You know what sucks?
Broken AC on an overnight train that you paid extra baht for to get a bunk in an AC car.
You know what really sucks?
Broken fan in an AC car on an overnight train.
You know why?
Because in an AC car, the windows wouldn’t open, even though the AC is broken, and when the fan is broken too, you end up lying in a pool of your own sweat due to the lack of ventilation in the metal oven that is a 2nd class AC sleeper car.
Yay first world problems 😀
This particular leg of our journey began once we disembarked the Songserm slow boat from Koh Tao at the port area of Chumphon and loaded into our waiting Benz for the transfer to the railway station.
After a slow and winding 15km ride, we were dropped off in front of the station
where we checked our train info (Bangkok #86)
then lugged our stuff around (backpack style!) to look for dinner
and then killed time until the train arrived.
Once we boarded the train, we settled into our bunks
the train got underway.
Needless to say, neither Julie or I got much sleep due to the aforementioned no-AC & no-fan problem
and the hard fought refund of 120 baht didn’t do much to make us feel any better when the train finally did arrive at Hua Lamphong station in central Bangkok almost 2 hours late on the 11th.
We felt bad, because we were supposed to meet our friend Puré (from Phuket -> Koh Samui trip fame 😀 ) for breakfast upon our arrival, and it turned out that he’d been waiting for us for an hour and had finally given up and left by the time we did arrive.
We agreed instead to meet at our hostel Lub d Silom, and after shaking off the slew of touts at the station, managed to hop into a metered taxi…
… Who proceeded to take us on the most circuitous and traffic-laden route possible to our destination, resulting in a 2.7 km ride taking close to 30 minutes and costing almost double what it should have…
Welcome to BKK!!!
Puré took us for a quick walking tour of Chinatown, where we ate a delicious meal at one of his father’s local favourite spots, then iced coffee at one of the oldest cafes in the city, before he had to take his leave and make his way back to where we’d met almost a month earlier (Phuket).
After a brief nap to make up for our sleepless night, we found ourselves in the company of another dear Phuketian (Phuketite? Phuketer? Anybody care to help with this?) K, who’d decided to stay at our hostel and take care of us on his flight layover from Myanmar to home via BKK.
We hopped on the BTS Skytrain with K
and headed back to Chinatown for a more thorough romp, and after snacking and drinking our way through many different streets
we settled at the confluence of Yaowarat & Phadung Dao for one of the best street meals we’ve ever eaten thanks to a suggestion by our still trusty guide K 😉
Dessert, fruits, and more drinks followed our salubrious seafood spread, along with some lively conversation with an elderly local chap who we shared a street table with over birds nest soup.
And, since we were you know, in Bangkok for the first time, why not round out the evening by seeing a third friend of ours in less than 24 hours?
A good Thai friend of mine from University of Toronto, Sarut, was now a permanent resident of the BKK, and he’d suggested a place for us to meet for drinks (Samsara Café & Meal), so when the time was right, we hopped in a tuk-tuk and told him where we wanted to go.
When the driver dropped us off down a back alley in front of what looked like a scrapyard, we weren’t really sure if we had the right place, and as we made our way along the darkened side of the building, we felt even more and more sure we’d been given wrong directions or were the butt of a bad joke.
Our fear gave way to happiness however when we pushed in a crooked wooden door to what appeared to be an establishment and were greeted by not only Sarut and his wonderful girlfriend Pattamon, but also a quaint little riverside patio as well.
The place was a hidden gem, charmingly decorated with a mashup of retro farmhouse chic and antique flair, the distinctive feature being its frontage onto what was an otherwise dull and wasted industrial slum waterfront.
Our only beef was that they notified us of last call before we’d even managed to get 2 drinks in us!
So, with only this quick visit under our belts, we parted ways with Sarut in the darkened scrapyard
of course stopping to give the friendly junkyard cat a pat
The following day, K took his leave to head back home to Phuket for Songkran festivities, while Julie and I met up with yet another friend, a former co-worker of Julie’s, Nat from Toronto who also happened to be travelling with a former co-worker of mine, Corey, making for quite a double date, consisting of 4 Torontonians in Bangkok.
After being a bit more than fashionably late meeting them (we’d been waiting at a hotel with the same name, but that was in a completely different neighbourhood, and by the time we’d figured it out and taken a cab to the proper one, we were close to an hour late :$ , we spent the evening exploring the area, eating a nice dinner (on Nat’s baht 😉 ), and then chilling in their hotel drinking beer until we’d figured out a good plan for the next couple days that we’d be spending together.
I’m not sure if the above mention of Songkran strikes fear into your heart, but if it doesn’t, then that means you’ve never been to Southeast Asia during their traditional new year celebrations that typically take place the week of April 13th-15th.
While the festivities in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar are spirited I’m sure, in our limited experience, the ruckus in Bangkok, Thailand during these dates is un-rivalled in every way, and very, very wet.
I can’t thank my friend Sarut enough for warning us in advance of the moist conditions, because if I’d been silly enough to lug around my electronics unprotected during our stay, they’d have been ruined for sure (and I already found out once and very expensively that apple doesn’t warrant water damage to iPhones).
