We left Bangkok early the next morning after an unorthodox breakfast at the Sawasdee Inn. Feeling somewhat puzzled but not entirely unsatisfied after a feast of fried eggs, toast and a crystallised yellowish spread that I later discovered was pineapple jam. Apparently.
The wheels of my faithful Samsonite suitcase were not built for the unsteady terrain of the Khoa San Road, and as I trundled out of the hotel amid the chaos of the stalls and kerbs and boards and lumps in the street, I envied my smug rucksack-wielding friends. (That said, I was mighty greatful for it in Australia when I had to pack and repack almost every night – swings and roundabouts ay?)
Kanchanaburi was to be our home for the next few days: a reasonably large and busy town just over 100km west of Bangkok. Our accommodation was a little out of the centre of things, but this was not a problem as everyone was still getting to know one another. For this reason, we were quite glad of the quiet resort, which offered us large, spacious twin rooms as well as a small tuck shop, pool and massage parlor, all three of which we took great advantage of.
On the first evening, we enjoyed a welcome meal sat out on a pontoon on the River Kwai. It was so still and quiet in comparison to the bedlam of Bangkok; a brilliant opportunity for us to chat away with a few Changs in hand. For those not in the know, Chang and Singha are Thailand’s two rival beer brands. You must pick a side and stick to it.
After the meal, our guide Noinah had promised us a night out in her favourite bar in Kanchanaburi. This was the momentous Sugar Member, a delightful establishment that Noinah insisted was a club. I personally felt bar was a slight stretch, but we had a brilliant night nonetheless – cheap drinks, a pool table, a bizarre tangle of offensive slogans and inspirational quotes scribbled over the walls in glow paint and of course, ‘Sugar’, the owner. In my innocence and naivety, I had assumed Sugar to be a small, sweet Thai lady with questionable dress sense. After all, who am I to judge extensive white lycra and glitter? I was later proved wrong when we found Sugar to be a small, sweet Thai lady with a penis. Either way, she was brilliant and we had many a hilarious night in the bar over the next few days. If I ever return to Kanchanaburi and consider myself in desperate need of cheap buckets of cocktail for 100 baht (about £1) or the opportunity to swing from a life-size plastic wrecking ball whilst my friends belt out Miley Cyrus’ timeless classic, I will know where to go.
Our first full day was spent at Erawan National Park. For many of us, this was the opening glimpse of Thailand’s natural beauty. After a 40 minute ride in one of the truck taxis that we called Tuk-Trucks. The real name is a Songthaew (Song-tow) and they are essentially red pick-up trucks with benches/ seats fixed into the back. They’re used a lot in more rural areas of the country and if you’re in a larger group, these are a brilliant and cheap way of getting around.
A couple of the ones we took to Sugar Member had been decked out with fairy lights and a glitter ball. Seats in the disco truck were thus in high demand amongst our group. I also find Songthaews far less terrifying than tuk-tuks; a little close to the wind for wousses such as myself.
Erawan was absolutely stunning; seven majestic tiers of turquoise water cascading down the hillside. After a sweaty hike to the top in what I can only described as misjudged footwear (my Converse), we had a well-deserved dip in the uppermost pool. Now, if you ever visited a British shopping centre circa 2008, you will remember the offer of sitting on a stool with your feet in some murky water whilst several hundred fish nibbled off your dead skin. For a tenner. Well – tier 7 of Erawan waterfall offered this service for free, although once into the cool water, several of us were not so keen. Cue girly screams (from the boys). The opportunity to slide down a giant rock and into the plunge pool was also not to be missed at the fourth tier as we descended.
The following day promised a lesson in Thai cooking. As something of a foodie, I was particularly looking forward to this. We watched the preparation of three dishes: a prawn Tom Yum soup, a tofu Pad Thai and a chicken and cashew nut dish. Having attempted some Thai classics at home before I left with less success, I soon learned that plenty of chilli-infused oil as well as lashings of spic, soy and fish sauce are what gives the dishes such a satisfying depth of flavour and spice. The Thais don’t hold back with their seasoning. Later that evening, we went out for a meal in the town and I discovered the delights of a chicken Massaman curry – another Thai classic made with lots of peanuts and cream. To me, it felt like the Thai answer to a chicken Korma but it hit the spot. A fairly chilled night was had by all – myself, Char, Ula and Stacey sat outside on the balcony with a crate of Spy. I understand them to be like a pre-mixed wine spritzer just made with various types of wine, sugar and sparkling spring water. And so was born our taste for the Thai wine cooler – a tacky beverage to make any discerning wine critic turn their nose up. It was a lengthy love affair and I have to admit I was a little sad when the time came for me to sip my final bottle as I paddled on the shores of Koh Samui.
On the way back home, we made a quick stop at a modern shopping centre where we grabbed some amazing sushi and had a look around the sportswear shops. Picking up a pair of Adidas running shorts with no label, Char asked the shop assistant what size they were. Unsure what she was trying to say, the shop assistant continued to shake her head, and we attempted to explain in a variety of words and hand gestures. An amusing verbal tussle ensued, the confusion and irritation of the shop assistant building all the while, until she finally snapped and screamed that the shorts had ‘NO SIZE! NOOOO SIZE!’