Day 1: The bus arrived in Khao San Road at 5:45am and we found our hostel was an easy walk from the drop off point. As check-in wasn't until 11am we waited in their restaurant and ran through our plan for the day. Luckily our room was ready early and we were able to check in at 7. We just dumped our stuff and headed straight out to find somewhere to change money.
We had to change over a great deal of money for Africa in crisp, post 2005, high value dollar bills. We changed half the money we needed ($400) as we didn't want to have to carry it all round India. We'd change the other dollars in Goa.
We then headed over to Sukumvit area (via a taxi and then the skytrain) to sort our Indian visa application out. In Chiang Mai we looked online and had all the info printed off, filled out and ready. On the way Alicia just had to pop into a shop to have her photo taken for the visa. That took only 15 minutes but after we got a little lost as the embassy and the visa application centre was in 2 separate places.
We finally found it at 12pm and started the endless queuing in various lines (one queue to be told to photocopy something. A line to actually photocopy it. A line to get a ticket to join the queue). We finally got seen at 1:50pm only to be told that it wouldn't be ready for us in time for our flight (even though it said it online - the whole reason we rushed Laos and North Thailand was to be back in time to do this visa). After some arguing, we just had to accept it. They just took the stance that if you want the visa you have to wait 8 working days. Us saying "but it says 6 online and we fly in 7" had no effect. The final blow was after all that, when we went to pay the say "that'll be 4500 Baht", online it said it'd be 2500 baht. After another discussion about why their information was so wrong we heard, "why, only today the visa costs have gone up" (that's sounds too familiar). Not by a small amount either, from £50 to £90! Ridiculous, Alicia was so disappointed she even shed a few tears.
So because the visa was running late and double the price, we'd need to change our flight. But our application was underway, we wouldn't have a passport for 10 or so days meaning there was a few things we couldn't do, like explore as much, as no hostel would let us check in.
To try and be a bit more productive we headed a few skytrain stops to a hospital to try to cure Alicia's throat problems. We headed over to the super fancy Bumrungrad private hospital. We checked in and Alicia saw a doctor almost immediately, he gave her some medication for her acid reflux and changed the malaria tablets. Although she was under strict instructions not to eat spicy food or drink alcohol or acidy drinks - not easy considering most of the food is spicy and we picked to stay on Khao San Road because of it's lively reputation. Oh well. We picked up the meds and paid the bill, not cheap, but actually not as expensive as I thought. It wasn't that much over £50 so wouldn't be worthwhile trying to claim on the insurance for instance.
Still a little disappointed from the days events we headed back to the hostel via skytrain then tuk tuk to assess what to do next and have a well deserved nap.
In the evening we went to a nearby restaurant on the Rambuttri road (the lane outside our hostel). We later found another in the same chain on Khao San which became our regular haunts. After dinner we sat on plastic chairs in a run down bar near the hostel and had a couple of cheap Chang beers (a big bottle cost 70baht) before we headed back to the hostel.
Tuesday: A nothing day - Alicia wasn't feeling great, so we spent the time inside planning what we were going to do now we had even more time in Bangkok and looking at flights.
In the evening we ventured out to the restaurant in Khao San in the same chain as the night before, a big open air diner which a humongous statue of a Buddha-a-like that was easy 2 stories tall.
Wednesday - Much the same as Tuesday. Alicia was feeling a little better in the afternoon so we wandered around some of the stands and stalls that lined the local area.
We also confirmed our flight changes with Cathay Pacific, that set us back £50 each. Although we were told it'd be £80, so it was cheaper than we expected.
In the evening we returned to the same restaurant having looked at the other menus on Khao San and had some cheap noodles and beer. Alicia was still trying to resist spice and alcohol, neither she was finding easy.
Thursday: We headed out to try and get the bus to some markets. We stood on the main road and after trying to wave down 3 buses that we wanted to get (the number 15) we figured out that they don't pull over or stop to let you on. You walk out to the middle of the road, they open their door and you jump on. The entire journey is 13 baht for the both of us (so much cheaper considering when we got the metro and tuk tuk it cost us around 170). The bus journey was long but not that crowded and it took us passed some more sights and monuments. We got off at the correct stop in Siam and started to wander down the road to the malls and markets the hostel advised us to visit.
We found our fist place 30 minutes walk from the bus stop. The Platinum mall, it was a huge multistorey mall crammed full of shops, all original, unbranded goods (clothes, shoes, jewellery - most for women). We spend a good few hours scaling the shops and floors before leaving to go to the market stalls outside.
