Arriving at the airport there was no flooding memories of my last visit, just an airport overflowing with confusing. We navigated our way outside to the taxi stand where we were drenched with a humid heat as we found the back of the taxi queue. Surprisingly, all the queues were very organised, with cab drivers given tickets to take us to our hotel, not a single haggle took place, and no one was ripped off.
In the city, we edged into a back lane after some searching and confusion over our address. The unassuming entrance to our road did nothing for confidence, but hiding amongst the grey buildings, set back from the lane, was our hotel. After a long journey, our faces lit up with our darling hotel room, huge comfortable bed and nice bathroom.
The day we hit our first immediate challenge, breakfast. The hotel didn’t offer anything in the way of sustenance so we were left to our own devices to fend for ourselves. We politely enquired with the front desk about the location of a nearby dining establishment.
“OK, out on the road, on the left”.
They seemed like pretty easy directions. We must have a great location here, everything we’ve ever wanted on our doorstep. So we walked. And walked. Yep we definitely went left, but nothing. After a while we passed some small street vendors who offered up something that I couldn’t say resembled food as we knew it. We headed back on the other side of the road, hoping from a vantage point across the manic street we may spot this obvious hive of eateries. Nothing, just suit shops and a Seven Eleven. Opposite the lane where our hotel was, we settled in a small restaurant come travel agent and had our first Thai breakfast. I went for Phad Thai and Holly, the more traditional, eggs on toast.
The guide books promised a land of easy access, transport locally in abundance and a bevvy of traditional and modern sites. Trotting down the scorched pavement, we were berated by drivers of tuk tuks and taxis offering their services. We approach the chap that looked the least like a con artist.
First stop would be the grand palace.
“No, no you can’t go. Too many people, not get in. People fighting you get hurt”
What the fuck was this? He showed us a newspaper with a full front page spread, half covered with pictures of crowds in the centre of Bangkok.
“Get a boat tour, see palace and Buddha”, He offered up as an alternative. Why not, I’m sure in this place any tour would be cheap enough.
We were flung around the back of the tuk tuk as he whizzed around the slimy streets at breakneck speeds, the overcast sky painting the town a melancholy grey hue.
I had mistakenly assumed that we could arrive at the jetty, fob off the advances of the boat tour company and wander the river banks to the city centre. Slumped at the bottom of a back lane, was the boat company. A cul-de-sac with our only options being boat, swim or back in our tuk tuk. After a half arsed pitch to take the boat, we opted to walk back into the city and take our chances on foot. Our tuk tuk driver seemed shocked that we had not opted for his recommended boat ride, a vague hint towards his cahoots with the tour company. His ever-friendly demeanour presented the option of a ride into Chinatown, once again avoiding our desire to see the palace. Still sitting on the fence, we could not decide whether this was an act of genuine compassion to save us from the dangers of an angry political mob, or an act to keep us in line with his original scam to have us directed towards his partnership tour. Nevertheless we headed to Chinatown.
Picking our way through this monstrous jungle of towering buildings, each street a string of shops offering everything from old broken electronics to high-priced jade jewellery.
This highlighted for me my greatest problem at having a long list of wonderous, albeit similar places, stamped in my passport.
Had this been the first Chinatown we had encountered, I’m sure we would have been blown away, noticing all tiny details of this place, in both shock and awe. But after Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, the feeling is not one of discovery, but a reminder of a place already conquered, a sight already seen, a land already lived.
The city proudly echoed its enormity, and in it’s arrogance, allowed confusion and deceit take over us. Navigating the city was extremely difficult, with nothing really within walking distance, the only map being offered from the hotel a tube map, we had no way of getting about on foot. The taxi drivers and tuk tuk merchants, all well rehearsed in the theatrical ruse they play daily for the unsuspecting punters. Our wonder for large cities, overcast by the shadowy underbelly of this one.
We needed amazement and sadly, Bangkok would not be the place to offer this to us. Except from in the form of shopping.
The following day we headed out for our first Thai shopping experience, asking our friendly tuk tuk driver to take us to the best shopping centre in town. As we strolled into the building, it had the feeling of an old market, slowly brought into the 21st century, stocked with knock-off goods that Thailand is infamous for. Floor after floor we meandered through the shelves of souvineers, Calvin Klein underwear and printed gimmick t-shirts. Exhausted and at the top floor, we welcomed the food court and re-fuelled for the next mall experience.
We trotted to the next mall, slightly hopefull as this was dubbed “The posh clothes one” by our driver. I say slightly, based on the last ‘mall’, our expectations were well grounded.
Behold, civilisation! Awaiting us was a monstrous structure, housing shops from Armani to Adidas, a shopping centre the way we understand the definition. Browsing the dim lit boutique shops, our woes from the bustling commotion of the world outside evaporated with each perfectly tailored garment we revered.
Each eatery, wonderfully decorated and overflowing with gluttonous customers evidenced this city starting to get something on the right track.
A few metres from the exits on the second floor stood a hotel, housing even more high end fashion boutiques. The vantage point of the mall exit showcased the futuristic side of the city, neon lights illuminating the twilight and a passing monorail giving the feel of a 80’s movie, set in the future.
We began to plan our escape from here, with a train south and a ferry to an Island called Koh Tao. The short notice and the under developed e-commerce of the train systems meant we needed to travel to the train station just to get tickets, something we decided needed to be done in advance. Again out tuk tuk driver was on hand to help us out for a good price, as long as we helped him by visiting a travel agent he had some sort of fuel agreement with.
