Khao San Road
Dive Shops, T-Shirts, Cafes, Internet, Hotels, International Phone Call, Bars, Cash Machines, Travel Agents, Massage, Handbags, Fried Noodles, Money Exchange, Night Clubs, McDonald's... the camera simply can't capture it all.
My initial reaction when I arrived in Thailand was that I'd returned to civilisation. Coming into Bangkok in an air conditioned bus, where everyone has a seat and sits quietly minding their own business was certainly a novelty for me.
The overnight flight took about 5 hours so there was little time to sleep on the plane before arriving around 6am. Khao San Road is essentially backpacker central and where I headed to find the budget accommodation. I found the first on my list and met with the owner of Doner's Guest House. Unfortunately his rooms were full but perhaps some would be free later if I came back around check out time. He was extremely friendly about it and I was tired so I asked if he wouldn't mind me coming in. It would be about a 2 hour wait but I'd travelled all night, it was my first time in Thailand and I was just glad to get off my feet for 5 minutes and buy some water. Just 10 minutes later I was offered a clean, air conditioned room with en-suite for just 300 baht a night and found myself gratefully crashed out. A jolly nice guest
Glistening new shopping centers
A cinema foyer fit for movie stars.
house it turned out to be too.
Bangkok is a big city and many travelers are simply catching flights, trains or buses further afield. Others are here to indulge in the sex trade or find themselves a girlfriend. I didn't feel the need to seek out the go-go bars, kathoey cabarets or lady boys to get a feel for Thailand. And for a while I just couldn't help but wonder how many of the girls flirting about the place were actually blokes. I found it all quite unsettling. All the girls in Thailand incidentally are absolutely drop dead gorgeous. That is, all the real ones. Or at least those I could convince myself were not blokes. Fortunately when you meet one, they tend to make it blindingly obvious who they are. It's not like they can hide the deep voice. If in doubt check for the Adams Apple. Even then you can't be 100%! But most won't try to trick you. There seems to be quite a big market for lady boys. As I was saying, all the girls are petite, slim and look absolutely great. And it seems tourists can't resist great looking Thai birds. The number of
Bangkok by Night
The modern sky train makes Bangkok every bit the technological mega-metropolis I imagined it would be.
westerners with Thai girls on their arms is astounding. None of the girls are fat because they eat Thai sized portions of rice. Oh that and prawns… and barbecued insects. I'm told the silkworm is not bad and the cockroach better than expected.
But instead of entertaining myself with the freaks or crunching up a brunch, I decided to check out the glitzy new shopping malls around Siam Square. The Thai don't do things by halves and there is no doubt that the shopping centers are built to impress. You can find everything from the latest electronics to designer clothing. The Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin showrooms certainly caught my eye along with state of the art surround sound home cinema demonstrations on massive flat screen HDTV sets. I ended up on the top floor at the latest ultra modern cinema with a VIP ticket to watch Blood Diamond. The cost was comparable to England but with a difference; I had an electronically controlled reclining arm chair, 2 cushions, a blanket and free drinks. The cinema which is of a pretty standard size had a capacity of just 32 recliners arranged in discreet pairs of 2. So having the
Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace
More people and magnificent temples than you can imagine squeezed into such a small space.
pair to myself I threw off the sandals, put my feet up and reclined back to watch the show. But I soon had to jump to my feet again when I realized the Thai national anthem was about to be played. The King is well respected in Thailand and people show their respect by wearing yellow t-shirts. You soon get to know his face because his picture is posted up pretty much everywhere.
Generally speaking the Thai are a very honest and respectful people. However you can still find your fair share of corrupt rickshaw drivers. What Asian country would be complete without them? It comes with territory - they are practically part of the furniture. Most will charge the same as (or likely more than) the abundant supply of air conditioned metered taxis. And it won't be long before you meet one of their associates. Smiley Thai helpers loiter around popular tourist hot spots and they seem only too pleased to be giving out free independent advice. Much to their credit they do an amazing job of starting friendly idol conversation such as where your from, how long you've been in Bangkok, what your plans are and what
Anyone for some gold leaf?
sights you've seen. Unfortunately this is a cover for the fact they are in league with the tuk-tuk drivers. Their pitch begins by providing useful information about Bangkok and various sights you may want to see before magically pulling out a free tourist map and pen to begin marking places that maybe of interest to you. After quickly working out a possible route for you, the talk smoothly transitions to the point of all this politeness; the cheap and easy way your going to see all these attractions and like clockwork a tuk-tuk arrives out of nowhere at the raise of an arm. A half days sight seeing tour for 20 Baht? How could you refuse? The amazing thing is that without a word from your friendly helper the tuk-tuk driver knows exactly where you want to go as you are whisked off on a set tour to various shops and travel agents. To be fair, if you can resist the hard sell and bargain away the drivers commission - it may well be a cheap and convenient way to see some sights, wrap up your travel plans and do some shopping. How else can the small operators compete with
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Orange and green roof tiles, mosaic-encrusted pillars and rich marble pediments. It's a fairly special building.
the big guys down Khao San Road? Well I wouldn't trust them as far as the tuk-tuk disappears into its smokey trail. They are so well rehearsed that its difficult to tell whether or not they are in fact just being friendly or are going to drop the tuk-tuk for 20 baht bomb shell. So at the mere mention of tuk-tuk it's do or die and so I'd quickly thank them for the information, explain that I'd consider taking the tuk-tuk tomorrow and proceed to 'go use the internet' or something. I can accept that they may be telling a few fibs or have less than competely honest intentions. But its amazing how quickly their smile disappears and they become disgruntled even after a polite rejection. Which incidentally makes for a relatively easy get away... but it all results in a rather distasteful experience.
For the few days I was in Bangkok I busied myself with some of the main attractions such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and China Town. But all this minding your own business and politeness was making me feel uncomfortable. The sex trade seems to be all a bit out of control. So I
These monkey statues look bit scary and do a good job at holding up the palace. He's a demon and sentry guarding the temple. Good job.
was soon looking to get booked up with a good dive center and move on to the island of Koh Tao where I would be able to chill out and have some fun.
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