Two Weeks in Thailand: Part One

 

So, I arrived into Bangkok, capital of Thailand, and arguably the most famous city in South East Asia. I landed into the airport and then checked the directions to the hostel that I had booked the day before. I was going to be staying at ‘Good One Hostel’, a name that I am sure was chosen with good intentions, but due to there never having been a British person say ‘Good one’ sincerely, I could only ever say it or think it to myself sarcastically. Good one.

The metro in Bangkok rises above the chaos of the city, and is actually pretty reliable. After verifying my route with two other backpackers, it wasn’t long before I arrived at Good One, checking in for one night. I still hadn’t learnt my lesson from Kuala Lumpur about planning in advance. It was actually quite a nice hostel, with a cosy café area, and a decent sized dorm room with private bathroom. I went upstairs, said hi to the few people in the dorm wandering around, and then considered going to sleep. It was almost 8pm after all, and I had spent a lot of energy sitting on planes and trains.

I was informed, however, that our hostel was very close to a night market that was well worth checking out, if only to get my first glimpse of the strange depravity that Thailand was famous for. I went for a little walk.

Subtlety is overrated

The market was pretty standard, in that it was full of knock off fake brands and generic country-themed souvenirs. Slightly different were the dozens of men running up to every westerner, shouting ‘Ping pong, ping pong show!’. If you weren’t quick enough to say no then you had a laminated piece of card thrust in your face, in which all the tricks that you could see at a ping pong show were revealed. These tricks included ‘Pussy Candle Blow’ and ‘Pussy Razor Blade’, alongside the more famous and beloved ‘Pussy Dart Balloon’. I managed to fend off the touts by not looking too interested, but I was a bit curious; this was already very different to Malaysia or China.

I returned to the hostel relatively soon afterwards, my mind still untainted from any shows involving ping pong balls or razor blades. I decided to have an early night, and so headed up to the dorm. While up there I got chatting to two Brits, Josie and Beth, who were on their last day in Bangkok. They were heading up north to Chiang Mai; I had made absolutely no plans for Thailand, so I thought there was a chance I might be heading up that way. Doing no research means that you’re always reliant on others to tell you where to go and what to do in each area you visit, so I tended to take inspiration where it came.

Ever fickle, I ended up heading south, so I didn’t see Josie or Beth again, but I did read their blog. It’s worth a read, especially for the article on vomming all over the place. I think that was my favourite. Or the one that mentions me. That’s good too.

The next day I headed downstairs early and went for a run; it was time to get back on the fitness, with my first run since the disaster/wonderful event that was the Dushanbe Hash Harriers in Tajikistan.

The run was not exactly my best, and the polluted air and chaotic roads of Bangkok didn’t help me in my efforts to travel at pace without a quasi-heart attack, but it was nice to get out and exercise for once.

After that it was time to do touristy stuff. I was joined by a Dutch guy called Martijn. The j is silent. We got on a boat, saw some temples, found a big Buddha that was taking a lie down (or reclining, as it is technically known).

Just chillin’

I believe this is some monkey god monster guardian. But I can’t say for sure

Guardians guarding

A shrine, with the most important feature on the far right: an ATM, for all your donationary needs

Then we climbed to the top of a mountain to see another temple – the Golden Mount – this one famed for its height above the city and the 300 steps that you had to climb to reach the summit.

Between you and me, those 300 steps are all about a third of the size of normal steps, and it’s all pleasantly in the shade, so the difficulties in climbing are a bit oversold. But nonetheless, the view from the top was pretty good.

Maybe the Bangkok skyline isn’t the most stunning

A guardian on the mountain

In addition to the view, at two corners of the top pagoda were two huge gongs with hammers, that anyone could use. I was told that the general rule was you needed to hit the gong three times in order to get good luck, so with childish glee I hit the thing as hard as I could three times, before moving over to the second gong to repeat gonging and double up my luck.

By now the heat of the day had come fully into effect, so we headed down to grab some food and maybe head back to the air conditioned comfort of the hostel. We were near Khoa San Road, famous in Bangkok for being the street for drunk westerners to maintain their drunkenness in the company of other westerners. In the day it’s a road full of street vendors and restaurants selling overpriced food and inexplicably offensive bracelets. We avoided the bracelets and went for the food instead.