I wanted to buy a few things for me but my journey was specifically to look for watches for me and my brother. The hostel recommended we look here. I started off well by buying 2 nice looking belts for 700 baht then started looking at watches. Jake (who we met in with Helen a couple of times in China) mentioned to us that he got a perfect Rolex replica for £40, so that was the goal. I didn't know much about watches but so was stoked when I haggled hard and got 3 for £40. I left the market delighted with what I bought, the watches looked good, they were Tag Heuer and were automatic; not battery. When I got back to the hostel room though I looked online and unfortunately all but 1 of the watches was a poor fake (2 of them didn't even exist, just random watches with Tag's label stuck on them - exactly what I was trying to avoid and not what either of us wanted). I later found that the one I kept with me (sent the other 2 back home) didn't even keep time.
Before leaving the markets however we walked back to Siam and into the plush Paragon (or as Alicia kept saying "Paragorn - too much LOTR) and went to watch Arnies new film "Last stand" that was out that day. The film, along with the Hobbit at New Year, came complete with ridiculous adverts ("cop cop cop, bird re do.....bird of do") and standing for an advert about the king. The film was a good laugh and once again Alicia ended up enjoying herself despite her protests in seeing it.
Friday: After not doing much the previous days we aimed to get out early but actually after breakfast in the hostel (our usual of peach shake and apple oats) we finally got out about 12. About 15 minute walk away, we could tell we were getting close as there was an increasing number of colourfully painted coaches. When we found the entrance we discovered we weren't wearing the correct clothes and we were a little shocked at the entrance fee (£10....a lot in Thailand). So we decided to give it a miss for the afternoon and to check out some of the other local sights nearby.
We headed to Wat Pho just around the corner despite a tuk tuk driver telling us it was closed and trying to sell us a trip to other sights.
Wat Pho was only 100 baht to get in (£2). Much more like it. It was very cool too. Lots of buildings and temple covered in mosaic and gold leaf. Everywhere you looked there was tombs scattering the Wat, all the memorials were in spire shapes of different sizes. The highlight of the Wat was the huge reclining Buddha. It was a bit of a scrum when we first visited it with many chinese and Indian tourists pushing everyone and each other out the way to try and get a photo (which was difficult and it was in a building just big enough for it and had supporting pillars that obscured shots and views). It was huge, 15 meters tall by 48 long, covered in gold, with huge head touching the ceiling and massive feet covered in detailed mother of pearl inlay on the soles (Alicia; Not to mention Buddha also had Craig David's hair from the noughties - little gold spikes :P)
After we left the reclining Buddha we stopped for an ice cream as it was another hot and humid day. After, we explored the complex more before the returned to the reclining Buddha for 1 last, more relaxed look just before leaving.
On the way back to the hostel we took an alternative route by walking along the riverside. It gave us a good view of the Temple of Dawn across the water as well as a chance to walk through more of a local market and area. We even bought a pineapple from a street vendor that he freshly prepared and expertly sliced for us.
Saturday: We read online in the morning that there was a Bangkok weekend market that was pretty much the daddy of all markets. It was held in Chatuchak with 40,000 stalls and 200,000 visitors a day. We were told we had to get number 3 bus from round the corner, but after nearly an hour of waiting and no bus we were pretty proud of ourselves that we were able to reroute ourselves successful (#15 bus to Siam, then the BST to the Chatuchak station). The journey took us a few hours in total, but as the train pulled into the station we could see the market roofs that seemed to go on for ever.
We only had a few hours there but it gave us enough time to have a good wander round and get sufficiently lost. Alicia spent most of that time looking for family gifts for people in Goa and I tried to find some better watches. Alicia bought a decent amount of stuff but we were still only half way there on gift buying.
As it was closing at 5pm we headed back to a packed metro then waited on the main road to grab the bus back. We decided to pick up some more street food, we had a 30 baht plate of chicken and noodles whilst wandering round Khao San, then stopped for a quick drink before heading back to the room.
Sunday: Alicia suggested we try to tick another item off our Bangkok wishlist and look into where would be good to see Muay Thai (like a more extreme Kickboxing - it's their national sport). After researching online we found the two most popular options were the very expensive fights at the 2 nearby stadiums in Lumpini (£40 each entry) and because it's only a show for tourists a lot of people found the fights and the local fighters a little lacklustre. We did by chance stumble across 1 comment that we looked into further regarding a weekly televised fight. It turns out it was held at channel 7 TV studio, it was free and unlike the tourist fights, brought in the best fighters from all over Thailand as it was televised around the entire country and was big for gambling. Best of all it was being held that day.
It just so happened that it was in Chatuchak again. So given the little time we had to get to the studio we decided just to take our alt. route to Chatuchak again.
