My adventure in Chaiyaphum came to an end a lot sooner than I thought it would. The greatest thing about adventure though is that there’s always another one coming! Our next escapade kicked off with a weekend in Bangkok.
When we arrived at Mo Chit Bus Terminal on a Friday afternoon the first thing we did was buy our bus tickets to Cambodia for the following Monday (ooooh, the excitement!). Then, donning our backpacks containing all of our worldly possessions for the next few months, we tackled the heat and made our way to the train station, about a 20 minute walk away. We caught the train to Phaya Thai Station where we started the daunting task of finding a fairly priced ride to the Khao San area. We were adamant on a price so it took us a little bit of time and a whole lot of patience, but we eventually found ourselves a metered taxi. The taxi driver was super cool. He offered us some of his fried banana (which, by the way, is a must-try in Thailand. It looks rather strange – if I didn’t know the Thai word for banana I probably wouldn’t have known what the chap was offering us, fried goods come in all varieties there – but man, it’s good! Another thing to note here is that if a Thai person offers you food it is considered extremely rude to say no. It’s usually delicious so just go ahead and eat it.)
We stayed at B-Bed Hostel, which was a new hostel on Ram Buttri Road, one road up from Khao San Road. The Khao San area is aptly nicknamed the backpacker capital of the world. With bars and clubs and street vendors and stalls and everything your little heart can desire all packed into one, this area has a way of making you want to just shop and eat and drink all day every day forever. Ram Buttri Road is close enough to walk to Khao San if you wish to join in on the festivities but far away enough to get a good night’s sleep.
On Saturday morning we had our obligatory 7-11 coffee and decided to walk to the pier, a mere 2 minute walk away, to catch a boat taxi to Wat Arun. Of the various types of boats and ferries that run up, down and across the river, we chose the 15 baht Orange Flag Line – slower and busier than the Blue Flag Tourist Line, but cheaper and a whole lot more exciting!
Having been in Thailand for a few months I had seen my share of temples. I hate to say it but they all started to look the same. So, as soon as I saw pictures of the differently and stunningly crafted white towers of Wat Arun, with thousands of specs of coloured glass contrasting the white walls and beautiful Chinese sculptures surrounding the base, I jumped at the opportunity to go climb it. Oh yes, that was another difference with Wat Arun – you can climb a steep set of stairs leading to the top of the central spire. Apparently the views are magnificent. Unfortunately, that central spire was closed for renovations on the particular day we decided to visit, quite a common occurrence with tourist attractions in Thailand. While it was disappointing, we were not left short on places to explore and architecture to marvel at within the temple grounds.
My favourite part of it all was the small Buddhist centre snuggled behind the temple. They offered an array of free public classes such as guided meditation, traditional cooking and dance classes, and computer and English lessons. There just seemed to be a peaceful, altruistic and downright good feeling about the place. That vibe quickly left as we walked on a bit and were bombarded by a mass of cell phone-yielding, selfie-taking tourists. I literally had to stop and side step every 30 seconds to avoid either walking in front of someone’s camera or flat out crashing into them as they tried to get the perfect “I was here” photo. It really pissed me off. People were putting their arms around ancient and sacred sculptures while sticking out their tongues for what I’m sure was a hilariously captioned Instagram post, probably without caring why those exact sculptures were there in the first place. No learning, no appreciating, no connecting to something new. Nope. Just a string of selfies. I know that I’m bitching a bit here. I know that I too am a tourist; that I too carry my camera to capture these moments. But the difference is that, to me, the aim is not to show the world that you’ve been there, the aim is be able to tell a story afterwards. Okay, rant over. Moving on.
From Wat Arun we caught another boat taxi to the Central Station. I find that the boats are by far the best way to travel around Bangkok – cheap, fast, efficient, and you get to see it all from a different point of view, with the added bonus of being cooled down by the wind in your hair. You see the run down dwellings of locals right next to the big fancy hotels; the abandoned buildings along the riverside and the sky scrapers in the distance. It’s a beautiful and a daunting contrast.
From the pier we caught the train to Mo Chit Station. This set us back 42 baht each. At Mo Chit we herded out amongst the crowds and headed to the park for a bit of a break and our first cigarette since leaving that morning. Note: you cannot smoke in Bangkok parks. Well, of course you can if you’re sneaky about it, but technically you’re not allowed to. Disclaimer: I in no way advocate for naughty behaviour, kids.
