Bangkok: it's own Dark Knight

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July 20th 2012
Published: July 27th 2012
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Exciting, exhilarating, charming, chaotic, noisy, naughty - it really does represent an oxymoron if ever we saw one - yes more so than Dubai! We arrived and spent a little while queuing to get the magical 30 day visa that one gets when arriving by air as opposed to the 15 days which wouldn't have given us enough if arriving via land. We then tried to hunt down the shuttle that the Lonely Planet guide told us about, but we are sure you have read enough of these blogs to know we cannot trust the LP guide! We had no place to stay but knew we wanted to head to the traditional backpacker area, the infamous Khao San Road. We had chatted to a couple on the plane who were transitting through headed to Chiang Mai but gave us a name of a "decent" place. Decent definitely loosely describes somewhere you drop your bags and head out for fear of falling over one another in the crammed space and surviving enough to not have bed bugs. So we decided to take their free lead not knowing anything more than a name and road.

The shuttle it turns out did not exist so we were faced with a taxi but luckily an Australian guy asked us how to get to Silom, we said we didn't know but share a taxi, we asked the name of his hostel and sure enough it was the same one- Lub*d - a good recovery Bangkok. So we bartered for the taxi and headed out, while in the taxi although dark we could see our map to see enough this was nowhere near Khao San! Ah slight problem then, we chatted to the guy who informed us Silom is a 200baht tuk tuk away, our budget is 1500 baht a day so not so bad we guess as we were hoping that accommodation was around the 400 we were paying in the north of the country. We pulled up at the hostel and firstly noted this was a 5star flash packer hostel a term that pretty much means the Eton boys way of backpacking- girls carry wheelie cases of Louis Vuitton and have taxi transfers not shuttles etc. we checked it out and discovered a private room would set us back 1600baht, having already paid 300 for the taxi we definitely were not falling at the first hurdle.

We said our goodbyes and bartered a tuk tuk for 180 hurtling us through the bustling Chinatown which was pretty cool seeing lit up neon at night. We arrived at Khao San just after 8pm and it was in full swing! We navigated us and our bags and stopped at the first place we thought looked decent. Ben had been here before and stayed at two different places behind the main area but dodging people with heavy packs meant we would settle! The first place was decent enough we could only just walk around the bed and the bathroom was, well, weird to be honest a large step up to the toilet and a hanging shower head next to the wall facing a sink, basically no space to have a shower. It set us back 800 so half the price of the last place and with a safety deposit box we chanced our luck for the night. Our grumbling bellies prevented us from freshening up (sorry parents we have become hippies) and headed to get some street food that smelled divine as we walked in. Ben got some pad Thai which was the nicest he had tasted for 25baht (50p) and Lauren got a couple of chicken pieces with pineapple and we shared a sticky rice and mango washing it down with a beer and fanta, all in all spending 160baht bringing our total in for the day at 1440 so we treated ourselves to a chocolate bar each! It was loud as our hostel was below an all night bar but it turns out every hostel is above or beneath said bars, there is no sleep to be had on Khao San so be smart get a room with a tv to sound cancel!

Thursday rudely awoke us as the streets were being cleaned following the carnage the night before and thoroughly disturbed our slumber. We showered in the most peculiar fashion and headed to check out,in a quest of food the night before we happened upon another hostel that was 50baht cheaper and had a roof top pool and a nice bathroom! We headed two doors down checked in and once our valuables were deposited in the safety box we headed out. The first mission was to get to HSBC. We had read online there was one branch in Bangkok, indeed Thailand, and as we could withdraw for free there we wanted to raid the ATM. It turned out our map was not entirely to scale and having walked over an hour we weren't even half way! We were navigating well until roadworks appeared but a friendly Thai set us right but advised the metro that started in five minutes walk would make the next hours walk significantly shorter! We had enjoyed the first walk it took us through the heart of Chinatown which was as cool as at night vividly watching local Chinese sell their teas and spices and every dish imaginable and we had walked over a few of the canal bridges, of this dubbed Venice of the East, but the subway was a definite rest bite easy enough to use we were five minutes from the bank only ten minutes later.

