bangkok - Where's Byrne?


05.09.2011 – 12.09.2011 & 13.09.2011 – 14.09.2011 Sunny 36 °C

Couldn’t wait to get to Bangkok after spending the past few weeks covering five islands. There is only so much sand and water you can take. We took a boat from Koh Tao to Chumphon where we had a two-hour wait before our night bus departed. It should have been a four-hour wait but again we were subjected to Thai time keeping and they decided to leave after two hours. This may sound good but this meant that we would arrive in Bangkok at 3am instead of 5am, giving us the option of either hanging out for three hours until 6am or checking in straight away and paying an extra nights money. We opted for the former. Journey wasn’t bad, was on time at least. We got off the bus and asked a tuk tuk driver if he could direct us to Khao San Road as this was supposedly the best place for backpackers. He whipped out a map and showed us where Khao San was, then pointed to where we were, said ‘very far away’ and informed us that we would need a tuk tuk ‘only 100 baht’. As it was quite busy and there was a lot going on we decided to go for a walk. This turned out to be a good decision as five minutes up the road and to the left we found ourselves at the end of Khao San Road. More Thai Bullshit from the tuk tuk man. We located McDonald’s and set up for the next few hours, at least we had internet. Easy enough we found a place for only 300 baht a night and spent the rest of that day sleeping.

Now we had heard mixed reviews about Khao San, some backpackers hated it and some swore by it. It’s a hectic mix of bars, clubs, restaurants, market stalls, food stalls, ice coffee stalls, fruit shake stalls, fake ID stalls, taxis and tuk tuk drivers. You literally can’t walk five yards without being accosted by someone trying to sell you something but a polite no thanks is usually enough. This actually becomes part of the charm of Khao San as after a while they started recognising us and we built up a bit of banter with them. Going by our trusty Lonely Planet guide (note the sarcasm) we decided to take a trip to Northonbury Market, a fruit, veg and meat market where the locals bought their stock. On Lonely Planets advice ‘we got up as early as we could’ (this being 5am) because everything is finished by 8am but this turned out to be too fucking early as we were waiting forty-five minutes for the first boat, great job LP. As it turned out the market was just a regular Asian market (what did we expect?) and it wasn’t too great. Probably the worst thing we saw for sale were bullfrogs with their insides on the outside. Fuck knows why they were displayed like that.

Corrections Museum. After a day of living off the land in Khao San we decided to head for the Corrections Museum, a short walk away (in the right direction). The museum grounds were a little run down and a bit confusing, as in typical Thai style there is no one there when you walk in but I found the entrance and went round the exhibits. They were well laid out and quite interesting, detailing the many different methods used over the past few hundred years of torture and execution. B the criminology graduate could barely contain her excitement, the weirdo. After that we were toured around the actual prison where the inmates were kept until execution all adding up to a worthwhile visit. Verdict: Do it.

Chinatown. After the Museum it was a short walk into Chinatown which is one of the most confusing Chinatowns I’ve ever been to. Most Chinatowns have a big pagoda thing signaling the entrance and/or exit, but not this one, they must have thought ‘fuck the tourists they can sort themselves out’. With our trusty Lonely Planet in hand (sarcasm again) we thought we would attempt the food tour listed as a ‘must do’. First stop was Burapa Birds Nest for bird’s nest soup… but it was closed, second stop was a delightful noodle stall… but we couldn’t find it (we were doing well) and the third stop was some other old shit that we couldn’t find either so we gave up and went and had chicken and rice with chicken satay which was rather good. Swivel on that LP. Verdict: Chinatown was nice, very Chinesey – what we saw of it anyway, but don’t bother with Lonely Planets ridiculous food tour.