Hence, when we left our hostel on the morning of the 13th to meet the already well-armed (with waterguns) Nat and Corey and pay a visit to J.J. Market (the world’s largest weekend market), I was un-burdened with my DSLR or any other device with which to capture photographic evidence of our wonderful day (my apologies for all this text all by its lonesome).
While the ladies shopped their hearts out, Corey and I (after finally giving in and buying a bottle-top water gun myself) contented ourselves skirmishing with whoever dared to spray two big white dudes (I’m proud to say we also doused some completely innocent folks, and tried to provoke as many people as possible, all in the name of good fun).
We ate a small lunch and shopped some more, but when our “guys cries” were finally too much for the not yet dropped shoppers, we all made our way back to their hotel to share in the luxxurious [sic] pool and to not-as-shamefully-as-we’d-have-hoped scarf down some McDees that Nat ordered for poolside delivery.
A tough life we had to be sure.
Before we headed back to our hostel for a shower, we provided some quick directions for same to Nat and Corey, with the intent of having them meet us there later in the evening to join in the Songkran festivities in our area (Silom).
Well, on our walk home, as we got more and more soaked and covered in chalk, all the while jockeying for position on the sidewalk without steering too closely to the multitude of hordes surrounding their own 50+ gallon water-filled drums, we had a fleeting thought that perhaps we should have given them more thorough directions.
Trying to navigate the usually already busy streets when they were filled with the once-a-year Songkran crowd was damn near impossible even for Julie and I who knew where we were going and had walked that route a couple times already!
Hence, it came as no real surprise to us when at around 10pm (we were supposed to meet at 9pm :p ), we finally heard from our chalk waterlogged and understandably frustrated pals, who after an hour of trying to find us in the middle of said ruckus, had made the very rational decision of turning around and retreating to the relative safety of their hotel (I say relative, because the staff at the front desk had waterguns of their own, and also access to a hose just outside the front door :p ).
Julie and I had begun to worry for their safety, so we were very glad to know they were out of harms way.
Not one to take their word for it, I dragged Julie out into the same mean streets that had forced our friends to miss our social engagement, and we proceeded to have the most chaotic, overwhelming, crazy, wet, lewd, fun, strange, loud, and all around just awesome night of our lives.
We made our way around the Patpong area (internationally known as one of the many red light districts of Bangkok), moving along slowly with the flow of the crowd, getting soaked by various proprietors who’d rigged up the equivalent of water cannons in front of their establishments.
Trying to take retribution on groups or individuals with a hose, bucket or highpowered water gun (or any combination thereof) with just my dinky little bottle sprayer didn’t do much else other than to make me an even more obvious target since I already stood half a head taller than the majority anyway.
Julie shared in the fun by being a weaponless sponge, and as we inched our way forward in the press of the crowd, it was the full frontal crotch grab & hold that I got (complete with a smile and eye contact from the young man) that indicated it might be time to move on from the gay male alley (they have a gay female alley too, and pretty much every other type of alley you can imagine, and probably even some you can’t).
After we finally managed to escape the deafening alley, Julie described in bewilderment how she thought I was getting frisky, but then noticed that there were three hands on her, two of which were mine on her waist, and one unfamiliar hand between her legs (I guess I wasn’t the only one who got groped :p ).
As we slowly headed towards home, we noticed the wide cross section of age groups participating in the night-time festivities: there were obviously hordes of teens and young adults, but we were both surprised by the number of young children out, individually and in groups, neither under obvious supervision, even as the hour got late in downtown BKK.
I guess that means it was relatively safe, or maybe the parents didn’t care 😉 ?
The municipal cleanup crews began their ultra efficient street cleanup around 10:30pm, and that in itself was a treat for us to watch.
A convoy of water trucks slowly hosed down the streets, and as chalk and garbage filled rivulets ran into the gutters, a masterfully trained unit of street sweepers with hand made coconut stalk brooms (ubiquitous in Southeast Asia) swept the garbage into wicker garbage cans to be hoisted moments later into the gaping void of their companion garbage trucks, all the while barely parting the sea of humanity that filled the streets.
We couldn’t believe how they were able to perform this task, and yet the trucks kept moving, with only centimetres to spare on each side (the people seemed almost oblivious to the work going on around them, moving only enough not to get run over, and then only long enough for the vehicle to pass), and before we knew it the ground beneath our feet was ready for the next round of Songkran shenanigans.
I half regret not bringing my camera with me to document such wonders, but only half, because the wiser half of me knows that without a proper waterproof case, it would have been rendered a useless and very expensive paperweight (much like my iPhone from the rainstorm in Bali, and I didn’t want a repeat of that situation).
When we finally got home, tired and wet, but happy, we did manage to snap off a couple pictures so we could remember how much fun we had.
Yes, those are my swimming trunks, and yes, we wore reef walkers out into the streets of Bangkok, and yes, it was a great idea 🙂
The next day, I decided to brave the wet conditions and bring my camera on our trip with Nat and Corey to Ayutthaya, for which they’d arranged a private taxi that would take us from their hotel to all the sights in the historical area to the north of the city.