But I'm guessing people have been reading the news and indeed many know why I left Lauren left her job at this bank? Of course there were big changes at this bank and they had withdrawn their retail banking sector. Strike of the bad luck haunts again where is the black widow hiding seriously?! So we had several attempts of speaking to England who told us that they couldn't do anything as it was too early in the UK (24 hour banking?!) they could get us money for free from our bank account to a Western Union, but WU would charge us £25! No thank you! So the only option was to get to any ATM take the hit of 150-300 baht per withdrawal and be seriously peed off that we pay for an account where this shouldn't happen! The most frustrating part has to be it was now 12.30 and realistically we had achieved nothing!

Well on to the next place. Lauren wanted to see the new city. This is described as anything east of train station. The old city which houses Khao San and most attractions of the Wat description was tomorrows plan. The new city is a skyline of skyscrapers and construction and Siam Square our destination was shopping capital. We didn't want to shop but had been impressed with Dubai's mall that we wanted to see the East's answer. We walked instead of taking the sky train, how savvy we have become, Fran you shall be impressed! We passed Erawan Shrine which was a homage to Brahma the Hindu god of creation and creating fortune (god knows we needed some) and it is said that when such fortune is granted music and dance is given in return so we took the time to listen to this and observe the local Thais praying for luck. We entered the first of two malls. Central plaza was pretty impressive with an ice rink and eight floors of shopping. We wanted to get on the Internet as wifi was costing everywhere and tried McDonald's but it didn't have any but our grumbling tummies made an appearance and for 100baht each we had a decent meal. We headed to the other mall, Paragon Mall, the biggest in south east asia, and it was pretty good! Perhaps we did get some fortune as we noticed a poster for the cinema showing The Dark Knight Rises was released today, a day early than the UK! We hadn't thought we could see this before a months time in Kuala Lumpur. We found our way though the maze of escalators to the top floor and we were in luck there were tickets available for ten minutes time and it won't be dubbed just Thai subtitles, result! This was totally unexpected and made us forget about everything for the next 2 hours 45 minutes. The film as some readers will have watched was just incredible and we won't say any more except Lauren really went for it in the crying department! We stood at the beginning as the national anthem was played, traditional in Thailand, and was actually quite a moving composition with pictures of the royal family and local Thai people in a montage on the screen.

We left the cinema on somewhat of a high and stumbled upon a coffee house where we shared a strawberry smoothie- we hadn't been able to get one since the trip started as strawberries were off season and it is Lauren's favourite (bloody hell fortune!) and got on the Internet! Jobs done we decided to head back to our hostel area, we had wanted to see more of the modern city but it was now getting on for 6pm and we didn't know how far the walk would be. Turns out quite a while, we passed the top streets of Chinatown and entered eerie quiet town. We passed many a traffic jam convincing ourselves that we would be quicker than a tuk tuk. We passed several Tesco superstores and hundreds of 7Eleven's which are the norm on the streets of Thailand! We didn't go wrong but felt we must be when we stopped passing people,and street food stalls. We did pass another famous Wat and ended up by the royal palace, which meant we were close just we walked a right angle rather than cutting through diagonally. A guy tried to tell us to follow him to a bus that would take us to Khao San but we were there in ten minutes, either he didn't think we could walk or we thwarted a scam, either way we were happy but it was now 7.30pm pretty dark and we were hungry!

More street food satisfied our stomachs and with that we bounced up and down the many stalls soon realising everything was repeated, you saw one t shirt you saw the same everywhere, we treated Lauren to some hippie trousers and marvelled at what the UK police would think of all the counterfeit goods from DVD's CD's to Mac make up and Billabong shirts and shorts. We headed back to the new room and tried to get a decent nights sleep following a day that took it out of us emotionally and physically and to some extent mentally.

