Ah, Golden week! The time in the Japanese calendar when no fucks are given, and a ton of national holidays lineup, much like an eclipse, and allow you take a chunk of time off to do all that travelling you thought you’d get to do during the school holidays.
Combining them with nenkyu, holiday leave, myself and 7 intrepide friends threw down our shackles and flew the 5 hours to Thailand, and traversed (by car, train and boat) the long-ass distances between Bangkok, and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and capital Phnom Penh – it was quite the adventure.
Sprinting through the terminal like my name was El Niño…
Despite our best efforts, the holiday was almost a non-starter; the queue for check-in (because online check-in has no advantage with Jetstar…) combined with the systematic closure of checking desks and the queue reduced, left us with a mere 45 minutes to pass through security.
Apparently everybody else in Japan was planning to go on holiday, and with a mere 20 minutes before the flight we had cleared the metal detector, only to be hit by passport control – it’s like they don’t want you to leave!
With half the group magically passing this barrier, the other half of us waited in line. With the situation looking dire, there was no option but to use my best japanese, “eto… chotto muzukashii” and point at my boarding card as I jumped to the front of the queue.
Giving Usain Bolt a run for his money, I avoided colliding with unsuspecting Japanese people during my sprint, by loudly shouting “sumimasen”, spooking a pair of Chinese tourists sat on a bench as I hurdled over the top of a bush, and managed to hop into the shuttle bus to the plane.
A tense 5 minutes followed, as half the group held their breaths, awaiting the appearance of the remaining 4 boys…
Oh how we cheered dear reader when we say they puffy, red faces appear from the bright light of the doorway. And soon we were on our way.
To the Bustling Buildings of Bangkok
As we got off the plane, we were finally on holiday! A strange sense of familiarity played over in my mind, having once visited Bangkok when I was 13, and once leaving the building, the closeness of the heat was intense!
By working the numbers, we figured taxis were the affordable way to the hostel, and so we bartered prices, which upon reflection we should have just gone for the meter, and were cruising down the motorways of Bangkok and into the city.
It was just how I remembered. The surrealness of super wide laned, concrete motorways sprawling, and crawling over each other, as the cut through luscious green lands on either side, their edges lined with colossus billboards but high into the sky, whilst being driven at speed, and within close proximity of neighbouring cars as we frequently hopped lanes.
Eventually the green lands gave way to industrial complexes, and oddly styled apartment blocks, that had appeared to have wanted to imitate the grandiose, or at least styling of colonial and period houses from Europe.
Then we reached the city, and we hit the huge juxtaposition of wealth that I think epitomizes Thailand. The road network becomes this vastly complex thing, in which multi-laned roads, float tens of metres above the ground, weaving between tall building; slip roads passing over and around collapsing, corrugated iron roofed houses. Roads stand on pillars that rise up of murky water below, like you’re travelling over the surface of the pond, whilst the train track runs under the toll road, alongside which numerous venders have their houses and stalls built within inches of the passing trains.
Reaching the hostel, it was more than evident this was going to be a hot and sweaty holiday. Reconvening as a group of 8, I was smug in the knowledge that the other taxi had ended up paying considerably more than we had – a recurring theme throughout the holiday, though tainted by knowing I was still paying a ridiculously high amount compared to locals!
The Khaosan Immjai was pleasant, an open walled reception area was well stocked with beers and computers, and a keycard activated security gate kept the rooms separate from the general public. The sheer number of steps were killer for reaching the fifth floor, but this was outweighed by the number of female only dorms and thus a ridiculously high number of good looking gals were milling about the hostel. Like many places around the world, toilet paper in the bin. Whilst initially I didn’t enjoy the handheld bum shower, by the end of the trip it grew on me!
After handing out the official tour document, The Gaijin Guide to… Thailand and Cambodia, and wetting our whistles, we were off onto the streets on Bangkok, following the guide on our expert, Taychan, who had only last month been here with his parents.
To the Party Parts
Running parrallel to the famous party street Khaosan Road is Rambuttri Alley, a street a washed with tourist-trap stalls, restaurants and live music, which turned out to be my preferred street out of the two.
Each restaurant offers the same mix of Thai and Western foods, pizzas, pastas, burgers etc, and I knew I was no longer travelling with inexperienced kids when, at every restaurant (throughout the trip), the majority of the group no longer ordered from western menu, but actually sort out the Thai food, and took recommendations from each other on what to try.
Looking back on it, at no point did I even eat a McDonalds meal on this trip – truly the local cuisine was embraced (I think mostly because Thai & Cambodian food is so flavoursome and spicy, and thus at ends to most Japanese food!).
After dinner, and an initial exploration of Khaosan Road, we were back on the alley, ordering beer tours, listening to so-so renditions of Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs, and buying “Bungo Boyz” bracelets – clazzy!
Khaosan road, to my mind, was like a highly condensed, poorman’s Las Vegas, with bright lights and neon signs illuminating the whole street. Where it differs is the sheer volume of street vendors, selling food, cloths, and booze right on the street, leaving only a narrow central pathway for getting down the street.
