UPDATE: For those of you wondering about what’s going on with the protests in Bangkok, here is an account of an old hockey buddy of mine that went to Bangkok in January and gave a speech at the protest! Check it out for yourself!
On July 16th, Jon and I flew out from Vancouver in the wee hours of morning (2:30am to be exact) to start our epic summer trip in SEA. We were flying to Bangkok, with a stopover at Taipei (flying EVA Airways), to meet Paul for the Bangkok/Chiang Mai leg of the trip. I started my blog in early 2013 so with that in mind, I made a few extra travel guide style notes so keep an eye out for those travel notes at the bottom of each post!
Exhausted, Jon and I land at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok’s recently renovated airport. Its hot, cloudy and humid but our excitement keeps us from keeling over. We’re on our way to Khao San Road, the main backpacker district in Thailand. The trip there from the airport is a journey on its own, requiring many transfers between multiple modes of public transit. We meet Ivan, a Swiss guy who’s been traveling in China for a few weeks, down in the monorail station. From there, we got to chatting and a nice lady riding by us showed us the best way to get to Khao San without getting stuck in the nightmarish traffic that is Bangkok roads.
After two monorail rides and a skirmish down the Chao Praya river ferry, we arrive at Khao San Road. You can tell immediately that this is an area that caters specifically to tourists. Stands selling all sorts of “Thai” clothing and beer tanks to the hoards of tourists that come here. Thailand gets on average, 6% of its GDP from tourism, higher than any other Asian country, so understandably, it looks to cater to every whim of the tourists that flood the economy with their foreign currency. Even as we walk to our hotel, we are heckled by touts for tours and such, a reality we will soon realize is incessant in nature in the streets of Bangkok.
It doesn’t take long for us to experience the torrential tropical rains of SEA. We arrived in Thailand’s wet season, which means that at any moment, sunshine can be replaced by sporadic bouts of heavy rain. The three of us scout out the route to the grand palace, a major tourist destination in Bangkok, by foot. we are soaked well before we make it back to Khao San. However, the best thing about being soaked in Thailand is, a) you’re never really cold even when you’re wet, and b) you’re never really far away from a nice cold Chang beer (the fact that it rarely costs over $4 for a big boy doesn’t hurt either).
Later that night we meet up with Paul, who’s been teaching in China for the better part of the year. We pick up a few bottles of beer and liquor and head out for a night down ye old Khao San road! The street is filled with every culinary delight you can think of. Skewers, fresh pad thai (we had a couple of these for sure), banana pancakes, fresh fruits, every beverage imaginable, and even fried bugs if that floats your boat. Ivan wanted to get a couple but I was not drunk enough. We found a nice patio bar around the bend and hunkered down with a beer tower and hookah. The night air is warm and filled with the music of the two talented musicians playing at the pub. Live music is totally a thing at these bars. You can hear them belting out their tunes on a nightly basis and many of them are extremely talented. After a few beers, I even managed to get on stage and sing a song with them!
At this point, we’ve had quite a few beers and when the fried bug cart comes along, we bite. We each eat a grasshopper (bigger than you think. These aren’t the crickets you feed your lizard) and Ivan even manages to eat a tarantula. WTF. To be honest though, the bugs are pretty deep fried and salted. By the time you bite into them they taste pretty much like really crispy chips.
We stumble our way back to our hotel a few blocks from Khao San and go to bed. The next day I wake up for a whole day of hot, sweaty, hungover adventure around the city. ughhhhh
- TaoYuan airport in Taipei is not a shabby airport at all. It’s not the glamourous Chiangi Airport in Singapore but it is definitely comfortable. There are a few shops and the food isn’t too expensive, unlike the hell hole in Guang Zhou airport. Most importantly, there are free massage chairs! You have to go to a book store along the main strip of shops and ask for a token (only one at a time) that will get you a 10 minute massage on those chairs. And believe me, after a long flight, a massage chair is pretty sweet.
- Bangkok’s new airport, Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wanna-boom), is a pretty sick airport. The lowest floor has the monorail station that will take you into the city. Most of the staff speak English so ask around to see what the best way to get to your hotel is
- If you’re headed to Khao San road, this is how we got there: From Suvarnabhumi, take the airport line to Phaya Thai station. Transfer to the dark green line (Saphan Mai) and head south in the Bang Wa direction. Get off at Saphan Taksim, the station right before it crosses the Chao Praya river. From there, walk up to the river and ask for the local ferry (look for locals). The local ferry is loud but extremely affordable (around $1). The locals ride this and it is different from the other nicer, smaller boats that charge way more. Take the ferry north to Phra Arthit. From here, ask around or wander but you are just blocks away from Khao San. The total trip takes about 50 minutes to an hour and costs around $5.
- Anything they sell in Khao San road is up for bargaining. The tourist clothes are kitchy but fun so buy into it if you find something you like. I certainly did!
- The touts are a part of being in such a tourist center. Just ignore them and be firm/persistent.
- You’ll here older men asking you about ping pong shows. Personally I think they’re pretty gross and demeaning, but some say its a part of the Thailand experience. I’ve been told by a few different parties that they agreed to go on a whim and the owners attempted to charge them hundreds of USD in drinks they didn’t order, threatening to call the police and refusing to let them leave. I for one think the whole mess of it is not worth it.