Thailand – A mad day in Kanchanaburi and Bangkok

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January 19th 2009
Published: January 19th 2009
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I sometimes think that I’m a little too adventurous for my own good….the 2nd of January was no exception!

I arrived in Bangkok at 5am after the 11hr VIP bus ride and the first thing on my agenda was to set out to find myself some cheap accommodation on Khao San Road for my last two nights in Bangkok. After trying two super super dodgy establishments I managed to find a marginally less dodgy motel, double room with bathroom on suite so I parted with my 250 Bhat, dropped what bags I had with me off and paid Tom the most hysterical taxi driver to take me across town at 5:30am to complete point two on my agenda, fetch the rest of my belongings which were being stowed in a room at Soi 1 Guest house in Sukhumvit. After arriving at Soi 1 to the obnoxious Ausie manager I was reminded why I had made a mental note to change scenery for my last two nights in Bangkok! A further 20mins or entertaining antics from taxi driver Tom, after collecting my bags, and I was back at Khao San Road for a quick shower before embarking on point three on
I love a Thai Public busI love a Thai Public busI love a Thai Public bus

A typical Thai public bus
my agenda, a days adventure in Kanchanaburi for some sight seeing and elephant trekking!

Wow but did I take enough busses on the 2nd of January. I got my first bus up to the Northern bus terminal where I then got onto a second bus to take me the three hours to Kanchanaburi’s main bus terminal. After being shifted from pillar to post by 3 different supposedly helpful tourist officials I finally found myself on a third bus supposedly destined for the train station where I could then get around to seeing te sights I wanted to see. What I didn’t realize was that the bus was in fact delivering my, not to the train station but rather, to a taxi stop and I would then have to get myself to the train station from there.

After about an hour on the bus the crazy conductor motioned for me to get off and there I was in the middle of Kanchanaburi with a bad map from the tourist officl and my lonely planet, now having to explain to some rural Thai motorcycle taxi drivers that I needed to get to the train station, never a dull moment when
A motorcycle to NowhereA motorcycle to NowhereA motorcycle to Nowhere

My very untrusty motorcycle driver who left me in the middle of Kanchanaburi!
you are on a “solo” adventure. After attempting to explain, to the motorcycle taxi driver that I was trying to get to the train station and having no luck I figured if I mentioned the elephants he was more likely to understand where I wanted to go (how stupid can you be to presume that there would only be one trekking spot), If only I had the gift of hindsight or even better charades skills….because what resulted from me mentioning the elephants rather than imitating a train was a somewhat different day to the one I had planned.

After understanding me when I mentioned the word elephants the motorcycle taxi driver quickly ushered me onto the back of his bike and took me 22kms in the opposite direction to the train station to a somewhat less than exotic elephant trekking spot. Disappointed is perhaps an understatement for what I felt when I got to the trekking site….firstly I couldn’t raft cause I was on my own and I would have had to hire an entire raft which was exorbitantly expensive, and they were unwilling to take me on my own in nay case, so that was one of the first activituies which had to be crossed off my list next was the elephant scenario…. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got there how could I make a 4hour trip up to the trekking spot only to see a dry very unappealing spot with the saddest looking elephants that you have ever seen. My hear sank and conscience was telling me that I should turn right around and leave right away and not be another tourist riding a sad elephant but I had come all that way and I had a small amount of hope that a portion of the money that I was parting with would in some way benefit the elephants, so I reluctantly parted with my Bhat and stood in line. The elephant ride was quite fun even if I was feeling very very guilty the whole time.

After the 30 minute ride I dismounted the elephant and was all ready for the next Kanchanaburi site, that was until I realized that my motorcycle taxi guy had deserted me at the trekking site and I was officially stranded. There were tones of tourist busses but no taxis and no one willing to take a “solo” tourist 22kms back to the bus stop! So it was safe to say I was in a slight spot of bother, luckily Im pretty chilled in these sorts of situations while traveling (I’m sure its not natural to get a kick out of adventurous mishaps!). On the motorbike ride to the trekking spot I had seen the hint of a village so I decided that I would walk the couple of kms and I was sure I would be able to catch a taxi or a bus from there, yet again mistaken.

