‘Khao San Road please!’
‘I charge you 400 Baht.’
‘Very busy, very busy, lot of traffic.’
‘It’s ok pal, I’ll take the meter anyway!’
Khao San very expensive’
‘It’s ok meter please’
‘Meter ohhh, maybe 2 or 300 Baht. Heavy traffic. Have to use highway.’
‘It’s cool man. Meter please.’
‘It take maybe 1 hour.’
Welcome to Thailand!
We arrive at Bangkok’s Khao (cow) San Road http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khaosan_Road 10 minutes later and our fare cost 79 Baht. No matter what is quoted, when it comes to taxi’s here always insist on the meter. Not that it always goes to plan mind you! Another taxi we had gotten into tried the same spiel and drove for 30 seconds, stopped and kicked us out after weighing up the meter option in his head. It’s the law in Thailand for taxi drivers to use the meter but that doesn’t mean they won’t try pull a fast one! It seems that some of them would rather make no money at all instead of some. Everyone seems to have a link, a friend, a buddy who will give us a great deal. It’s all for commission. The land of smiles don’t flash those (un)pearly whites if there’s no profit to be had. Scams are everywhere and it’s always advisable to keep your wits at all times. Having said all of that, once you climatise to this and accept it as the norm, then you can relax your inner voice and let the place get under your skin. And under the skin it will go.
I booked Saphaipae Hostel through http://www.hostelworld.com/ for our first two nights in Bangkok.
It was a little higher than planned initially budget wise as it was almost half the daily budget, but I figured that after a long haul flight it would have been horrible to end up in some shitty hostel bed with crap showers. Also it was very easy access to the main transport systems of Bangkok especially the BTS Skytrain http://www.transitbangkok.com/bts.html which is great for easy access around a lot of the city. It turned out to be better than first thought. Very clean, large and breakfast included. When we arrived from the airport, we got on the airport train to the city and changed onto the BTS. It gets pretty jammed during rush hour. In fact, imagine a tube that fills 40 people standing shoulder to shoulder and cram in another 200. With backpacks it can be tricky. But it’s cheap. It cost 60 Baht (€1.62, $1.83, £1.21) for us both. After a shower, we travelled two stops on the BTS Skytrain 25 Baht each (€0.67, $0.76, £0.50,) changed onto MRT train 19 Baht each (€0.51, $0.58, £0.38) to the main train station Hua Lamphong http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangkok_Railway_Station to buy tickets for the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai. This has to be done in advance as it books up pretty quickly. Turns out we had to book for two days time as the day we wanted was already full. No biggie. The beauty of the way we are travelling is that things will change and we need to be quick on the ground. We had no probs booking our hostel for a third night. We had been to Bangkok before, had seen the shopping malls, street vendors, offered Ping Pong shows, had been ripped off by a Tuk Tuk driver and we had been to see a movie. On a side note, if you like going to the cinema then go to one in Bangkok if you have a few hours to kill. It’s an experience! Depending on what you are willing to pay, you can get bean bags, sofa beds, unlimited refills and more. And before every film starts the Kings National Anthem plays and you see footage of Thailand’s king. There were some in the audience in tears. Thai’s love their king, especially in Northern Thailand.
So, this time around we had more chill out time, having seen the sights before. We hadn’t been to Khao San Road, the backpackers main drag and probably the backpackers capitol in the world, and after insisting on the meter we finally arrived. Many people don’t like this area. It isn’t an authentic version of Thailand. Everything is for sale here. Street food, massages, beer, hostel rooms, t-shirts, fake I.D.’s, flip flops, tours and excursions, fake TEFL certs and you can be sure to be ripped off so be prepared to barter hard. Generally have a price you are willing to pay and start at around have of the asking price. Bartering is like a national sport! Just remember that the Khao San is tourism central and there is less movement on the price. Many will let you walk instead of coming to a fair price and whatever way you weigh it up, the asking price is still a lot cheaper than at home anyway. As for tours and trips on VIP buses, do some homework before parting with your money. Some of the trips are heavily subsidized so there will be a load of ‘stops’ and money making schemes at every turn. Personally we liked the place. As much as a lot of people like to get ‘off’ the beaten track to find their own little place, we like a combination of both. Having peace and tranquility is fine and hopefully that will come someplace along this journey, but being around the buzz is great too. We love people watching. Every sort of person walks down the Khao San road. It’s also a great way of immersing yourself into Thailand and I wish it had been our first stop when we originally came here last year. There’s something peaceful about sitting at a little roadside bar listening to live reggae tunes in broken Thai-English, looking out on the absolute chaos around you. The sounds, smells and sights can’t be described. It’s almost like a smell of fruit and sweet sewerage all at once. For a split second it’s disgusting, and then it’s the smell of the best thing you’ve never eaten before. The weight on the shoulders drifts away and you realize to yourself – shit, I’m in Thailand! And then you can get a massage. Generally the prices for a massage vary so shop around. 300 up to 700 Baht on the Khao San. (Denise had a full Thai massage for 150 Baht in Chiang Mai.)
And then there is street food!
I think I’m in love with Pad Thai. So simple! Noodles, beansprouts, egg (you can have it without) a choice of chicken, pork, shrimp, (or none/all 3) and topped off with however amount of flavourful chillies, salts/sugars/condiments. Feck it, throw it all in! And for 40 Baht (€1.08, $1.22, £0.80) it’s a meal that will fill you up no probs. And if you like mango then the Mango Sticky Rice (same price) will make you want to cry and eat at the same time. Denise has been blubbering like a baby over it since we got here. All in all, the first few days have been interesting and easy going. Next stop, we get the night train to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s cultural capitol.