Going into this trip I had high expectations. Usually, with things such as this, my expectations are set too high and I end up disappointed. But on this trip, the reality far exceeded my expectations.
Over the past six weeks I have traveled throughout Thailand, Laos and Cambodia: half solo and half on a cycling tour with my dear friend Robert. My travels taught me to be more fearless, patient, self reliant, tolerant, creative, frugal, and most importantly, more adventurous. I must credit most of this to Robert; without his invitation to “take an epic trip” and without his prior travel knowledge I never would have the initiative to take this trip and I never would have the balls to pull into a random rural village and request a home stay by asking “sleep here is possible?”
From getting drunk on my birthday with the Laos army to getting into a fight with a Cambodian woman over a watermelon and everything in between, this trip is full of amazing memories that I don’t want to fade over time. For that reason, and to do my best to take you along on my journey, I decided to document my trip in as much detail as possible. In addition to photos I maintained a fairly detailed daily diary of my trip. My hope is that you can glean just a fraction of what I experienced from my writing and that this may motivate you to one day take such a journey on your own.
January 23, Day 1: Bangkok
I arrived at the Bangkok airport at 1:30 in the morning. After navigating customs I made my way to find the taxi line of over 50 drivers that were waiting for customers. Despite the sign assuring me that all taxis would turn on their meter, the driver started leaving without turning on his meter. I had read that this is a classic scheme in which the taxi drivers try to scam tourists, so I asked him to turn the meter on. He made a little bit of a fuss but turned it on. As we pulled into the city was a lot quieter than I expected. Thirty minutes and 350 Baht (about 10 dollars) later we pulled down a side street and I saw the sign for my youth hostel. At this point I had been traveling for over 50 hours so I was very weary and checked in and made my way to my room as quietly as possible so as not to disturb my dormmates. My head hit the pillow at 3:30 AM and I was out cold.
I then woke at 6:45 to the sun and the sound of my dormmates stirring. Wanting to stay one step ahead of jetlag I began my day. After a much appreciated cold shower I headed to the hostel lobby where I had some coffee and toast. I met some other travelers including several photographers who had come to document the Bangkok protests. They helped me circle areas on my map of the regions I should avoid due to protests.
I was itching for some exercise, so I decided to take the skytrain and then walk the rest of my way to the main tourist area. Not five minutes into my walk I encountered a major intersection with what appeared to be a concert. Since this wasn’t an area I was told to avoid, I decided to keep on walking. I saw row after row of tents. As I got to the end of the area I saw guards in some sort of uniform that were clearly not police. Barricades had been set up, apparently controlling who went in and out of the area. They looked at me quizzically and I just smiled and nodded my head and kept on walking.
After navigating several terrifying eight lane intersections with no pedestrian walkways, I was approached by a Thai man speaking English. He told me I wasn’t safe and needed to not walk in the direction in which I was heading. My gut told me not to trust this man and I was likely about to get a one-way ticket to scam town. He asked me where I was going and I said I was headed to the river for the public boat. He flagged me down a tuk-tuk. If it weren’t for the protests I would have ignored him, but I decided being scammed out of a few bucks was worth the alternative. The tuk-tuk dropped me off at a pier, but as I approached I realized it was not a public pier. A woman approached and tried to sell me a ticket for 2000 Baht. Knowing the public fare was closer to 20 Baht, I realized I had been scammed and I got up and walked away. I had no idea where I was so I made my way to the main road and then found some landmarks that led me to the public boat.
I took the boat to the pier closest to the grand Palace and hopped off. Instantly I was taken to Thai Disneyland— tourists as far as the eye could see. I reminded myself that I, too was a tourist and went with it. I reluctantly parted with 500 Baht for a ticket and fought the crowds to see the grand Palace. Yes, it was pretty, but no, I don’t think it was worth my time or the money.
After I left the I meandered my way through the Bangkok Streets–eating lunch from a street vendor, eyeing the goods in the amulet market, watching the sunset over the Wat Arun temple from a rooftop bar, and enjoying a dinner of chicken laab and beer from the night market near my hostel.
January 24, Day 2: Bangkok
After a disappointing first day in Bangkok, I was determined to have a good time on my second day. I had read about a good market north of the city so I woke early determined to track it down. It took almost 90 minutes of travel by the skytrain and boat, but I eventually made my way to the big produce market in Nonthaburri. The market was a huge maze of all things imaginable, and I was the only Westerner as far as the eye could see. I had breakfast of grilled bananas followed by sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, and then I haggled for some fried mung beans and candied tamarind.
After spending a a while meandering the market and enjoying the sights and the smells, I headed back to the boat to make my way to the Forensic and Parasite Museum. The museum was in the hospital, across the river from the main part of Bangkok. It took me a while to find it, but it was well worth it. The forensic museum held murder weapons from famous crimes in Thailand, and also had a display of mummified famous prisoners (sorry no pictures allowed). The museum also had an exhibit on fetuses with different abnormalities, and human organs that had various diseases. After the forensic museum I went next-door to the parasite museum, which had a pretty grotesque exhibit on all the various parasites you can contract while in Asia. Obviously this museum is not for the squeamish, but my inner biology geek was squealing with delight the entire time.
After the museum I headed to the Jim Thompson house. This beautiful house/Museum displays the home of a former silk magnate who created a beautiful compound out of traditional Thai wooden houses. The whole museum is set on beautiful, peaceful grounds and it was a great way to spend the afternoon.
After the Jim Thompson house I headed for my very first Thai massage. I paid 500 Baht (about 17 dollars) for a two hour massage. Needless to say, it was quite the experience. My masseuse did not speak a lick of English so I just sat there like an obedient puppy as she contorted my body into various positions and gave me a no-holds-barred intense massage. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but I left the massage feeling a lot looser. I got back to the hostel just in time for dinner, and spent the rest of my night with a British traveler and an American cyclist who just finished a tour of Laos and Cambodia. I shared my planned route with him and he told me how jealous he was of my upcoming trip. He shared stories from his journey and got me even more excited for my cycling trek.