Next on the agenda: Thailand. Ever since I read Alex Garland’s “The Beach” as a teenager and watched the film adaptation I’ve had a burning desire to see Thailand! Okay, so the novel kind of degenerates into cannibalism but let’s sweep that under the carpet and just say that I was very excited!
The flight from Osaka, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand was truly hideous. I think midnight is one of the worst times to fly: you’re hysterically tired and arrive in an unfamiliar country at a ridiculous time. Also we’re flying budget. Air Asia is the equivalent to Ryan Air (who the fuck is Ryan?!) so no leg room and incredibly narrow seats for a six hour flight wasn’t fun. Also, I’m certain that 80% of the passengers on the flight were screaming toddlers. It got to the point where I was ready to join them in a tantrum and I found myself muttering to Tom “let’s NEVER have children!”
Anyway. Rant over. We arrived in one piece which is the main thing! To my delight we hopped into a bright pink taxi and were whistled over to our hostel. The taxi driver insisted that we should pay extra to take the highway to avoid the traffic, to which I responded “traffic at 6am? Yeah right!” He laughed but we agreed anyway, too tired to argue. I fell asleep about four times in the taxi, with Tom poking me to keep me awake. The hostel was really nice and we learnt that a free breakfast would be served from 7am. Not wanting to miss out on free food, we set an alarm for an hour later and climbed into bed fully clothed. I’m glad we did because breakfast was an INCREDIBLE buffet, which was a surreal dreamlike experience.
After food we went back to bed and woke up at around 2pm. It was SOOO HOT. Japan was one of the coldest places on our trip so we had to readjust to the tropics of Thailand. The day was pretty much a write off because we were bloody knackered and a bit disorientated. We basically wandered bleary-eyed around the block, bought water, did some laundry, had some food at the hostel and went back to bed.
The next day we were up, feeling refreshed and ready to explore Bangkok. We walked to the river and caught a boat to Wat Pho. The boat was pretty much like a stressful bus journey but via water. It pulled up and we laughed because it was so rammed with people. The workers onboard would have given the gestapo a run for their money “GET INSIDE! HURRY UP!!! GET INSIDE!!!!!”
Thankfully there were no windows so there was some airflow and it cost around 20p each, but it wasn’t a pleasant journey.
Wat Pho is one of the biggest Buddhist temples in Bangkok and home to the famous reclining Buddha. We arrived at around 9.30am so it wasn’t too busy and really beautiful and hot. We explored, taking our shoes on and off and on and off as we went into the shrines. We then came across the Thai massage school that’s inside the temple. We decided to treat ourselves to a massage, going for 30 minutes rather than an hour each in case we didn’t like it!
We were led to two beds next to eachother and instructed to lie on our sides. What followed was a whole body massage including feet, legs, having your fingers pulled and clicked, back clicked, shoulders, head, ears….
It was painful but relaxing at the same time, and I realised how sore my feet, calves and back were! I felt amazing afterwards and managed to not laugh too much, even when I could hear some loud slapping noises and someone screaming…. I kept my eyes closed but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Tom!
We then went to check out the reclining Buddha. He was huge!
Wandering onwards we found a Thai restaurant for lunch and sat giggling whilst we ate listening to incredibly loud and incredibly terrible karaoke.
We then headed to the famous Khoa San Road, described in The Beach as “the backpacking centre of the universe.” It’s basically loads of bars full of backpackers, stalls selling clothes and ornaments, tattoo shops, and neon signs. It was good to get our bearings in preparation for the upcoming Songkran celebrations the following day….
That evening we got tickets to visit the Calypso Theatre to watch the famous Ladyboys of Bangkok perform. It was something else!
We were ushered into a really posh cabaret style theatre where we sipped beer and waited for the curtain to arrive. Well. I don’t know how to put it into words but it was essentially a very camp cabaret show, complete with the Sound of Music, Chicago etc. It was easy to forget that the performers were born men. They were very captivating! There were some very bizarre moments, as you can imagine.
Afterwards we went to the exit where all the ladyboys were lined up offering to take photos with the audience members. We grabbed a photo with a few of the girls, and then one of them had a 500 baht (£10) note in her hand and was saying “mister! Mister!” To Tom and pointing at the note. I had a sensation that we were about to be fleeced and they all started pulling notes out of Tom’s wallet and we legged it…
Haha. Kind of a surreal experience really but we managed to get away before we were left completely penniless.
