Bangkok – Day 1
I arrived at Bangkok airport somewhat apprehensive. Despite having travelled extensively, Thailand was the first country I was travelling to where I didn’t speak the language, couldn’t even attempt to understand any words or signs and didn’t know a soul….. well, one or two vaguely. On top of that, it was on the complete other side of the world from what I knew as home and from what the media would have me believe, was very dangerous and full of deadly insects and animals, not to mention humans.
After surviving customs and passport control, I immediately found a foreign exchange desk and converted a few hundred dollars I had to baht. Then I very carefully hid the huge envelope of notes in my bag and sought out the Airlink platform that runs to central Bangkok. It’s quite a long way and gives you an idea of the size of Bangkok.
On arrival I naively looked for a bus stop, but soon gave up and hailed a taxi. Luckily this one didn’t try to scam me and put the meter on, so it only cost around £2 to my hostel. By this point the suffocating humidity had ensured I was already covered in sweat, even though it was after 8pm. I stayed at a hostel called Born Free, near Khoa San road, which I checked into without any trouble and immediately had a shower and changed.
After buying some beers from the corner shop I went to chill in the common area and instantly overheard some people discussing going out, so jumped at the opportunity and asked to join them. They seemed cool with it so I followed them to this funny little bar playing live music, like old rock covers and stuff. It was cool but way too packed and you couldn’t even move inside. Luckily I had a beer from the shop still so didn’t have to queue at the bar. We hung out a bit and I chatted with a Norwegian guy outside and then we decided it was too packed so we headed to Khoa San Road.
Khoa San road is a whole other story of crazy. Lights and noise and people and madness everywhere. Basically, perfect for someone like me. I dived in head first and soon we were buying cut price booze buckets – just a luminous bucket of something containing questionable alcohol. Seemed to do the trick though. We danced a bit and they were playing super cheesy music but it was fun. These annoying guys kept trying to sell scorpions on a stick… fuck knows why anyone would wanna eat scorpions??? Anyway, we managed to avoid them but were also often accosted by these crazy women selling armbands with all sorts of weird shit written on them…. like… “I love Cock”…. “Eat My Ass”… and shit like that. Haha, that was actually quite funny. I don’t remember much of the rest but it was all the same, bar to bar getting more drunk. I think I had some chicken fried rice on the way home.
Day two I got some info from the hostel guy that we can get free bikes from their parent hostel up the road. After some coffee and free biscuits I started walking to the Grand Palace, but it was actually really far and oppressively hot, so I turned back and went to get a free bike from the hostel. That was way better. Cycling with the wind in your face really cools you down. The Bangkok street system is worse than London, so I got a bit lost and was weaving across 4 lane highways and all, but I got there eventually. I had to put long pants on to get in, but luckily I’d come prepared and had my zip on short/longs. Lol, literally the cheesy pants ever, but for once – really useful! They wanted my passport to go in but I told them I didn’t have it on me, because, why would I?? Anyway they asked where I was from and when I said London they said Ok. Apparently Londoners get a free pass! Still had to pay the 500 Baht entrance though! Almost has much as the London Eye!
So mainly it was this big temple complex with shit loads of fancy buildings and dragons and buddha’s and rad stuff that made for some good photo opportunities. The Grand Palace we couldn’t go in though so all we got was a few seconds view from outside and a photograph…. bit lame for almost £12 if you ask me, but still the temple bit was cool.
By the time that was over I was a sweaty mess. I went to where I had locked my bike and ripped the stupid long pants off. Then I tried to get back to the hostel but the one way system had other plans for me. I ended up at a weird place that I think was a fish market because it stank, and there was a river boat ferry pier type thing which had a rickey old wooden restaurant and beer fridge, which looked glorious. So I sat down and inhaled a cold Chang beer to try and cool down. I hadn’t eaten all day yet and they had a tiny kitchen so I got some chicken fried rice too – I didn’t know it at the time but this would become my staple meal.
