The last night bus we would be taking for the foreseeable future was pretty uneventful. It cost 465 baht each and took 11hours from Chiang Rai to Bangkok. It was 1st class, not VIP which would have cost us 670 baht each. The seats were comfortable and reclined enough to fall asleep on. The ‘meal’ was a disappointment as it consisted of a piece of cake and a soya milk carton; not filling enough to replace dinner. At intervals the hostess served tea or coffee which was a nice luxury compared to what we were used to.
At 4am sharp we arrived in the very busy station in the north of the city. Not sure of our orientation nor the best way to reach our hostel we had reserved (another recommendation of Fi and Dan), we opted to stop for a coffee in the station cafe first. This seems to be the best tactic when we arrive in a new place. If we have ever been unsure of where to start, taking stock and observing our surroundings has always worked out for us.
Whilst Al sat with the bags I ordered us a coffee and asked a policeman where the sky train was. He explained that it was 2km away and it would be best to catch a meter taxi. This was going to be more expensive than we had hoped. As we sat and drank our coffee a Malaysian couple approached us and asked us how to get into town. We ended up agreeing to share a taxi to the sky train. This only worked out at 10baht each. We then waited for the trains to start running and made our way to the hostel in southwest Bangkok. With the instructions I had copied from the internet we found our way there.
Tired and dirty we were looking forward to checking in. Unfortunately the check only began at 2pm and we were told we could put our bags in the storage room, sit in the lounge and use the dorm showers if we wanted. Not long after the nice receptionist called me over and told me that she had managed to juggle some rooms around so that we could check in
immediately and that we could have a free upgrade to an air con room. What a result! The hostel was really clean and modern. Our room felt more like a hotel with an en suite bathroom and tv. Another good recommendation by Fi and Dan.
We only had 3 nights, 4 days in Bangkok and there were certain things we wanted to achieve in this city. Shopping was one thing high on the agenda as we had heard from many people that this was the place to get cheap stuff. We had waited to get presents in Bangkok, so now was the time! Another mission was to go to a dentist and get our teeth cleaned before we went home as this kind of thing was meant to be a much more reasonable price here and often a better service. Al had also booked himself a hospital appointment to get a full body medical check up. In the UK these check ups cost 700pounds where as it was only 170 pounds at Bangkok hospital. So there were a things to achieve in a short space of time.
We were tired and Als foot was still giving him jip so we decided to hang around our local area near the hostel on the first day. It turned out to be fruitful as we were able to get same day appointments at a dentist about 15mins walk from our place. Teeth cleaning and scraping only cost 15pounds. Al ended up getting a chip filled in for an additional 15pounds.
Together we were in and out within an hour. It was fantastic. There was no point even to start comparing the service there to the one we get in the UK. The main road was full of jewelers and tailors. We spent a long time window shopping and ended up finding a reasonable quote from a tailor to sew me a dress out of the Laos material I had acquired some time ago. That evening I went for a fitting and it was already looking wonderful!
With such a nice hostel room, it was a great place to chill after traipsing around in the city. Some films on HBO and a couple of cold beers, we were happy to relax without spending a fortune- which I can imagine would be easy to do in Bangkok.
The following morning we felt like city commuters as we ruched to the sky train to reach the hospital in the outskirts. The massive difference was that even in rush hour the train was cool with air con and there was enough personal space that you didn’t feel totally claustrophobic. London needs to take a leaf out of their books for sure! After disembarking the sky train it was about a 20minute march up a busy motorway-like road with pavements for the unlikely pedestrians. We made it just in time.
