I have not been smacked in the face many times. Once or twice by a sibling perhaps, once by a hockey stick, once whilst surfing a fairy liquid tarpaulin during a poorly judged Brownie Guide meeting, but never, in my twenty something years, have I been smacked round the chops as hard as I was by the humidity as I stepped off my plane in Bangkok, Thailand: ‘The land of smiles’. Coincidentally, it is also the Land of Sweat, perhaps even the Land of Unshakeable Body Odour. It’s also pretty cool.
I spent my first two nights in Thailand in the Sawasdee Inn, a ‘mattress in a box’ cheap hostel on the Khao San Road. This infamous street is in central Bangkok. Its name translates literally as ‘milled rice’, harking back to its former glory as one of Bangkok’s biggest rice markets. Now, it is teeming with thousands of bustling citizens and tourists alike, tuk tuks screeching around corners, rows of haphazard market stalls selling everything from clothes to flip flops to paintings to fried insects. At every corner, street food sellers push piping hot Pad Thai towards you for 100 Baht a go – (around 50p). Most things that I tried were delicious, although I can’t guarantee complete five star food hygiene…
I mean, I won’t sugar coat it, the hotel was not exactly luxurious. I shared a room with one other girl and although nothing hugely unpleasant happened in our room, there were whispers of bed bugs from some of the others. All part of the charm, I assure you. It wouldn’t be Khao San without uncomfortable stuffiness, crazy traffic, a few creepy crawlies and a sea of elephant pants – (those draw string loose pants people try to sell on Ebay for £20 after they’ve bought them for 40p in Bangkok).
TIP: Buy your souvenirs / elephant pants on Khoa San or in Bangkok rather than on the islands – theyre about half the price. Yes, one whole pound. You also don’t get as much choice on the islands.
Some of my favourite parts of Khoa San Road – the infamous heart of Bangkok’s bar scene – were the signs above some of the doors, and on the menus. One bar actually appeared to be called ‘We no check ID cards’. Fantastic. Several menus comforted us woussy Brits: ‘ Don’t worry for spicy, we can do low spicy for you.’ After the obligatory test of the street food and a coffee with one of the girls I had met in the airport, we met up with the rest of the group and inevitably, what started out as polite introductions very quickly turned into round after round of rum & Red Bull cocktail buckets that the Thais call Sangsom.
On the second day, we had a whistle-stop tour of Bangkok, following a fairly heavy night in ‘The Club’, a questionable but busy club that we initially mocked (yet still ended up in TWICE). An early start saw us aboard two long boats on our way to the floating markets, a couple of the girls embracing Thai culture early on with a risky 10am Chang beer. (You know who you are…) Thankfully, I dodged that bullet. After a small, dumpy woman floated past on a boat, she leant over to exchange cans of coke for a handful of Baht. Disappointed murmurs rippled that we had expected more from the ‘floating market’.
Thankfully, we were soon reassured that THIS WAS NOT IT and soon we docked our canoes and spent a pleasant hour or so wandering up and down pontoons, buying hot sweetcorn on the cob and sticks of spicy barbecued pork. Pathetic attempts at bartering probably saw us paying over the odds, but when the odds are a tenth of the UK price, you’re not really bothered.
Next stop was Wat Pho, a beautiful temple on the side of the river. It was heavily mosaicked, and was our first taster of the decadence of Thai decoration. Minimalist is not really their thing; this was also demonstrated at our next stop, the Grand Palace. More gold, glitter and sparkles then a Blue Peter Christmas Special.
This also happened to be my 22nd birthday. After a tasty meal in one of the bar’s back on Khao san, and several rounds of tequila shots in several questionable bars, we were back in ‘The Club’ to celebrate; perhaps my sweatiest birthday yet!
We left the next day on a coach for our next destination, Kanchanburi. There’s nothing quite like a hangover in the heat. On a bus. With no working loo. You don’t realise how much you value flushing lavatories until they are just a distant memory.