November 15th, 2014 - Phi Phi Island, Thailand To sum up my first week of travel into a coherent and concise post seems to me an impossible task. Although I’ve been in Thailand less than 5 full days at this point, it feels like weeks have gone by since I last set foot on American soil. Nevertheless, I’ll give it my best shot and intersperse the story with photos and videos to keep things interesting.
November 11th, 2014 - Bangkok
As the plane began to descend into Bangkok just before 7AM local time after a full day and a half of travel, my anticipation heightened and I began to contemplate the realities of my current situation. I had just flown halfway around the world with just a single bag and was now faced with the daunting task of navigating a foreign country without a working mobile phone, a contact to meet me on the ground, or any real plan of what I was going to do once there. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. Just over 24 hours after saying goodbye to my parents in Washington, DC, I found myself and my massive pack smack dab in the middle of rush hour on the subway in Bangkok. As we progressed downtown, whizzing by rice fields and dilapidated hovels, people crammed into the car like sardines on their morning commute. The smartphone revolution has surely made its way to Thailand, and commuters watched videos, checked Facebook and Twitter, chatted on Line and WhatsApp, and listened to Pittbull loud enough for the entire car to hear “Timber.”
Even though I tried to use a map and asked plenty of locals for directions, I got hopelessly lost on my way to the hostel and ended up stumbling around town for over an hour in the sweltering heat and humidity of Thailand’s cultural and political capital. Bangkok is a busy and crowded city; during morning rush hour the congestion was nothing short of epic. Speeding motorbikes weave their way through cars, Tuk-Tuks, and packed busses to the front of the line at every red light, then each time the light turns green the first wave of vehicles looks like a motorcycle rally coming right at you.
As I was interested in exploring the legendary temples and tourist sights of downtown Bangkok, the lovely volunteers at COW (Citizens Of the World) Hostel helped me out by introducing me to the cheapest and fastest way to navigate the massive city: water taxis. For just 15 Baht (50 cents USD), you can procure a seat on a high speed boat in any direction along Bangkok’s vast network of canals.
I took the boat all the way to the end of the road, where I struck out with a map and a few places I wanted to check out, knowing full well I would get hopelessly lost along the way. The first temple I checked out was the Golden Mountain, which provided me with my first aerial view of Bangkok’s wide skyline.
On my way to the next Temple, I stumbled into a beautiful garden, where I’m not proud to admit that I was lured into a scam that can only be called a “Tuk-Tuk Affiliate Marketing Tour.” I was approached by a friendly looking Thai fellow named Dom who, in excellent English, told me he was a school teacher at the school right across the street (establishing credibility). He immediately proceeded full fledged into an intricate story about how the temple was currently closed because it was time for the Monks to pray, but boy was it my lucky day: It was “Buddha Day” in Bangkok, which meant that silly tourists like me would get heavily discounted Tuk-Tuk rides all around the city all day. Although I was skeptical at first, he was honestly a very nice fellow and was successful in convincing me that the Thai government was subsidizing Tuk-Tuk costs to some of the best sights in town if you also go the tourist information office. He said he would help me find a driver who was participating, and lucky enough there happened to be one (his accomplice) less than 50 yards away.
As soon as I stepped into the back of the Tuk-Tuk and was whisked away at a torrid pace through tiny alleys and back roads, I realized the perils of the situation and how naive I had been to trust this person I had never met. It turned out that the “tourism office” he had been referring to was actually a place where agents try to sell you overpriced packaged deals for trips and treks throughout the country. After I didn’t buy anything my Tuk-Tuk driver insisted on taking me to “an authentic Thai factory” where they tried to sell me tailored suits. Ultimately it turned into a great deal for me: I got free Tuk-Tuk rides all afternoon throughout the major sights of the city in exchange for politely declining all of the affiliate offers. Here are some of the sights from the tour:
From the emerald palace, the last stop on my tour, I trekked onwards to the river downtown, but not before stopping on Khao San Road, a backpacker mecca engulfed in street shops selling tourist trash and restaurants serving decidedly Western fare. The last temple I explored that day was surely the most impressive: the massive reclining buddha at Wat Pho:
Taking up the entire length and height of it’s majestic temple room, the reclining buddha is decadently cast in gold and features 108 mother of pearl inlays on it’s humungous feet.
