It wasn’t my plan to stay in Bangkok for a whole 12 days. I mean I am supposed to be travelling but it just happened due to a sequence of events. During that time, I also fell in love with the city. An unusual occurrence for somebody who usually hates cities.
Every year beginning around end of February and ending in Mid-April, farmers in Northern Thailand take advantage of the hot, dry weather to burn their land preparing it for the upcoming farming season and also getting rid of waste that they cannot sell despite this practice being technically illegal. This can cause toxic levels of pollution in Chiang Mai and surrounding towns and sometimes emergency health alerts are issued when the air becomes dangerous. The worst time for this is March and levels of air pollution can become so hazardous that people have to wear special masks to filter the air and are advised to avoid any physical exertion when outside. Heart attacks and respiratory conditions all increase in Chiang Mai during this period. Furthermore, this air pollution causes an orange haze to surround the entire area, blocking out the magnificent views of the mountains and stunning landscapes around the area – one of the principal draws for going there.
Unfortunately, I was completely unaware of this when I booked my transport up there for 6th March (right in the peak of burning season) intending to explore Chiang Mai and surrounding areas for 9 days before my Muay Thai camp. When I did find out about it on 5th March, I checked the air pollution website which informed me the air was “very unhealthy” which is the verge of a health emergency. Today, it is unhealthy.
I had a difficult decision to make as I am sure it is worse for people who have sensitivities, asthma, heart problems etc but I didn’t want to risk it in case it got worse so I decided to skip it for another time, forfeiting the cash I had paid for the return journey up there. This was a shame as I was looking forward to exploring Chiang Mai but would rather save a trip up there for when the land is not raging with fire and smoke – clogging up my lungs and censoring its beauty. Many people, including travel bloggers and expats who live up there, strongly recommend not coming up during March.
I was left in a state of limbo as I had to change my plans. My new plan was to stay in Bangkok a few more days, see some more of the city as I hadn’t really seen much of it on my two-day visit last time, and then slowly take a journey down to Khao Lak near Phuket in time for my 3 week stay at a Muay Thai boxing camp on 15th March, stopping at a few places on the way such as Hua Hin, maybe Koh Samui, Phuket etc.
Firstly, I stayed in Khao San Road, Bangkok for 4 nights which is a great place to mingle with other Solo Travellers and Backpackers, eat lots and party. I started my time there with a night out watching some great live music and the next evening took a night tour on a tram seeing some of the sights by night.
On the third night there I decided to get on the Couchsurfing hangouts app for the third time on my travels and arranged a meet up with a varied and interesting bunch of characters including two really sound Irish guys who were travelling around Thailand on a bicycle, a guy from Chile, another from Canada, a few Thai locals and a girl from Germany.
As I had been drinking, I also decided to greedily binge on a McDonald’s on the way home as there was about 700 of them dotted around the KhaoSan road area and the big red M sign kept shouting at me – COME INSIDE!! I am sure McDonalds use some sort of clever, subliminal tactics or hypnotism to get you in there or put some sort of magic addictive ingredient in their food as every time I see that big fat red M I am tempted, even though I could probably get a much nicer burger from a local place for half the price. Maybe it is the funny clown that stands outside with his demented grin beckoning me in, threatening to haunt my dreams if I resist. During my travels, I have been able to resist for the most part but alcohol weakens my resolve. This was the 4th time on my 4 month travels I had caved and headed in for a Big Mac Meal feeling the excitement a child might have at Christmas, having allowed myself such an indulgent treat. I even “went large”. Half way through the meal, however, I went to the toilet only to come back and find someone sitting there happily munching into my meal. I was about to have a go at him but as I got closer I decided not to as he looked homeless and desperately hungry so I just informed him it was mine. He apologised so I told him not to worry about it, took my burger and left him a few of the remaining chips. Obviously, he thought someone had finished and left the restaurant. Moral of the story – don’t go to the toilet when eating a McDonalds in a busy city.
