11.9.10 - 11.24.10 92 °F
Many backpackers warned us that Bangkok is a dump and should be merely used as hub for travels elsewhere. We definitely did not agree. Khao San Road is the city's backpacker central and we decided to spend a few days there as our base to explore Bangkok. Khao San and several surrounding city blocks are lined with cheap hotels, noodle carts and fruit vendors, sidewalk bars, travel agents, stands selling cheap travelers' clothes and trinkets, tattoo parlors, and one room spas. From 9 in the morning to well after midnight the streets are bustling with travelers and Thai totters. Khao San may not be a part of Thai culture, but it's undoubtedly integral to the SE Asia backpacker experience.
One morning we stumbled onto a Chinese parade. It consisted of kids dressed up as dragons, and adults dancing and grooving up the middle of the street. Some of the ladies were going all out!
A fellow spectator saw us peering through these temple gates and explained that the gathering was being hosted by the family of a new Buddhist monk. He said that all Thai men have to either join the military or a Buddhist monastery for a period of service.
Government tuk-tuks (blue bodied with Thai flags as antennae) can earn gasoline reimbursements if they bring tourists to particular tailors and jewelers. We went along for the ride (our stops were brief since we were clearly not interested buyers) and also visited the Lucky Buddha temple.
The river is one of Bangkok's main arteries and the ferries running up and down it an efficient alternative to the clogged streets for commuters. At dusk we hopped on a ferry heading to Chinatown. The long narrow boat pulls along side the dock, a man jumps off with a rope to tether the ferry to the dock just long enough for passengers to leap back and forth to the landing before the ferry surges back out into the open water again. The turn around at each landing was 30 seconds or less, no time for dawdlers.
Chinatown was full of bright lights and an brand new slew of street food for us to sample. Our favorite treat was this ice cream-like substance that was pulled out of the freezer in an ice block and shredded thin into bowls before being topped with fruit and condensed milk.
Since we didn't have enough time to head to Chiang Mai in the far north, Brie and I took a 2 hour bus trip west to Kachenaburi. Our destination was Erawan Falls National Park. A Dutch chap we met on Khao San claimed that it was the most beautiful place in the world. The falls were spectacular! Seven falls wind up along 2.5 kilometers of trail. Teal water cascaded over white stone steppes, gurgling and pooling into luscious swimming holes.
The white rock was coarse, and there was always a climbable water route from one fall to the next. Brie and I had fun surprising people by popping up over the edge of the falls instead of via the trail. We climbed all the way to the top of this one:
One pool had two huge boulders covered in algae that we slid down. So Swiss Family Robinson!
The ONE downside: nibbling fish! Some of the suckers (literally) were the size of small sharks. I jumped in and flailed as much as possible while scurrying out of the water to keep the fish away. They're harmless, but having scaley beast-fish (slight exaggeration) clamoring around me was not OK.
A mere few minutes after this photo was taken, a seemingly lazy monkey lunged at Brie when she tried to pose 5 feet behind it. The signs don't lie.
En route down south we stopped at the Bakers condo in Hua Hin to collect some belongings and purge our packs of all the weight we could do without. We thoroughly enjoyed buying some pasta at the grocery store, cooking for ourselves, and lounging around watching movies for the evening. After months in cheap hotel rooms where the shower head squirts into the middle of the bathroom, it is heavenly to step out of a shower and onto a BATH MAT. Dry feet are fully under appreciated in the west.
We spent our last days in Thailand on Koh PhaNgan, an island in the South China Sea. We timed it to be on the island for both the Full Moon party and Loy Krathong, a Thai lantern festival. Given the double event, we were told that all the hotels on the island, as well as the transportation to and fro, would be booked, so we decided to arrange everything through a travel agent. This is Peter, the agent.
To make a long story short, we paid too much and did not get the treatment we were promised. First off, there were huge gaps between modes of transport (9 hours waiting at a train station) that made the trips both To Koh PhaNgang and then on to Kuala Lampur hugely inefficient. Second, the hotel booked for us was 1) rather dumpy 2) on a beach that managed to be both gooey and filled with sharp rocks 3) WAY overpriced and 4) in the middle of nowhere. Travel agents won't give you a breakdown of your cost, but at the hotel we discovered that we were being charged 1400 ($43) baht per night, a RIDICULOUS sum for such a mediocre hotel. Luckily we had a Thai cell phone and I could keep ringing up our dear friend Peter. We hoped for a refund, which did not work because the hotel wouldn't return our money, but Peter did manage to move us from Beer Bungalow to the WeangThai resort. The new place was fabulous! Beautiful beach, pool, wifi, fun staff, best bed/pillow combo we've had so far, well located, and to top it off, Peter threw in $15 tickets to the Loy Krathong feast.
The WeangThai manager convinced me to be a participant in the Ms/Mr WeangThai competition. I really had no idea what I was signing up for, but I did get to wear the incredibly voluminous and scratchy traditional Thai ensemble!
The event turned out to be 30 seconds of dancing on the catwalk. I attempted to mimic the 6 year old dancers we'd just seen perform, and then threw in a few other killer moves before shimmying off the stage in about 15 seconds. I did not win (though a few friendly audience members told me I was gyped), but it was fun!
Throughout the day, we saw people furiously making these beautiful lanterns out of flowers and banana leaves to be released out to sea during the Loy Krathong celebration. The photos don't do it justice, but about a hundred floating lanterns were gently shoved into the water, each with one wish from the shover.
A few of the floating lanterns were also released. Environmentally, none of this is OK. But when in Rome...
Be sure to check out our updated photo gallery! http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/3ifBySEA/