Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thailand. When two became five.

After jumping off the plane wearing my thermals, scarf and beanie I was happy to once again be able to chuck on a summer dress. Waiting very patiently for us at the airport was my sister and her good friend, and after playing hide and seek for about two hours we finally found each other and made our way to Khao San Road. And so their adventure began. 

Their first taste of Thailand was the famous "Khao San Road" in Bangkok, a popular and famous backpackers "heaven", so to speak. Plenty of bars, cheap hostels, touristy market stalls and plenty of "lady-boys" too. This street is a 24 hour frenzy, where people substitute booze for sleep, where you can try deep fried cockroaches or worms, smoke sheesha, where you can get the best pad thai I have ever had for only $1 and where nothing is every dull or disinteresting. A perfect place for them to start. 

Street hawkers on Khao San Road selling things ranging from balloons to traditional hats to bracelets.
Cocktails at a side bar
The amazing street side pad thai stalls selling meals for 25 baht, less than $1!
Fish spa anyone? Here the fish will eat the dead skin off your feet leaving them nice and smooth. Lucky fish!
After managing to score two rooms in a good hostel, unfortunately on the sixth floor of the building, we treated ourselves to some well deserved sleep, especially as the girls hadn't stopped since they left Perth where they had two long flights and a 9 hour delay in between- what troopers!

The next day we set out on a tuk tuk and hit up the famous "weekend markets." Tuk Tuks are motorbikes with a carriage on the back usually with four comfortable seats- although you can fit up to ten people in a tuk tuk. They are already very cheap, although some tuk tuk drivers offer you the option to stop in at a souvenier shop, tailor, or a jewelery shop where if you pretend like you are interested in buying something the driver gets a "fuel coupon." If you buy something from the shop the driver gets rewarded with more coupons as well. As petrol is just as expensive as Australian prices this is a great deal for the tuk tuk driver and he cuts the cost of your trip by half price- which is equally a good deal for poor backpackers like ourselves.

We timed our trip very well to coincide with the awesome weekend markets, when you can find anything and everything for ridiculously cheap. They have hundreds and hundreds of cheap second hand clothing stalls, thai made clothing, accessories and more. We spent all day shopping there but only covered one little section and still managed to buy enough to fill our backpacks to bursting point. You really need a good long four days to cover the whole market- its amazing!

The following day we decided to fit in a "touristy" attraction and visited the floating markets. This unfortunately was a typical experience in a touristy place. We got a taxi with a driver whom we used the day before and thought that we could trust as he seemed likeable and nice. We woke at 5am in the morning ready to see the floating village at the best time. We arrived however at a place that spelled out "tourist trap" all over it. The prices were 5 times what they should have been and we weren't even sure if we were to see the real deal or whether we were just going to be taken for a "joy ride" in a noisy motorised boat. We were stuck, but we bit our tongues, paid the price and hoped for the best.

In our so called "authentic floating market experience package" we were to visit an up-and-running - which was just a souvenir shop with a bowl of coconut oil (at least that what i assumed it to be) with dead mosquitoes floating in it.  It was not authentic at all. Next stop was a car park and a little temple- just as interesting as the dead mosquito coconut cocktail. And finally we reached the "floating market" which once would have been amazing, but due to tourism has turned into a gimmicky place where you get pulled into over 10 souvenir shops to buy something and where we only saw two locals actually buying fresh produce, the rest of the boats were all tourists like us wanting a real cultural experience.

After that semi-disappointing experience it was back to the airport to pick up the fifth member of the group, my best friend from back home, Emily. And so with four girls and one guy we did what anyone in that situation would do- go shopping! We went to most of the great cheap shopping malls Bangkok had to offer.

We were slightly hesitant in choosing our form of transport to cross the border as we had heard many accounts of travelers who traveled on “VIP” buses throughout Thailand and had things stolen from their luggage. Some buses had locked a local in the luggage compartment who picked at locks and removed valuables from the backpacks. One shocking story which I had heard more than once was that the bus stops halfway to “change the oil”.

Upon stopping they put sleeping gas in the air conditioner, and as you cannot open the windows on some of the buses, you are gased to sleep. They then remove any bank cards from you, whether it be in your money belt, daypack, or even in your shoe they find them. They make a quick stop-off which no one on the bus notices as they are all asleep and they then withdraw money from the cards and place them back exactly where the took them from. It is not until you check your bank statement a week later that you may notice an amount withdrawn from your account. And as you may not still be in contact with the other passengers on the bus you cannot know for sure how this fraudulent activity had happened. Whether this was a fable or not we still looked around for gas masks before jumping on the bus!

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