Well, this is it. Our last stop in ten months of travel. We’ve lived in Melbourne and #vanlifed around Australia before flying to Bali, Singapore, Phuket and Chiang Mai. In a week, we will be back in England with not a clue on where we go from here.The only way to end this was with seven nights in the City of Angels; Bangkok. This city really causes a divide between people; some people absolutely love it whilst others hate it.We booked six nights at the Akara Hotel, which is close to the shopping district, before our final night at the Tower Club at Lebua, the hotel from the Hangover 2. If you’ve read my blog regularly, you’ll know that we don’t stay at hostels. Both Emma and I would rather splurge on a decent hotel and have less money for ‘essentials.’ It’s not a problem in Thailand anyway because the food is so cheap!
Arriving in Bangkok
I mentioned last time that I was a bit nervous for our internal Thai flights. The first, from Phuket to Chiang Mai, was absolutely fine. However, we were flying this time with VietJet Air; an airline I’d never heard of. Anyway, the flight was great and we touched down in Bangkok in around an hour. The only issue (a recurring theme in Asia) is that there’s next to no legroom on these flights! So uncomfortable.Whenever we arrive somewhere new, we like to test out the public transport links from the airport to our accommodation. It’s like a little puzzle. This time was no different and, thankfully, Bangkok’s train system was very easy to navigate.To get to our hotel it took forty minutes on the train (for about 40p!) followed by a quick stroll along Bangkok’s backstreets. The hotel made a great first impression with it’s peaceful interior compared to the craziness of Bangkok; yep in that five minute or so walk you could tell how manic it was here.We’d arrived at about 10am and were able to check in immediately. Our room had a circular bath next to the floor to ceiling window and we’d booked on the basis of a great city view. Unfortunately, we were only on the eighth floor so all we could see was (very) grubby buildings and the elevated train line. Ah well, it meant I could wave to the commuters from the bath!
With lessons learnt from both Singapore and Chiang Mai, we promised that this time we wouldn’t wear ourselves out on day one. With that in mind we spent most of the day chilling in the hotel room. The free Wi-Fi/comfy bed combination is few and far between when travelling so we had to take advantage of it!We emerged from our hotel room by mid-afternoon to take a walk down to the huge shopping malls Bangkok is famous for. The streets were full of stand-still traffic chucking huge amounts of exhaust fumes into the air. Couple that with extreme humidity levels, we longed to be back in our hotel room. The airconned malls were a Godsend, especially when the monsoon rains hit, and the food wasn’t half bad either. I still think that the best red curry I’ve ever had was from a restaurant in Central World.With our promise of having an easy day still lingering, we made our way back to the hotel for an early night.
Day Two was all about delving deep into Bangkok’s old city. This is where the major temples lie as well as the backpacking mecca of Khao San Road.Situated next to the murky Chao Phraya River, the Old City is a public transport nightmare. None of the Skytrains stop close enough to simply walk to it and taxis/tuk-tuks are notorious for ripping tourists off. The best way we thought was to get a metered taxi from our hotel to the Golden Mount Temple and then walk towards the river.It was around mid-morning by the time we left the hotel so the roads were actually a lot calmer than normal. However, the ten minute taxi ride basically turned into a glorified sales pitch with the taxi driver constantly reaching round to give us booklet after booklet. He’d created them all himself and were full of places he could take us. He seemed as though he wanted to take us there immediately. Despite the obvious language barrier, we got across that we weren’t interested and just wanted to go to the Golden Mount.The temple itself was impressive and, once you climbed its many stairs, the views across Bangkok were great. This really helped towards getting our bearings. Well as much as you can in a sprawling metropolis like Bangkok. The phrase “Bangkok has him now” would be completely accurate if you took even one wrong turn.
From the Golden Mount, we headed north-east towards Wat Pho; home of the extremely large Reclining Buddha. We were getting a bit stressed whilst walking as each road seemed to take us in a completely different direction. If you know me, I’m normally pretty good at directions but this was something else. The heat probably didn’t help either. Hopefully I’ve set the scene well enough. You’ve got the picture, I was stressed and didn’t quite know where I was. And yes, I’d read up on all of the typical tourist scams in Bangkok. I thought I wouldn’t be the one to be caught out so here goes…I FELL FOR A SCAM IN BANGKOK.
