So off with a bang! Thai Airways had me coasting through the clouds overnight. I remember the flight distinctively. Left at 1am, dinner a couple of hours later. Lights off for three hours and then lights on again and a movie – Sleepless in Seattle. Irony appreciated. Then breakfast and touchdown at just after 6am Thai time, two or three hours behind Melbourne time. I wondered what the point of getting people up so early was, I guess they had their reasons.
And boom! I was in Thailand. Bangkok Airport is apparently okay these days, but in 1999 I have to say there wasn’t a lot going on there. But hey, unlike some overnight flights I’ve taken where I’ve barely slept, this was the first of my first big trip, and I was wired with excitement. I have some recollections of the first day. I met an Australian couple on the plane or at the airport and shared a taxi with them to the Khao San Road area.
The traffic was kinda cool. Not a lot of indicating, just moving, honking, lane switching, it all seemed to have a certain way of working. Organised chaos? Maybe. And I went to their guesthouse too, agawk (Ok, I invented a new word. Get over it!) with the new environment I found myself in. My bed room with a bed, a fan, shared loo and showers, and it was around 10 bucks a night. Which was probably more than I should have been spending with my frankly unrealistic budget of 20 bucks a day. 20 Aussie bucks. These days, that’s pretty much 19-20 US bucks, but back in 1999 it was 60 US cents or less.
Khao San Road was pretty insane. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing all that much. Yet I booked a bus for the next evening to Chiang Mai, a ‘VIP’ bus. I got very drunk the first night. I spent a lot of money. But the trip had started and boy it was kinda awesome. The next day, with a new friend from the UK I took a tour around Bangkok with some tuk-tuk driver, who kept talking about something to do with Princess Diana. Turns out it was a place that made dresses and suits, and my new friend and I had the hard sell put on us.
When it was clear we weren’t going to buy, the tuk tuk driver took off and left us on the side of the road. He never got his fare. I’d say we’d been scammed, but no money had parted our wallets. We did have to get another tuk-tuk back to Khao San Road. We saw a temple or two. I was learning fast. The tour had been like 20 baht. That was never going to be an honest tour. If something sounds too good to be truly, it generally is.
I also had realised very quickly, like within 24 hours, that my pack was not only too darned heavy but also there was no room left in it pretty much. It was the second day of a seven-month trip and I got rid of a few things, including a very thick jumper which I wouldn’t use for the first 6-7 weeks of the trip as it wasn’t going to be slightly cold until I reached Europe.
Evening time arrived, and after seemingly endless waiting, the bus was ready to go to Chiang Mai. To be honest, it shouldn’t take so long to get there, not a full night, but well, they deliberately give passengers a much earlier departure time than they actually leave. My first of many overnight bus journeys in my travelling life was uneventful, as far as I remember.
Landing in Chiang Mai before 6am was also quite pointless. We were dropped off at a hotel and made to listen to a spiel about all the tours that were offered at the place, and then left to choose to stay or to go. I went, and found my own room at a place with my friend from the UK, who also took a room there. It was around 10 bucks a night, but I had a clean, spacious room with a TV and bathroom. It wasn’t too central, there was a 15-20 minute walk to the main part of Chiang Mai, but I was much happier with it than my room in Bangkok.
Temples were visited, and we did a one-day elephant riding/rafting trek in the hills around Chiang Mai. If I was doing it today I’d have blogs and a detailed description of exactly where we went and what we did. I can tell you we rode elephants on a wooden seat that didn’t take long to cause pain. Elephants were great though. The rafting was a lot of fun, and there was a sort of waterhole to swim in which was also awesome. The hill tribe village we visited sold coca-cola and felt less authentic sadly.
From Chiang Mai, I spent big and bought a flight to Phuket, realising I didn’t have a lot of time and the journey by land would have taken too long. The budget was officially hit for six in Thailand with that decision because it hadn’t been pre-planned. Over twenty days in Thailand I was some $300 over my budget, and I had travelled as a back packer. I had gone there sort of thinking I would wing it, and I soon learnt that I am more of a planner than I first realised.
Phuket was interesting. I took zero photos. It was stupid of me, mostly because I forgot. I shared a room with a Canadian guy so the costs weren’t too bad. I was on a cheaper, backpacker’s beach (damn me for losing my diary!) and the water was nice and it was pretty relaxing for like two days. A couple of Canadian girls (there was a group of five I remember) got stung by jelly fish I remember and it really hurt. We went out to a local bar/restaurant and I was so naïve – I saw an old guy with a Lady boy and thought ‘my god, doesn’t he know?’
That’s the way it goes I guess! After that I headed back up the coast by bus, all the way to Bangkok. I made a couple of stops on the way. I overnighted in Chumpon, then headed up to Phetchaburi where I stayed two nights. There is a pretty cool temple at the top of a hill there offering decent views of the town. There were also a hellova lot of monkeys!
Bussing back to Bangkok with two days and one night left in Thailand, I did manage to get to the Grand Palace which is pretty awesome and my photos don’t come close to doing it justice. I need to return to it one day so that I can really appreciate the thing. I slept in a room which was more a cupboard too, and it cost me (I remember exactly!) 90 baht, less than five dollars at the time. You get what you pay for – it was just off Khao San Road on a lane and I tried to use ear plugs because the noise from the lane was stopping me from sleeping, but they proved useless and I tossed them away.
The next day I was off to the airport and India, one country down on my crazy itinerary. I have always felt I didn’t see or do enough in Thailand. That I’d missed out somewhat. I thought I had it planned before I got there, but by the time I left I realised, for me at least, a greater deal of planning was needed to get the most out of one’s time in a country. I had been three weeks in Thailand. I went to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Phetchaburi. Getting back to Bangkok had been three days of bus travel. I had spent double my budget nearly. I spent like 6 days in Chiang Mai and didn’t do much – saw some temples, did a one day elephant trek. I don’t think since Thailand that I have ever misspent so much time in one place.
Now I was faced with four weeks in India. And that would be an even steeper learning curve. Same bat-time, same bat-channel (that’s next Saturday!) for that! May the journey never end!