Bangkok, January 2006
28.04.2006 28 °C
January 3rd 2005
Leaving UK for the trip of our lifetime.
I cannot believe this day has finally come after months of saving, planning and a lot more daydreaming. It must have been almost a year and a half since this bright idea of travelling came into my head and I some how managed to convince Jon to join me. Well I’m pretty impressed that I managed to get off my arse and get my act together to make this possible. So off I load my backpack into Dad’s car, it’s just over half full and weighing only eight kilos, nobody is going to carry that backpack for me, so I thought I’d better start off travelling light.
We’re on our way to Heathrow in pretty high spirits listening to the news, and we happen to listen to a report of a Welsh girl being raped and murdered in Koh Samui! As devastating as this news is, it does not make me worry whether I’m doing the right thing. We haven’t planned on going to Koh Samui anyway, but Jon thinks of his mother listening to the same horrifying news and thinks the worse.
Our flight is to Bangkok, via Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Airlines; the London to KL leg was around 13 hours and went smoothly, flights always seem to go well when you’re starting out. We have around 2 hours to kill at KL airport. Jon checks his e- mail to find some more bad news; his friend Will whom now works and lives in Bangkok had been violently mugged after a night out with work colleagues in the Khao San Road area of Bangkok! Yes this is near where we are staying. Once more, this has not worried me, but I think has slightly concerned Jon as he suggested staying there.
January 4th 2005
Finally arrived at Bangkok, Thailand our first destination!
We get to Bangkok airport around 9.00am. Our first mission is to find an official taxi rank; Bangkok taxis are notorious for ripping tourists off who have just arrived in Bangkok. So we state out destination, agree a price (with the meter off) 350 baht seems reasonable. (Approximately £5) The ride is almost an hour, I’m pretty exhausted, but the excitement is too much, I’m glazing out the window catching my first glimpse of this crazy Asian city.
Without too much trouble we reach our hotel, the Rambuttri Village Inn, the first and the last place we booked in advance along our voyage. Booking accommodation is generally not needed in Asia, there usually isn’t a shortage of accommodation but it is always advisable to see where you’re going to stay before committing. Rambuttri Village Inn is a great budget hotel for 700 baht (£10) a night you get an air-conditioned room, with a private bathroom, TV and use of a pool, which is on the roof top. Believe me the pool is a godsend in Bangkok!
As they say, the best way to combat jet lag is to stay awake, even though my body clock was telling me it was nighttime; it was daytime in Bangkok. I fight the urge to crash out and we head off out to soak the atmosphere. Our hotel is down the backpacker’s district of Banglamphu and not far from the famous Khao San Road. This is my first experience of an Asian city, apart from a brief stop over in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago. The atmosphere is pretty full on, traffic, food stalls, people selling all sorts of things. You can feel the heat and pollution in the air combined with the occasional pleasant smell of Thai food cooking. It’s only January and it must be around 28 degrees Celsius and this is supposed to be Thai winter! We rarely get a day like this in British summer time let alone winter.
Jon has already been to Bangkok, and he’s travelled to Thailand on a number of occasions, he does his over protective act and asks whether I’m ok, as if it’s a major culture shock. I kind of knew what to expect of Bangkok, it’s generally a city you love or hate, if it’s your first experience of Asia, I can see why it would freak some people out and put them off Asia.
We take a walk down Khao San Road, not exactly what you call a typical Thai place but it’s a young backpackers dream, bars, food stalls, counterfeit goods, cheap hostels etc. At night it becomes really busy with neon lights together with your stereotypical traveller beginning their trip around Asia or on their way to Australia. Soi Rambuttri, where we’re staying is only five minutes away, we decide to head back there, it’s a lot more chilled, plus the food is of a higher standard, never mind being cheaper! All the restaurants seem to be doing fish BBQs, so we sample some tasty red snapper, which comes with some chilli sauce, I can tell you, it tasted great! Not having slept yet, it wasn’t a late one that night.
So this is what the real Bangkok is about!
Bangkok has a huge traffic problem, so how do you get somewhere as quick as you can? River buses are a quick and exciting way to get about in Bangkok, once you work out how they work! I loved travelling about on the Chao Phraya river, you really see what Bangkok is all about, passing floating markets, Buddhist temples, Chinatown, upmarket hotels, high rise buildings are some of the sites I saw. After the river bus, we stopped to get the sky train, the sky train was built quite recently to attempt to alleviate the traffic problem in Bangkok, now I’m not sure if it has helped or whether the traffic was even worse before the sky train was built, but it was still horrendous during out time in Bangkok.
After spending a few hours around Siam Square we decide to get a tuk tuk back. There are no meters on tuk tuks, therefore you have to do your best to negotiate a price and get to your destination without stopping at a tailor shop or falling for any other moneymaking scams. I’m sure we could have paid less then we did, but sometimes it isn’t worth haggling over a few baht, which makes little difference to us. The tuk tuk ride is for the experience rather then for convenience, it’s actually cheaper to get an air-conditioned taxi, and happens to be much safer.
Later that evening we met with Jon’s friend Will, who lives and works in Bangkok, better you then me I say! This place is great to visit, but I could never live here. Obviously still shaken from the mugging, he mentions that he would rather not meet up in the Khao San Road area, so we arrange to meet him in Soi 5, which is around the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, quite touristy, but also fairly sleazy! We meet up in Gulliver’s an Irish chain bar full of dirty old men looking for or with Thai bar girls.
It’s Will’s suggestion to head down to Nana Plaza, you guessed it a red light district of Bangkok and a tame one at that compared to Soi cowboy and Patpong (so I’ve heard) It’s obvious that Will knows his way around here, we head up straight to the top of a building, it’s not exactly inviting for a girl like me, plenty of dodgy characters, the stench of urine, ladies (or men?) of the night enticing you into their bars. According to Will, the higher you go up the building, the filthier it gets! So we enter this bar and it’s full of young Thai girls pretty much butt naked! Some of them are gyrating against poles, some in a shower show; I really don’t know which way to look! I find it more amusing observing the clientele; I can tell you it is not a pretty site. Right it’s time to move on I say, we head to a ladyboy bar. I feel far more comfortable in this bar, the ladyboys make me laugh, they’re so over the top, very vain and in your face, this is ironic, as the Thai people are generally quiet, modest people. One ladyboy sits down next to me and bluntly explains: “all ladyboys in this bar have cock!” I find it difficult to contain myself, and tell Jon what I just heard.
Nobody misses the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace is probably one of the largest tourist attractions in Bangkok, it is a royal residence but the Thai king does not actually live here, within these walls are situated government offices and the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. Before we even get into the palace we experience a right royal scam, which Jon did warn me of! We took the river bus to the palace and it is a short walk from the pier, I notice a guy ushering us across the road to the palace entrance, how kind he is, not! At the unofficial entrance, a smartly dressed official looking man states the palace is closed, but he can take us by tuk tuk to a temple instead. We immediately knew he was trying to pull a fast one and walk on ahead to the real entrance, nice try though.
In the evening we meet up with Will again, this time he decides to come to Khao San Road. The evening consists if sampling samsung buckets, which is Thai redbull, Thai Whisky and coke, a cheap but very lethal combination to get wrecked up!
It’s not all go in Bangkok.
Today we spent the day mostly utilising the rooftop pool at our hotel, definitely a good find in the Bangkok madness. We also have a browse around the Banglamphu district and buy a few bits and pieces.
The evening we take a taxi to go and see Will and his family on the other side of Bangkok, it takes about an hour and a half due to being stuck in traffic!