After cooling down I wandered into the fish market type place and lo-and-behold found a hairdresser. Not just any hairdresser though, this was literally just a hole in the wall, with two worn out old seats and a mirror. The lovely geriatric old Thai lady running the place couldn’t understand a word of English, but somehow not only understood I wanted a Mohawk, but actually possibly gave me the best mohawk cut I’ve ever had, and only for 200 baht. Which she no doubt would have done for 100 if I had bargained, but I was still at my learning phase then – always bargain!
Re-energized with my new haircut, I set out to see the reclining Buddha, only to realise I had spent the last of the cash I had on me on the haircut and so was now broke. Right, so cycle back to the hostel then – confusing one way streets and all. By the time I got back it was late and I couldn’t be bothered with going out again so I dropped off the bike and found a little place down a quaint backstreet to have a coffee and get some wifi. Then I headed back to the hostel for a much needed shower. I bumped into some of the people from the first night, plus an extra new traveller from Birmingham, and after a few beers we started making plans for that evening.
Firstly we went back to the little place I had had a coffee because they promised me free shots when I left earlier. It was dead though but next door a Thai guy was playing old rock song covers on guitar and singing, so we had a few beers and listened to him play Queen, Nirvana and Rolling Stones, which was both awesome and hilarious in equal measure. Then we headed back towards Khoa San road, but had a more chilled night on the mini Khoa San road that runs parallel to it and is quieter and better. I was quite wasted though and at one point I thought a bill folder was a menu on another table, picked it up and flung money all over the place. The waitress was not impressed, so we moved on soon. There were a lot of kids doing breakdancing in the street for money which was awesome but I didn’t give them any cos I need my money for beer. Towards the end of the night I vaguely remember something about eating really tasty spring rolls from a street vendor.
Then on Sunday I had grand plans to cycle to this place called Cheap Charlies, which I had read about in a lot of guide books and online. I think it’s near Pat Pong because when I got close there were hookers everywhere. Unfortunately it was closed so that was a massive waste of cycling an hour in the boiling suffocating heat. Anyway, I chinned up and decided to enjoy the experience and cycle back along an odd route through the rough streets. This proved to be both very interesting and horribly smelly. Damn, real Bangkok is a stinky, rancid shithole. I really feel sorry for the people living there, but they all seemed happy and nice enough. Eventually arriving back to semi-civilization I had a long shower, then went to get some beers.
On the way I bumped into the crew from the night before, all of which were going that evening to Chiang Mai except for the girl from Birmingham, so me and her decided to have a chilled night and explore Bangkok. It’s not too bad walking at night as the heat is bearable, so we wandered around and bumped into something called The Golden Mount, a huge man-made mountain with a temple built on top. It had amazing views of the city and a breeze so we could cool down a bit at the top. Then after heading down we saw a huge queue of people outside a restaurant, so we joined them to find out what it was. Turns out it was Thipsamai, this famous Pad Thai place that had been in newspapers all over the world. I don’t like noodles though and the girl, being Jewish, didn’t eat prawn, which was the only type of Pad Thai they did. So that was a bit of a waste of time. I had some anyway and she had a vegetarian version, but I don’t think either of us liked it much.
The next day I was more than done with Bangkok, so I packed my shit and went straight to the train station. There I grabbed a coffee and croissant and got on the first train to Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya is like the old capital of Thailand from hundreds of years ago or something. Its really incredible! Obviously a very small town, just catering to the tourists coming to see the temples, but it still has all the old waterways, rivers and bridges that made it once known as the Venice of the east. Plus, of course, tons of incredible old temples and Buddha statues everywhere. I wanted to save money so instead of paying for a tour I just walked around on my own, which resulted in an awesome adventure. While trying to get to one of the far away temples, I jumped on a local riverboat that I hoped would take me in that direction but just dropped me on the other side of the river. So now I was lost in the local village where no taxi’s or tuk-tuks came to. I ended up having to walk about an hour and avoid rabid dogs and stuff, but I saw some very cute puppies and a woman gave me free water. It was really nice to see a bit of proper rural Thailand, and you could tell no foreigners ever go there from the way everyone was looking at me. I finally arrived just before sunset, which worked out perfectly for taking photos, of which I took about a thousand.
