Days 6, 7 & 8 – December 11th, 12th & 13th
The last blog had a strong case of false advertising against it! It should have included day 6, but due to technical difficulties (i.e a distinct lack of brain power) it didn’t! Day 6, December 11th was a very important day as it was Dad’s birthday! He was 20, 20, 20, 21! By the power of grayskull, we managed to hook up on Skype and I was able to wish him a happy birthday which was awesome! Even better than that dear, we practically had the whole family on conference which was cool. It was great to hear everyone. Although it has only been 6 days it feels like MUCH longer.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself as that didn’t happen until the end of the day due to the time difference. First things first, I checked out of my swanky hotel. This was another landmark as it was the first time since I arrived that I donned the bag and hit the streets. Man, this bit was REALLY real. The safety net of the Bangkok Inn was cut. At that moment I had nowhere to stay. I wanted to see Patpong Market before heading south to the islands so I took the skytrain in that general direction in hope of finding some accomodation. I had already decided it would be Hostel shaped.
Arriving in the Silom area, I began the search for a bed. I’ve quickly learned that, aswell as the fact that I stand out physically here (not just my european looks, I’m also quite tall in this part of the world, haha!) but add to that a backpack and you might aswell erect a 20ft high illuminated sign above your head screaming – “That’s right, I’m not from around here! Come and make some money out of me!” Everybody wants a piece of you, from the tuktuk guys to the taxi-bikes, the restaurants, travel companies and, as I discovered in Silom, the massage mafia! It was 2pm in the afternoon, roasting hot, I really needed a place to stay and a nice shower. My 15kg bag felt more like 50kg and I only had a rough idea of where I was. Now, imagine my delight when some kind chap thrust a picture of half naked girls in a hot tub under my nose and asked me if I’d like “f**ky f**ky, s**ky s**ky (sorry Mum but this IS for my memories!!) it’s happy hour and you get half price!” (just for the record, it was about £20 for an hour!) Not only am I not interested anyway, there could not have been any other moment when I would be any LESS interested in what he and his ladies had to offer (if indeed they WERE ladies!). After politely declining, he asked what I was looking for. Seems I was a bit unusual being in the Patpong Market area and not looking to pay for sex! Anyway, as with most of my experiences in Thailand, his dubious choice of profession aside, he was a very friendly chap. I said I was looking for somewhere to stay. He first showed me somewhere way out of my budget, and as it turned out bang in the middle of Patpong! Fortunately, I refused and he suggested I check out Silom 8 (all the roads are numbered chronologically). This turned out to be great advice as I came across The Urban Age hostel.
I’d read about it on the Lonely Planet website already, although their comment that they had ‘listened to customers about the bed bugs’ was interesting! They had a bed available in a dorm of 6 with shared bathroom at only 280THB. Slightly different to the 1000THB per night I’d paid for my previous pillow! I took it. This was my first baby step on the road to proper backpacking and it felt great! Well, until I got in the room and realised what sharing a room with 5 others actually looks like. Two pairs of grubby feet hanging off the end of beds greeted me as I entered. Nice! Mind you, mine don’t look much better so we’re all in it together! It’s difficult getting city grime off your soles after a day cruising around in flip flops, trust me.
So, I locked my valuables in the safe, strapped my constant companion ‘fannypack’ with money, bankcard, phone and passport round my waist and headed off on the skytrain again to explore the weekend market. It is monumental! They actually provide a map, which I only realised once I’d got lost in the labyrinth of stalls selling anything you could ever imagine. T shirts were available for less than 50p and there was all manner of ‘designer labels’ for sale. It was SO hot. Too hot in fact. I must have drank about 6 litres of water, I was also feeling tired and in all honesty, hadn’t really eaten much all week. I bought a hat and headed off back toward the city in search of some fodder.
I stopped along the way at the ‘posh shops’. A stunning complex called Siam Paragon housing every designer label you can imagine, Cartier, Jimmy Choo etc. They are all there. Still unable to find something I could eat I’m afraid I commited a cardinal sin. McDonalds. Let’s say no more. I will do Thai food properly. Honest. Just not yet.