Now that I’ve written it down I guess I have to explain myself. We had just crossed a road feeling proud of ourselves when all of a sudden a young man started speaking to us. I simply thought he’d been walking in front of us and happened to turn around. Well he just started asking us questions and explained that he was a student. “Engineering” after I asked what he was studying. Good English too but I didn’t even bat an eye-lid. Writing this down now it’s so easy to spot all the warning signs I’d read about.
The young man came out with the classic line that the temple we wanted to visit would be shut for prayers from 2pm. It was 11:30am so we thought there wouldn’t be a problem; we were heading there right now. He started showing us on our map where would be a better choice to go. 3 temples and a Thai Silk Factory which would be closing down soon. We were sucked in but simply thought we could add those to our list of places to visit.
He then started talking about Tuk-Tuks. He warned us about flagging down any that had a white number plate as those would be ‘dodgy’. The best would be to get one that had a yellow number plate as there were all linked back to the government. He explained that if we wanted to go to the places he mentioned, a good price would be 200THB (about AUD$8 or £5). Not bad.
As luck would have it though, out of nowhere comes a tuk-tuk with a yellow number plate. “Like that one?” I gestured and over pulls the tuk-tuk. The two men acted as though they didn’t know each other, negotiated a price to take us on this ‘tour’ ( easily agreed at 200THB) which would begin immediately. Looking back I thought I declined because we were heading to Wat Pho and were looking for somewhere for breakfast. I remember he said the driver can just take you to 7/11 (like Tesco Express). For some reason, we both simply climbed in the tuk-tuk and off we went on our merry way. The first temple we were going to was further past the Golden Mount back towards the hotel. That half an hour walk was completely wasted. Within a minute of setting off, once my brain had chance to process what just happened, I realised we’d fallen for the classic Bangkok scam. We’d be taken to various temples for a fee and then to a factory outlet where the driver and the guy on the street would earn a commission.
Emma wasn’t so fussed as we didn’t have to buy anything (despite me telling stories of people being locked in shops until they bought something) and we wanted to have a ride on a tuk-tuk anyway. Also, it was only £5. So, we went to the first temple which was tiny and our driver got us various things to offer to the Gods. The next stop was the Silk Factory although we made it very clear we did not want to go there and simply wanted taking back. He pulled over eventually on some dodgy looking back-street and, after some back and forth, he agreed to take us back. That wasn’t without him basically pleading for us to go inside as he had “a voucher for him to pick something up.”
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha
We did get back to our intended destination Wat Pho about an hour after being picked up. Whilst it wasn’t the end of the day, who knows what could have happened and therefore you always have to keep your guard up. There are some horror stories out there. Oh and if, like me, you think that it’ll never happen to you, it definitely will. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.So anyway, we did make it inside Wat Pho which is one of the highest grades of Royal Temple in Thailand. Honestly, I was taken aback once I saw the Reclining Buddha. It was HUGE, lying at 15m high and 46m long. This isn’t the biggest though. The Chinese are building a stone Reclining Buddha which will be 416m long!After wandering the grounds of the temple, we still needed something to eat so settled for the nearby Starbucks for something quick and easy. It also had air-conditioning which we really needed.
Attempted Scam #2
Back on the main road and immediately some guy gets right up in my face saying “Why you go that way? Nothing down there.” Firstly, wrong, we’d just come from that way Wat Pho and the Grand Palace are just there. “Grand Palace is through that alleyway.” Course it is. After I kept saying no, another guy comes the other side of me saying “Why not go down that alleyway? Grand Palace.”
Honestly, Bangkok’s tourist centre is not for the faint-hearted. There was no way I was getting robbed so we walked as far away as possible.
Khao San Road
To finish off the afternoon, we headed the few kilometres to Khao San Road. This infamous strip is known around the world as the centre of the backpacking universe. Full of bars, hostels, massage parlours and tailors, this is where you come if you want to drink cheap spirits out of a bucket. If you also want to eat not-sure-when-it’s-been-cooked-cockroaches, this is the place for you. We only walked up and down the strip but it was easy to see why young backpackers fresh from their mum’s home love it here. It’s cheap and you can drink yourself stupid until the sun comes up; isn’t that what travelling’s all about?