The next few photos are from another night out with a Couchsurfing Hangouts group. I honestly cannot recommend this app enough if you are Solo Travelling. At first I felt awkward using it but now I have got comfortable using it. I only use it if I have failed to meet anyone at the hostel, bar or on a tour and it is usually easy to get a group together for drinks, dinner, coffee or just to explore the area. I arranged this meetup myself and met a group of people from Japan, Chile, Serbia, Thailand, Poland and Germany and had a fun night. The Japanese girl kept saying she had a bus to catch to Cambodia at 1.00AM. At 12.30AM she was still dancing in the nightclub. I have no idea if she made that bus.
I needed to get out of Khao San as the partying, chicken kebabs and late nights were taking their toll so on day 6 in Bangkok I headed back to Siam, Sukhumvit which is less of a party area (lots of shopping malls and cinemas) and I was still fully intending to stick to my plans of travelling down the coast. I caught a film at an IMAX (Tomb Raider, was pretty good) and that evening I got word of some news on Facebook that a couple I had met earlier in my travels were heading to Bangkok the very next day. And guess where they were staying – Khao San Road for 4 nights.
So it was back to Khao San Road like a human pinball……….
I had already concluded that Khao San was more fun than Sukhumvit anyway and when you are solo travelling you don’t turn down fun company.
The only problem with returning to the backpackers party capital of Bangkok was that I of course got sucked right back into that drinking and party scene, having tried to escape it only a day ago. I met that friend on Saturday evening and that was that really, the start of one of the biggest sessions of my trip – partying and drinking pretty much straight through until Monday evening meeting lots of different people on the way. Khao San Road doesn’t sleep and neither did I. I am actually starting to appreciate the 2.00AM closing time back home – people like me who tend not to stop until the fun stops, need a closing time.
Tuesday was spent in bed, finding it hard to move my arms and legs and wondering if I had done permanent damage to my body, brain or even my soul and Wednesday was spent feeling semi-functional but finishing off my recovery with good food, more sleep, a massage and lots of water. Finally, on Wednesday evening I felt human again. I even met the group again for one beer but that’s all I could handle and I had a flight the next day – I cannot do flights with hangovers.
Khao San has its dangers though so be warned. As I sat in the bar with a new group of people I had met including a Norwegian, an Irish man, the Finnish girl and a couple of Thai blokes, another Thai lady (pretty sure she was a ladyboy) later sat in our group next to me. She started chatting to me and I replied politely, although it was clear early on that she was a working girl trying to get me to take her to her hotel. As I was chatting to another member of the group, I (very luckily) spotted her putting something in my drink – as in spiking it. Although I had no intention of going home with this lady, her obvious goal must have been to seduce me into taking her back to my hotel only to rob all of my possessions when I passed out. Even though there was no chance I was taking her back to my hotel in any case, I am very glad I spotted this as I don’t know what effect the drug would have had on me. I did confront her about it but she angrily denied it and threatened to call her friends to “resolve the matter” so I just left it and moved on. From what I have been told, it is never a good idea to get into an argument with a Thai person.
Apart from that one incident and the nasty hangover, I had a great time in Khao San Road. For many people it would be their idea of hell as it is extremely touristy and a chaotic destination designed to extract your cash, but for me I think the reason I like it is because this area is where many, many backpackers either start their South East Asian travels or end them which creates an incredible vibe of excitement – new travellers buzzing at the start of their journey or those who wants to enjoy their last few days of travel as much they can. Travellers starting their trips are very friendly and enthusiastic and those that are at the end of their trips are more mellow and keen to impart their tips and words of wisdom to you.
During my several days there, I also noticed several couples – guys and girls – hugging and crying obviously saying their goodbyes having become travel mates or even couples whose journey home means they are now either breaking up or starting a difficult long distance relationship which must of course be tough having enjoyed such great memories travelling together. It was similar to a scene you sometimes see in airports. That’s the one problem with amazing times or experiences – they are great while they last but it really sucks when they end.
Now it is time to fly down to Khao Lak, near Phuket to start 3 weeks at a Muay Thai Training camp, probably very good timing after the excesses of Khao San. I am going to train 4 hours a day, eat well and not drink any alcohol. I may give weekly updates or one big post at the end of the 3 weeks to describe what the experience was like.
I might even be tempted to do a before and after photo of my beer belly……………..
Next: Muay Thai Training camp at Khao Lak.