It was time to leave Cambodia and head for the bustling capital of Thailand: Bangkok. We booked our bus with Giant Ibis which, although a little pricier than other companies, we’d used them several times throughout Cambodia and they’d provided a really great service. For example, they tag your luggage so it can only be collected by someone with the matching number and included in the price was breakfast (a Nescafé iced coffee and a chocolate pastry) and, to our surprise, lunch (vegetable fried rice). Lovely!
We set off on the 8 hour journey to Bangkok and as we’d had a really early start, I inevitably nodded off. Stopping at Poi Pet, a Cambodian border town lined with casinos for Thai gamblers (gambling is banned in Thailand), we entered a shady looking immigration office and got stamped out of the country. It was here that we saw our first few ladyboys doing visa runs and tried not to stare. We walked the no-mans-land to the Thai immigration office and sailed through, re-boarding our coach on the other side. Hello Thailand!
Once in Bangkok, we were dropped at the side of a road and, without any mobile data, we had to get a taxi to our hostel. A lovely old man drove us to the financial (and red light) district of Silom and Tom, who was in a foul mood (probably as I’d accidentally smashed his phone screen the previous evening), wouldn’t stop grumbling about how far out from the centre we were going. I’d booked the accommodation and I think Tom had forgotten we were in a capital city; if he wanted to stay centrally he’d need to cough up a lot more money; and at this point, he didn’t actually know where the ‘centre’ was.
Letting Tom stew, we checked into the stylish BRB Hostel and found our double bed in a 4-bed dormitory (£6.25 each a night). We were on the 4th floor and there was no lift but the whole place was modern and clean, the shared bathrooms were nice, breakfast was included and they had self-serve laundry facilities which was handy.
After unpacking a few bits we walked to a nearby park and watched in amazement as hundreds of locals jumped and danced along to a community aerobics session, taking instruction from an insanely energetic Thai lady on stage, all to the sound of high tempo Asian dance music. Hundreds more were running/jogging/walking around a purpose built track which circled the park – brilliant to see so many people of all ages and fitness levels just getting out and exercising together. We strolled through the park for a while, marvelling at the gigantic monitor lizards which swam through the lakes looking like prehistoric dinosaurs.
Top of our priorities for the evening was sorting Tom’s phone, so we walked to a huge mall and thankfully found an entire floor of second hand phone stalls. We managed to negotiate a new screen, two SIM cards and a screen protector (I insisted Tom got one) all for a good price and then caught a local bus to the infamous Khao San Road.
It wasn’t that late so the drunken antics weren’t in full flow yet, but the street was still heaving with tourists and bar touts trying to get you in for cheap drinks. Food stalls lined the street too and numerous hawkers waved grilled scorpions and tarantulas in your face. Deciding we were both too chicken to try them, we worked our way to the next road and had our first Pad Thai of the trip at Max’s Magical Thai Food. I’d say the food was average but it only cost £1.30, Max was entertaining with his magic tricks and jokes and the beers were probably the cheapest around so who’s complaining?!
Around midnight we circled back to Khao San Road and by this point the 18 year olds were out in force. We watched and laughed at a few young guys who were hammered, singing along to Katy Perry and spinning their tops round their heads trying to attract girls who were not interested. We were in search of somewhere to watch the England vs Croatia semi-final game and this was not it, so we went back to the street we’d had dinner on and found a lively bar with a big screen outside and plenty of plastic seats and tables set up on the street. We managed to grab two chairs near the screen, got a couple of Changs and settled in for kick-off.
Just before the start a group of 5 England fans rocked up, chanting as they approached and, much to my annoyance, took the seats opposite us. They were very young and all sporting ridiculous hair styles, moustaches and outfits – think Pat Sharp mullets, Pablo Escobar moustaches, Cuban shirts and camouflage hats. It was pretty hilarious watching them practice their shit little chants before erupting into song and thankfully we weren’t the only ones finding it ridiculous – everyone was looking at them and eye rolling.
During half time and after quite a few beers we were struggling to work out where their accents were from so I asked. I burst out laughing and Tom buried his head… they were from the village next to Tom’s back home in Buckinghamshire and went to one of England’s most prestigious private schools: Stowe. They were the exact opposite of what you’d expect from Stowe, but once we started chatting they transformed into their public boy selves, stopped pratting about as much and were actually alright. They even admitted they were rebelling with their awful hairstyles and their mums would kill them if they saw them.
The game ended in a loss and we made our way to McDonalds. Tom was pretty drunk by this point so I sat him at a table and ordered him a Double Big Mac he’d been so excited to try, but it would turn out that he wouldn’t remember eating it. I confiscated Tom’s phone to avoid any more smashed screens, got us a taxi home, necked a load of water and crawled into bed at 4am.
Feeling rather fragile the next morning we took it easy and went for a pizza at a nearby mall. Choosing to walk off our hangovers, we clocked up 15km exploring China Town and the route to the Grand Palace.