Unfortunately (looks like that went) we awoke to rain which put a damper on our plan to go for a lazy morning at the roof top pool. We showered and headed out for the old city where the tallest buildings were Wats not skyscrapers, the weather brightened up and we kicked ourselves for hastily checking out instead of going to the pool. The agenda for today wasn't too much a ten minute walk to Wat Pho a walk on the canal, food and await 6pm when we were to get a bus to Krabi in the south of Thailand. We got to Wat Pho around 10.30am and paid our 100baht entry, not 50 as LP says (we aren't sure why we haven't thrown or burnt this book to be honest) this Wat was the home to the largest Buddha collection and the largest reclining Buddha in the country, pretty impressive to be honest and worth the entry fee. We walked around for quite some time taking in the different stages of Buddhas life and what his teachings mean. We took off our shoes where indicated, covered Lauren's shoulders where indicated and took photos where we probably shouldn't have! Ben hadn't made it here five years ago, he intended to but the hassles they got for tuk tuk drivers forced him to return in frustration but we didn't seem to encounter anything to bad. Only one person used the aged old, the attraction is closed let me take you somewhere else, he added his own spin that was almost convincing, that Friday is half day due to religion (which is true) and the attraction won't open till 1pm but we just laughed and pointed at the people walking inside!

We left and wandered to look out over the canal and appreciated a brige that looked just like Rialto in Venice and sat in a peaceful garden overlooking Thai people selling items of many sorts to their own people, it was mesmerising. We walked back alongside the palace with a speaker telling people not to listen to scams that they are open etc, which was quite amusing as drivers still tried to tell you otherwise. They always ask where you are going in broken English but we learned just to say the public park as there was normally one nearby and that can't be shut! We did venture to the main park opposite the Ministry of Defence another fine building and Lauren, well you know her fortune with animals, a bird poohed on her!! This couldn't get any worse! Perhaps as she felt it on her back and Ben couldn't see why she had a face of horror! We cleaned it up and saw the funny side, this was today's fortune turning! We got back to Khao San hassle free and took a leisurely lunch with free wifi and discussed the next few weeks travel plans as we had bits booked here and there but a few free gaps and no travel plans.

We reflected on our short time in Bangkok and surprisingly Lauren did enjoy it and Ben did also and we would not rule out a return bisit in the future, maybe stay in the new city and see more of that! We then got Lauren a new top to be fresh for our journey stocked up on a few snacks and headed to collect our bags and go to the agency with whom we booked our ticket. We do not know what to expect with this as we sit here an hour into our journey. All the LP says is don't get a bus that originates from Khao San as normally hassle and extra costs, it also says a Bus to Krabi should be about 750baht and this was published a year ago and most prices have gone up yet we got this for 500baht. We were quoted 600-950 off other companies and when asking for one from the bus station it was in excess of 1200 each. We arrived at 6pm as instructed, a guy appeared about 15 minutes later and took us on a ten minute walk through back alleys and even a Muay Thai boxing ring to what appeared to be a waiting room at the front of a hostel. We waited here with the rest of like minded travellers for an hour. We eventually boarded across the road at 7.20 setting off at 7.30pm, let's just see where we get to, at what time and what extra cost!

Things of note:

Make up is readily sold both legitimate in malls and fake on the stalls but Thai women wear white make up but it gives the appearance of appearing ghost like and grey

All men are not just propositioned for women on Khao San but mainly for suits even when we were walking with our packs they wanted to sell a suit!

Bars pop up all along Khao San and you wander the streets drinking right into the police station at the top of the road

There is an abundance of stray dogs and homeless people but more surprisingly the amount of cats in Wats.

McDonalds Ronald has embraced Thai culture he is outside each outlet performing the Thai greeting the wai.

Also at McDonalds you can get Thai food of rice and noodles

Boy bands are a big deal over here especially The wanted, their music plays everywhere or old school classics, no modern female music! This has been the same all over S E Asia.

Within the backpacker area notoriously known for cheaper things- most cost more from bits in 7Eleven's to McDonald meals! Wifi is not free and nor are toilets, also for us to leave our bags with the hostel we had to pay for the day!

Real estate is expensive here yet spirit houses are elaborate bird houses of sorts outside of homes and hotels etc that must cost quite a bit to take up so much extra space, but they are very interesting to look at nonetheless.

What would we do differently:

Use the roof top pool! Searched more online about getting from airport to tourist area so we were more prepared.

Thefts:0 as yet, although buses are notorious as they apparently have people rummaging in the holds etc

Near misses:1 suppose the bird could have poohed on Lauren's hair etc not just her back!

Fallouts:1 - Ben was sure he knew where he was on last leg back on thursday but he didn't. At all. And he left his day bag in the room, luckily they check it before giving back your deposit. He still doesn't know how this happened as so used to carting two around he didn't think his front felt empty! And by two they are both his Lauren does cart her own two as well!

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