IT’S a million miles from the Bullring.
Noisy traders work feverishly to fold down makeshift stalls and move exotic produce – the cloying smells hanging heavy in the leaden air – as the frantic hoots become ever louder.
The last shutter is battened down as the cramped train rumbles through. As it disappears into the distance, market stallholders busily re-arrange their meats and spices.
This is Mae Klong, the Bangkok market that straddles railway lines. Like many of the bizarre sights in this teeming Thai city, it is unique and defies an explanation. “That’s just the way it’s always been,” said our guide.
I suggested moving the market a few yards to the right. “That’s just the way it’s always been,” he repeated with a benign smile.
This is a holiday destination like no other. As I walked through the crowded streets, negotiating the many noisy peddlers loudly advertising their wares while jostling for pavement space with saffron robed monks, it was hard to believe Thailand is merely on a different continent. It felt like a different planet.
I was given a glimpse into this unique slice of Oriental life by award-winning Turkish Airlines, which provides return flights to Bangkok from Birmingham, via Istanbul, from as little as £540. City-based general manager Mustafa Yildirim promised a ‘‘trip of a lifetime’’ and delivered.
It was business class luxury, with my own bed, a ‘flying chef’ and copious amounts of champers – enough bubbly to dull the shock of Wayne Rooney delivering the inflight safety mantra via video. It’s part of Turkish Airlines’ sponsorship package with Manchester United, apparently.
Bangkok, even for the adventurous traveller, is an eye-opener. From towering temples, glistening with jade and gold leaf, to rides through canals that pierce the city like long fingers and monitor lizards the size of small dogs basking only yards from the dank waters, this is tourism in the raw.
A ride in a tuk tuk – the traditional taxi service – is akin to taking to the choked streets on a lawnmower, possibly with a little less protection: A Flymo would better withstand impact from a 4x4.
Elephants are also big in Thailand (well, they’re pretty big in any country) and one tried to bite me during a visit to one of the many spectacular markets.
And there’s not a faux British bar, serving traditional English breakfasts, in sight, which is why I fell in love with the city.
There are negatives, however.
Bangkok has earned a ‘sin city’ reputation: a place where British men of a certain age travel for illicit encounters with stunning Thai women. It is not a myth.