As promised, here is my first of a two-part instalment on my adventures in mad but beautiful Thailand. We stayed in Bangkok in the old-fashioned but rather quaint Royal Hotel, which is just around the corner to the infamous Khao San road and across the ‘run-if-you-want-to-live’ Ratchdamnoen Klang road. The traffic system is probably one of the first bizarre things I encountered when arriving in Thailand, not only does everyone drive like a nutcase but there doesn’t appear to be a coherent pedestrian system either and if you can get your whole family (plus a chicken or a suitcase) on the back of your moped, why not? It throws British Health & Safety regulations completely out of the window…
Despite the current protests going on, we didn’t feel uneasy while staying in Bangkok. Obviously, it’s best to check and find out more about the area you’re staying in before you travel but like with any trip abroad, keep your wits about you and your belongings close to you. Before I get carried away and go off on a tangent, I’ve decided to break down the trip into some nice little bite-sized guides…
Taxi’s are probably the most comfortable and easiest way to get from the airport to your hotel etc. Always agree a price with the taxi driver before you set off and don’t forget to tip at the end too. Thailand is ridiculously cheap for most things so your money tends to go a long way. Thai’s don’t have the best understanding of English so keep a note of any addresses/places in your bag so that you can show them to the driver. Although on one occasion, it took nearly 15 minutes to explain that we wanted to go to the South Bus Terminal while showing the bus ticket (written in Thai) but its all part of the adventure, I guess!
The nearest ferry port to Khao San road is Tha Phra Athit and from there you can get on either the commuter or tourist boats that ferry people up and down the Chao Phraya River. Commuter boats are cheaper but they literally cram everyone on board so opt for the tourist ones instead. Blue and orange flags will indicate which way the boats are going (check the timetable) and each port is numbered even if you’re not sure when they announce the next drop-off. Again the Thai’s don’t do things by halves, the boat will basically crash (for want of a better word!) into the floating port, chuck a piece of rope over to steady it slightly and then you hop on quickly, before they pull away with the same gusto.
While, Tuk-tuk’s are not the safest mode of transport but you have to experience them at least once in Thailand, especially if you haven’t got loads of luggage and you need to be somewhere quick. Again, agree the price with the driver beforehand, sit back and enjoy the ride…
Things to See & Do
Bangkok is a huge city so I didn’t get to venture too far outside of Khao San but Adam said that you’re gonna visit any temple in Thailand (and there are hundreds of them!) you’ve gotta see the Golden Buddha.
We jumped on a ferry from Tha Phra Athit to Ratchawong Pier in Chinatown and from there, we took a tuk-tuk to Wat (Temple) Traimit in Yaowarat Road. I think it’s around 350 Baht (£6) to wander around the temple and its exhibitions and from there, you can learn about how they encased the Buddha in a thick plaster to protect it from being snatched by Burmese invaders in the 13th/14th century. Its golden exterior was eventually discovered in 1954 during some restoration work and its now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok. Weighing in at 5.5 tonnes, its worth around $250m (£150m). Kaaaaachiiiiing!
Khao San Road itself is a worthy tourist attraction and despite its somewhat sleazy reputation, it is a back-packer’s dream. From hotels, bars and restaurants to beauty salons, souvenir shops and food stalls, Khao San has it all. Its thriving at night with a street market, street vendors selling barbecued insects and of course, promoters trying to sell you tickets for ping-pong shows! No we didn’t, in case you were wondering! Its worth taking a trip to, even if you just want to sit in one of the many bars and watch the world go by.
You’re spoilt for choice in Thailand and you’re up for trying something different, then this is the place to come, while testing the strength of your stomach at the same time! I joke but again, be careful when buying food from market stalls and only drink bottled water.
As I’ve said, I’m not the best person when it comes to talking about food as I’m quite fussy. No fried cockroaches for me, thank you very much! We mainly found places to eat around Soi Rambuttri, the road that runs parallel to Khao San. It has a mixture of Thai and Western restaurants and while its not as lively as its neighbouring street, it is a lot prettier on the eye. Cocktails are always a must and you won’t find a better Mai Thai anywhere else in the world.
I must, of course, mention the Supatra River House, a beautiful river-side Thai restaurant that has amazing views from its terrace and gorgeous food. You can reach it from the Chang pier, where the Supatra’s wooden boat will pick you up to ferry you across. There is also evening entertainment if you visit on a weekend. We went on our last night in Bangkok and it was an awesome way to end our time in Thailand.
I don’t think the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘hangover’ go particularly well together but after the epic nights out we had in Bangkok, it was worth feeling like death on the 3.5 coach trip to Hua Hin and eating our bodyweight in Pringles and Oreos.
Its easy to bar-hop your way down Khao San and while there’s a different sort of clientele that come out in the early hours, there’s no party like a Thai party. Connecting Khao San and Soi Rambuttri roads, there’s Susie Walking Street (yes, I was dubious about it after seeing the name) but down there is a hidden gem- 999 West Bar.
The place was full to the brim with happy Thai’s dancing and jumping around to a six-piece Thai band. Despite being two of the only few Farangs (Foreigners) in there, we didn’t feel out of place, so much so that someone got a little bit too involved…I blame the jagerbombs.
1. Carry your cash in different ways; Take some in sterling to change up while you’re out there (the rate is so much better in Thailand), take some in Traveller’s cheques or alternatively one of those Travel Money Cards, where the rate for withdrawing cash from an ATM is fixed (With Thomson its £1.50 per withdrawal). If you have to use your card abroad, make sure you telephone your bank beforehand to let them know and check the charges. You’re never usually far from a bank/ATM over there.
2. Insect Repellent- Absolute must-have! Although malaria is not rife in most of the tourist parts of Thailand (check with your GP before you travel) there’s nothing more annoying than being feasted on by one of the little suckers in middle of the night. The higher the level of deet in the spray, the better as it gives you maximum protection.
3. Tissues- While it’s not entirely true that bathrooms and toilets in Thailand do not contain tissue or paper towels, its worth always keeping a pack in your bag as the level of hygiene (shall we say) is not always up to scratch.
4. Learn a bit of Thai- When in restaurants and shops, you can get by, by pointing at the menu etc, however it is polite to learn a bit of the lingo, even if its just a couple of basic phrases:
Hell0: Sa-wat-dee-kraup (kah on the end if female)
Thank you: Kop-khun-kraup (kah if female)
No, thank you (you’ll use this one alot!): Mai-au-kraup (kah if female)
That’s it for Part I, I’ll be bringing you Part II: Hanging Out In Hua Hin very shortly. Stay tuned for photos of postcard perfect beaches and the cutest little baby elephant…