Then I jumped on a river boat to get back to the station. The guy charged me 200 baht which I should have bargained down, but I just needed to get back by then. Stupidly I hadn’t pre-booked my overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai so when I got to the station they told me the only option was a 3rd class seat without aircon at 11:30pm – in four hours time! I had no choice so I booked it anyway, and then found a small restaurant where I could charge my phone and use the wifi. I managed to pass the time fairly quickly going through all my photos and uploading various ones to Facebook and Instagram. When I went to the station to get my train I bumped into a women who was on the train with me earlier. I said hi and we started chatting and she introduced me to her daughter and another French girl travelling with them. The four of us got some beers and chatted for hours while waiting for our train, which was very delayed – apparently fairly common in Thailand. Anyway it turned out fine as I was really enjoying some company after being alone all day, and the time passed relatively quickly as we discussed life and philosophy and the usual crap you discuss while drunk at 3am.
We finally boarded just before 4am. I found a semi comfortable looking bench, took a Zanax, passed out quickly and slept most of the way. The last few hours I just watched the beautiful countryside passing by out the window, and then went and chatted to my new friends for a bit. Once we arrived we decided to walk into the city as it was close and to save money. They didn’t have a hostel booked but they found one quickly on the walk in. It was a pity I had already booked and paid for 2 nights at another hostel called Mint House, as it turned out to be crap and I’d rather have stayed with them. Anyway we had some dinner together, added each other on Facebook and made plans to keep in touch.
After leaving the girls and checking into my hostel, I headed out on my own since my hostel was completely empty. I followed the sound of music and quickly found a section in the centre of town full of pumping bars and immediately bumped into a couple who had been staying in my hostel in Bangkok. I chatted and had a few beers with them, and then we moved on to a reggae bar nearby. I met an American girl who liked my RHCP’s t-shirt and was studying at the university in Chiang Mai, and a guy who was really drunk or high or something and claimed to be a brain surgeon. Just before midnight I got a cardboard Chang beer belt from the bar and walked home harassing strangers and telling them I had won the belt for drinking the most beer.
The next day I awoke to find someone else in my dorm room. He was a Swedish fruitarian who told me in detail how to find the freshest durian, which is a strange type of Thai fruit that’s supposedly a delicacy but smells terrible. Then I met my friend John for breakfast. He had been living and working in Chiang Mai for six months, and had kindly let me stay in his apartment while I was in Madrid last year. I had a really good avocado omelette and we chatted about travelling and various things, and then he had to head off to work so I just explored the city on my own. As it got towards evening I headed back to the hostel for a shower and beer, and messaged some of the people from the night before. Nobody was answering though so I headed out on my own again to see the sunset over the river and the night bazaar. It’s so incredibly beautiful and I ended up taking loads of photos again and just having a few drinks as I walked around. On the way back I walked through the kind of ‘redlight’ district, which had lots of girls playing pool and trying to get guys to join in. After getting back to the hostel it was about 10pm and I was quite hungry so went to a small place around the corner which had a restaurant and pool table. I met some French people who invited me back to their hostel to smoke, so I went along, chatted a bit and then headed home about midnight. I was quite awake so I ended up sitting up until 4am writing this first section of my blog, since my hostel room was totally empty.
I had only booked two nights at this hostel and was happy to check out in the morning and move to somewhere more fun, which turned out to be Mojito House, and was a lot more fun. From Mint House to Mojito House! I checked in, dropped my bag and went to check out Doi Suthep, a mountain with a temple that is very popular with tourists. The taxi’s were vey expensive though so I hired a 50 baht bicycle and tried to cycle up the mountain. The bike was a piece of shit though so this proved harder than expected, and I ended up finding a mountain trail which led to some beautiful waterfalls and I spent the day exploring those. They were really nice but apparently you couldn’t swim in them or drink the water because the restaurant at the top dumps its toilet waste into them! By the time I was done hiking all the way down and back up, I was covered in sweat and insect bites, so I headed back to my new hostel to shower and change clothes.
