I’m actually pretty embarrassed to say this, but it has been almost a year since my trip to Thailand! I have no excuses as to why it has taken me this long to write about it, other than pure laziness and tomfoolery. Fortunately though I kept good journals on the subject and can refer to them when things get inevitably hazy.
My travel buddy J and I traveled from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand on a little van with “lots of room”. When we finally crossed over the border, were waved through the “drug checkpoint” (this is in quotation marks because all it was was a few guards sitting around and waving everyone through without standing up) and had our passports stamped where we were thankfully moved to a larger, less cramped bus.
Our arrival in Bangkok, Thailand was a blur of conflicting sounds, confusing smells, and a blistering heat. We were dropped off right by Koh San road, which if you don’t know, is the main drink/party/tourist street in Bangkok. We reached our hostel with relative ease (J & I were getting good at this), and then we set out for our first dinner in Thailand!
I had pad tai because this was always my favorite dish in Thai restaurants back home, but it was only mediocre. We would learn that while Thailand has really good food, it isn’t the touristy places and touristy dishes that are the gems (duh). Which is probably why after the first day in Bangkok we decided to leave the authentic Thai food for the rest of our country tour and go for comfort food that was hard to find in China. Like thick, cheesy pizza without any weird ingredients on top. Come on China! Fish pizza? Really?
Now to be entirely honest with you, I can’t quite recap my days in Bangkok. It would be boring and monotonous because there wasn’t a whole lot that happened. While I definitely recommend visiting Bangkok at some point, I didn’t find that there was much to do within the actual city. The Tiger Palace and Floating Markets all take about an hour to get to from the city. If you are cheap backpackers like us you can understand why we didn’t want to spend more money to get transportation etc. for these places. I can, however, recap my nights. Most of the time I spent awake in Bangkok consisted of the non-daylight hours. I did see the sunlight a few times, but not in the way any respectable human being should. Or is it? I’m torn. Regardless, there is something to be said about walking home from a night out when the sun is coming up, the Gila monsters are stirring in their grimy canal beds and the Buddhist monks are out and about gathering their food for the day.
Our first night in Bangkok happened to be the Chinese new year, so we were joined in the streets by giant paper dragons and performance art. For all the hype that we heard about Koh San road, I have to say that it didn’t quite live up to its reputation. Sure it is pretty easy to spend the whole night out and about, but it wasn’t the most fun I had in SE Asia. Another way that Bangkok did not live up to its name: it was not nearly as dangerous as everyone said it was. I am, of course, talking about the protests and demonstrations that were taking place while I was there. In fact, our time in Bangkok happened to coincide with election day. I was told more than once not to go to Bangkok because of the ‘dangerous revolt’ that was happening. Well I went to said protests and do you know what I saw? A country’s people coming together to peacefully protest against a government who was no longer providing them what they needed. I know that later on down the line these protests did become more violent. However, these acts of violence were from a very select few and not from the majority. The majority were camped out outside a mall, and were cooking communal dinners and wanting their voices to be heard. But I digress.
There is one night that I want to share with everyone because it was so far beyond my craziest … dreams? Nightmares? The jury is still out.What started as a usual night of drinks and a few shenanigans out on Koh San road, turned into another late late night of tuk tuk races, questionable decisions and ping pong balls.
It started with dinner and drinks on Koh San Road with just J, and then turned into downing buckets with two brothers from Oregon and then searching for a tuk tuk driver to take us to what would turn out to be possibly the weirdest thing i’ve ever seen in my life.
It was not hard to find a tuk tuk driver to take us to the racier part of Bangkok. We arrived in what only seemed like a shady alley (it very well may have been more or less shady than I remember), and negotiated ticket prices down to 500 baht a head (roughly $15). We then went inside, were told not to take pictures, got our free beer and got some ‘prime’ seating in the front row. I’m pretty sure that the inventor of ping pong balls never thought that they would be used for this purpose. I’m also pretty sure that when I graduated from high school, and college for that matter, and was told that I would do and see so much in my life, that a ping pong show was not expected to be one of those things.
Oh but the night didn’t stop there! After we had had quite the eye full of Bangkok’s peculiar form of exotic oddities, we left the club and were ushered to another club, this one called Spice! if I recall correctly. Because why go home at 3 am when there are clubs full of ladies and boys (and a bit of both) waiting to be danced with!
The next day got off to a bit of a late start; I can’t possibly imagine why. J and I decided to take it easy before we left for our next destination by train that night. So after some afternoon street eats and beer, and fending off scorpion vendors, we decided to get massages. When in Thailand!
I’m not a huge fan of massages from people I don’t know, but I would get a Thai massage again any day. I never knew my body could crack in so many places, and feel so amazing.
The train/bus/van/ferry ride to our next destination, Koh Pha Ngan, was relatively comfortable if a bit long. But when we arrived on the island it was pretty clear that it was so worth it. We stayed on the younger, backpacker part of the island famous for the monthly Full Moon parties. Our visit coincided with the Half Moon party, but because this has become somewhat of a party island there are parties almost every night. The night we arrived there was an Eden party, which we skipped, the next night there was a waterfall party which was incredibly fun, and what was supposed to be our final night there was the Half Moon party. Since we did not climb into our bunks until about 10 am we inevitably stayed one more night.