Once off the train we followed vague instructions, then a few locals before finding the studio entrance. We got inside no problem and were instructed to stand on the bleachers in the small studio. The lights were all set up and the cameras and commentary organised so the fights started almost as soon as we arrived. We saw 6 or so fights, each starting with a ritualistic traditional dance to praise their trainer and bring them good luck.
The first fight had a knock out in the first round (front kick to the face). The next fight was the dullest with both fighters being very standoffish. The next fights were pretty entertaining, but the last fight was the highlight. Ending in a bloody and bruised draw much to the dismay of all the locals (98% of the audience) that only go to gamble with loud shouting and frantic hand movements.
After the fights were over we went back to the Chatuchak weekend market handily located practically opposite the studio so Alicia could finish her shopping.
That evening we went for food at our regular restaurant before discovering a bar/restaurant that sold a bucket of rum and coke for only 190 baht. The funny thing was, when it came out it was 2 empty glasses, 1 bucket of ice, 1 unopened bottle of Sangsom rum and 1 300ml bottle of coke. We immediately ordered more coke. About 1/2 way through the rum we realised that this was probably worst day to drink and the next day was the only day recently we had to be up early for a trip (Alicia had given up on not drinking too after less than a week.) The evening was pleasant though with the bar being located next to a live music bar that played great live blues music and acoustic covers.
Monday: 6am start, just enough time to get out of bed, grabbed a croissant from the restaurant and headed for the israeli owned tour company for starting our trip at 7am. Once on the bus, Alicia asks me why she feels so slow that morning, I have to explain, "we're hungover". After driving to various unrelated places to pick up and drop off random people (including 15 or so minutes waiting in a petrol station) we make our first stop of the tour at a floating market. We were a little disappointed as was touted as more a local market for people who live in the middle of the river. But it was just tourist rubbish at over inflated prices. We got stung buying fruit, however we still enjoyed them. We tried 2 fruits that I hadn't had before, we a bag of Mangostiens and Lychees and we sat on the river edge eating our way through them.
We ended the tour with a pleasant local motorised boat through the floating village seeing the houses all on stilts in the water and their small gardens/balconies full of flowers.
After the boat we headed back to our bus only to find they'd filled our seats with other people. The tour guide then shouted around to find us another bus, we ended up being placed on a bus with a couple of other people that had the same issue on different tour.
After a quick stop for lunch included in the tour, we got back onboard the reject bus for a long bus ride towards the border of Thailand / Burma to see the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. When we arrived at the Kwai museum we were told the bridge was 1 minute away and we only had 30 minutes before we moved on. We headed for the bridge but literally next door was a restaurant with a leopard on one of the tables! Random. I read the banner that they were from a nearby open zoo and they were collecting money for medicine for the leopard pups. It all looked legit enough (way too much effort for them to charge 100 baht on a private venture). They said for 100 baht you could feed and pet the young leopard. I jumped at the chance. I sat next to it, stroking with one hand as the trainer put bits of chicken in my other hand. It was great and nice to see the leopard playing around with the trainer a little later on. I was initially wary, I didn't want to encourage an animal like this to be a "show" animal.
After we headed to the bridge, took our pictures from a lookout point, then head across the bridge getting out of the way of a tourist train that'd run back and forth on the bridge. We read before we left that it's said that 1 person died for every sleeper laid on the 250 mile stretch of track. On the bridge itself I counted 776 sleepers.
There was no time for the museum before we were heading to the highlight of the day, the Tiger Temple.
Before we were allowed into the temple we had to sign an injury waiver and were told to be back at the bus at 4:10pm. We got in and immediately saw free roaming boars, antelope-esque beasties, cows and more. We wandered round for a couple of minutes before heading to Tiger Canyon. There was an announcement that they'd close the canyon soon, so we hurried down. We were greeted by 15 or so tigers spread out inside the canyon area. I was happy to see that the staff was 50/50 Thai/Westerners. We joined the short queue for our opportunity to get close to the tigers. I asked one of the workers (a girl from England) about the tigers, it turns out that the temple is an active monastery also, the tigers are hand raised by the monks from birth and in the morning they are given extensive exercise and then a large meal, it means they'll be sleepy in the afternoon sun (thankfully not drugged!), if a tiger gets up and walks around, they don't try to make it sleep, you simply don't visit that cat.
We got lucky, they said we'd visit 4 different cats, but we both got to get close to around 7 tigers of various size and awareness. Including a tiger that was awake but sat down (Alicia didn't get to visit that one), a tiger that was led on its back completely zonked out, 2 tigers sleeping next to each other and
the last, smaller tiger wasn't chained at all. Due to the high supervision involved (1 tourist to 2 staff) and us only having 1 camera, I went first and waited outside whilst Alicia went in.