Ushered to the international ward we were struck the the amount of rich Arabs who clearly were also making the most out of the good value health service. I left Al to it (he was meant to be in hospital for a good 4 hours) and headed towards the Saturday market. I had been told I would be able to get anything I could possibly want in ‘one of the biggest markets is the world’. To cut transport costs down I didn’t go back to the sky train stop we had got off from, but instead continued down the mammoth main road to the next sky train stop that would take me directly to north Bangkok to the market. The walk was longer than anticipated and I soon realised that the sky train map was pretty out of scale. It was quite an interesting walk nevertheless. It is not often you get to see random outskirt areas and so on foot was was absorbing little details that as a taxi passenger would have just flown past me in a fleeting moment. The details weren’t necessarily beautiful or shocking, but it felt good just to see a bit of ‘normal’ grimy roadside out of town shops and car showrooms. Eventually I made it to the station and whizzed up to the market.
The market was very busy and difficult to get bearings, despite a map indicating where to find different types of things. I had a very specific shopping list and tried my hardest to just stick to what we wanted. It was hard work looking for fake designer gear, which was extremely surprising with Bangkok’s reputation. There were a lot of household things and unique clothes (it reminded me of the type of clothes you might find in Portabello market in London). No one was prepared to barter very much at all. This was disappointing with all the reviews I had been told in the past. I was so happy that I had gone a little crazy at Luang Prabang’s night market now. The quality and variation of things had been much better in my opinion; or perhaps I just went to the wrong market in Bangkok- this was quite possible considering how many there are in this massive city. I did my my best to search out the items we had thought would be easy to pick up here. I spent hours trailing and was exhausted by the end. I gave up and battled my way home with the crowds of people who were also trying to leave. It was the most intensely busy place I had been in a while and was quite relieved to get back to the hostel.
Al wasn’t far behind me and was also ready to chill after a day in hospital. He still had sticky pads all over his chest from when he had gone on the running machine all wired up to machines to measure his heart rate etc. Luckily he was told he was fit and healthy … and so he fancied a KFC! This was due to his study of how the menu and food varies in different KFCs around the world, so it was justified and we got a take out to enjoy in the comfort of our hostel once more.
Our last full day and night in Bangkok and on our world travel adventure we were finally proper tourists in this crazy city. We took the boat up to the old town and wondered through the colonial paved streets. With a large palace and temple at centre stage there were hoard of tourists swarming around. The heat was intense and difficult to hide from as it bounced around in the concrete jungle. We took a stroll down a market which predominantly sold Buddhist charms. Al finally bought one for his ever growing necklace. We enjoyed looking around a little food market, had some pretty mediocre Pad Thai and decided that we would try to see the temple. However we were not dressed appropriately and weren’t allowed in. Never mind! The day was going to evolve, as they always do with us. Instead we walked away from the old town with the aim to jump in a cab and go to the MBK shopping centre, where we had been assured by our hostel that we would be able to find the designer wear we were after.
Jumping in a cab never really happened and before we knew it we had walked farther than we had intended. We were directed to a bus stop where a bus service was running directly there. Unfortunately for Al and his foot this walk was longer than expected. We did eventually catch a bus downtown after finally finding the bus stop and it was worth it at a much lower cost than a taxi would have been. Getting there in the heat of the day was exhausting enough, but then we embarked on searching for a fake designer t-shirt for our nephew. What a mission it turned out to be! The complex of superstores all turned out to have original designer wear, no the cheap fakes we had wanted. We trawled around 3 superstores before finally giving up. I have never liked these artificial environments with too many people, and after staying in places like deepest darkest Laos where all you seem to see are shades of green and brown; this experience was just too much for us. Escaping from the superstores we were spat out at road level onto a hot concrete pavement with car fumes pumping out constantly. The overhead walkways and sky train view of the city was a much more inviting one. At road level all you could see was traffic and concrete structures holding up the overhead walkways. Certainly no green in sight. Just as we had finally resigned to the fact we would have to tell Al’s brother that we did not manage to find any fake designer gear in Bangkok (embarrassingly), but then we stumbled across a make shift stand with fake Lacrosse t-shirts being sold! Finally, we sighed with relief. Even on our final day traveling we had been pushed to the limit before finally succeeding in our mission!
