Sa-wat-dee ka from Thailand.
Well it’s already my final day in Thailand and it’s not even a week since I left the UK!
So, the week started off somewhat stressful when I discovered I know more about Heathrow Terminals than Expedia. I had assumed I was flying from Terminal 4 as that is where all the middle eastern airlines fly from, upon checking my e-ticket Monday morning I discovered Expedia were saying Terminal 3!
So off I head on the tube to Terminal 3, one 12kg rucksack strapped to my back and a 5kg strapped to my front! Jump off at Terminal 3, hike the 2 miles from the tube station to the terminal to discover that I was right after all! So back down to the tube I hike, get on a tube going London bound 1 stop to Hatton Cross, get off, get back on the tube going the other way to Terminal 4 and then finally reach check in!
I know I said I needed to get some hiking in but this was not what I had in mind!
Anyway arrive at the check in desk stressed and sweaty to be asked for my passport and return flight! I explained I didn’t have a return flight as I was leaving Thailand by boat down the Mekong, the woman looked at me like I was mental and called over a superior! I then proceeded to explain, again, that I was on a tour and not flying out of Thailand and did not have my boat ticket out of Thailand. Eventually he conceded and let me check in! Jeez why do they make things so difficult!
Flight left on time and was pretty empty so I had 2 seats to myself which was nice, arrived in Muscat with enough time to stretch my legs before jumping on the next flight to Bangkok.
Had booked myself a nice aisle seat near the front of the plane but 30 mins in the stewardess asked me if I would mind swapping seats with the girlfriend of the guy next to me. The nice person that I am…said yes and ended up sitting in the far left corner of the back row squashed against the side of the plane! Won’t be doing that again, sod any forlorn lovers in the future!
Finally arrived in Bangkok and grabbed a taxi to my little homestay for the night, a lovely family run old Thai traditional wooden house called Baan Kapitchan.
The taxi driver threw me out on the main road and told me to walk the rest of the way to the house as he couldn’t drive there! So ladened with bags I stumbled down a dark alleyway containing wooden shacks, stalls, the stall owners and the odd cat.
Once at Baan Kapitchan I was plied with a welcome drink of chrysanthemum juice! Apparently you can make juice from flowers!
Then I crashed out asleep at 9pm!
The following day saw me head across town in a tuktuk to the hotel where my travel buddies were. We are 7….2 stylish Swiss German 73-year-old ladies (who look late 50s) called Brigette and Doris or Thelma and Louise as they are now known, Irish John otherwise known as Irish, Californian Steve, otherwise known as Steve, Patrick known as Patrick, Lyn known as Lyn and myself!
The first night we hit Bangkok for dinner, going to a place just off of the Khao San Road! Khao San Road for those that don’t know is a mecca for 18-25 year old backpackers who revel in getting hammered, getting poorly designed holiday tattoos, taking in a ping-pong show, eating scorpions on sticks and buying poorly dyed pieces of cotton for bracelets and ankle bracelets! It truly is a delight!
We took a post dinner stroll down the road to absorb the ambience which was wonderfully supplemented by differing booming music belting out of every bar and the aroma of sewage!
As much as the EZ Sleep Hostel above all of this seemed appealing we walked 10 minutes back to our more refined hotel and crashed out.
The next morning we were up and out on a long-tailed boat for a tour around the canals of Bangkok, it was nice to get out on the water and take in the city from a different perspective. We stopped nearby a temple to feed some huge catfish before disembarking the boat at a temple called Wat Po.
Wat Po is home to a stunning array of temples and the second largest reclining Buddha in Thailand.
We wandered around for an hour and a half before splitting off to enjoy some free time.
Patrick and I decided to swing by The Grand Palace. This involved a brief walk, followed by a free ride on the upstairs of an old London bus then a stroll around the palace where hoards of Thais were dressed in black mourning their King.
He appears to have been a very popular man and Thais pay homage to him across the country through posters, paintings, portraits and banners. In 6 days I have gazed upon his face more times than I have my own in the last year!
Patrick and I navigated our way back across Bangkok on foot and met up with others from the group for a drink.
At 4.30pm we all met in the reception of the hotel to head to the train station for our overnight train to Chiang Mai. The train left just after 6pm and took 13 hours!
The train, I have to say, was modern and clean with fold down beds along both sides of each carriage. The toilets were devoid of squat pans and contained proper sit down toilets, with soap, running water and toilet roll! What a novelty!
The food was edible also, grabbed some dimsum….5 pork dumplings and a bbq pork bun for just over £1!
We then spent a few hours reading, chatting, listening to music and playing cards. I am aiming to retain my title as Shithead and Gin Rummy champion so it was good to throw in a few practice games!
Sleep was fitful due to the freezing air con and substandard blanket provided but managed to cobble together another hours to be coherent in the morning.
We arrived in Chiang Mai at 7.15am and transferred to our hotel, quick shower and change and we went off for breakfast to a French Bakery. L’Opèra sells the best croissants outside of France!
After our very European breakfast we spent the day wandering around town in 40 degree heat taking in canals, ancient city walls, shops, stupas, temples, buddhas, markets and bars!
Lunch was a chinese affair where one could feast on such delights as baked fish stomach, duck feet and veg, shark fin soup, jellyfish and rice or a whole roasted pig! I opted for a simple beef and chilli dish with rice as bizarrely didn’t fancy much of the rest of the menu.
In the evening we headed up 320 steps to a temple to watch evening prayers and see Chiang Mai from above, then we wandered around the night markets and ate street food, Chicken Penang and broccoli, bloody immense!
The following day saw much of the same…french bakery, walking miles around town in 40 degrees, stopping every hour for a sit down and cold drink. We also visited a fish foot spa to have our feet nibbled, a teak buddhist temple to have our soul cleaned and a shopping centre to purchase some fruit, drinks and snacks!
The evening was more night market, chicken penang this time with chinese style broccoli, dress shopping and lady boy spotting! There was even a street vendor cutting his toenails in the street and a monk pissing up a fruit and veg stand!
This morning we were up early, breakfasted at the french bakery and on a minibus by 8am. We drove 3 hours to Chiang Rai passing rice paddies, national parks, massive areas of verdant flora, mountains, towns, villages and the ‘Cabbages and Condoms’ restaurant! Yes that is the real name of a restaurant!
We then stopped for a couple of hours for a mooch around the white temple, which is a white and silver glistening affair that would not look out-of-place in a theme park. It was designed by a local Thai artist whose paintings make Salvador Dali look normal!
The temple has a pool of raised clay hands at the front, skulls mixed with images of buddha, painted walls depicting space travel, the mayan civilisation and paintings of Bush and Bin Laden riding a rocket! Round the back is a scaffold clad golden temple with a large statue of Ganesh and if that wasn’t enough the toilets are marked by a grotesque male and female shitting gargoyle standing outside each one!
We grabbed a spot of lunch then drove an hour or so which now brings me to the here and now. Sitting on a balcony in 40 degree heat in a hotel with no electricity, the Mekong flows a mere 30m away and Laos sits on the furthest bank.
Tomorrow morning will see us cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos and then pick up a boat for 2 days sailing down the Mekong!
So as we prepare to leave Thailand I summarise as thus…
Steps done – 80,000 (according to my phone!)
Number of times eaten rice – 9
Number of Croissants consumed – 3
Number of lady boys spotted – a definite 9, a possible 15
Favourite dish – Penang Chicken
Number of restaurants supposedly serving the best Pad Thai in Thailand – 32
Lets see what Laos brings!