Khao San Road for seven whole nights. I’d rather be locked up in a cage with Freddy and Jason.
Bangkok sucks you in. Puts you in a daze and somehow, you come out. Alive but in doubt of your sanity.
Let’s go back to the beginning….
Mama’s Guest House has a bar downstairs and also houses a variety of Thai people who are related to Joy, I’m presuming she is the Mama. In order to get to the stairs that take me to my sweat box room dorm, next to the bar room, I need to walk through the sleeping area, where babies, children, dogs and adults sleep on what looks like a double sized double bed. Conditions are cramped, there’s always someone sleeping, 24/7. It’s a bizarre set up.
My dorm has a fan. Bangkok is hot, humid and sticky. The fan does little to stop the inevitable. You get what you pay for. Mama’s is no thrills. It attracts the strange. Even the dogs were strange.
Guy and I up with Joe and his new found lady friends Lisa and Bina. These girls were a laugh. We drank the usual large quantities of alcohol and talked of great things, that will on one day in the future, never change the world. As usual, we attract other members of our hostels and venture out into the depths of the dark, dirty and extremely seedy Khao San Road.
This is when every night goes wrong. Khao San Road is the devil of Bangkok. Be warned. Joe and Guy ended up watering the pavement down an alley with this sign on it. Round of applause for team Britain.
An argument broke out with a local. The Thai dude has obviously caught many a dirty back packer relieving their bladders down his alley and has decided to invent a scam to gain revenge. Joe and Guy both tried to leave but he got violent. He was really pissed off and wanted his money. In the end, the Italian stallion Mario paid the extremely irate Thai dude off and the lads escaped unhurt. Lesson learned. Do not piss down an alley that has a ‘do not piss down this alley or you will be fined by an angry Thai dude’ sign. Just another night in Bangkok.
Drum and bass in Bangkok. Nice.
I woke up hungover. Not the best way to be on my ‘fix my camera at the Sony repair center’ day. There was a hair that had managed to work its way onto the lens. I managed to locate the 511 bus and it took me some of the way towards the Sony Repair Center place I needed to go on Petxhburi Road. The 99 bus took me the rest of the way. I sat down in the spotless and very modern Sony Repair Centre’s leather chair and started to rant about the issue. The dude looking at my camera seemed confused. The hair had somehow managed to lodge itself free, thus making my Sony camera fault free. A miracle. It fixed itself. I laughed with the Sony man. He thought I was nuts. I stunk of booze and still feeling partly drunk from the night before. I must have, again, represented the UK in the only way I know how.
Smiling and on top of the world, my camera problems were relieved. Momentarily. I was blissfully unaware of the fun I was to have over the next few days.
As I walked down Petchburi Road I clocked a variety of malls and exclusive shopping outlets. This place was über modern and brand heavy. I spotted the sky bar that was featured in Hangover 2. According to my sources, It’s a tenner a drink up there. Shame I never made it.
I popped into the Palladium Fashion Mall. Six floors of fashion clothes only. It was mobbed but the air con was a welcome break from the heat outside. I walked, indecisively not buying any of the thousands of t-shirts on sale. After frustrating myself, a young guy from Singapore and I went in on a deal and bought 10 between us making each t-shirt just over £2. Bargain. Crap printed t-shirts that I’ll never wear in any other country. Just what I needed.
My shorts, dirty from life on the road, were in need of some replacements. Signs are in shops declaring that no trying on is possible and they don’t give any change. No refunds either. How customer focused. I found a tiny shop that could accommodate my need to try on some shorts before purchasing. I bought two pairs. The dude was charming. The first good customer service experience in Thailand. Well done fella.
That night my SD card failed. I had lost my pictures again. That’s the second SD card to go. I tried to buy a ticket for Future Music Festival in Malaysia with my credit card, that also failed. PayPal failed too. Fustrated.com. Bangkok was already getting to me. I stopped trying to sort things out as Chang o’clock was calling. Joe, Lisa, Guy, Bina and the gang entertained me for the night.
