Bangkok is like a French girl. (I assume. I don’t actually know any French girls.) Some of it is quite nice to look at, some of it smells a bit odd, and it’s probably best not to hang around for too long.
We stayed at the highest rated hostel in Bangkok (NapPark Hostel) just 2 streets away from the famous/infamous Khao San Road. Needless to say, a lot nicer than the stenchhole we stayed in the first night. Plus it only cost about 5 baht each for the 1 hr 30 min train ride into Bangkok. That’s, like, 10p. You can’t even take a Guns N Roses’ lead guitarist (Slash. You can’t take a slash) in a London underground station restroom for that.
Of course, you sort of get what you pay for as the train looks, and sounds, like the only thing keeping it going is a stubborn refusal to fall apart. The seats are essentially wooden benches that are not kind to the buttocks (the poor, tormented buttocks) and the view from the train is… certainly something. You see a lot of slums, unfinished construction, and general squalor that remind you you’re in a poor country, and then you suddenly see a spotless 5-star hotel towering above all the crap. It really makes you think about the inequality between rich & poor in Thailand (3rd most unequal country in the world according to the Bangkok post. ) How much was spent on that hotel, and how many decent homes for the poor could have been built with that money? If I was living in poverty here, I imagine I’d look at such fine hotels across the street as a bit of a piss take. But economics and politics aren’t my thing, of course. (Still not really sure what my thing is… maybe eating?)
A lot of the travellers we met in the hostel were only staying in Bangkok for 2 or 3 nights, before moving north to Chiang Mai or south to the islands. You soon understand why; Bangkok has some neat sights and nightlife, but between the heat (35°c on average in the day. I’m British, what the hell is 35°c?!) the crowdedness, uncleanliness, and the fact that there isn’t really a whole lot to do besides get drunk until you’re a quivering sack of bodily fluids being scraped off the pavement, it can be overwhelming for first-time visitors.
But boy are those drinks cheap. Beers less than £2! Cocktails £3! Buckets… can’t remember, but cheap!
We spent most nights on Khao San Road with many random people we’d just met. It’s not really like a night out in Congleton; street vendors try to flog you everything from tasers, to scorpions, to suits, to wristbands with slogans on them that I won’t repeat because this blog is fun for the whole family dammit. Women who might not be women try to drag you into bars. You see old men and bizarrely enough, little kids wandering around, or even kids in prams being pushed by their mothers. Because apparently kids these days don’t want to go to Disneyland, they want to go out in Khao San Road, get smashed, and watch women do things with ping pong balls that I won’t talk about because FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY DAMMIT.
As for sightseeing, we took a boat down the river, climbed the Golden Mount, and visited the Grand Palace, where we saw some truly breathtaking sights of about 5 billion Chinese tourists all jockeying for position to take pictures.
This country is a grammar Nazi’s worst nightmare.
As part of the whole travel experience, and as a change from flying everywhere, we chose to get the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand.
14 hours on a nice relaxing train journey sounds fun, right?
Being a classy gent, I first visited ‘Buy Sue Dinner Junction’ and ‘Hold Sue’s Hand Junction.’
There were no more beds available on the train, so 2nd class seats it was. But there should be quality air conditio-
But at least our seats weren’t far from the toi –
Oh. That’s… Wow.
Well at least it should be quiet enough to rest…
I can’t really take a photo of noise. But it was a very loud train. Plus at several stops, women would board the train and wander up & down selling food. Their shrieks of ‘PAD THAAAAAIIII!!!’ will haunt my nightmares forever.
The only way to sleep was to be so tired you finally pass out. But once the sun rose in the morning, there were some nice views of the jungle.
We got fun & games.
So sleeper trains make for a fun horror story and are ‘part of the whole experience.’ But I think I’ll stick to flights next time.
Aftee the madness of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a breath of fresh air. It’s cooler, cleaner and much more relaxed.
Three Kings Monument
There are a few neat temples and things to see around town, but we were here for one main reason.
As you may know, I am notoriously so cynical and sarcastic that there is nothing that can draw childlike excitement out of me any more –
I can’t recommend Elephant Nature Park enough. The guide starts the day with a swift kick in your emotional crotch; showing you via video how elephants in Thailand are taken from their families, chained up and tortured until their spirit is broken and they can be ‘trained’ for things like circus acts, street begging, and logging. Welcome to my shit list, scumbags who abuse elephants. You get a VIP spot next to the shitstains who kill animals for sport.
But at ENP the elephants are freed from their lives of captivity and treated like beloved pets. A lot of them are blind due to having sensitive eyes that can’t deal with the bright spotlights of a circus, or from the cruelty of humans (I’m a believer in an eye for an eye, just saying.)
Elephants feel joy, anger, grief and love just like people; they mourn their dead, cry, get lonely when separated from their families, and females even take on the role of ‘nanny’ to the babies of others. Why would anyone want to hurt these creatures? They’re like giant puppies; they even wag their tails when they’re happy.
At the start of the day your group feeds the elephants from a huge tub of watermelons (which is like a small packet of M&Ms to them. Greedy buggers spend 18 hours a day eating. (Although I do know some humans who do that.))
Afterwards the guide takes you to meet some of the more friendly elephants, and… awww you just fall in love with how peaceful they are. I felt completely safe stroking an animal that could quite easily squash me like an earwig if it felt like it.
Like touching a very wrinkly 3-ton pensioner.
You are also told why you should never ride an elephant. Unlike horses, their spines simply aren’t built for it; it causes them agony. Especially carrying 2-3 people on heavy seats for hours at a time, which can leave them crippled if forced to do it regularly. Don’t do it.
After lunch, you close out the day by giving an elephant a bath in the river, since they couldn’t find a big enough bathtub.
The elephants seem to love it, and if someone in the group is annoying you, you can ‘accidentally’ chuck a bucket of water over their head. Everyone’s a winner.
Seriously, if you like elephants, visit this place. Do a day visit, or do a week volunteering to look after the elephants (kinda wishing I’d done that.) They do good work here and it really feels like something special. Our tour guide seemed like a guy who loved his job, not that I’m incredibly jealous or anything.
Come and visit meeee!
Been on the road almost a month now, and somehow not dead. Thoughts on the last 4 weeks coming soon.