Bangkok was a whirlwind of sights and experiences we won’t quickly forget. Our two-month journey through Thailand and Malaysia began with an Emirates flight from Durban to Dubai. After coffee at Starbucks in Dubai airport and a nap on some awesome lounge chairs, we boarded our flight to Bangkok, “the city that never sleeps”.
We landed in Bangkok around 7pm and cleared border control. Suprisingly, we got through without a hitch and weren’t asked to show proof of onward travel (ferry to Langkawi) which we’d been told can be requested. We grabbed our packs and headed straight to an ATM to draw money. There are also a few kiosks near the border control counters where you can exchange money, if necessary.
Asking around it appeared the cheapest way to get to our hostel, located on the other side of the city, was to first take the Airport Link to its end (Phaya Thai) and then catch a taxi to SamSen 3 (our road). Before making our way to the airport underground to catch the link, we searched for SIM cards, air time and data for our cellphones and iPad, which we eventually found at Exit 7.
Tip: Wait to buy airtime and data at a Seven11 outside the airport as the price of the packages they offered were a bit excessive, or at least first compare prices between the different service providers located in the airport.
A train journey later, waiting on the street as we came down the stairs from the station was a “more than friendly” old Thai man who kindly offered to take us to our destination for B200. Luckily, we found three French backpackers also heading our way so the five of us, with all our packs, squeezed in a taxi for B60pp. BARGAIN!
Tip: Walk a bit further past the over-enthusiastic taxi and tuk-tuk drivers when you arrive anywhere in Thailand because a cheaper price is often just down the road.
Tip: Always agree on a price beforehand with all taxi and tuk-tuk drivers and share the cost with other travellers where possible.
After a long taxi ride through the busy streets of Bangkok, a short walk down some funky smelling streets and trying to come to terms with the heat and humidity, we finally stumbled upon our backpackers, Sivarin Guest House. After a late night, long hours of travelling and feeling exhasuted, we dumped our bags and found the closest “restuarant” for a quick bite to eat before heading back to our hostel for a well needed rest.
Day one had taken it’s toll and we only woke up at 12pm!! Lauren “claimed” she passed my phone to me when it went off at 7.30am but I don’t remember a thing. We quickly packed our day-packs and headed into the city centre on Bus 53 to book an overnight train, bus and ferry ticket to Koh Samui for the following night. The bus ride was quite adventurous, super cheap (B6.50), with a bit of a wait while the drivers “changed” over and an alternative route used as some of the streets were barricaded with sandbags and guarded by military men. A friendly lady we met on the bus, who was on her way to a democratic meeting, informed us the streets were blocked for rallies. Another, not so friendly woman, tapped me on the shoulder and told me off for showing the soles of my shoes and the underneath of my foot whilst folding my legs – this is extremely rude and offensive in Thailand.
Outside the bus station we were greeted by another “more than friendly” local, again trying to offer us the “cheapest package” to the islands if you just follow her to the toursit office down the street. However, the tickets inside the station were much cheaper (B1046pp).
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) was our next stop. Tuk-tuk time … we were so excited! We found one and managed to bargain the driver down to B20 which we thought was super awesome. It turned out he scammed us, and took us down some alley to a tour agency who requested B2000 pp to take us on an hour-long tour of the temple. We walked away only to find a public water taxi just down the road for B18. As fate would have it, we bumped into an American woman who was in the “same boat as us” (got scammed) and ended up spending the day exploring the sights with her. She was so greatful to have people to travel with that she even paid for our dinner.
Tip: Public transport is always cheaper (especially buses and water taxis). If locals don’t take it, you know it’s not the cheapest.
From a distance, Wat Arun doesn’t seem too appealing. However, close up it is beautifully detailed and there is quite a thrilling steep climb to the top of the temple to a fairly decent view of the city (ladies dress appropriately). Definitely worth a short visit.
After Wat Arun we took the boat back across the river to the temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho, Old City) as we were too late for the Grand Palace (4pm close). The enormous golden Buddha wasn’t exactly what we expected …interesting but not unforgettable. The Old City was exactly that, a mini-city of temples and courtyards. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, plus a free bottle of water we were given was a bonus in the heat. Our free dinner with Delora, our American friend, was at a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED cafe called Madame Musor near Khao San road. Here, we met a well-travelled couple from Australia who were hiring a 44ft yacht with friends to explore the islands (an idea now added to our “to do” list).
