Category Archives: Thailand

Pieces of Pai and Chiang Rai

After being bewitched by the charms of Chiang Mai, we were excited to see more of Northern Thailand. Pai had been touted as a mystical chillout town, nestled in the Northern mountains, but we had also heard reports of its transformation into a mini Khao-San-Rd-style site of Western debauchery. However, on arrival we saw no evidence of this, as it really just comprised a few quiet, dusty streets, some beautiful mountain views and a handful of quirky cafes and bars. Our little bungalow at Mr Jan’s was set back in a picturesque and tranquil garden, and for the price of 200 baht a night we were ecstatic with it.

There are plenty of adventure companies offering different kayaking and rafting treks, but after only a couple of hours in this pretty little town, our desire to do anything more demanding than stroll around melted into the refreshingly cool atmosphere. Pai is really a wonderful place to go to take a holiday from travelling. We spent three seriously chilled days just walking and biking around the stunning countryside, and sampling the fare at a number of charming and afordable bakeries and cafes. Our one adventure to find the Hot Springs ended in surprise when we were shown to an outdoor jacuzzi-style bath, just big enough for the two of us.

After leaving Pai seriously relaxed, we made our way to Chiang Rai, the last stop before our border crossing into Laos. Chiang Rai is a well established cultural trekking base, so that was our main reason for putting it on the itinerary, but after researching our options, we decided against any Hill Tribe visits. Like the Thai Elephant situation, the Hill Tribes are also an ethically contentious tourist drawcard, as many are forced to wear traditional clothing and behave in uncharacteristic ways in order give tourists the ‘authentic’ experience they desire. In the case of the Long Neck Karen Tribe, women and young girls are payed small sums (upon which they depend) to continue the harmful neck-stretching tradition that is no longer practiced by the greater Karen people. Unfortunately, we simply could not afford to do a trek with the companies that work constructively with the communities, battling against the ‘human zoo’ factors that seem to characterize much of Thailand’s cultural tourism. Instead, we decided to do a bit of a D.I.Y heritage tour, which gave us a great opportunity to get familiar with Thailand’s surprisingly efficient public bus services (which we hadn’t used since Bangkok).
First on the list was Wat Rong Khun, or The White Temple, a mesmerizing construction on the outskirts of Chiang Rai. Completed relatively recently, it was designed to be one of the most beautiful and unique temples in Thailand, and it is certainly a contender in this regard. Compared to all the other temples we’d seen already, what it lacked in history, it made up for in bizarre unconventionality.  The entrance was lined with replicas from the Predator film and tree branches dripping with decapitated heads, while the main bridge lead us over an hauntingly conceived pit of damned souls. All of this stood in a strange juxtaposition with the purity and brilliance of the temple, itself. The bright white facade is almost blinding to look at, thanks to the addition of several mosiac mirrors, and the detail of even the most minute elements make it a wonder to behold. We happily explored all its little nooks and crannies, making sure we didn’t miss anything.

From there, it was another couple of busses to Chiang Saen, the ancient city of the North. Dotted in amongst the rather oridnary buildings of this sleepy riverside town, are remnants of a city that was once the lifeblood of the Lanna Kingdom. Tall mossy stupas, crumbling red brick walls, and eerily quiet ruins punctuate the main roads, making the surrounding modern structures look quite out of place. Once we had taken in the bigger historical sites, it was back on a tuk-tuk for the twenty minute drive to the golden triangle, where one can stand in Thailand and look out overthe river confluence at  both Myanmar and Laos. It remains famous because of the area’s significance in the frontier days of the poppy trade. Apparently all that is in the past now. We appreciated an overpriced beer at the oddly swanky hotel while watching the boat traffic between the tree countries and then, on the way back, happened to run across a drug smuggling boat that had been brought down in a hail of gunfire by the Thai police.

Getting back to Chiang Rai was a breeze on yet another rickety, but reliable, public bus, and by the time we sat down to have dinner at the night bazaar, we calculated that we had saved ourselves at least 700Baht each by deciding to do the sights ourselves rather than booking a tour; not a bad day’s work fora couple of budgeteers. After a month and half in Thailand, we knew there was still so much to do and see, but Laos was beckoning us and we couldn’t wait to experience it.


