Bangkok – “Backpackers hub of the Universe”

29 Aug

Lonely planet calls Bangkok the “Backpackers hub of the Universe”, walking around Bangkok, it was clear to see why. I felt like a tortoise without it’s shell not wearing one. Bangkok is the place where all the travellers stop off on long haul flights. They use it as a lilly pad in the water to leap to other destinations across the world. It seems to be the travellers chosen transition point; where East meets West.

Khao San Road, in particular, is where all the travellers gather on the evening. It was featured in Danny Boyle’s, ‘The Beach’, in the first 10 minutes of the film. The reality of Khao San Road lives up to the cinematic vision: lively, crowded, grimy, noisy…It’s nothing short of a deluge of activity. Words like ‘hodgepodge’ were created for a place like Bangkok. It’s sensory overload, and then some. We were inflicted with the smell more than most as our hotel was on the canal.

What’s interesting about the Canal, (and a useful representation of what Bangkok is like on a whole), is the contrast between each sides of it. On the one side there’s a line of rather fancy, sophisticated looking cafés and bistros and just opposite, across the murky water, there’s these dilapidated, dirty, small apartments. Odd bits of rusty corrugated iron sheeting patch them up. Their resident’s washing strewn out across a line are the only source of aesthetic decoration for these neglected, residing properties. This is just one example of the clearly visible contrasts of a checkered destination like Thailand’s capital city.

We spent the evening on Khao San Road, and in the surrounding area, just soaking up the vibrant-chaotic atmosphere and people watched. I enjoyed trying a Shisha pipe and we both enjoyed a delicious (although rather overpriced) Italian pizza. I have to say though, it was the best pizza I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Asia and expect to ever have again outside of Europe. That classic combination of sweet tomatoes and basil, a thin and crispy base garnished with freshly grated parmesan, (I do apologise but I think tangents are absolutely necessary when it comes to delicious food).  Lawson was bombarded with salesmen trying to sell him suits, and I by elderly women with outlandish headdresses who had decorated themselves with all the items they had for sale. They wore all the necklaces down one arm with bracelets on the other. Of course, we were both approached consistently by native sales people. And everywhere you could look there were street vendors selling all kinds of unusual food and delicacies. I often find that the word ‘delicacy’ is used for creepy crawlies  and here is no exception. There were also people cooking fresh stir fry’s and Tom Yum soup on a cart with wheels.

Unfortunately, much to Lawson’s disgust, we were unable to enjoy a crisp cold bottle of Singha beer or any alcohol at all for that matter as it was Buddhist Lent Day. The first day in which Buddhist monks vow to stay in one particular temple for three months without leaving. Quite handy for them seeing as though it’s monsoon season anyway, (I have absolutely no knowledge of Buddhism so if I offend it’s with ignorance rather than intent). Anyway, much to our dismay we were unable to fully engage in the intoxicating party spirit Bangkok is known so well known for. We probably saw Bangkok on the most sober and sedated day of the year but you wouldn’t have known it. I could quite happily spent the entire night as a spectator . The bars were very nice too. Often made from bamboo with huge, ornate sculptures and in-built waterfalls and rock pools. One bars ceiling was adorned with real puffer fish doubling up as lampshades. Bangkok definitely caters to the tourists. Outside MacDonald’s there was even a Ronald MacDonald statue bowing with palms together. I was also quite pleased as we were able to get some reasonably priced English novels too whilst we were there.

The following morning we were offered to be given our very own personal tour for a mere 200 baht by-(can you tell who it is yet?)-by a a tuk-tuk taxi driver. We’d been warned about the clever ways of the tuk-tuk taxi drivers but happily accepted his invitation anyway. It all turned out very well in the end. We were able to enjoy the sites of the Great standing Buddha and the Lucky Buddha, (which were both unusually sparse tourist-wise as everyone had been the previous day for the festivities of Buddhist lent day), in exchange for a couple of stops at some jewellery stores before swiftly being returned to our hotel. The taxi drivers for this stop-off at the jewellery factory shops gets free gasoline vouchers. It’s good business sense at the end of the day, we didn’t argue especially since we paid a mere £4 to go to two attractions we probably couldn’t have found without him.

He had also saved us from a smartly dressed Thai gentlemen who was boring us senseless with his stories outside the Lucky Buddha temple. He spoke fluent English so he had no difficulty in tiring us with information unfortunately. He must have noticed I’d stopped listening as he said said “Listen, now you listen to me” with rather more authority than I thought was customary for a stranger. He obviously thought he had some valuable advice to bestow, but if he did, it was lost on me. Even Lawson, far politer than I, was unable to summarise his ramblings. Luckily the tuk-tuk driver saved us from further boredom by coming to get us and drop us off at the next destination.

Before making our way to the airport that same day I was able to try my authentic taste of Tom-Tum soup; it was spicy and delicious. I felt a little sad that we had to leave so soon. I was warming to Bangkok. It was rather shabby and unkempt to say the least but it was fuelled on the energy of the travellers and yet it still retained it’s own unique Thai identity. The Buddhist religion I am told, (by the tiresome smartly dressed Thai gentleman in fact, perhaps he had taught me something useful in the end?) Whether what he said was true or not, ‘freedom’ is what echoed out through every nook, cranny and crack in Bangkok and I one reason why I can’t wait to return.

P.S Next time – as awful and disgusting as it may be I think we ought to go see ping-pong. I was told by an offended taxi driver that it in fact it is not rude but beautiful.   Hmm…I don’t believe that one bit (Seriously, it may bare similarities but it is NOT the miracle of child birth, is it!) but then again these things need to be seen to be believed.

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