The night began to draw in and it was time to head to Patpong Market. It was just after 6pm and already pretty dark. Apparently, the sun sets in Thailand around 6pm and rises at 6am, pretty much all year round! The fairly quiet looking street I’d passed on the way to the hostel was transformed. It would not have been possible to fit another market stall in and already the place was buzzing. I walked up and down the market, being offered everything from a watch to a ladyboy. I took up a prime people watching position sitting outside a bar on the corner of a side street, ordered a beer, sat back and watched!
After a while of watching european looking guys disappear into the night with pretty looking Thai girls, whom the bartender had great pleasure in informing were not infact girls, and, after downing a few beers I headed for the WC. You might think, too much information and you might be right but I need to write about what happened next. I was happily taking care of business when suddenly, a warm towel was wrapped around my shoulders. This was soon followed my a pair of hands rubbing my shoulders and head. Next thing, my head is being turned to the left with a hand on my chin until CRACK! Wow, WTF! Meanwhile, I’m still trying to concentrate on the business, quite literally, in hand! The hand then pulls my head to the right, CRACK! Then, a pull on the ears, another massage of the head and seemingly it’s all over. That is until I step back, my work here done, when two arms go up underneath my armpits and pull backwards until CRACK! Now, I’m all for the hospitality of the Thai people but a rogue massage and bone crunching while I’m otherwise engaged? Well, that may be pushing it slightly. My new acquaintence kindly turned on the tap for me. I washed my hands. He dried my hands. I fumbled around for some change as clearly, he didn’t do it out of the kindness of his heart. I pulled out a 20thb note and left it in his tin (around 40p). He was less than impressed, but hey I’m on a very tight budget and I didn’t ask for his attention. I went back to my beer, with a strange feeling in my bones. Whatever he did, it worked a treat and I felt great!! Although, as again I’m writing this days after it happened, I have to say my back did a lot of creaking and cracking for a few days afterwards, haha!
So, the Patpong experience done I headed back to the hostel where you think I should just be able to end this now and say night night. But no. This is onemanandhisbag.com and nothing is seemingly straight forward these days. I climbed into my bed, only one other guy was in the room, and fell asleep pretty quickly. It was a couple of hours later, around 4am, when I became aware of a creaking noise. And some wierd breathing. Maybe someone was having a nightmare. I slowly came round, ready to help my comrade out if necessary. He didn’t need any help. And nor did she by the sound of it. Yes, that’s right. Mr grebo feet and an unidentified guest were doing the horizontal foxtrot on the top bunk opposite, oh joy! I hoped his happy ending would come soon, so to speak, but unfortunatley not. The guy in the bunk above me had had enough. He got up, noisely, and left the room. I was ready to join him when, thankfully, grebo love was over. Finally, I got back to sleep only to be woken again by the Thai owner of the hostel removing the classy lady without too much ceremony! You don’t get this at The Loft Inn. Welcome to Bangkok.
The next day was spent kicking around the hostel. Got some blogging done and a bit of research for my trip south. I decided to head down to the islands for a bit of a chill session after the lunacy of Bangkok, rather than head north to Chiang Mai for more sightseeing. Kiw, the owner of the hostel, was brilliant help and advised me where to buy my ticket for the bus and ferry to Koh Tao. The Post Office, of course! She also wrote out a note in Thai for me, just incase they didn’t understand what I wanted.
I spent the rest of the day in Lumphini Park watching street acts perform in a huge festival, good timing!
After that, a couple more beers in Patpong before heading to the Duke Of Wellington of all places! With good reason though, Spurs v Chelsea with a rather unusual kick off time!
I got chatting to a guy in the pub, his name is Russell and he’s a Nigerian from Nottingham living in Abu Dhabi and visiting Bangkok for New Year. Nice. Also, he is an Arsenal fan. Not so nice. Anyway, as Spurs were playing Chelsea it was only right that he should hope for a Spurs win. Which he did. Which it wasn’t. Fantastic game though, very entertaining and almost feeling like a win with the Gomez penalty save at the end.
