Bangkok is a place that has provided me with many happy memories. It’s the place where I started my huge backpacking trip back in February 2014, celebrated the Songkran festival a few months later, and also where I was reunited with my good mate James after seven months on the road. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited the city, as well as the amount of friends I’ve made and great experiences I’ve had there.
There had been talk between James and I for a while about organising a reunion of sorts and with me having a random holiday at the end of July we decided this would be the perfect opportunity to relive some of our time on the road in the Thai capital. After a sleepless night (one beer after work became several), a drunken packing of my bag and a sleep-filled 9am flight, I found myself back where it all began: Bangkok!
Unfortunately, a delayed flight from Perth meant James missed his connection at Kuala Lumpur so the planned reunion at the airport would have to be rescheduled until later that evening!
Now, I’ve mentioned the countless ‘memories’ that have been made in Bangkok in the past, but if truth be told the large majority of those are blurry at best. Mention Bangkok to any backpacker and there’s a very good chance they’ll mention Khao San Road. This notorious backpacker haunt is just one long road of cheap booze, debauchery and people selling things they shouldn’t be selling. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve passed on the opportunity to buy a taser.
So, more of the same this time round?
Well, no, actually.
A combination of having seen pretty much all there is to see in Bangkok, catching up with old friends who live in the city, and a general lack of desire to go to Khao San Road (okay, maybe just once…) made for a fairly different trip to Bangkok this year.
There was drinking and partying – for sure – but we only really strayed onto Khao San Road for one night. After seeing a stone-cold sober guy walk into a bar, pass his friend his phone and say “film me”, and then proceed to act incredibly drunk dancing like an idiot, I think this was a wise decision.
So, what exactly did we do in Bangkok?
Living in Tokyo means I’m a little spoilt really, as with 30 million people in a city you really can do some of the best people watching in the world. One of my favourite ways to kill time is to settle down somewhere – either a coffee shop, eatery, bar or park – and just watch the world go by.
I’ve often described Bangkok as ‘Tokyo without rules’, by which I mean it’s big and busy, but a lot more hectic and unorganised. This naturally makes for some excellent people watching and most days, we’d park ourselves outside a bar with a few drinks and just watch the world go by – usually in fits of giggles.
We struck gold with one particular bar and returned a few times. The highlight was undoubtedly when a group of tradesmen turned up across the road, propped up their bamboo ladder against a thick gathering of what I imagine were highly dangerous electrical wires and proceeded to fiddle around with them for a while; every possible health and safety regulation being broken in the process.
I have no doubt that in reality, they had every idea what they were doing, but from where we were sat we couldn’t help imagine they were just winging it and hoping someone didn’t get electrocuted!
I’m fairly sure I was on a meal schedule that a bodybuilder would have been proud of for these six days. The nutritional content left a lot to be desired, but I think we were putting away a good four or five meals a day some days.
With the wide array of street food available at such a small price it can be easy to convince yourself you’re hungry when – in reality – you’re just being a little greedy. Still though, with a pad thai being about five times cheaper than it would be at home, it’s daft not to take advantage!
There was also the fact that certain fruit and vegetables can be quite hard to acquire or expensive in Japan, so I made sure to stock up on my five a day whilst I was away!
One of the plusses to having friends who live in the city is going to places you would never find. Every time I visit Bangkok I stay at the brilliant Born Free Hostel and over time, have become mates with the owner Kevin. Last time we were in the city, Kevin took us to a health club in an area of the city I honestly couldn’t name if you gave me a day to remember it. Thankfully, Kevin was with us again this time and we arrived unscathed and without getting lost – although the taxi driver did his very best to kill us.
For just 230 baht (about a fiver), you get unlimited use of the steam room, sauna, hot and cold tubs, gymnasium as well as unlimited fruit, water and whatever they fancy putting on that day. Bargain!
Well, the holidays are about rest and recuperation, right?!
Now, despite being from the north of England I think I can handle a bit of heat. However, on this day I discovered that my definition of heat and the Thai definition are a little different.
First of all, lets start with the sauna. I always thought there was such a thing as ‘sauna etiquette’ – apparently not here as after being in for about two minutes some big fella just came in with his own bucket and proceeded to shovel water on for a good few minutes. One by one, pretty much everyone vacated the sauna – ourselves included! – and he had the place to himself. Looking back, maybe that was his plan all along?!
Secondly, we were told it’s better to go earlier in the day as the hot tub gets hotter as the day goes on. We can personally vouch for this, as it went from a comfortable temperature when we arrived, to an unbearable 44 degrees when we left. Nuts!
If you’d said to me two years ago that I’d be visiting Bangkok in 2016, spending hours in a spa and not really being that fussed about Khao San road I’d have laughed you out of town. What a difference a few years make!