Tripping Down South: Bangkok #1

Street art in Khao San Road.

Schools in Thailand end their second academic term in February and March, so it's quite common for English teachers to be clogging up airports around this time, either leaving the hills for the islands, or escaping the bustle for some peace and quiet in the mountains. As we had been in the lovely city of Chiang Mai for nearly six months at that time, our lovely city was beginning to feel a little stale, a little claustrophobic, and a lotta smoggy - ie, not-so-lovely any more. We needed an escape, and with little planning and lots of excitement, we hopped on a plane down south, to one of the world's famous megacities: Bangkok.

At first sight, Bangkok seemed harmless. Among a maze of looming buildings late at night, we weaved along endless highways at a steady 100km while our taxi driver tried to make the usual small talk, and only when his laugh revealed itself as devious did the uneasiness start to seep in between us. We were already on the pavement holding our luggage when he tried to wean some more cash from us, and in our exhausted state we surmised this was a fluke - he was just a bad seed on the vast apple tree of Bangkok.


A creepy cab ride in Thailand's capital.

We spent our first night in Khao San Road, only because we were under the impression this was a popular area for tourists, and affordable for backpackers. What we quickly realised is that Khao San Road is a filthy, sleazy area geared at sex tourists and na├»ve foreigners who might be lured into supporting Thailand's crippling trafficking problem, by having a peak at a Ping Pong Show, or similar. Yes, I said it. A quick Google search on human, child, or sex trafficking will always bring up Thailand. There are infinite articles and papers on these topics, and even on smaller subjects such as the role of Buddhism in prostitution, or the ever-common practice of compulsory prostitution through debt bondage. There is no way to avoid it, and dabbling in things you wouldn't dream of touching back home, simply because you are abroad, is no excuse to exploit anyone, anywhere. We live in a world which begs for socially responsible and ethically sound travellers, especially when the trend is for people to willingly immerse themselves in another country's problems and struggles. Thailand is not your sexual playground or a wonderland that somehow erases your morals - it is a developing nation which is being debilitated by severe trafficking, travesties against women and children from near and afar, and corruption in every level of life, from the clogged sewers in the ground to the suits at the very top of the skyscraper. The least you can do is ignore the sketchy man smacking his lips on Khao San Road and shouting, "Sex show, sex show! Only 200 Baht!"


Daytime scenery in Khao San Road.
These abandoned vehicles were filled with trash.

Someone's treasure den.
Noodle-art doesn't really make up for the sleaziness.

The day after our Khao San Road experience, we hauled our backpacks onto our backs and started our mission of finding a new area of Bangkok to explore. The first box on our checklist was to land up in a room we could call home for the rest of our stay. It was impossible not to succumb to public transport at this point, and after haggling unsuccessfully with various tuk-tuk and taxi drivers ("Meter is broken.", "Grand Palace is closed." etc.), we eventually found a man who seemed keen on "helping" us out, who magically flagged down his friend The Tuk-Tuk Driver.

After seeing a giant golden Buddha at Wat Intharawihan, wandering around the Grand Palace with a thousand other tourists, and insistently refusing any more stops for fuel vouchers, packages to the islands, and so on, we finally got rid of the tuk-tuk, and began our scheme-free journey on foot.


A statue of a monk at Wat Intharawihan.
A statue of the King.
This dude, and his chickens.
A giant Buddha at Wat Intharawihan.
The last of Wat Intharawihan before moving on.
Welcome to the Grand Palace.

Oooh, shiny!


Close-ups of some of the walls at the Grand Palace.

All right, Grand Palace, you're very pretty, but I've seen enough temples to last a lifetime!

The unfortunate truth about freeing ourselves from the evil wheels, was that this day was becoming the worst in our holiday so far. Bangkok is unbearably enormous and constructed in such a ridiculously haphazard manner, it is almost impossible to get around on foot. After a few hours walking and literally getting nowhere, we slumped ourselves down at a restaurant and ordered ourselves some overpriced beers. It was 11 am, 36 degrees, and we were exhausted.

