Well I'm pleased to report that we made it to Bangkok in one piece & amazingly - so did our backpacks! Slight hiccup when we changed planes in Singapore as the baggage machine had broken down & so all luggage was being checked on manually. Our flight was delayed by about 40 mins because they had 50 bags missing at one point. The whole journey took about 19 hrs but wasn't too bad considering. I even survived a fair bit of turbulence without freaking out. On arrival at the swanky new BKK international airport, we decided to start as we mean to go on by taking the backpackers option of hot, sweaty bus over taxi, which saved us about 11GBP (an amount that could see you fed, clothed, massaged & entertained for at least 2 days in this country!) Luckily the bus dropped us about 5 minutes walk from our hotel - the Viengtai on Tanee Rd in Banglumpu & with the help of a very friendly guy who called himself 'Earth', who runs a TAT tour operator called 'Nice Place', we found it in no time. We later found out that 'Earth' was only so friendly because he thought he was going to sell us a trip to Chang Mai - but I'll get onto that later.
The hotel was so nice! We were all very pleasantly surprised after we'd only paid 25GBP each for 3 nights there. Huge triple bedroom, aircon, breakfast included - very luxurious (perhaps not the best way to climatise ourselves to our new lifestyle of roughing it??) And, even better, it was on a street parallel to the Khao San Road - the infamous heart of Bangkok's backpacker district. We headed straight out into the 30 degree heat after we'd checked in & started exploring.
Hit Khao San Rd straight away for a bit of window-shopping, but the wallets were out almost immediately. Everyone told me that Thailand was dirt cheap, but nothing had prepared me for exactly how cheap. Dinner for 25p - clothes for 3GBP - a 30 min massage for a quid...it's hard not to feel like you're committing daylight robbery & offering to pay double! I'm sure I'll get used to that & lose the guilt in no time at all though. You can feel the buzz of excitement, adventure & freedom everywhere here - I think a lot of travellers start in Bangkok before beginning their tours of the North & South. The locals are all very welcoming - you just need to take everything they say with a pinch of chilli. 'Lookee Lookee' sellers everywhere peddling everything from maps to lighters to wooden frogs - much like any package holiday destination I've ever been to but for a fraction of the price.
Day 1 after exploring for a few hours, we went back to our hotel with the intention of heading back out for a thai massage after a shower, but made the mistake of lying down for a wee rest & woke up 15 hours later! Did us the world of good though & set us up nicely for the next action-packed couple of days.
Day 2, headed out after brekkie with a plan to visit the zoo in the a.m & Grand Palace p.m. Got 5 mins down the road when 2 Thai ladies spotted us looking at our map & asked where we were going. They soon became our 'Unofficial tour guides' as they informed us that the zoo was much better at the weekands because there were more animal shows on & that we wouldn't be allowed to enter the Grand Palace in our flip-flops & crop trousers as you have to wear closed shoes & long trousers as a mark of respect to the Queen! Instead, she suggested that we take a tuk-tuk (which was conveniently waiting on the street corner) on a tour of the Buddhas. She even haggled the driver down for us, to 10bhat each (about 14p) to visit the Lucky, Sitting & Standing Buddhas. Warning bells yet anyone? Well, ours took a bit longer than that to come on! Happily set off on our first ever tuk-tuk ride, loving every second until we realised that for some reason, tuk-tuks appear to be totally exempt from the rules of the road! Bit of a hair-raising experience but those drivers certainly know what they're doing & we soon became 3 more of the many millions of travellers from around the world who have ridden a tuk-tuk & lived to tell the tale! The buddhas were very beautiful & gave us a nice spiritual feeling. The driver then wanted to take us to a suit factory where he said that he'd be given a petrol coupon if we went in to have a look for 5 mins - which we were happy to do as he was only charging us 14p to chauffeur (a very generous use of this word) us around Bangkok City. However, by the time we wanted to go to Buddha number 2 (after we'd spent 40 mins in a TAT office looking into options for travelling South, without having spent a penny & therefore having earnt him zero in commission) he decided enough was enough & ditched us in a place that he told us was the Sitting Buddha, which was actually some public toilets! We didn't mind a bit though - we hadn't paid him a penny & he had ditched us about 10 min walk from Khao San Rd! We decided to go for that massage that we'd been talking about, which was fantastic & while having that, we met our very first traveller friends! Ben from Gloucester & Mark from Bath, who were both travelling alone & had met a few days earlier. Ben left straight after the massage as he had a tour to Chang Mai leaving that night, so we asked Mark if he'd like to come with us to the Golden Mount, where we'd been told there were huge celebrations with fireworks & street parties for the Festival of Light. It was absolutely heaving, but a great experience. At the top of the Mount, we kneeled for a blessing in front of a Buddhist Monk but I stood up halfway through thinking he was finished - so have probably jinxed us all?! Had an ordeal to leave when we'd decided that we'd seen enough, as in the space of an hour, the volume of people lining the streets had quadrupled & we were literally the only Westeners in sight so we were getting some very odd looks as we fought our way through the throngs. Ended day 2 with some tofu in garlic sauce for dinner & a heavenly 45 minute foot massage in the middle of the street on Khao San Rd.