The following day we headed to the supermarket to buy some water guns. We’d timed our trip impeccably by accident to be in Bangkok for Songkran (Thai new year) the Thai people celebrate by bathing the Buddha in water, and then their families and friends. The idea is that you are cleansed of your misfortunes and given lots of luck for the next year. This degenerates into a huge street water fight. We headed to the boat, where we went to find the train station we needed the following day. We were anxious that the tickets would be sold out due to the festivities but we were in luck. The boat and walk in 30 degree heat were pretty taxing – we were both drenched in sweat – so I made the executive decision that we’d get a taxi the next day – I really didn’t fancy doing that journey with my backpack.
We headed to the hub of the water fight – Khoa San Road of course! I can’t put into words what an experience it was. I don’t even have any decent photos to show you because it was so wet we couldn’t take many… But there were hundreds and hundreds of people running around, squirting eachother, chucking buckets of water at eachother and hugging and dancing to super loud dance music in the street. It was a huge water fighting rave! I kept screaming “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!!!” It felt amazing in the boiling heat and it was hilarious to see fully grown adults acting like kids. Songkran was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip so far, I’ll never forget it. After a few hours, we headed back. We dried out in the sun and then we got soaked again heading to the hostel. The streets are lined with groups of friends around huge water coolers full of water. The locals also have buckets of white paste which symbolises protection and is to ward off evil. We came back covered in the stuff!
The next day we checked out and got a taxi to the train station. We were ridiculously early so we sat around baking on the platform for a few hours before the train arrived. The train to Kanchanuburi was crazily slow, and would often stop in the middle of nowhere for fifteen minutes at a time. We were drenched in sweat and sticking to the seats. The air coming through the windows was like having a hot hairdryer blown directly in your face. I could literally feel my eyeballs drying out.
After a while, I put some music on and began to relax and enjoy the view. Opposite us was a female monk, bald headed and dressed in white robes. She held her friends hands in hers and read their palms, each reading taking around thirty minutes whilst the receiver hung on to her every word.
In the end I really enjoyed that journey!
We were met from the train by a tuk tuk organised by the hostel. A tuk tuk is a motorbike adapted to carry passengers. This one was essentially like a big side car. It was such a cool way of seeing the town, I felt like I was flying. I’m sure we’ll ride many many more before we go home! At the hostel the person who checked us in photographed our passports on his phone and then proceeded to spend 10 minutes screaming in rage and punching his phone and throwing it around the room whilst we sweated and wondered what the hell was going on. No answers there.
We chilled out in the room for a while. In the evening we met the owner and she drove us down to the edge of the river Kwai where the locals were all sat celebrating Songkran (no water fights this time, just food and drink) it was one of those really special evenings where there were no other backpackers in sight and we enjoyed a delicious and ridiculously cheap meal sat with the locals.
The next day we moved to a different hostel. We arrived too early to check in so we dumped our bags and headed to the death railway museum. Kanchanuburi is the town closest to the famous “bridge over the river Kwai”. To be honest, I’d heard the title of the film, but I’d never seen it, or knew anything about it. At the museum, I learnt all about the stretch of railway from Thailand to Burma that was built by the Japanese in world war 2 to get supplies into Burma. It was built using forced labour, in absolutely horrific conditions. Hundreds of thousands of Asians, and prisoners of war from England and Australia perished in the making, due to lack of adequate food and water, incredible heat, and untreated illness.
It was incredibly poignant to learn all about it in a beautifully air conditioned museum, then step outside and instantly want to seek shade and cover yourself in sun cream. I can’t imagine how terrible it was, but I can empathise with the heat.
Just outside the museum is a huge war cemetery.
A moving day. We went and cooled down in the hostel and then that evening went to visit the bridge. You can walk over it and it’s flooded with tourists, and locals selling ice creams, cold drinks and nicnacs. It wasn’t as big as I’d imagined. I’m currently reading “the Bridge over the river Kwai” (kindles are good aren’t they?!) and it’s a good read.
On our final day in Kanchanuburi we mostly chilled out. We took Tom for a haircut. It cost two quid. I can’t decide if he’s really brave or just sick of my dodgy haircuts. We then had a Thai massage. My masseuse was really lovely. She lives in England now, and was back to Thailand for Songkran. In London she charges £60.00 an hour for a massage and we paid… Four quid. Isn’t that insane? I’ll have to get as many massages as possible whilst I’m hear to make the most of it. It was a wonderful massage, I even had all my toes clicked! I felt awesome afterwards. The lady also told me that British people have awful backs and necks because we all work too hard hunched over computers all day, whereas the Thai people rarely have this issue. Interesting, huh?