After the excitement of that we were given the option to go and see a tiger cub or to stay and pay a little more to take part in the tigers evening exercise programme. We were told it'd finish at 4:10 (we'd have to run back to the bus) and cost 500 baht extra each. The first advantage was as everyone piled out of the canyon, we were able to "walk" the big alpha tiger (they claimed he was 500 pound), just on a leash and with a monk nearby. We had a few moments to walk the tiger and get our pictures before passing the lead off to the next person.
Afterwards everyone else had left the canyon, other than the 20 of us that'd paid extra. They started getting to work building a small cage for us to stand in. The cage was chest height and easy assemble / dismantle in the middle of the tiger canyon, next to the waterfall. We all walked in and the keepers set about setting all the tigers loose. It took a while for them to wake up fully. At first just sat, or would pat the water gently with their paw as if to test it.
But the staff soon brought out toys for them to play with, stalk and jump after etc. It was amazing to see them properly play fight with esch other, stalk the toys and other tigers as if going to attack prey as well as leaping off of rocks into the water. To be so close to them doing what they wanted was a great experience. On more than one occasion they did just remind us of oversized house cats.
It did overrun though, we were supposed to be back at our bus at 4:10pm, well that time came and went and we are still in the cage surrounded by tigers. It finally finished at 4:30 and we had to leg it back to our mini bus that was thankfully still waiting. Everyone else looked a little pissed off we were late, but it was so worth what we did it was hard for me to care in the slightest. Plus we still got back to Khao San just before 7pm, which was earlier than advertised.
Still buzzing from the experience we had we immediately found some Internet to upload pictures and email to family and then headed out to Khao San for another bucket of Sangsom and food at the same restaurant. What ever I had was so spicy I could only eat half of it and it destroyed my taste buds for the rest of the night, "unfortunately" all I had to quench my thirst was rum and coke.
Tuesday: A reasonably early start (for us), we grabbed more oats and peach shakes from the hostels restaurant before making sure we were dressed appropriately (this time) and heading into town to visit the palace. It turns out we still didn't have it quite right as they stopped Alicia entering with a shawl covering her shoulders, apparently that's not good enough and we had to queue to rent a unflattering pink shirt for her. It did go well with her purple "magic pants" though. The palace and temple complex took less time than we expected to wander round, but was still a spectacularly huge complex of gold temples, gold and jade buddhas and the grandiose Kings old residence, as well as a textile museum documenting the Queen's love of Thai fashion that Alicia enjoyed.
We knew that we would have to pick up our passports today, so after the usual bus and train we stopped off at the Paragon centre to pick up a Burger King. We were running out of money quickly and to save the expense of drawing more cash out, we tried to find things that'd accept credit card.
After lunch we headed over to pick up our passports, thankfully the queue wasn't that long at it was fairly painless. Around 2 hours later we were back at the Paragon to watch The Man With The Iron Fist. It was ok, and I loved the fact that with all the films we saw there, Arnie's was by far the best.
In the evening we went back to the restaurant we visited the night before (they took card), we had our Sangsom bucket, listened to blues and acoustic music from next door and I picked something much less spicy.
Wednesday - This was our "last chance to sort stuff out" day. We posted our last parcel back to UK with stuff we didn't think we'd need in India and Africa, or just thought it'd make packing and unpacking a little easier. We got last minute gifts from the market and headed to tick one final thong off the Bangkok wish list - a traditional Thai massage. 30 minutes cost us around 120 baht and involved everything from gently palming our back and neck, to kneeling on the back of our legs and cracking our backs (ouch).
We were supposed to feel relaxed, but we weren't sure that wasn't just pain we sort solace back at the same restaurant as the last 3 nights to listen to next doors live blues music. This time though we met 3 Swedish people (1 of whom was his birthday and had been given a Hello Kitty balloon that he was very proud of). So after we finished our usual bucket of Sangsom we went for a drink with them. It went a bit south when 1 of the girls who was SMASHED tried to quite aggressively/drunkenly come on to Alicia. It started off funny, but we decided to leave before it took a turn (she told me very seriously that if I didn't appreciate how pretty Alicia was, she was going to rape me....lol(?)).
Day : We were up and out for an early flight. With the little money we had left we managed to get the bus and a metro from our hostel to the airport. Luckily the right airport this time! We had no trouble with our flight, although it would be a long one. We found a low budget airline that'd go direct from Bangkok to Delhi in 3 hours for £100 each. However for our Cathay Pacific flights we had to fly all the back back to Hong Kong, then after 2 hours in the airport transfer to a flight to Delhi, totalling nearly 12 hours. Apparently that was cheaper though....mental.