Boring busdays part so-many

Day LI – Mai 8

I wake up when it’s lready light out and soon we’re transferred from one bus to the next for the last half hour to the border, that we cross by foot.
In the immigration room I see a poster reading about the application rules like photos and a 1.000b entrance fee. I get a huge freak out for a moment; for as far as I knew a 15-day visa was issued for free.
But all they ask for is my passport and I get the stamps without further ado.
Goodbye Cambodia, it was so good to make your acquaintance! Hello again Thailand!

I just walk out on the other end where it’s a turmoil of salesmen pulling their carts and all sorts of traffic, when the clock strikes 8 and the national anthem begins to play, and everyone freezes. It’s like a flashmob!

Another shout-out “Bangkok?!” and I’m put on a crowded minivan for 4 more hours.

I was thinking of just going to the station and arrange a train there myself to avoid a rip-off for which one is warned in Bangkok. But right where we’re dropped of I find a travelagency and walk in just to check.
The guy makes a few calls but tells me all trains are fully booked. He offers a bus-boat combo to Koh Tao for 700b – cheaper even than Lonely Planet says it should be. And I already discovered that in my 2010 version prices are mentioned lower than they are now adays. So I take a leap, leave my backpack with him and take a walk to kill the 7 hours till pick-up.
This office is pretty neat by the way; just one desk in a little alley, some posters on the wall et voila. Bangkok does have it’s charms.

As it’s just around the corner from Koh San Road I walk over to see what all the fuss is about. But I don’t get it; it’s just another tourist shopping street with many shirts, tattoo shops and loud bars playing those same hits over and over. I do go in to one of those and sneak off to their bathroom to clean myself up a bit; my last shower was over a day ago and the next isn’t scheduled before tomorrows check-in.

I stroll through smoggy Bangkok that feels quite cool to me now. At some point there is a big road to cross and there are some other tourists waiting at the light. When it turns green the cars don’t stop they look a little panicked. I just start walking, making my way between the cars. I remember how I was them in Hanoi and smile to myself.

I try to find the Royal Palace, but instead end up in Wat Pho, a pretty temple, but it’s so crowded, and over the top bright and gold.
And then suddenly I stumble upon that same stand where I had my first streetfood 7 weeks ago, and I sit down for another ‘best padthai ever’. The lady still cooks with the same passion and it still tastes magnificent!

I walk back to the travel agency to find my pick-up is also by foot, a 20 minute walk through the maze of little alleys behind Koh San, through a fighting school and what not.
It’s a pretty comfortable bus that takes us down and again I catch quite a few hours of sleep.

Bangkok recommended

I only spend two and a half days in total, half of that on a pre-booked trip, so I’m sorry to have little to recommend. One day I will be back to explore much further, I’m sure!

– Do:
Go in to the little alleys, explore what’s behind the touristic facades, follow your nose.
A few beautiful words of a close friend, wandering just like that:

Lost in Bangkok. Dark alleyways, hardly wide enough for my shoulders. A boxing ring under a bridge, stained dark brown. Bloodshot eyes that glare at me from the darkness. Take a left, take a right, I’m totally disoriented. And then I see him, dead eyes staring at the ceiling. Emaciated cheeks, mouth wide open, wearing a dirty shirt and a diaper. The spastic movements of his left leg the only sign of life. The tragedy of this man and the confinement of these alleyways make me claustrophobic. As panic sets in, the fresh breeze and the sight of the open waters of the river come as salvation. I have regained my bearings. – Jasper Coucke

I heard north-east of Koh San road you can find an area much less touristic, much more friendly, artistic and inspiring. Alas I haven’t had the opportunity to find it yet.

I was taken on a boat tour that showed me how green and swampy such a big city can be. I liked seeing such a different side to it.

Friends I met in Cambodia had taken the Greenleaf tour through Khao Yai National Park. Moved right to the top of my wishlist!

– Eat:
For the best padthai ever, go to the pier across from Wat Arun and find it just outside of the wooden mall.

– Drink:
Believe it or not, but I haven’t drunk a single glass in BKK.

– Sleep:
(don’t) I spend my first night in the Bangkok Center Hotel, a fancy place that probably charges way too much.

(don’t) A friend had recommended New Siam II. Looking at their site now, they don’t look cheap or backpacky, nor did they when I walked by that one time… Fine for those traveling in pairs though.

What would you recommend in Bangkok?

Goodmorning Bangkok!

Day II – March 20

Not the first: it’s been looking a lot like morning the previous 3 times I woke up, but by now it looks noonish, that bright, and my watch tells me it’s ok to actually get out. The breakfast buffet is open till 10am so I’ve got a good hour to explore it.
Pancakes, omelets, toast with jam and marmalade, yogurt and fruit salad, but also an assortment of fried rice, noodles etc; the more local breakfast. I’m sticking to a little light continental, as having breakfast is pretty hard for me anyway. I try the coffee that is more like wish-wash and the juice, which is actually lemonade, and a very, very sweet one at that.

Before we leave for a city tour I sit myself down by the pool to make a first attempt at a tan. I so love the feeling of the warm touch of the sun on my skin. But 10 minutes in this one, and I’m done for.
4) my hand fan
I discover a big itch in my throat. Could be the cold that’s been lingering to come out for days. It’s more likely to be the city though. I don’t smell the rubber as bad anymore, but I’m guessing that’s not a good thing.
Still “What/why the hell am I doing this?!” flashes though my mind well regularly.
It stopped when Claire and I went for a walk yesterday and there was so much to distract me. But as soon as I sit still, they cage down on me.
I had some stuff to take care of to get my Vietnamese visa in order and then they completely freaked me out. Even reading through Lonely Planet scares me a bit…
I think if someone opened a wormhole for me now, saying I could go home if I should want to, I’d step right through.
Yesterday I went over a day’s budget already. I’m starting to get quite concerned I still won’t make it.

