We opted to get to Thailand on the cheap: $8 each from Siem Reap to Bangkok. We arrived at the border at midday, our bags were unloaded off the bus and we had our remaining ticket taken off us and given a red sticker and with no further instruction or guidance we made our way to the Cambodian border to get our exit stamp, we then followed some people who looked like they knew where they were going. We assumed the borders were quite close together- they weren’t. Poor Gav had his rucksack in its transporter bag and had to lug it over 1 km in the blazing midday sun to the Thai border control building. In the process he lost his sticker. Getting through the border was easy but then came the sticker issue- we had to plead with the guy to let Gav on the transfer. Luckily it all worked out and after a quick taxi to the pickup place we waited 2 hours and were finally on the bus into Bangkok.
Have you ever seen the film The Beach? Well they show Khao San road as it is. It is mental and on our first night in Bangkok decided to experience it. In order to take the edge off you can’t be completely sober there so we had a few beers and got some rather bland Pad Thai followed by a wander around. The street consists of the usual stalls selling t-shirts and elephant pants and shorts, guys trying to get you to buy suits, roasted scorpions, fried maggots, frogs and other beasties, ping pong shows and a myriad of bars with allegedly strong alcohol and will not check IDs, shops selling fake licences, ID cards, etc., fresh juices, not so fresh juices, sliced fruit, coconut ice-cream, massages….. it goes on!
It was fun for the first night, but unfortunately we had a bit too much fun and were very hungover the next day. Dealing with the above when you have a hangover is not fun and we literally left the room to eat before going back to bed.
The following morning, Monday, we headed to the Myanmar embassy to get our visas. Just as a reference we ended up getting a taxi for 150B, a tuk tuk driver started out at 500B and the taxi at 200B. He wouldn’t go on the meter so we hoped he wouldn’t try scam us for more but it worked out fine and we got to the embassy in record time and thankfully still alive despite his driving!
After 2 hrs waiting (plus a walk around the block) we submitted our forms, photos and passports. Now was the fun part, getting back into town- there was a tuk tuk waiting outside, I wanted to get a taxi again but as there was none nearby we started negotiating with the tuk tuk driver.
Again it was the usual to-ing and fro-ing and we got him down to 150B. However, and this was really annoying, once we had got into the tuk tuk, he started with the usual scam- “if we make one stop at my friend’s shop on the way for 5 mins and then I charge you only 100B”. He pushed it a bit, despite us saying “no, straight to Khao San road”. Eventually after we made moves to get out, he relented and brought us where we wanted. So scam 1 avoided.
Most evenings we spent trying to find somewhere decent to eat around the area, getting more and more annoyed with the suit guys and the ping pong shows. We were idiots and had booked 5 nights there- recommended time is 2 nights which we realised is a sensible amount quite quickly. Unless you are on a package holiday, stag do or it’s your first backpacker stop it is so expensive!
One evening we went for a walk to the river, just a walk. En route we found the palace and as were wandering past it a local guy started talking to us. I was initially suspicious but he seemed ok- a teacher, waiting for his wife and kid as it was a Buddhist holiday and there would be fireworks. We chatted for about 10 mins and he asked what we were doing. We replied “just for a walk to the river”. Then the scam started (we had not twigged yet)- he suggested we take a boat ride along the river. As it was a Buddhist holiday, it would be discounted for that night only from 2500B ($74/£48) to 900B ($27, £17), which is still way over budget for us anyway. He was very subtle about pushing it and we continued to say we were just going for a walk. Then before we had a chance to argue we were suddenly in a tuk tuk (at this point the penny dropped) heading for a boat station. We arrived, 20B lighter, quickly made our excuses and left. Scam number 2- narrowly avoided.
After this we went on what ended up being the most convoluted route home, thanks to our map app not completely zoning in on our location and our reluctance (well my reluctance) to hold my iphone out in full view for more than a few minutes. It took us 2 hours to walk 3 km, it was a nice but confusing walk and we got to see a fair bit of downtown without getting hassled. FYI Chinatown looks pretty good.