I honestly thought that the whole place was a bit gross and it’s no surprise that the whole area has a reputation for bed bugs etc.
Back to the Hotel
We were both done for today so tried to hail a cab to take us back to the hotel. Unfortunately, being a tourist area, not one of the taxis would put the meter on and all tried to charge ridiculous rates. We decided to walk a bit closer towards the hotel (which was 7km away). Did I mention Bangkok is massive?
We walked further and further towards the hotel but, with that heat and a lack of water, we did not feel well. We should have just paid what a tuk-tuk driver offered us but we decided to push on. After half an hour, I thought I was going to faint so we had no choice but to pay for a tuk-tuk. The price was exactly the same as it had been earlier. What followed was probably the most mental twenty minutes of my life. Racing around the streets of Bangkok through traffic inhaling exhaust fumes even caused the driver to breathe a sigh of relief once he got to the hotel. We must have looked as white as a ghost. On getting out, the driver laughed and simply said “tuk-tuk!”
You know what, tuk-tuks can fuck off.
We ended the day with impressive Indian food where the Chicken Korma (adventurous I know) blew my head off.
Day Three – My 29th Birthday
Normally my birthdays are spent in the UK or, for three years of my childhood, in the summer sun of Cyprus. I’m one of those people who’s birthday always fell in the school holidays or I used my annual leave. I never wanted to work on my birthday but, last year, I had to as I’d used all my holidays to ensure I didn’t work a full five day week before quitting. It was horrible.
Well, this year, my birthday was to be spent in an oriental setting. We both decided that, after day two, we hated Bangkok though I had still had a little something for this city. We started the day with a ‘boutique breakfast’ from a restaurant called Kay’s which was incredible. The food was a really high quality take on the classic English breakfast. Staying clear of the Old City meant that it was easier to navigate around Bangkok with the Skytrain coming in handy. We wandered around a few more shopping malls with one even having showrooms for McLaren, Porsche and Rolls Royce.
Jim Thompson’s House
Although it was my birthday, it didn’t mean we had to stop being explorers for the day. We were in the area so we decided to check out Jim Thompson’s House. Mr Thompson was responsible for today’s popularity of Thai Silk. At one point, he was the most famous American living in Asia. The home we visited had been created by joining a number of old Thai homes together in order to create something quite unique. Only a year or so after finishing his home, in 1967, Mr Thompson disappeared whilst out walking in Malaysia never to be seen again. A body has never been found and his disappearance was still being analyzed as recently as 2015.
Interestingly, Mr Thompson’s sister was brutally murdered in the USA only a few months after he disappeared. That murder is still unsolved.
That was a mood killer wasn’t it. Back on the Skytrain, we travelled across to the Silom area for a drink at the rooftop Moon Bar. As if it wasn’t hot enough, I was given black trousers to wear whilst we sat fifty-odd storeys up in the air. For two drinks, a small beer and a mocktail, we ended up paying about £25! It was my birthday after all.
After a quick peek around Patpong (another infamous Bangkok area, this time for sex work) and being offered booklets offering all manner of sex shows, we made our way to Chinatown. At night, Chinatown is picture perfect. The stand-still traffic with the numerous neon signs in the background made for some really interesting pictures.
Here it is all about the street food and shark-fin soup… Every restaurant seemed to advertise it and everywhere was full! Instead of shark fin soup, we settled for four fried buns filled with chocolate, pineapple jam, strawberry jam and egg custard. We were the only English in the queue and luckily a friendly Thai man helped us as orders were being shouted out in Thai! We got back to the hotel late and Emma seemed disappointed. She’d arranged with the hotel for decorations and a birthday cake which they were all too willing to provide. However, it seemed they’d forgot despite Emma reminding them earlier in the day. I won’t go into too much detail but it ended up with Emma being presented a birthday cake at the door and having a photo taken all whilst I was in the shower!
This was the day that my feelings changed towards Bangkok. If you stay away from the Old City you may well just love it too.
