Travel

First stop: Bangkok

The Style Scruple - Ashley McDonnell

Bangkok, the first destination of our 9 week South East Asia adventure. We’d been warned to go and get out as fast as possible. That it was dirty, dangerous and toilet paper was practically illegal, not to mention the ping pong shows and lady boys, a destination that’s seedier than Amsterdam’s red light. Interestingly, our Bangkok experience was very different to what we expected and although the city provided many unpredictable moments, we loved it!

We stayed on Ram Buttri Road at the Rambuttri Plaza. This street is definitely a must if looking for reasonably priced accommodation in an almost quaint area, like a little village in a big bad city, lined with lanterns, fairy lights and street food to die for. For less than the equivalent of a euro you can get breakfast, lunch and even dinner. You haven’t experienced Bangkok until you’ve tried Pad Thai and a fruit shake! For the less faint hearted, scorpions, spiders and other larger, crustaceous, nasty looking things are also easily found on Khao San Road, where you can discover alcohol by the bucket full, as well as the lady boys and ping pong shows. Khao San delivers many interesting services to tourists, the most modest of which beginning with a foot massage. If you’re looking for a tailored suit, a new wardrobe, a tattoo or a new identity, Khao San has it all.

However, there’s more to life in Bangkok than Khao San Road so we ventured further to investigate what else the city has to offer. Along the way we had some dodgy experiences with Tuk Tuk drivers, who seemed to be on a general mission to completely con the tourists. A particularly eager Tuk Tuk driver more or less abducted us while heading to the Grand Palace and brought us (unwillingly!) to random stores, a tailors and a travel agency so that he could collect coupons. Every few minutes he told us he was bringing us to “the boat ride” and only gave up on the matter when we told him we had no money. Eventually, he dropped us not to the palace, but kind of near it, and left us in the not-so-safe hands of someone who was presumably another one of his mates. Being the big tourists we are, we believed that the man was part of the local Tourist Information centre – he even had signs! He informed us that the Grand Palace was closed for lunch hour and that we should go on “the boat” while we waited.
I can only presume that their is constantly a boat cruising through Bangkok, full of confused tourists that believed that the Grand Palace was closed for lunch, or who’s Tuk Tuk driver gave them a lift to, even if it was in no way where they were planning on going! After finally breaking free, we made it to the police station where there were big signs, informing us naive tourists that we shouldn’t believe “strangers”, i.e. our Tuk Tuk driver and his friends, and that the palace is not closed for lunch! Back we went towards the palace in sweltering, sticky heat where we were made put on even more clothes. Honestly, the Grand Palace is over priced but worth visiting. The steep entrance fee of 500 baht may have explained the lack of non-Asian tourists but I would highly recommend the visit.
After visiting the palace we decided to head to China town for something to eat. However, our new and improved Tuk Tuk driver as per usual had other ideas and dropped us to somewhere that was more like Pakistan town. Luckily, the locals were helpful and after some fruitless navigating they pointed us in the right direction. An hour later, after zig zagging through what was more like an underground China town for merchants and wholesalers in a hidden maze of tiny streets, we finally saw some light and escaped back out into the city after not seeing a single tourist throughout the entire ordeal. Although interesting, we didn’t actually find anything edible, just lots of material, buttons, jewelry and anything that could be made out of plastic. We accepted defeat in finding the China town street food quarters and headed back to Khao San for one last Padthai.
Although our Tuk Tuk drivers never really brought us exactly where we wanted to be, we always got there in the end! The Sky Bar (aka The Hangover 2 Bar) is definitely one to add onto the To Do list, with a 360 degree view of Bangkok’s impressive skyline from the 56th floor. The service was impeccable and a cold drink on a rooftop bar with a live jazz band and breathtaking views is definitely worth the extra expense – although the prices aren’t much more than those at Copper’s! Stay away from the champagne though, as it’s about seventy euro for a shot glass sized coupe.
We also got to make the most of Bangkok’s floating market and elephant trekking. Funnily enough, our travel agent never mentioned that neither of these were actually in Bangkok and we surprisingly found ourselves on a bus at 7am one morning, traveling an hour and a half out of the city.
The floating market was a brilliant experience – what could be better than floating down a river on a little boat being rowed by a local Thai lady while wearing a big lampshade of a hat, drinking out of a fresh coconut and bargaining for mangos and saffron. As for the elephants, they were beautiful, but I do always worry about the welfare of animals, particularly in developing countries. We gave our elephant loads of bananas and she seemed happy so we can only hope that they are treated well!

After 3 days in Bangkok, we took a VIP, super expensive, luxurious night bus with private bunk beds and a toilet to Koh Tao island. Well that’s what we were told but once again, the description was quite far from reality and we were dropped by our travel agent (damn these sneaky travel agents!) to a dodgy underground car park where we were left for two hours with a strange selection of places to eat, consisting mainly of fish head curry and a Thai KFC. Our bus finally arrived and the beds were really seats and the toilet made astonishingly loud exploding noises every two minutes for the entire 7 hour hour journey, which was strange because it was meant to be a 15 hour journey.
At 4am, confused and disoriented, we were woken up and thrown off the bus into what resembled the emergency room of a hospital but with a dog and turkish toilets. We lay on the hard plastic seats for until 6am in the immensely hot room wondering what the future held for us, only to be picked up by a Thai man that didn’t even ask us for tickets and brought us to a boat in his barge like, open air, stretch Tuk Tuk contraption. Still not knowing what the hell was going on as nobody spoke English, we got on the ferry with some other equally confused tourists and were welcomed by an intensive air conditioning system that felt as though it was set below zero degrees. We shivered ferociously for 3 hours until arriving ashore and being dropped to our accommodation on the back of a pick up by a local islander. Welcome to Thailand!