I honestly believed, after China, everywhere else on our travels wouldn’t be quite so intense; then we arrived in Khao San Road, Bangkok, at 11pm and I realised I would need to eliminate all expectations and do away with any preconceived ideas of places. My mind would need to be always open, ready to take anything in. We arrived at Bangkok airport at around 10pm and followed the signs to “Taxi” (ignoring those whom tried to lure us in with cheaper prices on the way) and queued up for the official taxis – we gave our address, were told there would be an additional 50 baht that goes straight to the taxi driver (a government policy introduced over the last couple of years) and that we would have to pay any fees for toll roads ourselves – toll roads came to 120, the taxi fee was 270 and the driver fee 50, totalling at 440 baht (9 quid). Not bad for a safe and speedy journey late at night.
We spent a few nights here – at Laksameenarai Guesthouse, a lovely, hospitable Thai house that offered free breakfast, coffee sachets and water bottles as well as the standard wifi for £20 per night – and, in all fairness, we realised that midnight on Khao San Road is when it is at its most liveliest and most intense, plus we had just come off a 3 hour flight from Hong Kong and were pretty shattered. We spent the half hour we walked round wide-eyed and not speaking; every energy resource was directed towards taking it all in. Touters trying to lure you into every bar, street-market vendors shoving their merchandise in your face, 20-something girls and guys spilling out of the boys with buckets of cocktails in their hands, dancing and screaming song lyrics in the street. It took us long enough just trying to weave through the crowds.
On our third and final night in Bangkok we went for some drinks, but decided to go to a road a few down from Khao San that was still lined with just as many bars and shops, but had live music playing and more of a relaxed feel. Maybe it’s our age (27 and 29), maybe it’s because we’re a couple, or maybe it’s because we were still recovering from the intensity of China and were pretty exhausted, but getting horrifically drunk and lost in the crowds of mayhem just didn’t appeal to us. For info, you can get a cocktail for around 100 baht (2 quid), whereas buckets range from 200 to 350 but you can often get 2 for 1 on these at the right time of night. Oh and the drinks are pretty strong!
On our first day in Bangkok we headed over to MBK – the massive indoor shopping centre – as I needed a new adaptor plug (I managed to pick up an international one that had 2 USB input points as well as a plug input point for 220 baht, or £2.50). We took a bus (I think it was number 79) for 13 baht each (30p), which took about half an hour and had air con as well as onboard wifi (London buses, take note!) However on the way back we jumped on the number 15 bus, which was only 8 baht each (20p) but had no air con, was packed full as it was “rush hour” and it took a lot longer because of the traffic. It was a surreal experience, very much like I would expect a Thai bus journey to be!
Anyway, MBK was good but the stalls become repetitive and sometimes it can just be exhausting trying to barter all the time – on my darkest days I want there just to be a set price that everyone has to pay! We ate lunch at the food court on the 6th floor where you top up a card at the information desk with a certain amount of money and then use the card at one of the food points. I had a Thai Papaya Salad,which was tasty but didn’t seem to have much substance.
After MBK we headed over to Jim Thompson’s house (approximately 10 minutes walk), which charged 150 baht (3 quid) to get in. James H.W. Thompson, an American architect whom fell in love with Thailand, revived the craft of hand-weaving silk, contributing substantially to the industry’s growth and the worldwide recognition according to Thai silk. His house was constructed using six traditional Thai-style houses, teak structures that were purchased from several owners and brought to the present location from various parts of Thailand. Since his disappearance in 1967, the charming Thai style house offers a beautiful, tranquil and interesting space for visitors to explore with an English-speaking tour guide included. They ask you to take off your shoes and store your bags in the lockers provided, all which adds to the respect and tradition of Thai culture.
We ate from one of the stalls on Khao San Road that evening – you can expect to pay between 30 and 70 baht for a Pad Thai (not just on Khao San Road, but all over) depending on where you get it from and if they charge less/more for whether you have it with vegetables or meat or seafood. They are tasty, quick and easy but, due to the Thai portion size, can sometimes leave you wanting something more.
The following day, which happened to be a Thai holiday (it was he last day of the month, 31st May, but apparently it depends on the month as to whether or not it’s a holiday), we decided to explore the Buddhas and the temples. As they are not all near each other it is advisable to get a Tuk Tuk, as once you sign up with one and agree on your route and price, they wait for you at each stop. This is where we came in lucky; due to it being a holiday the government were funding the price of gasoline on this day only, so we managed to get to 5 destinations for only 40 baht (less than a quid).
It was an experience all of its own going by Tuk Tuk and one I would definitely recommend but it does get annoying when they come up to your face asking if you want a ride when you’re stood on the side of the road just trying to get your bearings, and be warned about Tuk Tuk scammers (only go in those with a yellow number plate and be highly concerned if they offer any journey for 10-20 baht); even our government-licensed driver suggested adding the Thai Export to our list of stops as fuel was paid for so we may as well, but once we got there we realised you couldn’t just look around but you had to buy (our stupidity at being pulled into something there), so we promptly left.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew were amazing. It cost 500 baht each (a tenner) to get in, which is a lot on a backpackers budget, plus you have to be completely covered up – even my scarf for around my shoulders wasn’t sufficient for their standards so I had to borrow one of their sexy shirts for a 200 baht deposit (which I got backstage the end). They are very serious when it comes to religious respect. But the buildings were stunning and it was definitely worth going, it can just be a bit intense on the outside as Tuk Tuk drivers and stall vendors (trying to mis-sell you clothes to cover up when you can borrow for free on the inside) swarm around you.
Afterwards we walked about half an hour to Golden Mountain; a place of worship at the top of a mountain with spectacular views of Bangkok (plus it is much cooler up there!) We were trying to aim for sunset but ended up reaching the top (it isn’t actually that high up) around 5pm and sunset isn’t until around 7, but we spent a good hour up there regardless, taking in the views and the serenity at a much cooler time of day.
It was on the walk to Golden Mountain that I suddenly really missed home; one intersection reminded me of Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London, and all at once I felt a pang for familiarity and comfort. I love travelling, but I love home, too.
Desperate for some respite and relaxing time in the sun after a month of intense travel, we booked a coach and ferry ride to Koh Chang for the next morning. It seems to be, however, that as soon as you get used to somewhere that’s when you up and move; I was just starting to really like Bangkok!*
* someone, somewhere must have heard me as we do end up returning, but this was not planned!
[See next post: Koh Chang]
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