After more trials and tribulations navigating back to the hostel by water taxi, foot, and underground subway, I was decidedly spent and thankful to mercifully pass out back at the hostel.
November 12th, 2014 - Bangkok
After a glorious night’s sleep in a crowded and uncomfortable hostel dorm, I woke early for my second day in Bangkok and began by sampling local breakfast fare from street vendors as the sun started to peek through the skyscrapers and massive open walkways that cover the city. The clear winner that morning was a tremendous spicy pork noodle soup, which I devoured for 50 Baht (Just $1.70 USD!) next to the water taxi stop in the neighborhood of Siam Square. Nearby was the historical site of Jim Thompson’s house, an American expat who fell in love with Thai culture and moved here, combining 6 traditional Thai houses and enclosing them with calming gardens, antique Asian art, and beautiful koi ponds.
After participating in a private tour to see the inside of the house, I made my way a few blocks over to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, where there were a couple of provocative exhibits on display and I had a great time playing around with my new GoPro camera for the first time.
The night before, I booked a flight to Krabi to meet up with my friends Trevor and Bill, so in the early afternoon I made my way back to the airport. On the flight over, I bonded with the guy across the aisle over our shared distaste for cold shrimp served on an airplane. His name was Ben, and together we were able to wrangle up a couple of other backpackers at the baggage claim to share a cab to our hostels. Bill and Trevor heard a recommendation that I should stay at “Slumber Party Hostel”, where I was kindly greeted at the front desk/bar by a group of good natured ex-pats and backpackers traveling to Thailand’s legendary beach scene. Slumber Party was hosting a pub crawl that evening, and just as I would have been settling in to my desk back on the East coast, I cracked my first beer of the trip and observed the scene developing all around me.
We all had a spectacular time that night getting introduced to Thailand’s delightfully strong liquor buckets, making new friends with strangers from Europe, Australia, and around the world, and cutting it up on dance floors around the beach town. I ended the night taking my first dip in the Andaman Sea and enjoying the glorious laid back vibe that envelops the town.
November 13th, 2014 - Ao Nang Beach
Highs and Lows today:
1. The morning can pretty much be summed up by this footage I shot swimming around in a circle on a beautiful secluded beach.
2. Reuniting with Trevor and Bill! We met up at Ton Sai beach, a gritty backpacker scene far removed from the luxuries and accommodations of Thailand’s tourist beaches. Surrounded by spectacular rock climbing options, Ton Sai is known for its cheap bungalows built into the hillside, Thai-Rasta vibe, and more recently this unfortunate destruction of all the waterfront property so that a large resort can be built in its place.
1. Getting caught in a cave for almost an hour during a thunderous monsoon while the trail I was on transformed into a river.
2. Breaking my sandal and walking barefoot through the rocky jungle for half an hour in the pitch black.
November 14th, 2014 - Ton Sai Beach
Today Trevor, Bill, and I joined up with 10 other travelers on a private bout tour to go Deep Water Soloing, a form of rock climbing involving no clips, no ropes, and plenty of high elevation jumps into sparkling blue water below. Although I can’t say I was anywhere close to decent at the climbing, I basked in the glory of the open ocean's pristine water and as Trevor and Bill ascended the scraggly stalactite filled rock formations, I tried to capture some footage of their ascents and impending dives.
November 15th - Phi Phi Island
Early this morning, Bill and I left Trevor behind in Ton Sai so that he could do some more rock climbing and we could move on to Phi Phi Island (pronounced Pee Pee), where Bill wants to do some scuba diving and I'll be enjoying the pristine white sand beaches.
It's been less than a week on the road so far, but I'm truly enjoying every minute of this exciting experience. Every day is an adventure packed full of learning, exploring, making new friends, and seeing the wonder that is Thailand!