Song of the day – Waterfall by the Stone Roses
Why? I stuck it on my ipod as we flew in over paddy fields as the sun was coming up, and it was one of those feel-good moments like something out of a movie
Greetings from Bangkok, or Sa-wa-dee-ka as we say round these parts. The last twenty-four hours are a bit of a blur to be honest – I’m sat back in our room with Hollie trying to remember everything that’s occurred. Because of the fact that we left the UK at nine in the morning and arrived here in Bangkok at six in the morning Thai time, the last thirty-six hours feel like one looong day punctuated only by the odd half hour catnap on the plane. We had a two-hour wait at Cologne-Bonn before we piled on to the Eurowings flight. I dropped 6mg of diazepam before we got onboard, more to try and help me to sleep on the flight – we both had a vague plan of getting a few hours kip so that we could hit the ground running in Thailand, but sleeping in an aeroplane seat for any length of time is easier said than done.
The flight to Bangkok, it has to be said, was amazing. Built into the back of each seat was a tablet which has games, movies and TV series to watch along with an interative map of the flight route, all of which kept us entertained more or less for the duration of the flight. We left at 14:10, chasing the sun eastwards until it finally set on us when we were flying over the Carpathians. As if it knew we were coming, it rose again to welcome us as we flew in over the Andaman Sea. As we began the final approach the view from the window was that of a patchwork of flooded paddy fields shimmering in the morning light. Before we hit the tarmac we spotted the odd stilted house hovering over the rice fields, and the glinting golden rooves of pagodas.
The skytrain that takes you from the airport to the city is clean and orderly, and lulls first-time visitors into a false sense of security that quickly evaporates as you disembark at Makkasan station and witness the absolute madness of Bangkok rush hour. Scooters and tuc-tucs weave in and out of taxi cars, lorries carrying unidentifiable vegetables and tatty buses that look like they’ve been fished out the bottom of a river and sent straight back into service. We stood there gawping as traffic cops frantically waved red flags at the oncoming traffic, which continued to plough on over a level crossing even as the approaching train was about to come thundering across.
We were looking for Bus number 556 to take us to Khao san road, but having wandered around the block looking for signs of a bus stop, we were so sleep-deprived and disorientated that we chose to flag down a taxi. As advised by countless travellers we made the bloke put the meter on before we got in, and after satisfying ourselves he wasn’t in any way dodgy we stuffed ourselves into the back seats, rucksacks and all, and became part of the 2 million or so vehicles that pollute Bangkok every morning.
Getting from A to B here is always eventful. You can be stood in a traffic jam for ten minutes and then suddenly be charging along, weaving in and out of lanes and taking shortcuts down backstreets that don’t look like they’d accomodate a motorbike, let alone a car. The journey to Khao San took about half an hour but the amount of wierd sights we saw made it feel like we’d been on a daytrip to the zoo. Mopeds were constantly squeezing themselves between our taxi and the vehicle next to us whilst travelling at 80kmh. Women with armfuls of carrier bags containing freshly cooked noodles try to thrust their produce in through the open window at you, and every street corner has some kind of stove set up where tiny little Thai women cook a variety of treats. This absolute adventure of a journey cost us 120 baht – about two quid. I reckon the same journey in London would have set us back at least thirty.
We arrived on the Khao San road around 09:30. We went to the hostel and chucked our bags in but we weren’t allowed to check in until 14:00. Instead we took a tuc tuc to a few temples. We paid the driver – a bloke called Ling with a warm smile which quickly faded when it came to discussing the fare. We paid him 100 baht to take us on a whistlestop tour of some random temples. Unfortunately the tour was so whistlestop that we had no idea what anything was. He just kept screeching up at the kerb, uhering us out and saying “I wait here, you back in fifteen minute!” We visited two temples – both of which were beautiful and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The smell of incense was everywhere and to see the devotion of some people to their religion was pretty remarkable – people flattening themselves in front of golden effigies of the Buddha and reciting prayers whilst carrying joss sticks around. At each temple there was about ten minutes of serenity before we piled back into the tuc tuc and got motored off somewhere else. Apart from the smell of cheap gasoline, riding a tuc tuc is pretty exhilerating. The breeze is quite refreshing and there is a cool kind of novelty to being driven around in such crazy circumstances, but I wouldn’t drive here for all the Chang in Thailand.
Speaking of Chang – that’s what we did next. Sat in a bar just off the Khao San road I had a couple of chang lagers and some pad thai, both of which were stunning – I think we will like it here. When 2pm rolled round we were thankful to get a few hours kip at the hostel, before returning to the Khao San Road.
Khao San means “Uncooked rice” in Thai, and for decades it’s been a haven for farang (Thai for foriegners) who are either starting out or finishing up their backpacking journeys round South-East Asia. In his book The Beach Alexander Garland describes the Khao San road as “A decompression chamber for those about to leave or enter Thailand, a halfway house between East and West.” I think that’s a pretty good summary. It’s like a slightly more exotic and seedy Benidorm. I can imagine if I was local thinking the place was a complete hole, but having never experienced anything like it before we found it to be an amazing place. You walk down the street and somebody will thrust a trayful of fried scorpions in your face. You’ll swerve out their way and nearly trip over a double-amputee beggar with an empty Mcdonalds cup held aloft at you. There are blokes selling glowsticks and wallets and t-shirts and little images of the Buddha (which is apparently illegal). Tourists lounge lazily in deckchairs as Thai women massage their shoulders and feet, and above all of this cacophany of noise and chaos the constant question of “You want tuc tuc my fren?” drills itself into your brain until you end up letting go of your natural English politeness and elbowing past people who clearly see you as a walking Baht sign. We sat in at a cafe and had pad thai and deep-fried crabcakes washed down with fresh coconut water – a coconut with the top knocked off and a straw stuck in it. It was another amazing meal and I managed to shove the majority of it in my gob using chopsticks before I had to scoop up the last bits with a fork whilst no-one was looking.
After wandering the streets a bit more and tiring of stepping out the way of mopeds and pissed-up Brits abroad we went back to the hostel, where we are now about to take a hard-earned rest. So that’s it for now – sorry if there’s any spelling mistakes or whatever, but I’m so confused that I really don’t even know what day it is anymore!
Tommy and Hollie x