When I arrived at this little village (if you can even call it that, more like a random intersection in the middle of nowhere) I was quite relieved to find a police station, normally when in doubt ask a cop or a fireman for help, that’s always been my logic….or was at least until I popped my head into the cop shop and was met by a scrawny uncop-looking guy who I swear had been boozing (It was still the new year holiday in Thailand and Im sure he was still in the thik of the previous nights celebrations). After explaining to the cop that I needed to get a taxi to the train station he quickly informed me that there were no taxis in this area but I could walk the 22kms….what a joke, 22kms in the blazing heat, so I politely told him he had to be joking and asked him if there was any way of calling a taxi, at which point another cop arrived. So I repeated my story and the cop said that if I didn’t mind waiting 10 minutes he would take me to the train station (I had at this point woven an elaborate story so as to convince these cops that I wasn’t alone). Initially I was cool carm and collected and thankful that I now had a ride back to the train station, that was until the dodgy questions started and then a mild degree of panic hit….I started envisaging myself being abducted by some dodgy squint Thai policeman who’s pants were sitting somewhere around his ears! Even my masterful story was proving little reassurance that I would be delivered at my desired destination! After 15 minutes of waiting for the policeman my mild degree of panic had me weighing up alternative possibilities during which time a convoy of youngish Thais who were clearly heading back home after a weekend away had pulled up at the front of the police station to swap cars (they all looked pretty normal and above board and there were guys and girls so it all together seemed like a safe bet). There was incidentally a line of pay phones where the convoy had stopped so I told the policeman I was going to make a call when I was in fact going to find out from the convoy if there was any chance that I could catch a ride with them if they were heading in the direction I needed to go. Unfortunately the convoy wasn’t being very subtle when trying to discuss where I needed to go so naturally the policeman hear what was going on, marched over and happily informed the convoy that he was more than happy to drive me and they need not worry….not quite what I was hoping for but what could I do! I nervously said goodbye to the Thai convoy and went to wait a further 10 minutes for the Thai cop to finally be ready to take me.

I got in his beat out old Merc and I think I clung white knuckled onto the handle of the door the entire way, man he was a super creepy dude, I was so paranoid that at the one intersection I even thought he had turned left when he should have turned right (forgetting that I had told him I wanted to go to the train station and not the motorcycle taxi rank). After all my paranoia and ridiculous thoughts about abduction the dodgy single police cop happily dropped me at the train station without any trouble, boy was I grateful! I have to admit after the fact I think perhaps his creepiness was more in my head than reality….

After all the walking, negotiating, waiting and then driving to the train station it was already 3:30pm, I had arrived at 12 and had accomplished no more than riding an elephant and I had managed to miss the last train back to Kanchanaburi! The train conductor told me that I would have to catch the bus at the bus stop down the drag from the train station and she motioned to a taxi that she said could take me to the bus stop cause it was a bit far to walk. I approached the taxi (an open back bakkie with a canvas canopy) but it was chock a block with people….the one guy, seeing me look somewhat perplexed, could speak English so he asked me where I was planning on going so I told him I needed to get back the bus terminal at Kanchanaburi, at which point he told me that all the people in the taxi were his family and they were going back to Kanchanaburi after a visit to the waterfall and he happily invited me to join them at the waterfall after which he was happy to take me back to Kanchanaburi …so that’s exactly what I did I got adopted by an awesome Thai family for the remainder of the afternoon which was really cool. We visited this crazy waterfall that was about as busy as a Durban beach on New Years day with all kinds swimming in the tiny pools at the base of the waterfall in shorts and t-shirts, quite an experience. We chilled at the waterfall for about an hour and then headed back to Kanchanaburi town on the bakkie just to get back on a bus to go back to Bangkok!

I was mildly annoyed about the whole day….although I had seen the elephants, had had an interesting encounter with the Thai police service and had befriended a Thai family I had had a long list of things I had wanted to see but had now missed out on, one of those things in particular was the bridge over the river Kwai! Luckily the Thai family kept me in good spirits with their singing and the yummy slated tamarind car snack so I resigned myself to the fact that I just couldn’t do everything and maybe the bridge was over rated like the lonely planet said so maybe I hadn’t missed out at all (its amazing what you can convince yourself ;-)) Attractions are around the station) I had successfully missed out.