And by the time we get on a boat to take a tour and discover Bangkok some more, all doubts and fears are completely forgotten and I just sit and soak it all in happily; how all the little thrown-together homes hang over the water and each other, here and there making way for a pagoda or a huge office or hotel.
Sit steers us into a little alley across the water from Wat Arun, where we just climbed some dangerous stairs, and together we decide on a food cart. This one specialized in padthai, and it is the best. Padthai. EVER! But to be honest it is my first.
Sit gets us a fruit platter and someone exclaimed “Mango!” and someone else takes a bite and said “No, it’s papaya.” and no one is going to get why this is funny, but it made me laugh, and maybe one day when you’re watching Lord of the Rings again you’ll get it.
After that it was time to get to the station and board the sleepertrain to Chiang Mai.

This is the first time ever for me not to have any Dutch-speaking company. Fine with me! But funny thing is that I’ve already started two sentences in Dutch, because I wanted to say something bystanders couldn’t hear, or just out of habit, and maybe because I’m getting tired and the English doesn’t come completely effortless, especially as I’m still trying to keep up that British accent.
Sit had this little joke with me. He speaks a little Dutch; a friend of his is a Dutchman who moved to Chiang Mai. And he kept explaining us talking in that weird language to the others by saying “You speak Thai very well.”

At 10pm I tug myself in to my bottom bunkbed in the bumpy but very well cooled train, now rolling at a steady tempo up Thailand’s pitch-black flatlands. So I’m hoping this early night will make for another early morning and that the sun will be there to show me the beautiful north.

Another thing occurred to me today. I mentioned the boy I left behind. I told him not to wait for me, I made him promise he wouldn’t, and that he’d go out etc. Well what if he does, and finds himself another girl… This thing between us happened in less than the time I’ll spend being away. I’m not sure what I’ll want when I come back, but the idea of him being with someone else; no like…

[this was day 2 of my personal experience with G-Adventures: Northern Hilltribe Trekking, a 7 day trip starting and ending in Bangkok, taking you up to Thailands beautiful North and into the homes of the Karen tribe, which I booked through Kilroy Travel]

Skipping to Thai time

Next destination:
Bangkok: population: ± 12 million
Thailand: visa requirements: a vilid ticket out of the country no more than a month later
population: ± 64 million
capitalL: Bangkok
language: Thai
slogan: Land of a thousand smiles
currency: Baht, €1 = 40b

Day I – March 19
First impressions on Souteast Asia: HOT! And the smell of rubber is impossible to ignore.
After filling out the immigration form again -I did it wrong on the plane- and picking up my backpack at the conveyer belt, I find the meter-taxis right outside. LP tells you to take those instead of the regular taxies who are likely to rip you off.
A woman behind a desk translates the address of the hotel G-Adventures booked my first night, into Thai, and a driver takes me to his car. This is way too easy. *

As we were landing I was surprised by not seeing the fairytale land I’d imagined after all the movies I’ve seen.
But here it is; these little shacks along the highway, amongst the palm trees. People are living here; right next it, with just a wire fence to shield them from the big road, in houses build with scraps of plastic, steel and bamboo. Seems so odd to me now. But I guess in 2 months time I won’t even notice anymore. **
First baht experience: Asia is supposed to be cheap, so the speed with which the meter goes up frightens me a little. We’re not even in the city before it hits 125b. I don’t have too much time to worry about how I’m going to pay for it with my single 100b note, astonished by this insane traffic criss-crossing all over the road.
A little while later the taxi drops me in front of a huge building that looks like an extremely expensive hotel and asks me for 300b. Luckily the hotel has an exchange service, and their rate is fair.
A busboy shows me to my room, that I share with Claire, one of my trekking-group members. She’s had about as crazy a trip getting here as I did. Her way of dealing is by taking a nap. I instead choose a dip in the pool.

When we’ve both had our little breather, we set out for a little walk around the neighborhood.
It all still feels very unreal, like a dream or visiting an entertainment park. Walking the streets looking for a hot plate, we’re struck by very strong smells of rubber, garlic, herbs, fire…
We pass a river, or rather a still canal that’s turned a turquoise green. Some men are fishing in it and apparently something does live in there; the catch, a big fat carp, is lying right next to them, out in the sun, flies buzzing over it and all.
Somewhat chicken, but it is our first meal, so we go for safe; we go into a cafeteria instead of to a street vendor. Nice food though. A bit too hot for me still, but half an hour later my lips have already recovered all sense.
Every building seems to be build floor by floor, stacked one on top of the other, without regard for each other, with whichever tools and materials that happened to be lying around. And next to them is the Bangkok Centre Hotel, the place I’m staying; a vast, straight, boring bunker.

There is a G-adventure meeting in the lobby early that evening. I do my best to listen to what our guide, Sit from Chiang Mai, is telling us. But the jetlag creeps in to shut my eyes as rude as anything. So I skip dinner with the rest of the group, miss out on a ping-pong show, and hit the hay at 8pm.

* Turns out it was; I should have just taken the skytrain to the station that was right around the corner from the hotel.
** Indeed, when on Bali I’d gotten used to the Asian form of highway and no guardrail between that and the little houses all along the side of it.

Bangkok captured

I flew in on March the 19th, had an arranged first night in Bangkok Center Hotel in chinatown, and on the second day our G-adventure tour guide Sit took us for a city tour over the canals. That night we got on the train to Chiang Mai.
For a full gallery visit my flickr site.