At this point Jason picked up that I was starting to get a bit agitated (crowds, heat and hunger can be a lethal mix) and he bought us a few spring rolls to share in an attempt to curb the hunger monster. It was the sweetest gesture and it definitely did the job. I could eat those spring rolls forever! When we felt like moving again we headed to a street stall and sat down to a lunch of fried flat noodles and pork. 50 baht. Goooood.
Now it was time to tackle the largest market in Thailand. No words can explain the size and utter craziness that is the Chatuchak weekend market. I found it impossible to settle on anything to buy; the amount of options on display was just too much for this girl to comprehend. As we were leaving, trying to find a taxi or tuk-tuk driver that wouldn’t charge us our life savings for a ride home, we met Katie. Katie was a solo traveller from Germany looking to share a ride. The best deal we could find was 200 baht for the three of us for a tuk-tuk ride back to Khao San. The driver was not impressed though. It was as though he felt that we had ripped him off. He practically pushed us out of the vehicle when we stopped, hissing ‘quick quick’ in Thai and then sped away in search of his next victims. We agreed to meet up with Katie later that night for a drink.
For dinner we wolfed down some Pad Thai from the raddest little street food vendor, and then met up with Katie. We ended up walking around on a mission to find jackfruit. We didn’t find any but we were thoroughly entertained on our expedition by the people trying out laughing gas on Khao San road. Yep, you can buy laughing gas. You can buy pretty much anything there. Need a driver’s license? No problem. Need a degree? Sure thing. Need some jackfruit? Er sorry, no joy.
We gave up and went for cocktails instead at one of the many roadside cocktail vans. Two German fellows – Iggy and Ben – joined our table and entertained us with their stories of getting mugged in Cambodia and protecting forests in Bavaria. We had our minds utterly blown by an elderly Thai magician with long hair and mischievous eyes, the kind of man who you just know has seen plenty in his long life. After one too many cocktails we headed back to our hostel. Well, the five or six steps it took us to get there. This particular cocktail van was very conveniently located right next to B-Bed.
Sunday was a slow start. Our muesli was covered in ants (that was my bad – I had left the muesli packet on the floor) but we ate it anyway. Gotta do what you gotta do when travelling on a budget. Sometime in the late morning we ventured down to the pier, where we waited in the sun for what felt like forever but was probably only 10 minutes. It was already a blistering hot day. On the boat we sat up front next to the very gangster looking captain with his American flag glasses.
We departed the boat in what seemed to be a largely abandoned part of Bangkok – the entire place was just vacant buildings and quiet roads. It was rather creepy. We joked that we had somehow crossed a time and space barrier into a version of the universe where we were the only people alive. We were in this area on a search for the Bangkokian Museum. Also known as the Bangkok Folk Museum, this charming little place is a collection of antique buildings from the early 20th Century, filled with bits and bobs of family life from this period.
The boat ride back was the most interesting one we had so far. I’m not sure if the captain was a tad intoxicated or if he was just having a little bit of fun, but he was crashing into every single pier and other boat that he could find. It was also crazy full so staying upright while he was doing this was a constant struggle. It was amusing nonetheless. Back in our weekend hometown we tried to find a place to swim (after this impossible mission we made sure to try our best to stay in future accommodation with a pool). There were plenty of hotels with pools but they just wanted to charge way too much for an hour or two of splashing around. It wasn’t worth it. But if you’re in Bangkok and you’re looking for a pool, try the New Siam II – 250 baht per person.
After an afternoon nap and a bit of shopping and banana pancake-eating we went hunting down a dinner spot. This search lead us to Yummy Yummy Restaurant where we ate the most delectable curries. I cannot stress enough how good the food was! And the cooks were dancing and singing and having the best time behind their woks which added an incredible vibe. I could have stayed there for hours eating curry and soaking in the awesomeness, but we were leaving for Cambodia the next morning and we wanted an early night. If you have ever been hungover on a bus then you know what I’m talking about! Early to bed and early to rise makes for a much happier bus passenger.
In conclusion, Bangkok is a like a world on its own. You can live there for an entire year and still not see the whole city! It may be the backpacker capital of the world, and we had some great times there, but it’s not my preferred destination. Am I happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it? Of course. Would I go back? Hell yes. Would I go so far as to add it to my list of favourites? Probably not. But that’s my opinion. You’re just going to have to go see for yourself.