Bangkok Part 2: Table Tennis Championships, Chang and Pad Thai

Arriving back in Khao San Road, we knew what to expect and where to head. Arriving at 3am wasn’t the best time to try to get a room and the ‘full’ sign was flashed repeatedly at every guest house and hotel we ventured into.
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In our attempts to gain accommodation, we waddle, backpack heavy, down Soi Rambutri at 4am. In the distance we see a group of hippy looking types playing the guitar and singing. How lovely. To our delight, Tim was sat, tapping his drum gently, smiling contently, feeling the music, happy. Random indeed. The family was reforming in Bangkok. Tim was in his element, we let him beat his drum and continued searching the hostels until we found one with rooms. Tim and Guy were living in Happy House on Soi Rambutri. Nordes and I ended up finding a cheap but extremely hot room in the Secret Garden Guest House right at the end.
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Our mission, Nordes, Guy and me, was to attain a visa to Myanmar, or Burma, same same, book flights and get to Yangon as soon as possible, before Bangkok ate us alive.
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We had to wait 6 hours for our room. We had minimal sleep on the overnight bus and were still a little wobbly from the sleeping tablets. With 6 hours to spare, Nordes and I, and a scouse fella we picked up along the way, decided on early morning drinks on Khao San Road, 6am. I noticed monks carrying large shiny black containers. They were collecting contributions from the shops for their monastery. A strange sight, traditionally dressed monks in their red robes without shoes, walking down the modern metropolis and drunken tourist hole that is Khao San Road. A drop of culture in the sea of commercialised western greed. We sank our Chang and ordered another. After dodging a few scary Khao San regulars we fall fast asleep outside the reception at our hotel before finally being allowed into our sauna of a room for some real sleep.
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When you travel, you meet many people who you like but forget quickly, you also meet twats, rarely, but more frequently on Khao San Road and then there are people you know will be friends for life. Joe and Phil from my earlier travels in India are two people that fall into the later. Their beautiful faces greet me on my first night in Bangkok with a few new faces, just as beautiful as Joe and Phil’s. This time round, Bangkok was what I thought it might be. Dirty, seedy and drunken but also beautiful, fascinating and modern.
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Our first night brought a gang of over ten dirty back packers together. Old friends reunited and new friends created. Dutch, French, English, Irish and Russian nationals were thrown into the mix. A great night out supported by Chang and Red Bull. Tomorrow, after some light hearted drinking, the start of our mission to gain access into Myanmar was to start.
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Waking up in bed sweating was a fitting start to my hangover. A fresh fruit shake, fruit salad and a pad thai prepared me for the day and soothed my aching and hungover body that is starting to slowly become less and less my temple. Guy, Nordes and I jumped on board the boat to ride down the Mae Nam Chao Phraya past Chinatown, through the heart of Bangkok towards Saphan Taksin. It’s a cheap alternative to traffic jams and the views were pretty nice too. Our mission was to get to the Myanmar Embassy to apply for our visa before midday. Jumping off the boat and straight on a very flash looking Sky Train that makes its way silently above the city and in between the tall buildings and skyscrapers, we managed to squeeze through the embassy doors before twelve, complete our forms and hand it in on time. God we were good. The high we were on lasted all day. Myanmar visas used to be notoriously difficult. The Planet installed doubt into our minds. Now it seemed, Myanmar were embracing tourism, making it a little easier than in previous years. The form was easy to complete, no references, no long forms, no problem.
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We headed to the infamous Siam Square by jumping back onto the Sky Train, taking in the sights of the skyscrapers, shopping districts and upmarket hotels that scatter this area. This part of Bangkok is clean, extremely clean and very westernised. It looked like Gotham City, a city from the future, the older and poorer parts of the city seemed a long way away from this futuristic metropolis. Thailand’s extreme wealth on display. Digital media is everywhere, on the train, at the station, on the buildings and in the shops.