Bangkok has a variety of weird and really weird sales people. They sell things you don’t want or need. Some are persistent some are rude, some are children and some are old ladies. This little angel was particularly annoying. Trained to be rude and to hit tourists until they give her money. Sad.
That night we ate scorpion.
And I believe someone bought one of those silly hats.
The next few days was spent going to IT world and the Platinum Mall on Petchburi Road. I had numerous issues with my pictures, numerous viruses on my USB sticks and stupid computer experts who kept giving me more and more viruses. After a few visits, a load of scary moments and a lot of waiting around I had my pictures back and in one place. Too much of my time and effort was wasted on this issue but I love my pictures, they are my memories of this incredible journey. I’ve learned my lesson, don’t use virus infected Internet cafes and buy a cheap laptop. Loosing all my pictures and having to get them recovered plays with my emotions. I’m not into that.
It was Chinese New Year and all the Chinese people were pretty happy folks. While in the six story mega mall for electronic goods, waiting for my pictures to be recovered by the useless recovery dudes, I saw a massive Chinese dragon, operated by 20 dedicated small Chinese guys. They weaved through the customers and up the escalators. I even found one of the fella’s on the boat back home.
That night we went out to Chinatown and partied with the Chinese peoples and a bunch of tourists. Most of the activities and fireworks happened earlier in the day, but the streets were still heaving. Food stalls were busy and the masses blocked the traffic attempting to squeeze through. Mayhem. In trying to locate something of interest we met a Russian dude who spoke Thai to an American, who also spoke Mandarin. Quirky. Any ways, the Chinese New Year was popular, thousands were off work and Bangkok was flooded with tourists with Chinese decent.
We escaped to Patpong. Not exactly the best escape plan in the world but when you’re a wee bit tipsy and end up in a gay bar on gay street in the gay quarters of Bangkok, it all seemed worth it.
I’ve been to gay bars before. They are fun and full of the outrageous. Mischievous fun and full on party antics. But this was different. There were a lot older and larger white tourists sitting drinking with younger Thai boys. Fun didn’t seem to be high on the agenda. There were a lot of sad and serious faces. Maybe they could smell the heterosexual on us, maybe we were having too much fun. It was weird. I liked it.
Patpong is the capital of the sex show areas in Bangkok. We swerved these establishments and the ping pong balls. It was interesting to see but we’d done our token ping pong show on a previous trip. The area boasts a market selling sex toys, dangerous weapons and everything contraband. Bangkok is a crazy place that can’t surprise me any more. Not even being offered young boys for the night phases me. The city of sin.
We haggled a tuk tuk down and we enjoyed our last night together at the Rasta Bar. The rasta bar is owned by Thai rasta’s, plays reggae music and has a nice crowd compared to the knobends that grace the Khao San Road. In the morning, everybody left to go their separate ways. I was on my own. My weird and wonderful collective of traveler buddies and my good self said our emotional farewells and parted ways. At this point I continued to sort out my pictures issues as they got worse and better daily, and I started to detox. Thailand sucks you into a life of sin. I needed some goodness in my life and I was determined to find it. In Bangkok.
No more alcohol Michael. It’s bad for you in large quantities.
Hungover, I awoke and stumbled onto Soi Rambuttri. I saw a German dude I met from the previous night eating breakfast on the street. He was going to see a monk in the local monastery with a couple of other German back packers. I went with them. No idea what I was letting my hungover and broken little brain in for. Goodness was waiting for me.
I met the English speaking guru Manit. He gave us a lesson in vipasanar meditation. A three and a half hour lesson. I learnt how to do the walking meditation thing. I took it all in. My mind was on overload. Still running through the hilarious antics of last night in the gay part of Patpong. I was happy I went, sad I was so hungover. I was invited to attend some meditation classes. I accepted and planned a visit.
With the team now dispersed around Asia I located a gym on Khao San Road. It had a Muay Thai boxing ring and martial arts area. I smashed my first workout in four months and took a sauna afterwards. I felt amazing. Exercise releases natural endorphins. I was on overload. A bloody gym in the middle of Khao San Road. I knew I’d find something good in the devils street. I loved it. I ate a green curry and sipped on a huge fruit shake. Healthy again, I was to avoid drinking alcohol for at least another day. I’m jumping from the extremes of binge drinking to extreme healthy living styles. Interval training at its best.