Day 3, struck out with the Palace again, as despite setting off in approprite clothing, a local told us that it didn't open till 2pm! So went to Dusit Zoo instead where we met Mark & spent a very enjoyable few hours looking at tortoises, snakes, geckos, birds, giraffes & hippos etc of all shapes & sizes. Saw an animal show (all in Thai of course) which was very enjoyable - except for my inner turmoil of whether it was cruel or not because the animals all seemed perfectly happy & very well cared for?? Tuk-tuks back to Khao San Rd - all traffic was completely halted en route to allow the King of Thailand & his police escort to pass. I tried to take a photo but couldn't work out which car the King was in! Then did some more shopping, bought 2 tops, a pair of flip-flops & some culottes for 13GBP. Ate a delicious dinner at a lovely restaurant called Lotash Seed, just down the road from our hotel. For a starter, I had a traditional dish which consists of leaves, tofu & then a platter of ginger, lime, marinaded coconut, chilli & cashew nuts which you use to make up little rolls wrapped in the leaves & then eat in one mouthful. Absolutely delicious with the mix of different flavours. After dinner, we headed out to meet Mark & another guy called Rich who had arrived from Cumbria about an hour beforehand & checked into the same hostel that Mark's staying at. At a street bar on Khao San Rd, we treated ourselves to our first alcoholic drinks on foreign soil. A group of Mark's old uni mates randomly passed by our table (Mark hadn't even known that they were in Thailand), so a couple of them (Dan & Charlie) joined us & we all had a very enjoyable evening of drinks & comparing stories of our travels so far & plans for travels ahead of us.
Today, we had a nice lie-in & then transferred to the hotel where we start our 15 day Intrepid tour of North Thailand. Another very nice hotel I'm pleased to say. Going to meet up with Mark, Dan & Charlie a bit later on after our tour welcome meeting & then try to get an early-ish night as the next 15 days will be a non-stop adventure of 12-24 hour buses/trains, daily 4 hour treks & sleeping on the floor in hilltribe family huts!
Just a quick entry...as we're back in Bangkok (have been since Saturday when our Intrepid tour finished). It's nice to be back but the heat is nearly unbearable as it's so built up & enclosed here & we have scoured every single market stall & shop on Khao San Road so, we think it's time to move onto shopping/drinking pastures new! We've spent the last three nights on the trot in Gullivers 'The Travellers Tavern', which has a nice buzz & plays everything from Mylo to p**** Cat Dolls, so no different from Walkabout or somewhere similar back home. Last night, we ventured over the the clubbing strip RCA, as our mate Jamie 'the Thai Guru' is over here visiting his girlfriend & promised us a good night of decent house music - he was true to his word.Anyway, after sorting our visas & cheap flights, the 3 Chicks are headed to Hanoi in Vietnam tomorrow to stay with Jill's uni mate Chris who has kindly offered to put us up. All very excited about seeing another country that we hadn't even planned on so watch this space for a full report!
After spending two weeks in the glorious South of Thailand, we decided that we should head back to Bangkok for our last couple of days in the country. After looking into the extortionate costs for a train from the South to Bangkok, we decided that the only affordable option was the overnight bus, but this time we were not leaving anything to chance of being robbed again! We got dropped at the Khao San Road at 6am & immediately all checked our backpacks. What a surprise - yet again, they had been opened up & ransacked through but luckily this time nothing was taken. How strange that they didn't want any of our unwashed clothes! We were all very tired but still pretty smug at the thought of how frustrated they must have been to painstakingly pick our locks, rummage through all of our dirty clothes & have absolutely nothing to show for it!We headed to the Centre - the only cafe open at that time, for some much needed coffee & breakfast, before checking into the Siam Oriental hostel on Khao San, which turned out to be a bit of a cockroach palace - but at that time of the morning, we settled for cockroaches over traipsing around with our backpacks in search of nicer digs! After a good few hours sleep, we headed out for some last-minute shopping & I decided to spoil myself with some treatments. I enjoyed a luxurious 45 minute facial & full pedicure for a total of 3 quid. It's true what they say - you can live like royalty in Thailand for next to nothing! That night, I decided to put my money where my mouth is & finally have my first tattoo! I opted for the same one that Lin & Jill had had done a few weeks earlier 'Live for the day' written in Thai on my foot, as I agreed that it was a fitting motto for our travelling adventures & would always be there as a reminder of this amazing year. I can quite honestly say that it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, but the pain stopped as soon as it was finished & I love it so much, it was worth the pain. Lin & Jill also decided to live by our new motto, so they did something that they'd been talking about for a while & bought some dead bugs from a street stall & proceeded to munch on crickets & grasshoppers of varying sizes, all seasoned with soy sauce & a few chilli flakes! Check out the photos, despite how revolting they look, the girls assure me that they were 'quite tasty'!
13th Dec Our last day in Thailand! We were all feeling a little bit sad about leaving, but were also extremely excited about heading to Sydney & starting the next leg of our trip. We spent the whole day wandering the street stalls on Khao San & people watching at the cafes before heading out for our last meal at the Lotash Seed (where else), followed by drinks at the Irish pub above the Centre. This turned out to be the most fun night out we had in Bangkok! We bumped into the crazy Canadian we'd met on Railay Beach in Krabi & some of his friends & had were absolutely amazed by the talents of the live Thai band, who performed covers of all of our favourite songs so well that if you closed your eyes sometimes, you'd think you were listening to the original. And, they even played 'Mr Brightside' by the Killers as a request for us, which made our night because that song had become our travelling anthem. It was a great night & the perfect end to our time in Thailand.