It took us about an hour to get back to Kanchanaburi and I couldn’t believe my luck the Thai family happened to have left their cars near the Kanchanaburi main train station which happens to be not a kilometer away from the Bridge over the River Kwai, I couldn’t believe my luck, I was so ecstatic! I happily thanked the Thais for their hospitality and their offer to take me back to the bus station and I instead headed off the see the bride!

The lonely planet underrates the bridge completely in my opinion, I absolutely loved it, had it not been so busy it would have been even better but watching the sun set while sipping fresh cold coconut milk on the bridge over the river Kwai was a fantastic experience and totally made up for the whole elephant trekking debacle of the day!

Once the sun had set I found myself a motorcycle taxi back to the bus terminal, I did see my life flash before my eyes more than once cause this guy was a manic! In Thailand a motorcycle taxi driver has a helmet but not the passenger, how’s that, flipping scary when the guy is weaving through traffic! I was very grateful when he delivered me to the bus station alive. Had there been an alternative means of transport I would most certainly have taken it! Go figure….the first motorcycle taxi I took that day, to the elephants, drove no more than 50km’s/ hr if that then I get the second palooka who thinks he’s the next Motor - X world champ, madness!

Once safely on the bus heading back to Bangkok I decided that Kanchanaburi, whilst rather crazy and different to what I had had in mind, ended up being quite fun and a very very unique experience and resulted in me meeting some lovely people on the way but perhaps it might have been a little easier to have taken an organized day tour….. Perhaps I need to be a littler less adventurous…but then what fin would that be hey ;-)?!

3 hours later and I was back in Bangkok, exhausted and ready for an early night, that was until I got upstairs and found that both rooms on either side of me and the room across from me were all rented by South Africans! Man it was so awesome, we ended up getting chatting and next thing you know exhaustion faded and we were out on the town showing Khao San Road how South Africans have a good time! All I can say is what a brilliant night! If you want an interesting party in Bangkok then K S Road is the place to be, you see all kinds
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

Riding an elephant!
and distinguishing the girls from the ladyboys is quite a fine game (and a virtually impossible task)!

The 3rd of January arrived far to quickly for my liking, Saturday morning and my last day in Thailand…..only one thing left to do a full day of shopping! You would have thought that after being in Asia for 4 months I would have gotten into Asian time but sadly I still haven’t gotten used to it, an Asian city is completely dead before 12pm….shops start opening at around 10ish but its very very quite so you can only imagine what its like at 8:30am. Forgetting about Asian routine and also not taking into account the fact that Saturday was still Thain new year and Buddha day I had planned to visit the Grand Palace and the emerald Buddha before hitting the Bangkok shops, unfortunately both the Grand Palace and the emerald Buddha were closed for the morning so I was suddenly at a bit of a loss with atleast two hours to kill before I could shop….after a couple minutes of enquiries I found a tuk tuk driver who took me to two other temples as well as this other giant
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

Trekking through the sudo jungle
Buddha. Naturally the tuk tuk driver was also intent on getting me to do the whole jewelry, tailor, tourist office trip but I blankly refused then felt bad so I told the guy that he could swing past the tailor on the way to the tailor I needed to got to, to fetch the pants I had had made, and I would have a look around and get him a petrol voucher…the tailor was onto me though so after 10mins of arbitrarily looking around his store he basically kicked me out cause I wasn’t planning on having anything made….as it turned out my visit to the tailor shop was a waist anyway cause my tuk tuk guy had managed to pick up a flat tyre so not only was he not getting a petrol voucher he was also not taking me to picked up my pants from my tailor either, the joys or riding Tuk Tuks in Bangkok. After fetching my pants and killing some time in a coffee shop it was finally a respectable hour to hit the shops.

As is the case with all bank cards which you are given a pin code for instead of electing
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