At sunset we took a boat along the river and the Sky Train back to Silom. Now in search of somewhere to eat we wandered Patpong (the red light district) and glanced into the many go go bars with scantily clad girls dancing on poles and men frantically waving ‘ping pong’ menus at you. It was nice and subtle with girls sitting on benches outside each bar waiting to be chosen, each in matching outfits – soldiers, school girls, nurses, whatever takes your fancy. Leaving that behind (but also curious to see a show) we had dinner at a small restaurant – my first Thai Green Curry. It was tasty but far too spicy for me and Tom wasn’t a fan of his cashew chicken so we swapped. Still feeling grim, we headed back to the hostel, did laundry and went to bed.
Thankfully feeling human again, we got up the next day and after waiting 45 minutes for a bus that never showed, we paired up with a Thai couple and shared a taxi into town. They were uni students in Bangkok and we chatted about football, grime music, English slang terms and all the British TV shows they love which was hilarious.
We got dropped off at the Grand Palace and paid £11 each to enter, joining thousands of other visitors. You could barely move there were so many people and paired with the heat of the day, Tom quickly got annoyed and lost interest. There were several different temples and stupas, all heavily decorated with carvings, mirrored tiles and gems which glistened in the sun and huge statues of demons were dotted around the site. The main temple, Wat Phra Kaew, is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and houses the sacred figurine which sits atop a pedestal surrounded by other gold statues.
After a few hours of exploring, the heat and walking had all got too much and after not eating since breakfast (it was now 5pm) we decided to leave and find food. We accidentally stumbled into a Subway and it was as though the stars had aligned – they had one baguette left – so we got a 6 inch sub each and a drink served by a lovely lady with an unfortunate name (Poo). So good to have a normal sandwich!
We got a boat and a bus back to Silom and had a cheap dinner on a street market – £3 each for a meal and a beer – then wandered the Patpong area again.
We didn’t really know what to do with our final day but had seen YouTube videos of a cool market outside Bangkok with a functioning train track which runs straight through it so researched how to get there. We bought snacks, took a taxi to the southern bus station, bought tickets for a minivan to the Meklong Train Market and waited for it to fill up. Once half full, we set off for Meklong but the driver kept stopping to pick up locals along the way and after an hour we were still in Bangkok. With a limited number of trains that pass through the market each day we were getting quite frustrated.
We finally made it to the market just as a train slowly rolled through. Each stallholder pulls their wares into the side of the tracks and lowers their canopy to allow the train to squeeze through and once it has passed the stalls all pop back out and people spill back onto the tracks. Health and safety anyone? Now clearly a popular tourist attraction, we struggled through the crowds and took in the sights (and smells) of the produce on sale, dipping into a small café for a cold drink. We made our way back down the tracks in time to get a good spot for the next train rolling through and helped a lady dismantle her stall. In return she let us stand in her little alcove and she showed us how far we’d need to stand back in order to not be squished. We snapped away and waved at the people on the train, holding our breaths as Chinese tourists left it until the last second to step out of the way.
Once the train had passed and all the stalls were re-erected, we made our way back to the bus station with an American who wasn’t sure of the way. Back in Bangkok we went back to the same street market as the night before and this time dined at Mama Mia’s. The enigmatic Mama Mia, a rather large and vivacious Thai lady, took our order and shouted it to the guy manning the kitchen on the other side of the street. The food was amazing and the portions were huge – crispy chicken tempura, stir fried garlic chicken, Thai curry and rice. We definitely didn’t need that amount of food and it was 3 times more expensive than our meal the night before, but it was our first decent meal in Thailand so we didn’t mind too much.
Back at the hostel we toyed with the idea of going to a ping pong show but after reading loads of stories warning about being charged hundreds of baht and being held by security until you coughed up, we decided we couldn’t afford the money (or being beaten up) so gave it a miss.
Bangkok is an interesting city which merges traditional Thai culture and its obsession with monarchy (expect to see shrines to the King everywhere) with vibrant street life and a modern, thriving cityscape. I enjoyed it but there is definitely a bit of a seedy feel to the place and I don’t think I’d rush back – 4 days was enough to explore everything we wanted to see.
Now, for our next stop we were meant to be heading to Sukhothai in central Thailand with its many temples, but after spending 3 days in Angkor we were quite ‘templed out’ and felt that Angkor couldn’t be beaten. We were also about a week ahead of schedule as we’d spent less time in Cambodia than anticipated so we weighed up a few options, checked our finances and decided to add Laos into our itinerary. We’d not wanted to go there originally after speaking to a few friends who’d been and weren’t too fussed by it, but we managed to find some cheap flights to the capital, Vientiane, so put together a quick plan for a whistle-stop tour and booked tickets.
So, next stop… Laos!
See ya later, Sophie x