It's a long old 20 hour journey on the train from Penang, Malaysia up to Bangkok. It's not actually more than about 600 miles, but the trains go so slow you can hang out from the doors and touch the passing trees if you like. When you do finally get into Thailand the locals turn the style k*** up a notch or two thankfully. A hot food carriage gets attached so you can sample your first tastes of thai curry, but better than that you can wash it down with ice cold Singha beer loaded on board in huge ice boxes. I was traveling up with a graduate doctor I'd met in Penang, a student from some north England paradise he said called Sheffield. I've never heard of it personally.
Now in my head, Bangkok was like this; it's always dark, it's always teaming with people; it's always full of sweaty Thai's trying to rip you off; and the whole place is one big cat eating flea market, much like I seem to recall Leonard DiCaprio wading through at the start of The Beach. Oh and it's compulsory you drink snake blood.
It's very much not like that. When you hit Bangkok you see that's they're actually like tall buildings, it's light, there's huge malls just like Slingapore, and they've even got a spanning most of the city. The next thing that hits you is that the food is amazing. Sitting down to a thai red chicken curry with the creamiest coconut sauce ever in my hostel after arriving at lunch time was bliss.
In fact if you don't like eating fish head like me food has improved vastly from Malaysia. And now, thanks to the half day cookery course I took the other day, I can now cook some of it! It aint diet food, and my do they not skimp on the garlic, but it's bloody delicious. The full menu was proper egg fried rice, spring rolls (rolled from scratch!), thai green chicken noodle curry and fried banana. Four of us cooked in this local fellas house outside on his balcony and then sat and ate on his floor, after first having gone around the local market and bought all the ingredients from scratch! Their market was stunning, with the freshest food ever, and variety we could never match in England; you could find three different types of fresh ginger and fresh shredded coconut to make your own coconut milk. A great morning that was.
After being in Bangkok for a couple of days you gradually get your head around it. The place is massive; 9 million people massive. I've mostly just explored the old part, with all the stunning palaces, where thankfully all the backpackers places are as well. This is also home to the infamous Khao San Road. I went there once, it's pretty much as you'd imagine, a cross between Las Vegas and Blackpool. It's a busy mess of cheap beer, food, huge neon, fake watches, dvd's, and stalls selling every fake id imaginable; you can even get yourself a Lufthansa pilots licence! Best not fly Lufthansa eh?
To get around there's the licensed taxis or Tuk Tuk's. The taxis are everywhere, and if you get them to use their meter amazingly cheap; you can travel about 6km for a quid. They'll try it on first and ask where you want to go and how much you want to pay, but you just say meter until they get bored. Now the Tuk Tuk's I don't really get; riding in one as we did when we initially got here is similar to holding your mouth to a car's exhaust pipe whilst taking large deep breaths, whilst the driver charges well over the taxi and veers in and out of traffic appearing as if he's trying to kill himself and anyone he can take with him.
Sometimes you have to be a tourist, so a couple of days ago it was a day trip to the River Kwai to go and meet Alec Guinness, who inconsiderately didn't turn up. I can't really remember much of the film, but the whole place seemed to look a lot different; the bridge definitely did but that was because it was rebuilt after being bombed during WWII. After that it was a ride on the Death Railway, built by POW's all the way to Burma from Thailand so Japan could invade. Thousand's of POW's died making it, so I took a photograph. The highlight of the day was a ride on some elephants, which I felt slightly uneasy about, but they seemed happy enough and let's face it we'd all like to ride an elephant. I did pass though on a visit to the Tiger Temple, where you can stroke and touch tigers just like they're your cat! Rumour has it they drug them to stop them ripping you're head off…