Trekking through the sudo jungle
a code for, I hav forgotten my SA bank card code. Since the bank wouldn’t read my code to me over the phone they said the only way I could withdraw money was to go into a bank, by this stage it was 10:50 on Saturday, the reason I mention this fact is cause most banks in SA close at 11 on a Saturday so I was just in time to catch the bank for the doors shut, presuming of course that banks close at the same time all over the word, yeh right. The first bank I went into wouldn’t do the forex for me so they sent me next door but the bank had their security door half close. I was mildly worried cause I really needed more money f I wanted to do any shopping and couldn’t believe that I could possibly miss the bank so I ducked under the security door into the bank where I was met by a lady who motioned that the bank was closed! I pleaded with her to let me in, noticing the panicked look on my face she didn’t argue just sweetly smiled and motioned for me to sit down.
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

trekking through the sudo jungle!
After a couple of minutes another very friendly clerk came over and listened to me explained my problem with the card while I was also apologized profusely for asking her to help me when they had already closed the bank at which point she looked a little puzzled and politely assured me it wasn’t a problem but asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting for 10mins till the bank actually opened….man I can embarrass myself sometimes ….The bank was only opening at 11, it wasn’t closing, I think they were all having a right chuckle about the panic stricken South African tourist who hasn’t learned about Asian time and who was pleading to be let into a yet to be opened bank!

After getting over the blind experience in the bank I left with some money in hand and headed to do some proper Bangkok shopping! First stop MBK. MBK is a massive mall with small kiosk type shops, a really cool place. I had to practice a large degree of self restrain since I had been told that the weekend market was the real place to shop and that I was bound to find just about everything at MBK
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

Trekking through the sudo jungle
at the weekend market as well, only cheaper, so after an hour or so of purely window shopping I made my way to the weekend market!

Chatuckak weekend market, completely mind-boggling is one description! I managed to befriend an Ausie chap on the tube while heading to Chatuckak which was, initially, quite cool. The weekend market sells just about anything and everything you can think of and has some of the most interesting food I have ever tasted. Its always cool to have a side kick to try that sort of thing with so as I said I was initially quite novel to have a side kick who is gung-ho to try weird and wonderful Thai delicacies. We taste tested all kinds of random fruit, which I had never seen before, some fresh homemade coconut ice cream with the weirdest but yummiest toppings on, followed by the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life….it was a banana leaf sweat samoosa type thing….chefs talk about a taste explosion well let me tell you that this was exactly that! My Ausie sidekick was proving to be just fine until he made two vital errors a) being obsessed with
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

Trekking through the sudo jungle
keeping track of where we were in the crazy Chatuckak labyrinth preventing us from getting anywhere cause at every turn we were consulting the small map only to establish that we were one row down from where we had been not 3 minutes earlier and b) trying to steer me to the snake section of the market….all I wanted to do was shop and I spent at least an hour being ushered around the mad maze by the snake seeking Ausie. At one point he became so obsessed with looking for the snakes that he was stopping every couple of meters to ask random strangers if they knew where the snakes were….this was the end of me and eventually I subtly parted ways and headed off to tackle my main mission….to get completely lost in the most mammoth market I have ever been to in my like and find some interesting wears…..and to avoid the snake section t all costs!

It is very hard for me to aptly describe Chatuckak market, it is just this most gigantic labyrinth of 1000’s and 1000’s of stalls selling anything from clothes to food to hardware to animals, it’s the most amazing, bazaar
Saiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant ParkSaiyok Elephant Park

Trekking through the sudo jungle
and interesting place I have ever been to. You can literally walk around and the next thing you know hours have gone by and you haven’t bought anything you have just walking in and out of the different alleyways taking in all kinds of weird and wonderful things, its quite fantastic! After hours of walking and a couple of bargains in hand I figured I should call it a day before I go so lost in the time warp that is Chatuckak that I would miss my flight back to SK! I don’t think I even covered a quarter of the market it’s that huge but by this stage it was 4pm and I still had to find the floating market, get to China Town and leave some time to look around the Khao San Road market….so much to be done but just so little time!

The floating market wasn’t actually on my list when I initially set out that morning but earlier in the day I had been scammed by a very annoying tuk tuk driver (one of those situations where you know you are being taken for a ride but you still manage to part with 80 Bhat when you have only been take around the block, been misinformed that the weekend market would be closed and then been dropped at the entrance to the supposedly open floating market at 12pm when it in fact only opens at 6pm). While annoyed that I was scammed by the tuk tuk driver I was quite excited at the prospect of adding another interesting market to my list of things to see that day so made a mental note of where it was (land marked it with a 7/11- how dumb can you be) and was due to head back there at 6ish. After leavening Chatuckak I walked around the area where the floating market presumably was, I passed no less than 4 7/11’s and couldn’t find it, nor could I find a taxi driver or tuk tuk driver who knew what I was talking about so my grand designs of a visit to a floating market were dashed, suppose you just can’t see it all! After resigning myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to find the floating market I rather caught a taxi to check out China Town.