Relieved with eventually finding what we had been searching for we were tempted to go back to the hostel and crash out for a little while. However, opposite the shopping centre wa an art museum so we decided to take a look. Inside the interior reminded me of the Guggenheim in New York with a spiral ramp that ran around the edges of the circular building, with breaks in the ramp at each floor. On the walls was a mural in a modern pop art graffiti style. On each floor was a different exhibition. On the top floor was a sculpture show that I had seen advertised in the Bangkok Times, so we started with this.
It was a refreshing change to go to a museum with modern and inspiring art. We had such a massive dose of culture over the last year, but had rarely viewed modern art- something I did a lot of before leaving to go traveling. The architecture of the museum itself was the most inspiring to me, with large glass windows in certain pockets of the space. Light not only spilled into the white interior, but they provided glimpses of the metropolis exterior to the calm quiet space of the museum. The view of the Bangkok skyline was certainly a fantastic view- without even without visiting a sky lounge bar. Very tired from our day we did not linger on the top floor and chose to visit one more floor at random. Our choice was perfect. To our surprise we walked into an installation where the whole floor was ankle deep in fabric cuttings. Children and adults alike were all lying and sitting in this comfortable environment. It was the perfect urban place to come after you have ‘shopped ‘to come and ‘drop’. We hung out in there sometime and learnt that the concept was that there were 5 gold chains hidden in the fabric installation and if you were lucky enough to find one, then you could keep it. We didn’t, but were happy just to chill for a little while. The rest of the floors exhibition dealt with issues such and life and death as well as the present moment. To embrace peoples creative side a whole area was designated for people to come and draw, read, write poetry or however they felt like being creative. We thought this was a fantastic idea to have this kind of space in a hectic urban city.
In one installation, there were many sayings written on little cards and as we meandered past them and out of the exhibition one struck a cord:This couldn’t have been more fitting for our last day on our around the world adventure. It had not sunk in at all, but at
least we were enjoying our last moments living our dream.
That night, our last night in Bangkok, we felt that it wouldn’t be right to visit Bangkok and not visit the famous ping pong show. So that night we ventured out with a couple of guys from our hostel and witnesses the show. We were expecting a very seedy atmosphere and dodgy characters being the main spectators, but disappointingly it was full of tourists with the same intentions as us. To see what all the fuss was about. The ladies performing looked totally miserable and bored. They obviously did this show every day and pulling ribbons and razors out of themselves was nothing special. I had imagined that they would be coming on to the men in the room, but no one got any attention and I have no idea how they have gained the reputation of stripping men of whatever cash they own. Many people had told us that the best policy was to only take enough money for a couple of drinks, because whatever you have in your wallet will be gone by the time you leave. Perhaps we went to a different show than the one where this happens, but it to me it was just a weird tourist attraction!
We awoke with fuzzy heads and checked out at midday. Feeling a little fragile from our last night on the town it was a slow start. When we were finally ready we put all our stuff in storage and decided to go to the Baiyoke Sky Bar to see the cityscape. There are a few different choices of sky bars. Most have a dress code and some are very expensive to enter. We were told about Baiyoke which didn’t have a dress code and charged 150 baht with one free soft drink. This was a perfect place to reflect and end our traveling experience. The view was immense and a great place to sip on a mango juice.
Before we knew it we had gone and collected our bags and were taking one final sky train to the airport. We were on our way home to the UK. What and incredible journey we had embarked on. What amazing people and beautiful places we have discovered. It was hard to believe it was over. It certainly had not sunk in and we suspected it wouldn’t for sometime. There were so many experiences to soak in. The next big challenge for us was going to allow all the things we had learnt to influence how we deal with life back in the UK and make and massive effort not to revert back to old habits.
A little numb we boarded the plane to Heathrow, got comfortable and ordered a gin and tonic. Cheers to such an epic adventure, and long may our journey through life continue to meander and flow around this spectacular world!