I got on wifi and made plans to meet John for dinner, then chilled in the common area of the hostel and met some of the people staying there. I met John and we had dinner at a really nice local Thai place and chatted a lot about life and stuff, then he had to get home for work the next day so I went to meet some of the hostel people at a rock/metal cover bar. We spent the rest of the night jamming out to an awesome Thai band doing covers of System of a Down, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. At midnight they kinda kicked everyone out, but I was talking to this girl who turned out to be an ex of a friend of people I had lived with in London so I stayed. They did a lock in and kept serving us and a few other people until about 2am. Then I cycled home and passed out.
Next morning I was intent of visiting the Grand Canyon waterpark, so after having the free breakfast from the hostel I hired a scooter for 250 baht, checked google maps and rode off south in the general direction of the park. I got lost a bit but eventually found it and headed in.
The water park is split into two sections, the first one is only 50 baht and just has a high jump platform and some areas to swim and chill, and the second one is 300 baht and has a big inflatable obstacle course. I just went to the first cheaper one, put my stuff in a locker and went to the cliff jump platform. It was only 8 metres so not too scary. I jumped off a few times, swam around, chatted to a few people and then went to find someone to bum a smoke off. I met this guy Craig from Glasgow who was also travelling on his own so we got chatting after I told him my mother was born in Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow. He had just arrived so we went to the jump platform and it took a bit of convincing but I eventually got him to jump off. Then after chatting to a few more people and swimming, we got our scooters and headed back to Chiang Mai to go out drinking. We agreed to meet at this bar in town called Zoe in Yellow later, but had to go back to our respective hostels first to shower, etc, and get ready.
After meeting up again we got some beers and found this place with a pool table and started playing a game. Stupidly at some point I managed to crack my phone screen again, either by leaning against the table or hitting it with a cue. Either way, now it’s fucked again. I think the guys in London sold me a cheap crap replacement screen before I left. Anyway, that sucked but we kept playing and then went to the reggae bar down the road. We met some people from my hostel there and I got chatting to some Italians guys. Craig said he was feeling tired so left early, and then I just chilled a bit longer with the hostel guys and tried to convince some random that I am part of a new fad of people who don’t eat food ever, but just drink beer. I think I almost had him convinced.
The next day I ended up going back to the waterpark, because I couldn’t get a bus to Pai as I had left it too late to arrange and the other guys from the hostel were all going to the waterpark so I figured I’d tag along. It’s such a fun place and the day before I was alone and also I hadn’t done the obstacle course next door, so it made sense to go back. We didn’t rent scooters, just got two taxi’s for the 11 of us which worked out to only 100 baht each. First we all went to the cheaper high jump one and spent most of the day there, chilling, drinking beer and doing some jumps. They were a really great, friendly, funny group of people. Travelling alone is great for the independence, but it can get lonely after awhile and when you meet such great people it really makes a difference. There were two young English guys travelling together, two Australian guys, an English and Italian couple, an English aid worker who deactivates mines in Burma, an American/English guy who does cycle tours, an Italian girl, a kiwi girl travelling alone, and me.
After doing the jumps a bit we then went to the big obstacle course park next door which was much better than I expected and worth the 300 baht! I think it was more for kids but we are all basically big kids running away from real life and being young again, so it worked out fine. And it’s one hell of a work out – climbing ropes and flying off trampolines!
I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night as I hadn’t planned on being in Chiang Mai and my hostel was now fully booked. Luckily after going back to the hostel I met another young English couple who were staying in one of the double private rooms, which had two single beds. We got chatting and they very kindly let me crash in one of the beds in their room and they would share the other. I went out with them and the American/English guy to a roof top bar for a few beers and then on the way home stopped for the best vegetarian burger I’ve ever had at a place called Burger Queen, run by the very beautiful Maya whom I proposed to on the spot via a post-it note. No set date yet.
The next day I got up, packed my shit, said my goodbyes and jumped on a bus to Pai…. which is going to need a whole blog post of its own!