This close and crowdedness would eventually lead to our downfall as a group. Initially a couple were lost as we pit stopped at a 7-11. A few more disappeared behind us as we ventured down the street. We regrouped for buckets at the end of the street.
The Red Bull was super cool, coming in medicinal looking bottles!
As things get hazy, I was left with Chuck Lorris, some guy we picked up on route, and with him, I ventured into a club, gaining the trust of several guys to form a dance troupe, before deciding I’d had enough, would never find my friends and so went back to the hostel.
To my joy I found Martin asleep in the reception. Naturally I left him there.
Floating Markets and Wat not
Surprisingly the group got up at a reasonable hour, much to the despair of our fellow room mates! I imagine the fear of being left behind motivated people into action, and we were soon on our way to floating food market.
Confronted with prices such as 40 baht for a dish, about a dollar, we could really appreciate just how expensive the heavy tourist haunts were! Unfortunately, owing to our group’s size, we were unable to pick up a boat to explore, so set about on foot to check out the area.
We can a across a delightful area, with a small temple building, and a number of restaurants, which inside of one appeared to be having a wedding reception – I think they enjoyed our dancing to the music.
The cabs back were super cheeky, effectively driving back past everything we walked past, in a huge square, before passing about 50 metres from where we started – always tricky when you’re on a meter! Check out here for using your mobile maps whilst abroad!
With an afternoon ahead of us, we took the cabs to go and see Wat Pho, at the recommendation of some friends.
Two of our friends got soccer-punched by a snake guy, who let them take hold his snake, take photos, and then hit them with a charge almost as much as the cab fare from the airport. The lesson? I’ll tell you Wat Pho…
NEVER A TOUCH A MAN’S SNAKE WITHOUT SEEING IF HE CHARGES FIRST.
Sound advice if I ever heard it.
Entering the temple, there were a few interesting points. Firstly, there was a lot of marketting and leaflets directed at tourists about how to correctly and respectfully use the buddha’s image, which the main takeway I got was not to get a tattoo of him.
Secondly, it was interesting to see that Thai nationals were allowed to enter the site for free, having their own entrance, whilst tourists had to pay a 100 baht/ $2.50 fee – a phenomenom that would appear in a number of sights in Thailand and Cambodia (with one fee being as much as $15 for tourists, and free for nationals).
In one building there was a grand, golden, laying Buddha on his side, around which the swarms, walked around in a circle, photographing every part of him.
Around the joint were a ton of stupas with their intricate tiled patterns, popping out the ground like pixelated plants, and used to house holy relics.
Also, the sun was out.
Until it poured down, and we got trapped inside… I don’t know what it was, but it kept us dry!
Having not fully adjusted to the heat, combined with the rain, we cut our Wt exploration and lil short, and squeezed 4 people into two tuk tuks, and headed back to the hostel.
Boating in Bangkok
It was getting on for mid afternoon, and not one to waste a day of holiday, and having failed to secure a boat journey in the morning, we headed back out from the hostel, through a number of back streets until we found the ferry port and rode the boat from the north end of Bangkok, right down to the southern end of the route.
The speed at which the boat dropped and picked up passengers beggared belief, stopping at 15 stops in around 40 minutes! It would speed between stops, zig zagging across the river, and at the last second, slowed down and swing it’s derrierre into the dock, slamminng against the tire lined side, and passengers would hurriedly jump off, then on, with the boat simply being pulled close to the dock by a guy with a rope, and we’d be off again, no longer than 30 seconds spent at any dock – an impressive operation they had going!
Though we had hopes of finding a rooftop bar that had been recommended to us, after having gotten lost and asked for directions, we were told that they’d be a dress code – not surprisingly, none of us would pass! A thirst in our throats, we headed back to the river and caught the boat back up stream.
It was cool watching how the cityscape transitioned along the river. One memory I have from my visiting Bangkok with my parents, was their amazement of the extremely pooor neighbourhoods of stilted houses along the river, next to gold covered temples and monuments. However, on this trip I didn’t see this so much, perhaps Bangkok government has moved these people else where, or the river front has been heavlily developed during the intervening 10 years?
Whilst the northside we were staying was relatively low rise; definitely no skyscappers, or tall appartment blocks, as you moved south, the affluence of the area began to show, as we began to see riverside malls, that eventually gave rise to a number of riverside hotels, such as the Hilton, with huge architectural wonders, and tall appartment blocks, and it became apparent we were in the backpackers, cheapo area.
This world of contrast I had not even begun to touch I later discovered on our final afternoon in Thailand before leaving to return to Japan.
We met back with the boys in the hostel, now more recovered from the merriment the previous night, and they had made new friends whom we indoctrinated into the International Laws of Consumption and took out for dinner with us.
Heading back to Rambuttri Alley, it was now I realised all the restaurants sold the same food! I settled for a Thai green curry, because why not Rome it a lil before heading to Cambodia?
As the beer towers flowed, the time passed by, and so some of the group headed back to the hostel, after all, we had a 0430 departure from the hostel to the train station in the morning, whilst 3 of us, along with our new friends headed back to Kaohsan road for a night of merriment, though we chose not to take up the kind gentlemen on the streets offering ping pong show and monkey handjob – your guess is as good as mine on that last one…