It was here we met a waitress with genuinely kind intentions, who told us that a cheap, clean area to stay in would be down a couple soi's from where we were. We were in Sukhumvit by this time, which is a major commercial area in the city, packed with art galleries, malls and bars, so we took her advice and made our way to Soi 4.

Of course, Sukhumvit Soi 4 - where you'll find the infamous Nana Plaza - turned out to be another notorious sex-haven for those who want a little less flash and neon than Soi Cowboy. We hardly cared at this point, and made our way to our new hotel: the White Orchid Inn, for 700 Baht a night. We had to shake off our Chiang Mai cheapness and just do it. And for the first time in Bangkok, we were greeted with a smile, and sent up to our room on the top floor, with the most comfortable bed I have slept on in Thailand. Needless to say, we holed up for a few hours with some comforting American fluff on the TV, laughing about our crazy experiences so far.

When we eventually ventured outside once again, we quickly scuttled away from the smut and made our way to Central World mall for some foodies and air-conditioned window-shopping. What we didn't know is that Central World Bangkok is the sixth largest shopping complex in the world (say whaaat?), so ultimately we ended up hovering around in one small area, and getting our grubby paws on as many edible samplers as possible.


Stalking expensive candy.
The truffle oil taster table we repeatedly ransacked.
A view from the food court of the city outside.
Shark fin soup? Tsk tsk, Thailand.
My very interesting veggie pancake, overlooking the city, and a shot of the mall's interior.

Once we were done with Central World (but not nearly finished exploring the place) we moved outside to a huge square, where we were entranced by the hundreds of people with a place to go and things to do. This was Bangkok, and it was becoming more and more interesting. We decided to go and play with the BTS Skytrain then, and see some of the city along the way.


Our little BTS map on the left, and a bus stop on the right, with typical pink Bangkok taxis in the background.
A very sad electricity box outside a BTS entrance.
Views of the city while waiting for our train.
Another mall, perhaps?
A walkway over a highway at one of the BTS stations.
People on the train.
Yes, we had wandered the city until night time.

A peek into the future.
Bangkok by night.
Food carts on the pavement, viewed from above.
More pavement bustle.
Fruit and meat-skewers - the usual street fare.
Another BTS station.

A random rooftop bar we found for dinner.
A BTS walkway, higher than the rooftop bar.
A menu lost in translation.

This post sums up two days in Bangkok for us. The first day being a nightmare, the second being considerably more relaxed, even though exploring Thailand's capital is anything but relaxing. What we had gathered from our short time in the city, is that we wouldn't survive here as teachers. Although the pay is better, everything is far more expensive than in the north, and the friendliness in Chiang Mai is impossible to rival. On top of that, the abundance of people is just overwhelming for me. I'd take an abundance of street dogs over that any day.

Anyway, once we'd arrived back at our room after dinner, we were met with a comedic/horror twist to the end of our second day adventure. It had rained briefly a few hours before, and this is the scene that met us when we opened our door:

The ceiling's insides having a bit of a problem.
Everything was soaked and smelly.
Next, we pay a visit to Bangkok's Museum of Death in Tripping Down South: Bangkok #2.

Do you have any travel horror stories, or tales of Bangkok? Share with me in the comments below!

4 comments:

  1. I have to apologise for laughing out loud when I saw what greeted you when you arrived back at your hotel. But is funny if it isn't happening to you! I have had a few interesting things happen to me whilst travelling but I think the one that takes the cake is having an ice cream in Mozambique in 1990. Half way through I discovered maggots. My friends fell about laughing. Not so funny for me though.

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  2. I admire your position on sex trafficking!

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  3. Oh dear! That's rather sickening, haha! I feel sorry for you, but I do agree that these mishaps happening to other people are very entertaining. =)

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