At the drivers insistence, we stopped off at a relatively underwhelming palace where we spent much too long taking pictures.
Although it was nice enough, we wanted to see the stuff they rave about in the guide books, so after a friendly chalk pasting from the local boys on the street outside
and after witnessing some serious water damage being done to other revelers while we kept our doors locked and windows closed along the way
we moved on to Wat Phanan Choeng where we got to see an immense 19m tall gilded buddha (one of the oldest in Thailand apparently).
This was our first encounter with some of the incredible rituals associated with Buddhism, one of which was draping the statue with astonishing lengths of orange linen, with each member of the congregation holding onto an edge and praying.
After witnessing this beautiful ceremony, we joined another group of visitors to have blessings conferred upon us by an actual monk from whom we received a small cutting of the linen tied around our wrist as a bracelet, along with a few splashes of presumably holy water and wishes for ‘good luck good luck, happy, happy’ (in English… I’m sure it sounded much better in Thai).
Despite the crowding in the temple, there was a festive and respectful feeling to the proceedings, so even though it was somewhat boisterous, it was definitely not overrun with large tour groups that would otherwise have exhibited their usual loud and obnoxious behaviour and ruined the experience for us.
It was unforgettable, and after exploring the rest of the temple and taking some artsy shots
we hopped back into our waiting taxi and drove back in time to the famous historical monument Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (also known as Wat Phra Chao Phya-thai) where we feasted our senses on the giant stupa and hundreds of buddha statues, all dappered up with yellow and orange sash garments.
The scale of the crumbling monument was a testament to its former grandeur, and I was very much aware of a special tingling in my pores that usually accompanies my setting foot in certain places on this earth that have the sort of significance that cannot be washed away by floods or wars or the steady tick of time or even being overrun with tourists more obnoxious than us.
While I was busy trying to absorb and understand whatever energy was oozing from the very earth upon which I was standing, the forces of nature were hard at work driving a menacing storm directly at us
and even sprinting, we barely made it back to the safety of our ride before the skies opened up and a thunderous deluge thrashed the vicinity.
It was nigh on dinner time, so with the aid of Nat’s LP guide, we directed the driver to a hopefully decent riverside restaurant that turned out to be better than we could have wished for.
Corey and I immediately slaked our thirst on some beers, and then we sat on the covered terrace and watched the storm work its way past us as we gorged on some fine Thai dishes and discussed how awesome Thailand is.
Our bellies full, and the storm having passed by, we set out even further back in time to the most ancient ruins of the Ayutthaya Historical Park with a quick stop to take a pic of a previously rained out ruin.
As we walked from the parking lot into the ruins, we were chased down by a member of the park staff who remanded us into his ticket booth where he proceeded to ‘sell’ us ‘previously enjoyed’ tickets and pocketed our cash.
We looked on helplessly as Nat tried fruitlessly to get him to give us a receipt, or at least real tickets to ensure that our baht went to ruin upkeep as opposed to lining his own pockets.
When it was clear that the corrupt and quite rude bloke was not going to budge from his obvious theft of our money, we choked back our rage at this scam and continued on to explore the mighty ruins as much as we could before the night completely shrouded the wonders from our vision.
The ride back to the city was comfortable and dry, and although the Songkran waterfighting was still going on in full force, we managed to avoid the bulk of it by walking home from the taxi dropoff point to our hostel with minimal damage by keeping to side streets and back alleys (camera saved!).
On our last day in Bangkok (camera-free since Songkran was still going strong, and hence no pics 😦 ), we took a tuk-tuk to Chinatown with Nat and Corey to show them around (we pretended we knew what the dilly was since both Puré and K had imparted their wisdom of this area on us only days previously 😉 ), and after walking ourselves half to death exploring Chinatown and then the cavernous Wat Pho, we settled on dinner at yet another hideaway riverside establishment.
Krua Khun Kung, which was unsigned and very well hidden inside a former naval officers club just south of the ferry docks across from the NW corner of the Grand Palace, ended up being quite nice after having to gently argue with the staff to get a riverside table, and we thoroughly enjoyed the food and the relaxing atmosphere as the sun set behind the two stunning stupas of the Wats on the opposite bank.
Briefly forgetting that Songkran was still in full swing, we ran the wet wet gauntlet of the water war going on around us unprotected in the tuk-tuk that we’d coerced into to driving us past the giant swing and a few other notable attractions on the way home.
Needless to say, and despite all our pleading-for-mercy with various perpetrators along the way (both pedestrians and in other vehicles), we were all soaked through and through by the time we reached Nat and Corey’s hotel, and even a healthy tip couldn’t put a complete smile back on the equally drenched driver, who for some reason acted like it was the first time he’d driven an open vehicle around Bangkok during Songkran…
Maybe he was the new guy… :p
Luckily, Nat’s camera made it through unscathed, and although her fine dress was soaked, we all had a good laugh as we said our goodbyes and headed home to get a good nights sleep for our bus trip to Siem Reap the following morning.
And we weren’t the only ones who had a good night’s sleep in our hostel dorm:
At least we slept in our bunks :p