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Siam Squares shopping district is spectacular. Bright lights, advertising and top brand shops everywhere. We visited the huge MBK shopping mall. There were dozens of legit shops selling branded goods but there were also hundreds of stalls selling fake electronics and clothing. Somehow, I bought a Kelloggs Frosties t-shirt. I like the sugary breakfast cereal but I still have no idea why I paid money to endorse this brand across my chest. I must have been caught up in the moment. Thailand does that to you.
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On our way back down the river, we stopped off at Chinatown and walked the compact and busy back streets, taking in sights of the hustle and bustle of the shops and market stalls. The back packing gods gave us Joe, Phil, Duncan and Jade as a present, we bumped into them on one of the back street markets. The products being sold were varied and in some cases bizarre. One stall cruelly selling shark fin. Duncan explained to me that when the fishermen catch the sharks, they cut off their fins and return them to the sea. Nasty trade. After a brief power nap, the team reunited and talked the night away, endorsed by Chang, SangSom and the Rasta Bar.
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 The following day was spent collecting our completed 28 day Myanmar visa. We were excited and anticipating adventure again. Although we could now buy our plane tickets we now needed to sort out the money problem. Here’s the deal. Concentrate, this was an ordeal that momentarily took us out of our higher state of happiness and made us work hard to escape Bangkok. Myanmar like to throw in the occasional challenge.
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Money in Myanmar
You can’t buy Myanmar Khat outside Myanmar. You must take in either Euros or USD and exchange it at the bank or via the black market. These USD notes must be brand new, never used before and straight off the press with absolutely no creases. We’ve been told there are no ATM’s that foreigners can use anywhere in Myanmar. So, individually we needed to get out 28 days spending money in Thai baht, take it to a specific bank in Siam that actually had stock of these particular notes and change it over to USD. We needed to escape Bangkok as soon as possible before it ate us up in drunken nights and table tennis competitions, so we booked our flight for Sunday midday.
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It’s Friday night. It’s the weekend, so the banks were shut. Step in Mr Dilemma. We were at that moment, knee deep in the particulars. There is an exchange shop in Siam open on Saturday. This is where we hit our next problem, our cards will only let us take out £250 a day. Alarm bells ringing loudly and the quiet voice in our minds warned us that we wouldn’t have enough money to take to Myanmar before Sunday’s flight. So we withdrew cash on Friday night and hoped the best for Saturday. Otherwise, well, I don’t know. But luckily for us, our cards let us withdraw on Saturday morning. All three of us now had our months worth of spending money for Burma in Thai baht. We immediately jumped into a tuk tuk who took us to Siam to get our hands on some clean and fresh US bills. Mission accomplished less than 24 hours before we fly. We are good at this. No hanging around, no dragging it out, results not reasons. Panic over. Smiles restored.
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We then rush around, packing, booking the taxi for the morning, buying shit t-shirts and sending fair well emails to our friends and family. We were told that there would be little web access in Myanmar. Being hugely paranoid about bending or ruining the crisp USD notes I tightly wrapped and pack them in the middle of my books. Sorted and ready for the morning, there was one last thing to do; good bye drinks with the team. Friends reunited and new ones made. Joe, Phil and Siobhan were all long term traveling lovelies of mine. After a few Chang’s things got emotional. I love you all.
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A small and minor detail I forgot to include amidst a couple of drunken nights out was the night of the ping pong show. This night was scandalous. I will repeat no more.
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I won’t let my word of honour slip. I’m a man of my word but I am going to discuss the tuk tuk journey to and from the venue, what happened inside the venue stays in the venue. There were three tuk tuks that set off from Khao San to the red light district. Over crowded and speeding, we survived races, wheelies, near crashes and break downs that needed a change of vehicle. The drivers were clearly drunk and driving like lunatics but to be fair, we weren’t the most placid of customers either. Racing in tuk tuks through the streets of Bangkok was irresponsible fun at its wildest. This was immature and dangerous but so much fun. When in Bangkok… Full stop.
