First day of my travels and I reach Bangkok with trepidation. I touched down at Suvarnabhumi Airport accompanied by a couple of other lonely travellers who, by sharing a taxi into the city, helped relieve my initial fear of loneliness in a foreign city I’d never visited before. But this feeling of comfort would subside for a few hours as we split to find our individual hotels in the area of Khao San road. Bustling with bright lights, bars, markets and hounded by promises of cheap suits and croaking wooden frogs I struggled to find my hotel amongst all the glowing signs. Enlisting the help of a number of tuk-tuk drivers and of the promoters of the cheap suits I was initially trying to avoid I find my hotel, off-load my bags and make my back out into the lights.
Reaquinted with my new found friends, and filled with Pad-Thai costing less than a pound (despite the unfavourable exchange rates), we set ourselves up in a make shift bar comsuming Chang beer. Being new to the backpacking environment I was amazed by how quickly fellow travellers descended around our location and I was quickly mingling with others from Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. We were also joined by a couple of Thai children who were trying to sell bracelets and other cheap goods. Not interested they decided to take me on at rock-paper-scissors. If I lost I’d have to cough up. Admiring the girl’s confident, fearless attitude I decided to take on the challenge. I lost. I coughed up. But she deserved it!
It was highly recommended to me that I make the trip to Chiang Mai but in all honesty I had no idea what I was really heading up there for. I booked a 3 day jungle trek including a stay with a hill tribe and an elephant ride. I couldn’t help feeling that, without the opportunity to shop around, I could’ve got a better deal. But being on my second day I was still feeling a bit naive and anxious about everything. I guess if you’re going to get ripped off then do it in Thailand where the implications are a mere couple of quid.
Now for some sight-seeing. Armed with my Lonely Planet guide I was quite committed about what I was going to see. That was until I made it to the end of Khao San Road where I was bombarded by promises of cheap tours of the city. For just 100 Baht (approxmately £2), we were promised to be taken to a number of “must-see” temples as well as some “Thai fashion”. I was aware of these “deals” where you could organise a cheap tuk-tuk because, by taking you to these stores, the driver would be rewarded with a fuel voucher. A quick stop at the tall standing Buddha and the marble temple were followed by the inevitable stops at 3 suit-makers and a jewellery store. We arranged to be dropped off at our final destination (the one I had really wanted to see): the Grand Palace. Unfortunately, the palace was closed due to the death of the king’s sister: Princess Galyani Vadhana. The temple, I was told, would be open again tomorrow so I would return then.
This day was also typified by my first attempt at haggling. Khao San road is renowned for it’s market stalls offering the cheapest t-shirts, hats, bags and flip flops you’ll ever find. My Lonely Planet guide suggested that the opportunity to haggle in these markets is something I should enjoy. Unaccustomed to acquiring goods in this way, I picked up a bag and asked the price. Floundering, I suggested an alternative price. She accepted straight away. Clearly, I’d gone in too high and the failure compounded my unease at trying to barter. Feeling embarrassed I quickly took my goods and made a hasty exit.
The plan for today was to check out the Grand Palace during the day before taking the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai in the evening. Unfortunately, by the time I made it to the Grand Palace it was closed again. Apparently, on it’s first day of re-opening it was only open to the tourists in the morning. I had not got there in time. Instead I checked out the nearby National Museum which taught of the origins of the Thai people and of the conflicts with neighbouring countries in addition to displays of impressive throwns and Thai artefacts.
In the evening I caught the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. Your seats fold out to provide a surprisingly comfortable bed and the addition of a curtain and a personal light somehow conjured childhood memories of camping. 3 days in, it was the highlight of my experience so far!
I have to say that I was much happier to get to Chiang Mai. Much quieter and tranquil than Bangkok, I was relieved to get away from the constant hassle I received every time I made my way to my hotel on Khao San. I spent most of the afternoon visiting a number of temples and I found more impressive than the ones I visited in Bangkok. My recommended temples are Wat Chiang Mun (the town’s oldest), Wat Phra Singh and Wat Jedee Luang.
Also, Bangkok had made me unfairly suspicious of anyone local who wanted to help me. But there was no hint of an ulterior motive here and I find the people of Chiang Mai approachable and extremely helpful. One of the locals I struck up a conversation with was a Buddhist monk (pictured left) at one of the temples at Wat Phra Singh. He asked if I had any questions about Buddhism. Typical of many people of my generation, my complete ignorance of the Buddhist religion meant that I had no question I could ask as I had too little knowledge. Kindly, he started from the beginning.
In the evening I decided to hit the Night Bazaar in preparation for my jungle trek the next day. Perhaps finding myself acclimitising to life in Thailand I had found a new-found confidence in my bartering skills. Finding what I needed I got a bit of banter going with the street seller. After a series of exchanges I managed to squeeze every last Baht out of my opponent. Buoyed by my success I got a little carried away and, for the fun of it, found myself buying a number of goods that I really did not need. I did pick up a t-shirt sized medium. I should of known that a medium size in Thailand would work out ridiculously tight on me. Oh well, it will make a good present for my 14 year old brother who I’m sure would be more than happy to don a t-shirt promoting Chang beer!