Since we last talked, I met Derek on the steps of Madison Square Garden. Our bags packed, our shoulders telling us so. We caught the first train to Jamaica and hit the transfer to JFK. It turned out we were too early to check in, so we had our last American supper: McDonalds, of course. When 5:30 rolled around we grabbed our tickets and continued on. I wouldn’t dare bore you with the details involved with the security checkpoint and everything else leading up to boarding the Norwegian airplane. Our own viking ship escorting us to “the land of smiles.”
The first part would take us to Oslo and aside from the hour delay, it went off without a hitch. A couple movies, some wine, and a few contorted naps and we were there. After a short stop, we were off to Bangkok. More movies, more wine, more awkward naps. Upon touch down, began the first of many times we have asked ourselves in a short fit of excited rage, “What are we doing?” And not shortly after, the action started. As we approached the immigration line, a crowd had gathered around a man who fallen unconscious. Maybe he asked himself what he was doing there too and it was too much to handle. Next we practiced our negotiating skills and scooped a taxi. While trying to communicate with our driver who turned out to not have any idea where he was taking us, traffic slowed and we came to see a car had completely flipped over on the highway. By some miracle, everyone seemed relatively uninjured. We had only been in town for minutes and Thailand was already happening all around us.
Realizing we had no idea where our hostel was located, other than that it was near the famous Khao San Rd, we set up shop in a small cafe at the end of that wonderful road. Sure Khao San is a tourist trap, but damn there’s something magical about it. It was a smack in the face from Thai culture. What a welcome. A latte and some free wifi later, and google maps showed us that we were only about a mile from where we intended to be.
The Baan Nampetch Hostel is tucked away down an alley about a ten minute walk from Khao San. The staff was very welcoming and even surprised us with our own private room. It has all the essentials you hope for in a cheap spot: hot shower, fresh towel, small breakfast, pack locker, free wifi, and personality. And sometimes you find that you get lucky and end up with a balcony that has a great view of your new city.
After our first showers in about 40 hours, it was time to try the local cuisine. We made plans to meet Andrea, a good friend of mine’s sister, who was also in town, back over on Khao San. The joint was called Lucky Beer. I ordered chicken pad thai, not very original but a safe start, and Derek had an amazing plate of chicken, rice, vegetables, and pineapples. I had only met Andrea once, in Santiago, Spain after just completing the Camino de Santiago with her brother, Mark, whom I met a few days into the journey. Her and Mark are from England but it turns out she happened to be on an adventure of her own down here. Everyone that is traveling is always searching for something. Sometimes we know what we are looking for, sometimes we think we know, and sometimes it finds us. I’m glad our searches led us both to Bangkok so we had the opportunity to share a few beers, some laughs, and good conversation. I follow her own blog about her trip and it’s ripping honesty is inspiring. Whatever she is looking to learn from this experience, I hope she finds it. And according to a recent post by her, it may have found her, “I am so freakin happy right now.” After a bit it was time for her to make her way to the airport to jump on to her next destination. The rest of the night was filled with wandering the streets, talk of how violent the local protests were becoming, resting with some beers and hookah, witnessing a foreigner roughing up his lady friend a little too much for some folks liking, and finished the night with a kebab on the walk home.
The next day kicked off with a nice little breakfast that provided cereal, fruit, toast, juice, tea, and the essential cup of coffee. From there, we walked about a half hour to the Grand Palace. From the outside it is stunning. We chose to skip out on entering the palace this time around and headed down the street to check out the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. On the way there we passed through the most amazing street market full of little trinkets and treasures. We passed on picking up the Snoop Dogg’s Greatest Hits cd, but did score two small pocket knives just to have for protection if the situation presented itself. And by situation, I mean swimming in the ocean and a shark thinks I look like a snack. Ya know, or I guess if we need to defend ourselves against crazy humans. When we reached Wat Pho, the beauty was smothering. There were piles of glamorous temples and statues. Pictures never do these places justice, but we tried our best as you will see. After wandering about for a good while, we made our way back and grabbed a bite to eat at an inviting place, My Darling. Following the meal and some more down time, we thought it would be a good call to try out a Thai massage. Let’s just say it will be the first of many. Although at times a bit odd or slightly painful, the aftermath was total relaxation. Next, on the way back to the hostel, I snatched up a pair of sweet, comfy pants with elephant designs. They seem to be the hit around town. The rest of the night became a bit wild. We made a friend at the hostel from Canada and went out on the town. The night included eating scorpions, making friends from Chile, Canada, England, Finland, and finding the reincarnation of Bob Marley passed out drunk in a chair.
Following all of that, I slumbered pretty late the next morning while Derek took a final stroll around some of the side streets we hadn’t yet seen. We’ll be back for Bangkok once again before this trip concludes. With the protests going on, we thought we would save the real city exploring for when we return in a few months. And after repacking our backs for the first time, which seemed infinitely arduous, we captured our first tuk tuk ride to the bus station. We had the option of venturing north to Ayutthaya and Phitsanulok en route to Chiang Mai, but we called an audible and went with a mini bus ticket to Kanchanaburi. We figured we could see the old capital city of Ayutthaya on the next go around. Kanchanaburi holds treks into the jungle for breath taking waterfalls, among other things, and that seemed to us the better adventure right now. We found our way on to a mini bus that we assumed was going to Kanchanaburi. At least we hoped, we weren’t totally positive, but we figured at least we were on our way to somewhere new. The ride wasn’t all that bad. It was about 3 hours and included a few pit stops and absolutely not one word of English. I also managed to drop my passport and bank card under my seat and almost didn’t realize the blunder. Deep sigh of relief to escape that trouble. Upon arrival, we quickly realized we were the only non locals in this town. Thankfully, our bus driver was able to call a guesthouse we thought seemed nice and the owner arranged to come meet us. Another short tuk tuk ride and we were at the Baanchaokoh Guesthouse. It isn’t as clean as the previous place we stayed, but it feels more like a home. It’s a simple guesthouse next to the owners home. There is a small walkway that leads into a garden filled with all sorts of personal touches. We settled in and then took a gander around town to see the local night market and grab dinner. I’m proud of the both of us for quickly adapting to the streets and being able to grasp our whereabouts. We always find our way around and back without trouble. Once back, we recounted many of the things we had seen and talked about our journey into the jungle the following morning. We put on Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” and went to battle with some mosquitoes before eventually passing out.
I have learned that entirely too much happens in 48 hours to hold off writing these entries. I tried my best to recap the last couple days, but I’m sure there are moments, conversations, and happenings forgotten. I will make a better effort to post nightly updates of our days during this journey. For now, it’s off into the jungle on a motorbike to find the Erawan Falls, and maybe a few others. Check back in soon. Cheers.
– As ever, J. Hart