I honestly can say that Koh Pha Ngan was one of my favorite places I visited. It probably helped that we had an amazing dorm of people who showed us around the island and helped us when J and I had (more than one) mishap with our transportation. They were also just nice guys who woke up late with us and showed us an amazing breakfast cafe where we had many a breakfast at 3 pm. It also didn’t hurt that while one side of the island was young and party minded, the other side, which was reachable in 15 minutes, was tranquil and beautiful.
It also didn’t hurt that the before mentioned parties this island throws are pretty fantastic. I never would have imagined that I would be covered in paint, dancing in the middle of the jungle, next to fire dancers, surrounded by people from all over the world and then fall asleep in an outdoor hutch with friends as the sun comes up. I never thought that would happen, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Needless to say, I can easily see why people come here and never leave. I would stay here too if I could.
It was with bandaged shoulders and heavy hearts we left Koh Pha Ngan and traveled further down the Thai coast to Krabi. Our final destination was Tonsai beach, a beach separated from West Railay by a sharp outcrop of rocks and reachable only by long boat.
Where Koh Pha Ngan was a party island, Tonsai Beach was the chilled out, hammock living that was truly needed after the week and a half of late nights and never ending parties. We didn’t arrive until late at night, and were lucky enough to find one bungalow left.
This was truly another place that I never thought I would find myself. A place mostly untouched by the tourism and commercialism of nearby Krabi and West Railay. A place where the locals and tourists both lounged around during the day, and drank and smoked at night by the light of the fire dancers and the sounds of Bob Marley. It was only a short, albeit precarious, walk to West Railay if one might get tired of the laid back atmosphere of Tonsai (as if you could?!).
My only word of advice is limit your sun time to about 15 minutes because that Thai sun is HOT! I, unfortunately, did not heed my own advice and accidentally fell asleep for … awhile. It was that night when I sat, slathered in aloe, holding a cold beer bottle against my skin that I discovered that night air can indeed be painful… when your entire body (i’m not kdding, it was both sides) is as red as a lobster.
Regardless of the condition of my skin, the few lazy days we were there passed by far too quickly in a haze of sunlight, aloe and smoke. It was a relaxing few days on a beach that seemed, to me at least, like it was straight out of a movie. It didn’t seem fair that we had to leave to go back to the hustle and bustle of China, but then again I know i’m lucky to have visited this place at all, even if for a short time. I know there are many people who will never set foot on the rocky beach, underneath the blistering Thai sun.
Never fend off their food from pesky monkeys.
Or never enviously watch from the shadows as non-injured adventurers climb the souring limestone cliffs.
Or never sit on a cushion to laze away the night hours without a single care.
So here ends our experience in Thailand, and with it our entire experience in SE Asia. To say it was a blast would be an understatement. I would have to say it was the experience of a lifetime, with a good friend and memories that i’ll have forever. Bangkok took years off my life, Koh Pha Ngan took some of my pride and gave me many new experiences in return and Tonsai gave me back a sense of serenity I lost in the smog of China. It was a learning experience and one hell of a month-long party, but most of all it was an adventure.
Until next time, explorers, never forget,
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!
P.S. The mood didn’t seem right at the end of the post to mention that I came upon a bit of bad luck during our bus ride back to Bangkok to catch our flight to China. I wasn’t robbed or anything, but I did happen upon a bit of food poisoning. I’m not sure if it was a combination of what was probably the worst sunburn of my life, along with a month of little sleep and long days, street food and antibiotics, or just a bad batch of chicken fried rice. But when we arrived in Bangkok at 5 am, I was feeling a little worse for the wear. I shrugged it off as lack of sleep and we sat down at a (thankfully still open) guesthouse for a ginger ale. However, it became pretty clear about 15 minutes later that this was not something a ginger ale would fix. Cut to me throwing up in a stall for an hour. To be honest, i’m just glad it didn’t happen on the bus! Talk about glass half full.
Probably the funniest part of this whole of the trip was the cab ride to our hotel by the airport. It took about an hour to get there, and midway through I, of course, felt the need to throw up again. We were currently gridlocked in traffic when I regretfully told the driver that I needed to get out. His reaction was the best I could have asked for. He looked back at me, looked at the traffic, then pulls a plastic 7-11 bag out of the glove compartment and handed it to me. My thoughts? If he was cool with it, so was I. Miraculously enough I managed to keep it down and we reached the hotel with no incidents! As soon as the nice man who helped us with our luggage had shut our door though, I was back in the bathroom for the duration of the day. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best way to actually end our trip, but I’ve always been a ‘bright side’ kinda person. I thought at least it would make a funny story if nothing else!
Although I did forget how awful it is to throw up sober. It really blows.
Pardon the awful puke pun,