The following day saw me loose my pictures to more viruses. Thailand’s Internet cafes are riddled with viruses. I felt like I was going round in circles. I was on a real low. Speaking to Charley and my lovely family really cheered me up. I hit the gym again. My driving license must turn up soon. I need to escape the drunken twats of Khao San Road. When you sober up it’s a dark, dark place. A shining example of whats wrong with society. The devils playground. Our dirty pleasure.
They love their king in Thailand. He gets everywhere. Billboards, monuments, poster. He’s a popular guy. You can get put in jail for speaking badly of him. Say nice things only.
Enjoying the western benefits that Bangkok has to offer, I had a Starbucks hot chocolate the following morning. It was heaven. I then spent the next three hours recovering my pictures from the clutches of 5000 viruses that the data recovery people had originally given me. There was a lady at the desk, who complained of the same issue. This dude had obviously set these viruses wild on lots of others computers too. Prize jobsworth. Thanks you twat.
My pictures were finally sorted and I was on a high. Again. My only issue was to decide whether to go to Laos or Cambodia. Funemployment is tough.
After a run in the morning I decide to do my tourist duties and visit the temples and stuff tourist people do. The Grand Palace was first on my list. Due to Chinese New Year there was an influx of Chinese tourists. The Palace was mobbed and at 500B, ten English pounds, I decided to give it a miss. I’ve seen a lot of temples and stuff. I don’t need to pay to see more. However, the army dudes with the big guns impressed me. They impressed me even more when they started stamping their feet on the ground. Menacing little fellas.
The local boat took me across the river for 3B to Wat Arun Rajwararam. A decent looking pagoda made from unsold Chinese crockery back in the day. Once I’d climbed the steep stairs to the top I discovered a decent view of Bangkok city. After all this time I’d spent in Bangkok I was finally seeing some culture and learning about its history.
Wat Pho was pretty impressive too. Free for Thai people but 100B for tourist folk, Wat Pho was well worth the money. Included in the entrance fee was free chilled drinking water. Bargainous. I suppose the main attraction is the dozens of Buddhas scattered around the grounds and that huge reclining Buddha in that really big building. It seemed silly to have such a large Buddha in a building that wasn’t much bigger. You couldn’t marvel at its entire size, just small portions. I suppose the reclining Buddha’s in Bago, Myanmar had set the standard. Either way, it was till pretty large.
The temples and monasteries looked impressive inside Wat Pho were perfectly kept with fresh paint work. Although the tourists piled in, yet it still had a relaxed and calm feel, Buddhism has that effect on people.
In between the pagoda’s, shrines, temples and Buddha statues I spotted a large group of trainee monks sitting what looked like an exam. Strange to host it somewhere that has thousands of pilgrims and tourists pouring through the gates. However, the monks worked hard and the tourists stayed respectful. All that meditating must help focus the mind.
Inside the grounds they have a dedicated and world famous massage school. However, they like to charge top whack so I opted to stay loyal to my Khao San Road ladies who clearly have no idea what they are doing.
Walking the grounds I felt at peace. Despite the tourists, the ambience got me in the mood for a quick meditation. After all the stress I’d put my brain under, it was time to give it a well deserved treat. A brief respite from the hectic streets of Bangkok.
At the entrance there was a festival feel. A man was filming for local TV, a tent had monks accepting donations and offerings while they blessed them over the loud speaker system while music was being played. Another tent had boards you could write your wish on. If you donated some money then the wish would be granted, presumably by a monk. It was all go.
I popped back to Khao San Road and met up with old time India and Koh Phangan compardrez Christian from Chile. We went to the monastery for meditation. He’d just completed a vipasanar 10 day retreat and Manit had just given me his knowledge. I was pumped and ready to meditate.