Khoa San Road was an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience! The moment we set foot on the road we were offered all sorts: from ping-pong shows (the offer being accompanied by somewhat disturbing “popping noises”), to tailor-made suits, to scorpions on kebab sticks. The road was buzzing with people manoeuvring between bars, cafes, street vendors, shops and massage beds. If you’re a night owl and enjoy weird and alternative experiences, then Khao San Road is the place for you.
Most hostels are in walking distance of Khoa San Road. We asked a local for directions to ours. After walking for quite a while, we recognized an alley, one we had walked through when we disembarked the ferry earlier, one that was very far from where we needed to be. We had literally walked in a circle. Feeling dumb and exhausted, we hailed a taxi for the ride back to our hostel.
Tip: GET A MAP!
Tom, the friendly Thai taxi driver, offered a “package” to drive us out to the floating market and other attractions for B1800. He was such a nice guy it was hard declining his offer when our hostel lady offered it to us for B490pp. Back in our room after a long day, we packed for the following day and set our alarms on EXTRA loud for a 6am wake up for the floating market.
Waking up early sucks, but a wake-up call to the deafening sound of “this is the story of a girl …” is no joke! We packed our gear and stored it in the hostel’s store room. The hostel was amazingly accommodating: they made special arrangements for us to eat free breakfast early (yummy scrambled eggs) and allowed us to shower when we arrived back long after check-out time.
The minibus rocked up punctually at 7am at the hostel to pick us up. After picking up some other backpackers we were on our way to the floating market. An hour and a half later, we were still on the way! However, Lauren met two girls from the UK on the bus, as well as a German guy, who we spent most of our time chatting to and ended up exploring the markets with.
Tip: Make friends. Travelling is so much more fun when you meet people and get to know them! Plus, it hopefully means free accomodation when you get to visit their country.
Finally we arrived at the floating market and were asked if we wanted to take a long-tail boat through the market. Of course we wanted too! We had assumed it was included in the package but B300 later we were on a long-tail boat floating down the canal with Thai stall owners shouting out, “Ok, want to buy? Ok!”, or “Just looking? No, just looking? Buy, ok!” Some run their over-priced “shops” from long-tail boats and whenever you look with the slightest interest at something on offer, they pull on your boat and try sell it to you. Every “shop” sells the exact same touristy items.
Trust Lauren to get sucked into a costly endeavour when an entrepreneurial store owner man brought out what seemed to be a baby lemur. Of course, Lauren couldn’t resist and jumped out the boat to hold this cute little baby lemur. B200 later the Thai man, with a knowing grin on his face, made offered us an opportunity to hold a giant white snake … before he could even finish we were both back on the boat paddling away.
We also came across some tasty fruit called a pomelo, which is a cross between an orange and a grapefruit – it was so good! After our tour of the market we jumped on a motorized long-boat to a nearby river village where we were allowed to explore a little. It was beautiful but you only really need to spend five minutes looking around unless you are interested in a snake show.
At 11.30am we piled back into our minibus (thankful for the airconditioner) and made the long two-hour journey back to traffic congested Bangkok. The floating market and the tour was a really down to earth experience, a little expensive in parts, but that comes with being a tourist on tours. All in all Two Journey recommends the floating market to those in Bangkok for more than two days.
We had an interesting discussion with an Australian woman about the situation in Bangkok and Marshall Law being declared. She told us that warnings had been given to Aussie nationals to get out of Bangkok because it wasn’t “safe” but all the Thai people were so relaxed and friendly, including the military, that we didn’t feel threatened or unsafe. We just made a point to avoid any rallies or barricaded roads.
Lunch was at a really fancy cafe (De O’sha) close to our hostel along the main road (SamSen Road). Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel for a shower and to finish packing our gear for a long 12-hour train journey to Surat Thani. Again we took Bus 53 to the train station(Hualamphong train station) in Bangkok city centre. After an AMAZING iced coffee at Black Canyon Coffee located upstairs in the train station we boarded the train and set off to Koh Samui.
Tip: Buy food before getting on the train. Train food is excessively priced and the hygiene is questionable … you will starve or be broke!
You can read all about our interesting experience on the train and our trip to Koh Samui in our next post: Sawatdee, Kab Kun Krab.