The road to Bangkok…
The tale that follows is the true story of how a routine 8 or 9 hour bus journey turned into a 16 hour epic of endurance, patience, mental fortitude, frustration and boredom. The events took place on New Year’s day 2013.
We left the room at 7am to wait for the pick up from the guesthouse in Siem Reap. After a quick lap of town in a minibus we were put onto an old but comfortable bus to go to the Thai border at Poipet. Around 3 hours later we stopped a few miles short of the border for lunch. The noodles we ate seemed ok, but we were paying for them for the next 4 days – if you get what I mean. At the same lunch stop Jason was stood still long enough for one of the giant cockroaches to run up his leg. It got as far as his knee before being thrown off. Nasty, but the day was still going relatively well. What happened next was the rubbish bit.
We got to the border and left the bus behind to walk across the border. A 45 minute queue to clear Cambodian passport control had to be the worst of it right?
No. We then had to queue over 3 hours, largely in the hot sun, to get to Thai border control. At one of the busiest border crossings into Thailand, they had 3 staff on duty. An eternity later we had to wait for the onward connection which showed no signs of arriving for well over an hour. We were then put into a minibus which pelted us towards Bangkok at what must have been near the speed of sound. Normally we wouldn’t have minded this, but all the other traffic on the road was moving slowly, or was in a traffic jam in some places. That meant we were going near the speed of sound on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic which was often forced into the gutter to avoid us. A particular lowlight was zooming around a corner on the wrong side of the road while the Captain had a chat on his mobile. We have to hope that the reason they refer to bus drivers as ‘bus Captains’ is because they had piloting lessons from Captain Kirk.
We somehow made it to Bangkok in one piece – bad driving is fairly normal in Asia, but this guy was a cut below. Other people we met had very similar experiences, there is not much we could have done to avoid it. After being dropped off the cab ride to our hotel took a while because our hotel was the other side of town from the drop off and the local pronunciation of our hotel name was very different to ours. If you ever stay in the ‘Nasa Vegas Hotel’ in Bangkok (great name right?) it is pronounced ‘Nar-SAAAHHH Vey-GAAAHH’.
And so we come to the end of this tale. It was by far the worst border crossing we have done and total transit time of 16 hours was a bit silly. But then again, it did only cost $10.
Our preconceptions of Bangkok were strongly influenced by the movie ‘The Hangover 2’. A group of 4 friends lose the bride to be’s little brother in Bangkok the night before the wedding. They are constantly told by others when they ask about their missing friend that ‘Bangkok has him now’.
At breakfast on the first day we spied a rotund man with short hair and a beard wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt – just like one of the characters in the film – he looked quite a lot like him. We assumed our little joke would end there, but then he went and sat down with 3 others. One was slightly geeky and nervous looking, one a looked at bit sensible and the other was clearly the leader. If you’ve seen The Hangover part 2 you will have realised that this group dynamic is a mirror image of the film. Unbelievable. We did some eavesdropping and found out they were German. We even considered following them for the day to see what they got up to, but unfortunately the noodles from the day before kept us at the hotel for the rest of the morning.
Later in the day we did manage a trip to the Kho San Road area via the new Skytrain. The Skytrain gave good views of the city and was really quick. The only drawback was the whistle happy platform controllers who must have been paid per whistle sound to keep us passengers in order. We even got whistled at for straying to within 5 metres of the platform edge – naughty us.
The Kho San Road area is perhaps Asia’s most famous backpacker ghetto, but we were surprised to find it less busy than the area we stayed in Ho Chi Minh City. It was still as expected, with stalls selling everything from offensive t-shirts to fake degree certificates. We bought some stuff we didn’t need and headed for home.
Back at the hotel we made friends with a friendly fish that we named “Bwains”.
The next day we were feeling only slightly more energetic but managed a good wander around town, culminating at sunset with drinks at ‘the Dome’ sky bar which is used for a scene near the end of The Hangover 2. The sunset was stunning with a warm brown mist blurring the horizon line.
The following day we started early to explore the Royal Palace area which is crammed with huge and colourful temples. Also lots of huge and colourful tourists – those wearing shorts were forced to hire brightly coloured baggy trousers – luckily for us we had dressed appropriately.
Every corner we turned we were wowed by towers, temples and statues of brilliant white, dazzling metallic mirrors, pastel rainbow ceramics, floral designs and pure sunshine gold.
Just across the road was another temple zone with the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It was enormous, too big to catch in a single picture because it was within a pagoda. Along the pagoda wall just behind the Buddha were a long line of metal pots where people threw coins. The whole pagoda echoed with the chiming sound of coins hitting metal like distant church bells.
We then got a Tuk Tuk to Chinatown where we struck market gold. The wholesale market stretched along several roads and we bought more things we didn’t need, but this time at a fifth of the price they are sold on the Kho San Road and the tourist markets. Katy bought 6 pairs of comedy sunglasses – for use at work in the hospital. Still no glow in the dark Buddha figures though – we are starting to think they don’t exist.
Our last stop was the Asia Hotel to see “The Playhouse” cabaret show. Not your average cabaret show. This was performed mainly by Ladyboys (Thailand’s third sex). They mimed to lots of hit songs wearing a variety of sequin covered sparkly dresses. It was a funny experience, and on the way out they grabbed people and ordered a photo be taken, then demanded a tip before unhanding their shell shocked victims. Experience Ladyboy aggression in Bangkok – tick.
That’s about it for Bangkok, and Thailand, in fact that’s about it for South East Asia – for now at least.
The next evening we flew to Sri Lanka.
END OF PART 1.