10th – 18th of August, 2014
On the 10th of August I left sleepy Kanchanaburi for bustling Bangkok to meet Roy. We found each other at around about midday and, after a quick catch up, began making our plans to sort out our visas for Burma and Indonesia.
We then found out that the embassies were going to be closed for half of the week because it was Queen Sirikit’s birthday – which meant that total processing time was going to take nine days.
We both looked at each other.
“I am not spending nine days in Bangkok.” I can’t even remember which one of us said it first, because the feeling was very mutual.
It’s not that we hate Bangkok. It does have lots of interesting things to see, such as the palace, Chinatown, and numerous temples. The weekend market is very good. If there is one good thing about Bangkok it is definitely the shopping. Wave enough bhat at one of the many touts lined up along the touristy streets and you can get anything you want, and, I really mean, anything, in Bangkok.
It’s just crazy. Crowded. Noisy. Cluttered. You constantly come across people sprawled out across the pavements or stumbling around because they are drugged up, drunk, or both. It’s the sort of place that will drive you insane if you stay too long. And, as Thailand is pretty much geographically central to SE Asia, it’s a place you often find yourself passing through.
Me and Roy have already “done” Bangkok, several times. And we’ve seen enough.
We decided to get a travel agency to sort out our visas, so we could spend our time somewhere else while they were being processed. Tickets to Ko Chang, an island not too far away, seemed to be quite cheap.
We handed our passports over, and at 7am the next morning we put our backpacks on and walked towards the bus stop to make a hasty exit. We were forced to navigate our way through Khao San road – Bangkok’s most infamously touristy street – where last night’s debaucheries were still petering out. Drunken Brits and Americans were making loud displays of themselves from the still-open bars with a self-gratifying air. As if what they were really saying was; “Look at me! I am still drinking! Look at me!”
“Can I just say something to you?” one of them said as he stumbled over to us. He had a bottle of beer in his hand, which he was waving around like it was a trophy. He put his other arm around Roy’s shoulder. “Bob Marley… he is the king, right?”
His eyes went to Roy’s dreadlocks.
“Actually… I don’t really like Bob Marley,” Roy replied.
We carried on walking, and the drunken reveler looked crestfallen.
“I think we’ve made the right choice,” I said, dryly. Once we were out of earshot.
Often when you are travelling around Asia you encounter locals who are just plain rude to you. Farang (a Thai word which roughly translates as “Caucasian foreigner”) is not a racial slur in itself, it is a word most often used playful, tongue-in-cheek way, but you do occasionally hear it being spat out, like bile. In those moments, you do think to yourself, “why do you hate us so much?”
This is why some of them hate us. For many westerners, Asian countries are not a place they want to come to experience culture, nature, or even just a relaxing holiday. It’s a playground. A place where they can wave money around to attract younger and prettier girls than they could ever get at home, drink cheap beer, and generally act in ways that they would never dare to on their own doorstep.
When we reached Ko Chang we decided to head to Bang Bao, a fishing village to the south of the island which is away from the all party-beaches. We were there for eight days, in total, and most of them were spent relaxing. I did some writing, and Roy has been updating his blogs and doing other internet-related things which were neglected during his four months in India. You should check out his blog as well by the way – he has been to lots of interesting places.
Ko Chang doesn’t have a great reputation for marine life: most of the coral near its sandy beaches has been ruined so you have to go a bit further out to really see anything worthwhile. I went snorkelling around one of its rockier coves and saw lots of tropical fish, but nothing spectacular. I am waiting for when I am in Indonesia and the Philippines for that sort of thing.
Towards the end of our week there we hired out a pair of motorcycles for the day so we could explore more of the island. It had been a while since I had last been on a scooter, and within the first twenty minutes I fell off, skidding into the ditch. Twice. I got the hang if it again eventually though, and we managed to do a full circuit of the island without any serious mishaps. Roy has cuts and bruises on one of his legs, and I walked away with a slight limp which lasted for a couple of days. It was worth it. I took many pictures along the way of the beaches, mangroves and fishing villages we passed, which you can view on my Flickr account here.
Tomorrow we will be heading back to Bangkok to collect our passports which will (hopefully) now have the visas we need. After that we will be heading straight to the border and crossing into Burma. First stop will be Mawlamyine.