This day started with a relaxing morning at the rooftop pool. The hotel must have been empty as, for most of the time, we were completely alone.We had Japanese food for lunch followed by desserts that all the locals go crazy for. We only found this restaurant (After You) by chance thanks to the constant queues. I would go back to Bangkok immediately if only for the Sticky Toffee Pudding Honey Toast.
We ended the day at the Rot Fai Train Market in Ratchada. We got there early-ish so we could have a proper good look round. Some of the stalls were actually selling half decent stuff but we were too distracted by more food and drink to buy anything. We ended up settling on Pineapple and Watermelon slushies both served in their respective ‘shells.’ They both contained their fair share of ice too which I can’t guarantee was from bottled water but we never got ill once and had ice pretty much everywhere! We didn’t drink the tap water though, we’re not that crazy, although the Thai government considers their water to be perfectly safe. The locals won’t drink it though.
The night market was brilliant and, after putting up with my hair growing uncomfortably long, I decided to get my hair cut at the market. It was actually a decent hair cut for about £6, far cheaper than my last one in Perth! The best was saved for last as we climbed up to almost the top of a nearby multi-storey car park. I’m surprised there wasn’t more people up there as the views over the multi-coloured tents were incredible. The market is worth it just for how good it looks from above.
I wanted to head back to Chinatown today whilst it was light not only for the main street but also for Hua Lamphong Train Station. I’d read that it’s a great place to see people hanging out of train windows whilst they wait to depart. Whilst Emma sat and waited, I made my way up and down platforms waiting for the right moment. I still haven’t got over the fear of pointing a camera at complete strangers. However, this photo comes out as one of my favourites. The rain hit again as we wandered down the main street in Chinatown. After a quick stop for a green tea frappe, we caught a boat from Chinatown straight up to Wat Arun; The Temple of the Dawn. This is one of the only Buddhist Temples that you can climb up. When you see the detailing up close this may become one of your favourite temples! The main spire is huge and is one of Bangkok’s icons.
We carried on up the river by boat to Khao San Road as we wanted to see it at night. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around that long as it’s charm was lost on us. We had a beer on the main strip and people watched for a while before it was time to get out. One thing I won’t miss is the amount of men producing booklets of ‘Gucci’ suits that would “look really good” on me. I kept saying I really didn’t need a new suit only for the responses to be “ah but you LOOK like a suit kinda guy.” Hilarious. Even Emma was getting annoyed. We realised that the easiest way to get to the Old City using the Skytrain was to get to Sathorn Pier and then cruise for twenty minutes or so up the river. If only we’d worked that out sooner we might not have had such a bad day!
I can’t really remember what we did this day but I think it went something like this. We had a good look round the Platinum Mall which is full of independent shops where haggling seems to be the norm. This was followed by pizzas and a lazy night back at the hotel. We had to pack up our suitcases anyway ready for our transfer across to our final hotel for our final night travelling.
We got a taxi across to the Tower Club at Lebua early and we were really lucky to get checked in immediately. Whereas the Akara Hotel was new and still finding their feet, this hotel was everything you’d expect from a five star. The suite was huge. We had a lounge area, a kitchen, a massive bathroom as well as a bedroom and balcony. Whilst a little outdated, this hotel was still up there with one of my all time favourites.
Included in the price of £150 per night was access to the Tower Club Lounge. From 6am to 6pm, you can eat and drink as much as you like for free. Considering the prices at the rooftop bar (wait for it), we made sure to get our money’s worth. We didn’t want to leave the hotel anyway as we’d done everything we wanted to!
By nightfall, we were full of beer and full of food yet we had to end this amazing ten months even higher. We decided to have a drink at the ultra-cool Skybar with the famous golden dome as our backdrop. Whilst a little busy and VERY expensive, there was absolutely no better way (or was there?) to finish our travels. By the way, very expensive means about £40 for a small beer and a G&T. I know it’s a lot of money but it was our last drink before returning to some sort of normality back in England.
And with that last sip of beer the curtain came down. The feelings were strange; we’d be seeing our family for the first time in ten months and with that came excitement but deep down we both knew life would probably never be as good again.
How have you coped with returning home after long-term travel? I need advice please!
ps more photos below