Back at the hostel we found a small group of people chatting with a couple of beers, and so sat down and joined them. They consisted of a couple of Finnish girls whose names escape me, two American lads – Ben and Mike – a Brit from Manchester – Chris – and were joined by later by Lauren,  a girl from Cornwall.

It was quickly decided that later that evening we would head out for dinner and then some drinks in Kho San Road. I had only booked one night in Bangkok, on the advice of many telling me that Bangkok was just another city with not much to do. I figured that I should at least spend one more night here, and spend it being a true tourist on the true tourist road.

I still hadn’t decided where I was going to go the next day.

Oh well.

Kho San Road at night is an interesting place. The bars play ridiculously loud music that make conversation impossible, whilst selling overpriced drinks that make you question whether you’ve somehow ended up at a high end bar in London mid-construction. That in itself isn’t that interesting, but the grasshopper, scorpion, and centipede sellers added a different flavour to the place, as did the people constantly trying to sell bracelets with phrases that, at their least offensive, tended to say things like ‘RAPE MY FACE’. While we were out I saw, and took part; in a street-dance off, in which my barrel roll and attempt at a cartwheel were probably the least impressive part of; several fights; ate a cricket; took a bite out of a centipede; and got lost.

Pretty standard then I guess.

It was less tasty than it looks

Not much meat on them spiders

The following day I had decided to go to the Erawan Museum; a slightly less well known museum outside of the central part of town. Erawan Museum was a special kind of museum, not just because it focused on bringing together the stories of Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism, but because it was built inside the statue of a gigantic elephant. This elephant, as I found out later today, was representative of Erawan, the Sky Elephant, that Lord Indra rode across the sky whenever he wanted to get somewhere in a hurry. Erawan had been described as having over a thousand heads, with each head having two tusks that were both 8 million metres long. On each tusk you would find 7 lotus flowers, and each lotus flower had 7 petals, and each petal had 7 angels dancing on it. Or something like that.

The Erawan Museum was a statue of an elephant with only three heads, but I think we can agree that trying to model an elephant with any more heads than that is impractical and silly.

I was accompanied by Michael and Lauren, as the others were all too hungover to make it out of bed at a reasonable time. We caught ourselves a train to the outer limits of the city, and then discussed how we were going to make it the last 5 miles. We ended up going for my tried and trusted method of getting on a bus and staying on it until it went the wrong way. This led to us having a long walk before getting on what appeared to be an open backed school bus, and then a rickety old public bus, before finally arriving.

Not a patch on the real sky elephant though

There are three levels to the Erawan Museum; the basement, representative of the underworld; the ground and first floor, representative of the physical world that we all live in; and the top floor, representing heaven. In the Underworld floor you find a statue of a Naga, a mythical magical snake creature that lives in the Underworld. Depending on the stories that you read there’s either one huge one, or there’s hundreds of them wandering around the place. The statue we saw was a Naga who had changed into Human Form, because they can do that.

On the Physical Realm floors there were pillars and tablets depicting stories from some of the major religions around the world. The audioguide informed us that the creator of the museum wanted to try and link the religions together in some form, and show their similarities. To be honest, I’m not sure how many there were, but it was beautifully done.

The outside part of the museum, probably symbolising outsidedness

The ceiling of the Earth realm, looking up to Heaven

The stairway through the Earth level

A hungry bear carving

The top floor was in Erawan’s head, and no photos were allowed, due to the age of statues being held there, and their vulnerability to flash or just cameras in general. I somehow managed to forget to take a photo of the stairs that led to heaven, and therefore missed out on a picture of the Stairway to Heaven. Oh well. Next time.

In Heaven we were told a story about how Buddha had once created a ladder up to heaven in order to preach to his mother about something. It all sounded very fantastic, and I once again started questioning my earlier beliefs that Buddhism was a religion based solely on inner peace and the 8 fold path. I’d not heard of sky elephants and magic ladders until that day.

We caught an Uber back to the hostel, because trying the buses and the metro back to the city would have been too much of a faff and ended up costing much the same. An hour and half later, after having sat in slow moving traffic for most of it, we got out, and walked the last mile to the hostel.