We promised to stay and show an interest in anything they had to offer in exchange for our reduced fare.
Perhaps we were seduced by the seemingly honest approach of the agent or the relative simplicity he laid out for us, but we left that travel agents with an overnight bus ticket and boat to Koh Tao, rendering our trip to the station redundant. And we saved a few quid too.
In celebration we headed back to the large mall to their food court we had discovered the previous day. Street vendor food was offered in the comfort of a food court, with the dining areas seemingly cleaner and slightly pricier. After indulging on some chicken skewers and BBQ sausage we headed back for a relaxing night in our hostel before the overnight bus the following night.
To pass the time the following day rather than risk another potential rip off from excursion hunting, we decided to treat ourselves to a Krispy Kreme breakfast and another peruse of the shops.
We once again attempted to see the grand palace, the taxi driver advising that it was closed and perhaps we should take a tour of the city his friend could arrange. No thanks, just back to the hostel please.
Lurking in the hotel lobby, we waited for the hours to roll by until it was time to set off for our bus. There was an exhaustion within us, not from days spent tramping the city or all night parties, but a mental fatigue from the planning and unsuccessful attempts at a touristic stint in this city.
To make sure we found the bus depot, we set off an hour before the allotted meet time. The description the travel agent gave was that it was at the end of Kho San Road, a well known street in the city and one which every taxi driver would know. We advised our driver that we wanted to go to the depot there. He, of course, did not understand. Our map that was provided by the travel company offered very little aid to the situation. What was clearly something produced on Microsoft word, the driver didn’t seem to recognise and of the layout and mentioned that he could take us as far as one of the outlying streets.
A few minutes of comedic back and forward ended with the understanding that the riots were still progressing and roads were closed, which prompted his reluctance to take us to the doorstep.
We arrived t the edge of the commotion, where the taxi driver took his payment and ushered us out of the taxi, hurtling away with the speed at which he took our money.
I hoisted both mine and Holly’s backpack onto my shoulders and off we set in search of the mysterious bus depot.
While walking through the crowds of Thai nationals, a rumble of voices and commotion stirred their patriotic waving of flags and banners. The deeper into the street we reached, the more palpable the threat became as our feelings of safety diminished. Utterly lost at this point, the advice of strangers was fruitless, them too scoffing at the mediocrity of our map, opting to sketch their own. This advice would also offer little salvation, as the language barrier again prompted more confusion and only added to the unrest we wee feeling.
Stressed, frightened, slightly dishevelled and already late for our bus meeting we decided to end our unexpected journey and headed for a taxi back to the hostel. We were very mistaken to think that the nights worries had ended with that decision.
Something took over every taxi driver that night, all of them with a reluctance stop and pick us tourists up. After a friendly Thai man offered up some words of wisdom to head down a street for easier taxi flagging, we obliged and trotted away. With each step, a harrowing conspiracy flourished in my mind. Imagining a team of well-trained hustlers lurking in the shadows of Bangkok, with one man selecting his mark and ushering them down a chosen street. Waiting at the end of this lane, a gang of unsavoury characters, waiting to rake advantage of lost tourists. This, I of course never mentioned to Holly, who was already traumatised enough by the whole ordeal.
Eventually, a taxi was willing to stop for us. Gratefully revealing our address through wheezing exhalations, the driver again didn’t want to take us. Showcasing Holly’s panic and sadness the driver seemed to semi-accept, blurting out a laugh in response, demanding an extortionate fee. I immediately accepted, money was not an issue anymore. The driver was slightly blind-sighted by this acceptance and then tried to up the stakes. We were already in the cab and were in no mood for re-negotiations. Drive on, kind sir.
Back at the hostel we booked the same room and sat on our bed feeling the stress of the night sink away.
A bloody drink, that was what we needed.
Around the corner, at another hostel, we sought refuge in the bottom of the bottle. A crowd had gathered for what seemed like a pub crawl and it was no time at all before a fellow traveller had introduced themselves, offering shots in the process. The night progressed and we were further introduced to most of the gang. The crazy Canadians, already mortal drunk and in a boisterous mood, before a German fellow, speaking perfect English, introduced himself and proceeded to have a dig at my tash, suggesting it contravened the official rules of movember. A long-haired, Bill Hicks esq American from Ohio, escaping a warrant for his arrest in the states and becoming deeply offended when Holly suggested he was from Toronto. The often-diverse group of travellers, once again, not letting us down.
A skid and a bag. Everyone’s head was turned and one of the Canadians was power walking away from a tuk-tuk, now resting on it’s side.
As he assured us, he did not steal it, the owner lurked around the hostel, waiting for some compensation. The other Canadian, sitting with his shirt ripped, offered up everything in his wallet, and subsequently owning up to being the driver. The other chap, the bigger pain in the arse, was still ferociously denying any involvement with driving.
Noticing his deep need for innocence, Holly asked again, if he was driving.
Another adamant denial.
Trying to wind this man up, Holly pounced on his weakness, pushing that he was the driver.
“Shut up! You think that was MEE? You’re trying to put this on MEE? Who is this bitch trying to put it on me”
At this point, there was no one, sadly including me, stepping in at this point defending Holly. The confusion as to whether he was using his Canadian colloquial tongue calling her a ‘bitch’ or if it was an attack, I had not realised until we were walking away he may have been very serious. The ordeal having put us off staying out with those people and we headed home.
At the hotel we booked a flight taking us to Krabi, where we would catch a boat to Koh Lanta, happily leaving Bangkok in our dust.