However, proceedings weren’t as we’d presumed. We signed in and climbed the stairs to the meditation room. The chanting continued for a complete hour. By this time Christian had left, but I was adamant that I wanted to meditate. One of the core disciplines of vipasanar is patience. I was to practice this. When the chanting ended an old dude in the usual Buddhist colours of red and orange graced the stage. He proceeded to talk, in Thai, forever. I gave up after an hour and a half. No meditation, no zen, no inner chee. I spotted these little rubber dolls on a street stall. Barbie doesn’t sell out in Thailand.
That night I met up with Christian and a Thai chick he met in Koh Phangan. She was there with her pals. A strange bunch. The token gay friend, a trendy camp makeup artist. The large, smiling and overtly bubbly bar girl who served us a treat of alcoholic beauties. The cute vintage dressed media chick. The lesbian DJ. The night was interesting. My first ever interaction with young, Thai, party people. It was like hanging out in London, Thai style. These hip young Thais having the same lifestyle as any other westerner.
We sank drinks and talked. We walked down to Khao San Road to see all hell breaking loose. The bars were hectic with binge drinkers. Thai tramps, street kids and back packer boozers started a street dance to Gangnam style. My bed was calling. Khao San was full of prize muppets. I’d overdosed on Bangkok. My time to escape was soon.
I received my parcel. Driving License, sun lotion and a wallet. A real western man wallet. I declined another night out with Thai girls as I wanted to be sober for my journey up north the following day. Bangkok had got to me. I spent the day sorting out my pictures and doing general stuff on the Internet. I had a foot massage with Christian. A day like this is needed every now and then. I was in bed early and up early.
I took the 53 bus to Hua Lamphong Station to buy my ticket to Chang Mai. The Information help desk outside the station had an extremely helpful English speaking attendant. She asked me questions relating to my onward travel and took me to the counter to buy a ticket for me. Helpful to the extreme. It’s so easy to travel here. The station reminded me of a European built station. It was clean and smart. Branded shops served food and drink. There was even seating for waiting passengers. Monks get first dibs on the seats as standard.
Although it was more expensive than the bus, and considerably longer, I wanted a train experience in Thailand. The cheapest ticket available was a second class air con sleeper. I opted for bottom bunk.
While waiting for my bus back to the hell hole I live in, I have a brief conversation with a Thai fan wearing a Liverpool shirt. The bus back took us ages. My first experience of the famous Bangkok traffic jams. By this stage of my journey, I was familiar with Bangkok. I got out and walked the rest of the way, it was quicker than waiting on the bus.
As I walked through the now familiar streets around backpacker central, I felt a sense of happiness with my familiarity. The same feeling you get when you settle somewhere and know the area well. I almost longed to have a home. Something I don’t have. I’ve been drifting around Asia for almost five months and have rarely stopped anywhere for longer than a few days. Bangkok has been the place I’ve spent the most time in since I left England back in October 2012.
I pack my stuff, say goodbye to my rather strange and dysfunctional, adopted Thai family at Mama’s Guest House and feast on what is to be the finest green curry I have ever tasted. I was ready for my 14 hour train journey.
With only India and Myanmar giving me experiences on trains in Asia, my expectations were low. Anything more than a dusty and dirty slab of foam that is too small to stretch out on and I would have been pleased.
I was blown away by what I received. I laughed in amazement for several minutes.
This is what I got…
- Train is spotlessly, perfectly clean
- Toilets have a butt gun, sinks and soap
- 4 beds to a berth, instead of the usual 9
- No rats or cockroaches
- Air con was freezing cold to the extreme
- Bed was huge and included a soft mattress and a curtain for privacy
- Bedding and two pillows provided
- Fold out tables
- Electricity sockets
I was genuinely shocked. I liked it. I froze that night but I liked it. I sat next to a Malaysian dude from Chinese decent.
Note: Never discuss the Dalai Lama or Tibet with a Chinese man. Differences of opinion can occur.
The train took 16 hours. I was late to meet my pals but it was well worth it, my little luxurious treat after 7 nights at Mama’s. My toes frozen through I was glad to pull into Chang Mai. New adventure calling.