Chocolate Buffet at the Sukothai Hotel. After wasting more time in Khao San (it’s very easily done when you have everything you need in one road), we’d heard about an exclusive chocolate buffet held at one of Bangkok’s five-star hotels every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. B was salivating at the prospect so I booked a table for her via e-mail and it couldn’t come quick enough. Like a kid at Christmas, the day had arrived for B. We grabbed a cab to the hotel ready to dechocolatise the building. We sat down near the harp playing Thai tart and waited for further instructions, as we felt uncomfortable being in such posh surroundings (there were even two sets of cutlery). Two o’clock struck and our personal waitress informed us that we may begin. Starting with the savoury, posh sandwiches, posh sausage rolls, some posh fish dish with cheese on it, posh spring rolls, you get the picture. It was all very nice and made a change having bread that wasn’t sweet. After this it was the chocolate table. I walked over to have a look slipping on B’s drool as I walked and there was everything you can imagine, four different types of chocolate/cream cakes/gâteaux, five different types of chocolate truffle, eight different types of chocolate macaroons, chocolate eclairs, chocolate crème brûlée, chocolate fruit tarts, sticky toffee pudding with chocolate (of course), chocolate fondue with various chocolate shit to dip, curried apple and dark chocolate shots and chocolate, chai and vanilla ice-cream. Half way through this chocolate onslaught our personal waitress (no not the one playing the harp next to us) brought round a fuck off fruit scone with fresh strawberry jam and a whole pot of clotted cream. I was ready to be sick but I couldn’t leave it, I owed it to England to polish off the cream tea, which I did. The final treat was a stainless steel trolley with fifteen different types of bespoke chocolates and pralines, you then pick from the choice and your waitress blends them together over a bunsen burner to create a near pure fucking chocolate shot (there was triple cream available to finish the shot off but that’s just being silly). As much as I would like to have tried this I felt as though I was about to relay the chocolate concoction back out on the buffet table, so I left it. B managed to try one though whilst calling me an amateur but even she, a chocolate monster said it was too much. £40 well spent I suppose, well, she enjoyed it. Verdict: If you like chocolate, go.

After this we crawled up the road, as there were no taxis outside the hotel and tried to make it home under our own steam using the Sky Train. This was a mistake though as although it was cheap, I felt sick, it was 30 degrees and the train was packed with sweaty Thai gremlins. We eventually stumbled across what must be the biggest shopping mall in Bangkok and went in for a nose, although it was the size of Bluewater in Kent and had eight levels instead of two, it was a pants mall. There were pointless empty spaces everywhere and despite the floors being divided into types of products available, all the shops were the same. We gave up making our own way home and queued for half an hour for a taxi outside in the pissing rain back to Khao San. Once back in our room I still felt rough, so decided to have a shower to wash the days chocolate haze away. However whilst showering I took a turn for the worse and projectile vomited chocolate spray over the shower tap and tiles, I continued this for three more violent chocolately bursts until one side of the shower cubical was covered in thick brown slime. Nice. Money well spent. At least I felt better afterwards.

Another day spent mooching around the Khao San area, we thought we would venture a bit further and ended up finding a small strip of bars. We were roped in by Nung and Oat, two brothers and their mum whose name escapes me. Four big Changs later and five cocktails for B we were ready to hit Khao San and party. We dragged our new Thai friends out with us and continued to drink and drink and drink some more. I was off my face. From now on in I can only report what  B has told me as I can’t remember, but apparently we went to McDonald’s (I seem to love that place) where I had a treble fillet of fish meal and a pineapple pie. Once I’d consumed this glut of fast food I was ready to drink some more and went and found myself a new American friend. Reportedly, he was from Dallas and was a racist knobhead. His ex-wife was from Lebanon (yes Lebanon) and he told me, I quote, ‘she was just the cutest thing’ every minute, which I find very hard to believe. I can safely say I’ve never seen a cute Lebanese bird, but each to their own. Two pissed up Chang swigging hours later and correcting him about the history of the British Royal family (which I don’t really know much about myself) I decided to call it a night. I got in at 08:30.

The next day was a write off but I did manage to crawl out of bed to book a trip to Kanchanaburi (see next chapter).

Hangover 2 Film Locations. Upon returning from Kanchanaburi, we had one day left before jumping on the bus to Chiang Mai. We decided to use this to search out the film locations of the Hangover 2 and were pretty successful, managing to find three out of the four that were actually filmed in Bangkok (the rest being filmed in LA). Located around Chinatown and the surrounding areas, we thought we would use the opportunity to actually try the bird’s nest soup. We did and it was vile. After the first spoonful B said it was OK to which I gave her a mad look, by the end of the sample she agreed with my conclusion. Hot sugary water with pieces of gelatine/suet floating on the top of it is my most accurate description. She offered us a jar to take home with us, I was never going to buy it but was intrigued so I looked at the ingredients, it was 85% sugar, 13.3% water and 1.7% birds nest, and that jar will set you back £4. Some of the real nests for sale were priced up at £200 or more. Madness. Verdict: Worth doing if you liked the film. Missed the Skybar where Mr Chow got ‘busted’ which I’ve heard is worth a look too. As for the birds nest soup… avoid.

Bangkok was brilliant, the party capital of Asia? The beers cold and cheap, there are loads of things to do and the food is some of the best I’ve had. Shame most of the locals are arseholes that try to rip you off at most opportunities. Be on the ball.

Beware. Tuk tuk drivers offering to take you to your destination for five, ten or twenty baht are scam artists. Sure, you’ll get to your destination but not before a good couple of hours being dragged around high commission gift shops where you are likely to be put under severe pressure to buy anything and everything. Don’t trust anyone.

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