It’s so strange, here in Korea it
Taxi....any oneTaxi....any oneTaxi....any one

Some of the sites on the 3km walk to the police station
is neon city, I have never ever seen so many lights in my life. Bangkok, which one automatically presumes should be the same, has surprisingly few crazy neon lights, but in saying that, China Town makes an effort to compensate for the lack of Neon in the rest ob Bangkok! I knew the moment when we were getting near cause the proliferation of neon was extraordinary! Its quite interesting to me, cause my lonely planet made China Town seem like one of those must go to places when you are in Bangkok, now I’m not sure if I just went at the wrong time, perhaps an afternoon session in China Town is better but to be honest I was quite unimpressed, even the food which everyone was raving about looked rather unappealing! I opted out of having dinner in China Town and left after an hour of looking around and headed back to Khao San Road to find a proper traditional Thai dinner and do some more shopping at the Khao San Road night market!

Boy was opting for dinner on Khao San Road the best idea ever! I don’t think I have eaten that good a meal in

A deserted old petrol station
a long time, it was unreal! I found a street side stall where you get a bowl of rice and you can then choose what dish you want, and there are no less than 20 different dishes before your eyes…. it starts off at 25 Bhat and then depending on how many of the different dishes you want to try you pay accordingly, I tried two of the dishes and it cost me the sum total of 36 Bhat (now divide that buy 4 to get Rands) it was just the most unreal meal in such an awesome vibe, just the kind of last meal I could have hoped for to round off my awesome whorl wind Thai trip!

Once I had successfully eaten for two I went to walk off the food at the market. Yet another reason that I love Bangkok is cause there are these street side night markets everywhere and you will be walking along the road, you’ll duck into what looks like another stall and next thing you discover a whole other alleyway with even more stalls and bars and restaurants, its brilliant. My discovery of one such passage just before I called it

The new petrol station....and yes those are Pepsi bottles with petrol and a make-shift pump....go figure!
a night was quite fortuitous because earlier in the day my hopes of catching the airport shuttle bus had been dashed since the airport shuttle only starts running at 7am and I hade to leave Khao San Road by 5am to be in time for my flight, so I was having to bank on paying anywhere upwards of 300Bhat for a taxi to the airport the following morning, luckily on my walk about that night I stumbled across a tour operator who also had a shuttle bus service so I managed to book myself on their shuttle but for a whole 130 Bhat, leaving at 5am wow was stoked!

After my shuttle bus discovery, having a chuckle to myself on stumbling upon a Dong Daemun Korean restaurant in the middle of Bangkok(Dong Daemun is a super well known market here in SK and it just blew my mind that anyone would choose to eat Korean cuisine over Thai) and spending some time choosing some really cool little drawings done by a local artist I forced myself back to my seedy motel to pack and attempt to get some shuteye before my 4:15 wakeup call!

Thailand was altogether an unbelievable experience and I just can’t wait to go back! I truly think its once of those countries you could visit year in and year out and it would still be magic. The Thai people are so friendly, the cities and towns in all their Chaos have such a charm and there is just so much to see, do and try that staying only 10 days is a real travesty! If there is one place you should put on your list of to visits I really think Thailand should be one of them!

Additional photos below
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Making friends and visiting waterfallsMaking friends and visiting waterfalls
Making friends and visiting waterfalls

Half my Thai family joining in the water fun!
Making friends and visiting waterfallsMaking friends and visiting waterfalls
Making friends and visiting waterfalls

The old trainstation at the waterfall
The bridge over the River KwaiThe bridge over the River Kwai
The bridge over the River Kwai

Making more friends :-)
The bridge over the River KwaiThe bridge over the River Kwai
The bridge over the River Kwai

looking like a real dork posing on the bridge with my very yummy coconut! only get the pic taken to prove you actually went and didnt just download some opics off the net and claim it ;-)

20th January 2009

Killer Blog Jools :)
Hey Jool - wow! what a killer blog! sounds like you having a totally amazing time over there. some really cool pics. Good luck with the rest of your adventures, looking forward to the next post. Cheers Stu :)
20th January 2009

I love the bank story Jools, I can just picture it!

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