That night I was in a different dorm, with just one other person, a girl called Charlotte from Denmark. I’d said hello to her in the communal area before I’d gone out that night and almost asked if she’d like to join me. I thought better of it as I didn’t want her to think I was trying to chat her up, plus ‘fancy coming to watch Spurs with me at 23.30h’ is probably not the best line anyway, haha! Turns out I should have asked her. As we spoke she explained that she hadn’t been out at night at all and would really have loved to have gone for a drink! D’oh! I felt really bad, but at least I’ll know in future. Again, it’s a few days since this happened and the whole guy chatting to girl thing is not an issue at all in the travelling world. Slowly but surely I am getting the hang of this. It’s not like the normal world. A guy can chat to a girl just for fun and they don’t feel like you’re trying to chat them up, it’s great!! Unless you are of course, which I’m not. Er, anyway. You can even share a room, halving the costs and just be good friends. More on that in a future blog!
It was getting close to bus o’clock and I managed to share a taxi with 3 others to the bus station from the hostel, which ended up costing me less than £1 rather than the £4 it would have been. Result! Again, thanks to Kiw the owner who facilitated the whole thing of getting us together as she knew we were headed the same way. Steve and Becca, a couple from Gloucester have been travelling around South East Asia and were heading to Koh Pang Yan which is the next island along from where I was going. They were travelling with a girl called Theresa from Sweden whom they had taken under their wing. She’d been robbed four times, been involved in a coach accident and also had no travel insurance left!! Not good. In the taxi on the way to the bus station we had two near misses. Even more not good.
The bus station was immense, 160 bays! At the station, Steve gave me all sorts of advice on the islands including what to do if you get bitten by a snake! Snakes?? Nobody mentioned snakes! Apparently the most common is a small black one which, if it bites you, you must kill and take to the hospital with you. There is also another one, a green viper. Steve says the advice on the British Government website is this “If bitten by a green viper go and sit under the nearest tree and wait. You are going to die.” I’ve yet to check that little gem out, but it sounds interesting all the same. He also told me about the geckos, of which there are many, and that you will more than likely get them in your room. It’s best to leave them in as they have no interest in you, but are great at keeping the insects at bay. Ok, we’ll see! I told him about the grebo love from the previous night. He said it was not uncommon and that I suggested I say ‘hurry up and get that done or let me join in’ – a win win situation, haha! So, off they went around 30mins before my bus left. I waited patiently at the bay number on my ticket. The bus was due to leave at 21.00h. At 20.50h there was still no sign, although there was a bus in the next bay. I showed my ticket to the driver and he invited me on! I need to get the regimented UK way of life out of my head. In Thailand, they just go with the flow. The bay was full when my bus arrived at around 20.30h, so he just dropped it in the next one and didn’t bother moving when it was free!
The journey was pretty uneventful, just a long and tiring 7 hours or so. I didn’t sleep much. We stopped after around 4 hours at some kind of hut at the side of the road for a break then it was on to Chumphon. This turned out to be another nervy experience, as yet again I found myself outside my comfort zone. The bus arrived in Chumphon at 04.30h. It was dark and deserted. The drivers assistant beckoned to me that this was my stop. The bus left and it was just me, and two dodgy looking guys on Taxi-bikes. One of them was repeating to me ferry, ferry, ferry? I said yes, and he said get on. At first I was hesitant. I was so tired, there was nobody else around and I was putting my faith in this random looking guy to take me to a ferry? I had no option really. I had no idea where I was or where the ferry left from. I understood from the lady at the hostel that I would be dropped at the ferry, but it turned out not to be the case. So, a quick prayer and I jumped on the bike with my backpack hanging off the back! A few short blocks later and we arrived at the train station. My guy was pointing and saying ferry, ferry, free taxi. I just felt so relieved that he’d taken me somewhere with some life, and not a back road with a gang of his mates ready to rob me (as my tired mind delighted in playing tricks on me during the ride!). I got off and headed into the station, and he started to shout at me. I was thinking, crap what have I done?! Oh yeah, 20thb please! Haha!
Inside the station were two tables, one for the Lomprayah ferry (550thb and 1h 30m) and one for the Songserm ferry (450thb and 2h) both prices included free transfer to the dock, which turned out to be around 30mins away. I’d been advised to take the Lomprayah as it was known for being safer etc. and plus it was a catamaran and would be quicker. There was only one other traveller in the station at the point, looking rather tired and slightly flustered. It was Seije (pronounced Sayer) from Finland. She’d arrived from Malaysia on a much longer journey than me and was deciding on which ferry to take. She opted to join me on Lomprayah, and so began my trip to Koh Tao with Seije.