I awakened to find myself in the Darwin Airport laying on the ground with my head nestled on my daypack; not my most comfortable night of sleep but it had enough worthwhile naps. With my flight scheduled to leave at 5:05 a.m., I had proceed to check-in and security before I could board my flight that would take me to Kuala Lumpur. That flight resulted in more naps until we touched down at 8:25 a.m. local time. Only one more layover and one more flight until I reach Bangkok to start my Southeast Asia journey. I’m excited yet I have no idea what to expect, which I find to be a good thing. After the last short flight, I walked through one of the largest, busiest airports I have ever seen, a dizzying place to be in short rest. I proceeded through security which could not have been easier before getting some Thai Baht (exchange rate: 33 Baht = 1 USD). The sky train ride took me away from the airport and towards the city center dropping me off in God only knows where. I could tell you where I was on a map but to get to a hostel or anywhere else would have been less than successful. The streets of Bangkok are wild with a constant flow of traffic that never seems to cease. Crossing the street is an adventure in itself. Although the streets have cross walks signs to cross are few and far between. I liken the experience to the game Frogger except you only have one life to play with. The way I managed to cross was by attaching myself to a Thai and follow his or her every step. The one golden rule to abide by is to never step; once you take that first step onto the street, you must keep a constant pace so that cars and especially motorcycles can judge where to get around you. Everywhere is fair game as far as traffic goes. Apparently motorcycles have just as much of a right to the sidewalk as pedestrians do to the street pavement. I plopped myself off the street to somehow decipher the map, begging for some divine intervention and the intervention came from a persistent Thai man. In his limited English, he wanted to know where I was going. I was skeptical knowing what I had researched about scams and whatnot but I entertained the conversation. He offered a ride on his motorcycle to a hostel I had chosen and after bartering a little while we came to a price. Remember that I still have my large backpack with me so the idea of strapping myself to this Thai man seemed precarious at best. To hold on I rapped my arms around this tiny Thai man with only my small daypack between us. He swerved and I leaned along with him with each movement he made. Many times, even in standing, he would cut through traffic riding the lane lines to pass between two cars or trucks. All I could do was have complete and utter faith in the man’s abilities to get me there safely. I learned very quickly that no piece of pavement goes unused on the streets of Bangkok as cars, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks (another form of transportation) keep a chaotic ebb and flow to proceed forward. To any Westerner this seems unnatural and downright illegal but to Thais it is the way of transportation. While we moved through traffic in a death defying manner, he tried to sell me on other places to go, such as a travel agency (where he can gain a commission), a tattoo shop, or a place that provides sex “services”. He communicated the term sex shops by asking if I wanted to go “boom boom” and making a popping noise with his mouth; I’ll stop before I get too graphic. I arrived at the hostel and found out it was booked but I could go to their sister hostel nearby. Immjai Khaosan is a very nice hostel with friendly staff, air con, and wi-fi. In Thailand and I’m sure in much of Southeast Asia, feet and shoes are considered quite dirty so shoes are always expected to be left at the door just as it is in this hostel. At this point in the day I did not have much time to go see any of the main temples but I managed to have enough energy to walk around and explore. I had a map to keep me somewhat on track but I diverted my path down random walkways passing many dirty areas. I’m surprised just how dirty Bangkok is; it reminded me a bit of Naples, Italy. I walked past so many dogs and cats that seemed to be strays but probably had a home; furthermore, I found it depressing seeing so many of them look ill, not really having much of a home but that doesn’t compare to what the actually Thai people live in. Much of the homes and shops look like glorified places for hoarders with a random assortment of junk piled up together; I can’t imagine someone living in those conditions but people do. I cut through a random temple complex with young and old buddhas walking around in their orange garments; in this area I got a small taste of what is to come as far as Buddhist places of worship. From there, I found Khao San which is the famous backpacker street with cheap food, accommodation, and drinks and revelry; it has definitely now been played up to being a tourist destination but it is quite a sight walking through a place so busy and full of energy. By now, I was hungry and in need of a proper Thai meal so I ordered Tom Yum Young with coconut as well as a spicy papaya salad. Sweet Moses was it hot; the heat was in uncompromising, stabbing me with pangs of fire. The food was excellent but the chillies were too strong, too potent for my Western tastebuds. At most restaurants, Thais have condiments such as fish sauce, vinegar, chilies/chili paste, and sugar rather than the typical salt and pepper most are familiar with. I was vigorously scooping up granules of sugar to offset the pain train that drove a stake through my mouth. After paying for the cheap meal (which I found out later was quite expensive for Thai standards), I need something more to cool my pallet. Checking into one of the many 7/11s around, I found a 2/3 liter Chang beer for 53 Baht, which is dirt cheap. Being the beautiful country that Thailand is, I could walk around drinking with an open container, enjoying the sweet suds of a Thai lager. While attempting to maneuver the Thai road signs, I got lost finding my back but luckily it was not too late in the night. You could not find a worse place to get lost at night than in Bangkok. Still quite early, I chatted with a couple of my roommates, a guy from Holland and another from South Korea. Although I am trying to keep my plans quite loose and flexible, I didn’t realize how little most people are aware of the places they are going. A shower had by now become a must but thankfully Cairns had prepared for any heat that comes my way; no place has anything on the humidity of Cairns. The shower was quite for what I am used to. The shower has no screen or way of preventing the water from splashing around the entire bathroom. It is almost as if you took a regular bathroom with shower excluded and decided to attach a shower head to the wall at the last minute. Funky stuff.
Thailand Day 53: Bangkok- The Gateway to Southeast Asia