Bangkok: The Beginning.
by Chelsea Carter
Every journey has to start somewhere, right? Not one of those metaphorical, proverbial, X Factor journeys, but a real, physical journey featuring monkeys and monsoons and military coups. Mine started in Bangkok.
Arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport, unsure of the time, due to a stop over in Mumbai and being fed curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I expected my volunteering agency to be waiting on arrival, sweep me off my feet and hold my hand as I started my grand ol’ Southeast Asian adventure.
No, this is Thailand, baby. You wait for them.
Fast forward six hours (six!), including countless phone calls, marching up and down the airport, searching for a man named Korn, taking a nap on the floor of the airport, clutching a brown piece of paper with “KORN” scribbled on it, I finally found 3 of my fellow volunteers and of course, the illusive, Korn.
Korn and The Gang (and I) took the SkyTrain in to China Town. Until this point I had only seen Thailand in wide, sterile, white, open, air conditioned buildings. Coming up to the surface of real Bangkok was like opening an oven. A wave of heat, and smells and fog hit me, the city asserted itself at once with it’s noise and people and attitude, and immediately I was both re-energised and exhausted. Surrounded by hundreds of people and colours, there was so much to take in that I can only describe my memory of that particular moment as a ‘significant blur’, also I really needed a wee.*
I took my first Tuk Tuk of many shortly after. If you didn’t know, the Tuk Tuk is fundamentally a moped with a trailer on the back driven by the funniest, craziest and most irritating lunatics on the road, essentially used by tourists for extortionate prices. But, I didn’t know this at the time, and admittedly, they are the most fun way to weave in and out of traffic in Southeast Asia. So, off we went, sliding about in the back of the Tuk Tuk with the multitude of Buddha icons and prayer flowers, screaming and laughing our heads off simultaneously ’til we pulled up by our hotel. We said farewell to Korn, freshened up and went out in search of food and beer.
China Town, luckily, is heaving with food, so much so the pedestrians are forced to walk in the road as the plastic chairs and tables from the street food stalls dominate the pavement. Whole ducks roasting in front of you, along side Octopus tentacles, pancakes and exotic fresh fruit all available from a smiling toothless 100 year old ladies. We weren’t brave enough to eat the street food (yet) so picked a clean looking hotel. I had a green curry. It was my fourth curry in a row. I was feeling very ‘meh’. The beer, however, went down a treat. We had a couple more on a roof top bar, looking out at the dirty grey buildings and the masses of electric cables that dominated the skyline, the perfect ending to the first day of the rest of my life.
Awaking to the sound of traffic and building work (two things you can always rely on in BKK), we prepared for the Co van Kessel bicycle tour of Bangkok. The tour was intensive – 5 hours on a bicycle in searing heat and humidity, but ultimately the combination of Dutch innovation and Thai charm made it the best organised tour I have ever taken. We cycled through the markets, to temples, through jungles, and even took a ride on a traditional Thai long boat. I couldn’t believe I’d seen so much and it was only day 2.
That evening, we ventured over to the dark side of Bangkok, and to my shame I don’t think I ever really ventured back – Khao San Road. The filthy, sweaty hub of the backpacking community in Southeast Asia, and possibly the world as far as I’m aware. I ate my first proper Pad Thai and had my first ever Chang beer then and there, and I never looked back, weaving in and out of my fellow backpackers to the sounds of “Suits! Suits!” “You wan’ massaaaa?” “Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk!”, this was going to be one hell of an adventure.
*The toilets were labelled “Toilet and Shower” and at the time I assumed that the hose in the cubicle was the shower (I found out what it was really for a little while later..)