Which was now a different hostel, because Good One hadn’t been able to accommodate me for one more day; I’d fallen into the same trap that I’d found in KL, never booking more than one day ahead. Good one Alex.

That night we went for a wander around the night market again, but other than a fruit smoothie, I didn’t buy anything. I went on to spill that fruit smoothie over the whole of the pavement, so it ended up working out to nothing, and a very low key, low activity night.

I had decided that the following day would be my last in Bangkok, and had booked a bus down to Phuket for that evening. This left me with the best part of the day to see Bangkok. So we went and saw some temples.

Find this wanker outside the Standing Buddha temple

Similar to the sitting Buddhas, but not quite. Same same. But different

An ancient temple being rebuilt, to be just as good as old. I’ve used that joke before

More guardians with questionable fashion choices

Anyone who has been to more than four temples can assure you that there is such a thing as too many temples. We saw a prone Buddha, a standing Buddha, a lucky Buddha, a normal Buddha, and a few other smaller pagodas and temples. By the end of the day the Buddhas were blurring into one, and my main memory of the day ended up not being of a Buddha at all, but of a small salesman outside one of the temples, who had 6 tiny boxes of caged birds. He held a sign that said ‘Release the birds for inner peace: 200 Baht’. I’ll be honest, it really pissed me off, but there wasn’t much I could do. So I did nothing, and simply hoped that no one took advantage of his offer for skipping a step to nirvana. I had low expectations for this.

As it neared 5pm I realised that I should probably head towards the bus stop – I’d left myself 2 hours to travel just a few kilometres, but it’s nice to be prepared.

I found out rapidly that the stop at which my bus would be leaving from was not the one just a few kilometres, round the corner from which I was staying. In fact, it was nearly 15km away from the city, a distance which I was assured would only take an hour and a half. For 15km. I could have run it faster.

After 6 failed attempts, I finally managed to find a taxi with a meter, instead of the more ‘Let’s have a guess’ taxis that seem to run Bangkok. I then quickly fell asleep, waking only to check my watch to see whether I’d missed my bus. It turned out I hadn’t – we’d arrived 5 to 7, so at least 5 minutes until I was due on my bus.

But, to my horror, I quickly found out, we weren’t at the bus stop. My driver had pulled up in a retail park, in order to go to the toilet. I tried to explain my urgency – that we were 5 minutes away from the bus stop and it was 5 minutes until my bus left – but this won me nothing more than a nod and a grin, as my driver walked away from the car.

He returned 3 minutes later. The more astute readers will have already calculated that this left me with 2 minutes until my bus left. The driver hopped in the car and drove off.

‘When is your bus?’ he asked me as we pulled back into traffic, as if I hadn’t already told him multiple times.

‘7pm’ I said, almost resigned to my fate.

‘Oh. Maybe too late.’ He replied.

‘I know. We had this discussion a few minutes ago. Just, go as fast as you can, okay?’

He went as fast as he could, averaging a solid 15 miles per hour through the traffic. When we pulled into the bus station a 7.07pm, I threw some money into the passenger seat and then sprinted into the bus station.

With every second counting, I ran towards the line of buses that were waiting. A ticket officer stopped me from reaching the buses, telling me I needed to get my ticket first. I told him that there was no time for ticket getting, that my bus was going to leave. He very calmly informed me that there was indeed time for ticket getting, and that it was the only way I would be getting on any bus.

So I ran around the terminal like a headless chicken trying to find the booth for buses to Phuket, with every minute ticking by feeling a promise that I’d be spending the night at the bus stop. But at 7.12pm I found the booth.

I was told that the bus hadn’t left yet; it was running late. I should hurry, but no major issue. Maybe stop to get a snack.

I still wasn’t used to South East Asian timings it seemed, where any schedule is an estimation, and any arrival time should be taken with a pinch of salt. I ran for my bus anyway, found myself a seat, and sat down.

Fifteen minutes later the bus left. I sat there, dripping with sweat, unsure who I should be annoyed with, but pretty sure someone deserved being annoyed at. Maybe it was myself.

13 hours later we were to arrive in Phuket. I’d heard it was great for surfing, something which I was very much up for getting back into. Maybe I’d spend a week or so there, becoming a pro.

 

Probably not

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