Another day we decided to go to the Grand Palace (inc Wat Phra Kaew temple). It was nice enough but stupidly busy and expensive- 500B ($15/ £9.60) each to get in. As we had seen the palace in PP which is very similar, we really should have saved the money. It was nice but not “wow”- especially in comparison to what we have seen. I did like the galleries though. Plus on the way there we had a guy stop us saying that Gav wasn’t properly dressed so couldn’t get in, basically wanting us to go and do a city tour instead. It was bollox, and if you had a chance to listen to the loudspeakers around the palace saying not to listen to anyone and clothing is provided you’d realise it. We spotted it for what it was quickly though and he was visibly annoyed when I said that we’d go home to get changed. We didn’t and headed for the palace. Scam number 3 avoided.
By this point, we really were not enjoying Thailand. Even in the other countries where people wanted something it was less aggressive and easy to get out off. It was so sophisticated in Bangkok. It got to the stage where I felt I needed to be rude and ignore people as engaging was more hassle than it was worth. It did not feel good.
After three days (well Wednesday) we were due to collect our visas and we were running scarily low on cash. Not a problem one would think. ATMs are everywhere in Bangkok. Well it was- it took us over an hour to find an ATM that would work with our Mastercard. Initially we thought Gav’s card had been blocked by the bank- the almighty fear of travellers- but it turned out the banks were just being awkward as mine, which we had not used- was also not working. We began running over senarios of how to get money- but in the end it we managed to get some. Quite a boring story but it was very stressful at the time!
So a morning planned doing some sights turned into a hunt for cash, breakfast and then back to the room for an hour or two while we waited for the afternoon slot to collect our visa. It took us 6 taxis to find one that a) knew where the embassy was (roughly) b) would take less than 200 or put us on the meter. The meter seemed to be a real issue. In the end we actually got a nice driver and it was just under 150B. It took 5 mins to collect the visa and the we opted to walk the 7km home. Again a nice walk, got to see Amulet street and walked right through Chinatown again.
On Friday, my friend Stu who lives in Pattaya (anyone for a golf holiday in Thailand let me know and I’ll pass you his details), collected us to bring us to Kanchanaburi, the town containing the Bridge over the river Kwai. En route we stopped for a round of golf (I got to drive the cart- first spot of driving for nearly two years!).
Kanchanaburiis a nice little town, full of tourists though but quite a bit cheaper than Bangkok. While there we went to Erawan waterfall which was gorgeous- 7 level waterfall with numberous small levels in between. Stu and I stopped just before level number 5 as there was a nice 3 level spot with shallow pools and Gav continued on to the top. For the most part we had the place to ourselves despite how busy it was. Got a free fish pedicure from the little fish there which was weird but kinda nice provided they were the fish less than 10 cm, over that they were a bit too harsh! They also had little shrimp in the pools so if you sat close to the edge in the water, as I did, they would nip you on the leg with their pincers. You move fairly quickly once that happens a few times. We also got to see a giant salamander emerge from the lower levels and make its way up. It was huge!
Nighttime in Kanchanaburi:
The following day we crossed the famous bridge, took a boat ride on the river Kwai, visited the Death Railway Museum (I knew very little of the Thai-Burma railway history prior to this) and then headed for Pattaya.
Stu had kindly offered to put us up for a few days so we had the opportunity to see a city we would never have visited. It’s a strange place Pattaya and also huge, it’s the second largest city in Thailand after Bangkok. It has a rather seedy reputation which is flaunts unashamedly between the soapy massage parlours, go go clubs and freelance prostitutes and lady boys in the main strip. We were a bit out in the nicer end so didn’t see any of this as we were only in that area during the day. The area is full of hotels for package holidays and sex tourists- we were classified as the “alternative” tourists as we are not either of those. Unfortunately as we were backpackers, living on a measly budget of $50 a day (for both of us) all the things to do here were out of our price range as most attractions were a minimum of 500B ($15/ £9.60), so we basically wandered around and did what we could for free. The food was also very expensive and it was quite a trek to find some decent street food but when we did find it it was good and cheap
After a few days here it was time to head for the airport. We were flying from Bangkok Dom Meung, the other side of the city so we decided to make it easier to travel to Suvunabumi airport, get a hotel with free transfers, and take the free transfer bus to Dom Meung the following morning. Easy peasy.
On Thursday afternoon we left Bangkok behind us and in a cloud of jet fuel, headed for the exotic Burmese city of Yangon…!