoring) the touts offering cheap suits, cheap silks, cheap jewellery, cheap crap — and of course the ubiquitous and insistent tuk-tuk drivers, “30 baht, where you wanna go sir? Hello sir.” Screw it: doesn’t look that far to the “O’Reilly’s Irish Bar”, let’s walk!

It turned out further than expected, but perhaps if we hadn’t stopped at little shopping malls along the way … anyway, we found another British pub instead, the Duke of Wellington, and ducked in — it was positively icy, in stark contrast to the muggy heat outdoors — for some dinner and a little Rugby: Wallabies vs Springboks at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. (When Australia won, outclassing the “Saffas” with ease, we quickly scanned the room for the stricken faces of South Africans, planning to remorselessly tease and ridicule them, but if any were present they demonstrated a stoic composure worthy of a Hollywood botox-beauty — not a single tear in the place. Oh well, there’s always next time…)