Bangkok: Jet Lag and Newbie Nerves on Khao San Road
January 1, 1970
Now Boarding: Emirates EK0035 to Bangkok
And so, after a seemingly endless countdown and years of saving, the day arrived – and I was so not ready for it. After gulping down a medium latte in total silence in the Newcastle Airport café the time arrived to say goodbye. I appreciate my parents’ efforts not to cry, I really do, but my Mum couldn’t help but break down in tears as I we hugged her for what would be the last time in half a year. I bit my tongue and swallowed my tears for the next 20 hours as I travelled 6,000 miles (that’s 9,500 kms for you non-Brits) to bustling Bangkok, Thailand. Those 2 plane journeys were probably the most difficult I will ever take. Flying with Emirates was an absolute pleasure, but there was nothing that their mini chocolates, cheese and crackers and free alcohol could do about the fact that I was moving at an incredibly fast speed towards a destination that I had never been to before (and that I had heard all sorts of tales about), utterly alone. Honestly, I wanted that plane to turn around. Any excuse for me to have returned home to the safety of Northern England without it being my choice would have been just fantastic – but of course that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, I kept on telling myself to just get there, give it my best shot and if the whole backpacking ‘shenanigan’ (as my Gran calls it) was horrible I could fly home straight away. But of course that didn’t happen either.
Avoiding the Taxi Scam
By the time I hit the tarmac in ever-sunny Thailand I was feeling a sort of weary sense of readiness. I’d done my research as to how I’d get from the airport to my hostel on Khao San Road as Thailand (especially in Bangkok and the South) is known for tuk tuk and taxi drivers trying (and in many cases succeeding) to rip ill-informed tourists off. What many tourists do not know is that if you follow the blue signs to the bottom floor of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport there’s a perfectly good public taxi rank where you can very quickly get your bum plonked into a meter-only taxi. The journey took around 40 minutes and cost around 350 Thai Baht in total (this includes toll fees which you are requested to pay on top of the price of the meter). That’s around £7 ($10US/$14AUD). I’d heard about taxi drivers pretending not to have change for large notes as tourists had not had a chance to break down their Baht in the airport, so after my first trip to a foreign ATM (I used a Travelex Globe Cash Passport Mastercard for the entirety of my trip and would highly recommend them – you can find their website here), I found a little stall and broke my 1000 into 100s. Problem solved. After spending the drive in a constant state of just about awake and just about managing to keep my eyes focused on where I was (not that I had a clue anyway), we pulled up to what was undoubtedly the world-famous Khao San Road smack-bang in the middle of the day. Manic doesn’t do it justice. No words could give you a sense of what Khao San Road is like until you’re there, smelling the street food, hearing the array of noise and feeling the heat and humidity on your skin. It was awe-inspiring, surreal. There was no way that the taxi was going to make it through all of the crowds to where I was staying so I was simply dropped off at the end of the street and left to make my own way. Challenge accepted.
Top Inn Hostel – Top Choice!
One of my primary reasons for my adoration of Thailand is the Thai people. Sure enough, within seconds of looking like a lost (and stunned) soul stood on the street with a backpack which seemed double my size strapped onto my back, I was being pointed in the right direction. I knew it wasn’t a necessity but I chose to pre-book my hostel for my first few days. It calmed mine and my families’ nerves knowing where I was staying initially. I booked a single fan room at Top Inn hostel for 2 nights for £14 ($20US/$27AUD)) per night online. Of course you can stay on Khao San Road for £5 per night if you wish but I figured for my first few nights of solo backpacking I might appreciate having my own space to contemplate my decisions in life/sleep off the jet lag. I was actually greeted by a double room with an en-suite bathroom, which was clean and quiet. Perfect. The Hostel itself is situated on a little lane just off the centre of Khao San which is ludicrously hard to find (it’s hidden behind numerous market stalls). I was given the useful information that the lane was just opposite 7/11 – not so useful when there’s about 5 7/11s just on that 1 street.
I’d write a fascinating paragraph about my first night but I after having a wander up and down the road and feeling like I was in one of those terrifyingly realistic dreams I went for a nap at 6:30pm and woke up at 10am the next day. Wild night. Not.
My First Day of Solo Backpacking
I woke up to day 1 looming threateningly in front of me, so of course I greeted it by going for pancakes at one of the big restaurant/bars in the centre of the street (at night their seating extends so far into the road that it actually merges with the seating of the bar opposite). Their service is, well, non-existent. You’ll have to prise one of the waiters away from watching sports on the TV if you want to order anything or pay. Their pancakes are decent. It was odd and a little depressing eating pancakes alone while listening to love songs playing through the speakers, but I had a plan.
Tuk Tuk Tour
Once I’d managed to pay (yet again, harder than it sounds), I went and got myself a tuk tuk driver to take me to a few of the well-known temples in Bangkok (Wat Intharawihan a.k.a. Big Buddha Temple and Wat Benchamabophit to be specific). I should’ve clocked when he quoted me a mere 20 Baht (40p) that there’d be a catch, which turned out to be having to go into various shops for 5 minutes to look around as the driver was given commission or fuel. I really didn’t fancy this so instead I re-haggled the price of my trip and paid 200 Baht (£4/$6US/$8AUD) to go only to the temples. It was a nice trip and my driver was lovely and very informative about the temples, Thai culture and the Royal Family (you certainly don’t see as many shrines to the Queen in the UK as you to the King in Thailand!). I then decided to test my independence and walked back from the Grand Palace alone, without a map. I was probably being laughed at asking for directions in broken Thai but hey, 30 minutes later I was back at my hostel feeling proud of myself.
Dinner and Drinks on Khao San
That night I went for a delicious street food dinner and drinks on Khao San with a couple of girls I’d met in the hostel. They’d already been travelling for months around Asia and South America and gave me the greatest of all pep talks about backpacking and how much I’d fall in love with it. They certainly weren’t wrong. I ended my first day with an immense feeling of hope and excitement for the journey ahead – and now I’m the one handing out the pep talks!