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Thai people that work in and around Khao San Road that have to deal with drunk tourists have become less friendly and money driven. There are some that hate tourists but are happy to take the money, growling and being rude to us even when we are polite. Others have embraced the drinking culture and have grown drinking habits to match our own. One example was a Thai man I met outside Mama’s House across the street from Joe’s guest house. He was covered in tattoos, had bad teeth and swayed as he was constantly drunk or on meths. He had various debatable magic tricks with cigarettes. His favourite was running a lit fag up my middle finger and along my arm without it hurting me. His promise was that I wouldn’t feel it and he demonstrated on himself first. Obviously untrue, I let him burn my fingers twice before I realised that a life time of dealing with drunk tourists has made him the wrongun that he is today. These people however are usually friendly and treat you with respect. They want to be like the westerners. Few Thai’s are still their usual humble, polite and happy selves in this heaving tourist trap. To be truthful, if I had to deal with the heaving mass of the Khao San back packing faithful day in, day out, I’d loose the plot. However, my last few days in Bangkok left me with a rather disappointing opinion of Thai people. A large chunk of Thailand’s tourism is aimed at drinking, the sex industry and partying. This makes westerners look awful but also makes the local Thai people think that every tourist is an arsehole. If you escape the craziness of the tourist route, I’m sure you’ll meet the lovely Thai people I’d been told about. I just didn’t go to those places. Maybe on my return to Bangkok I’ll try and find the nice parts of Thailand.
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Some other crazy parts of my time in Bangkok involved…
Duncan receiving a tattoo from an old Thai man fucked on meth, on a night that Duncan can hardly remember. The tattoo, needless to say, went wrong and was left with some interesting wonky Thai writing down the entire length of his left calf.
Huge amounts of lady boys parading the streets.
The sex pest English man who followed us around for two nights. Weirdo.
The bar lady who told us to stop talking and order drinks immediately otherwise she would be told off by her boss. We left and went next door.
Being shouted at, again, for not buying a t-shirt.
Enjoying amazing Thai street food as well as enjoying a foot long Subway.
Being pictured with a smiling policeman in Siam Square.
Falling asleep with a random Scouser outside my hostel.
Group shot with Britney Spears.
Watching Guy sleep.
This crazy Thai lady collecting the tickets on our boat. I wanted to take her home. She growled and shouted at everyone but smiled on demand. Little treasure she was.
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Overall, my time in Bangkok was hectic, action packed, drunken and sleazy but lots of scandalous fun. The Hangover 2 captivates some of the antics that’s possible here. We packed in a lot to those days. We had a lot of fun. The group we recreated was full of fun, loving, caring and honest back packers who were on top form. But again, our Bangkok back packer family split and we went our separate ways, some in sub groups, others individually. It was time to get back to real traveling, back to back packing as I want it to be. Adventure ahoy. The three amigos. Destination Myanmar.
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I’m really fucking excited.
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I sit on a toilet at Don Muang Airport on Bangkok. There’s a clean western toilet with toilet paper. It’s spotlessly clean. Soulful jazz is playing softly. There’s movement detector taps and plenty of fresh smelling hand soap and moisturiser. There’s even a Dyson hand dryer, the one where you have to put your hands into and it blows air from two separate jets. It even counts down the seconds it should take to dry your hands completely. Extravagant luxury. An extravagant luxury that would be alien to my next 28 days in Myanmar. I don’t know how long I sat and enjoyed the luxurious comforts of one of Bangkok’s finest toilets, reflecting on my time in the tourist enclosure that is Thailand and my future exploits into the little traveled and unknown lands of Myanmar but I enjoyed my little moment of me time. How completely different my Indian and Thailand experiences have been. I’d seen tourism at its very worst and exploration at its most intriguing. I hope what they used to call Burma will give me more adrenaline fueled life experiences. I want culture, I want to meet locals, I want to see and experience new things. I want to be wowed, I want to be frustrated, I want to learn, I want to explore, I want to see villages built from bamboo, I want to sleep in monasteries, I want to meditate on a mountain, I want to speak their language and I also want to sink a local beer and watch the Liverpool and Man Utd game tomorrow. I want it all Burma, my expectations are high. Good bye to you Thailand and your comfy toilets and you’re Starbucks hot chocolate and cinnamon whirls.
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Thought of the day: Old white men with young Thai girls. I’m not one to judge but…. Somewhere in this crazy world, somewhere, there is a thing called love.
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