Chiang Mai Highs

Chiang Mai was one of those cities that had receieved so many rave reviews from fellow travellers that, while we were really excited to get there, we were also worried that it would not live up to our expectations. These concerns were quickly blighted by our first stroll around this gorgeous city. Our guesthouse (Green Tulip) was well situated within the crumbling walls of the old city, and this menat that most sights and fantastic restaurants were within easy walking distance. However, even if they weren’t, walking around this part of Chiang Mai was such a pleasure that we still made the trek on foot. It felt as if we could not walk 10m without stumbling across a grand old temple, or a mesmerising stupa, and often we would just find ourselves strolling along until we reached the imposing city gates or the grassy banks of the mote, which were perfect for enjoying afternoon ice creams.

Of course, no big city in SEA is complete without its bustling markets, and Chiang Mai was more than complete in this regard with markets-a-plenty. The stand-out contender here was definitely the Sunday Walking Street Market, when the main road running through the city centre is closed to traffic, and vendors of all types set up shop for the evening. Unlike many of the samey markets we’d seen in most of the cities up until this point, Chiang Mai’s Sunday market offered a more eclectic mix of artsy stalls selling a wonderful array of interesting things. Our favourite by far was the artisan cupcake stall, where we spent a good deal of the evening’s budget. We spent hours wandering up and down, soaking up the atmosphere and getting our haggling skills back up to scratch.

All marketed out, and full of cake, we happily returned to our guesthouse, only to find our door latched from the inside. Confused at how we could have managed something that daft, we peered through the little space and saw our room in disarray on the other side. The realisation that someone had broken in was sickening, as our passports and travel documents, both laptops, and the hard-drives with all our photos on them had been left inside (stupid, we know). Panicked, Joff managed to jump from the landing onto our balcony and get in through the balcony door which the thieves had left open. Our first look around confirmed that my laptop had been taken, along with my shoulder bag and the dearly beloved Ipod. At least Joff had had some sense and slid his backpack with the computer and hard-drives in it under the bed before we left – a classic keys-and-wallet-in-the-shoe-at-the-beach-style backpacker move.

Amazingly, our robbers had not thought to look there, and we were at least left with the more important electronics. It also turned out that we had thieves with a bit of a conscience, as lifting one sleeping bag revealed a neat little pile of both passports and all our important travel documents, which they must have actively sought out as I had carefully stowed them in a discreet little pocket in the shoulder bag. Despite the losses, and the discomfort of having our space invaded, we sat on the stairs and waited for the police feeling very relieved that it had not been worse. Dealing with the Thai police was a pleasure and they were very thorough and apologetic. With the help of our wonderful guesthouse proprietresses (the sisters Nine and Stella), who were probably the most traumatised by the ordeal, we got through all the formalities easily, and were constantly assured that this was ‘not what Thai culture condoned.’
I had booked a cooking course for the following day, and had half a mind to cancel, but, having lost quite a lot already, I was not that ready to say goodbye to another 700baht. Thank goodnes for that. The day long course at Siam Rice Cooking School will remain one of the highlights of this trip. It started with a visit to the market where we learned about all the different herbs and the processing of coconut milk and cream, and then moved on to the tranquil garden setting of the family run school. Throughout the day we made seven dishes. Apparently one is supposed to eat them all too, but that’s just crazy talk, so we were all sent on our merry way with bags of take-aways in addition to our certificates, recipe books and bursting stomachs.

While I was thus occupied, Joff was a man on a mission as he walked the city looking for the perfect travel guitar, which he finally found. So by the end of the day we were both on top of the world again thanks to our favourite things: good food and music. And it only got better…
The following day was Joff’s Birthday and we’d decided to do something special and splash out on a trip to The Elephant Nature Park. Up until then, we’d avoided all elephant-related activities in South East Asia (especially Thailand) because of how badly the animals are apparently treated. Our visit to Elephant Nature Park shed more light on this for us, and revealed a far more complex situation than what we had previously written off as simple inhumane brutality. The short version is this: For a long time, Elephants were used as working animals in Thailand’s logging industry, so when logging was banned in 1989, an estimated 3000 animals were left without work and purpose. Sadly, while wild elephants are heavily protected by Thai law, ‘working’ elephants (the animals that have either been left behind after the logging ban, or those that are born into ownership and brutally ‘domesticated’ at a young age) have less protection than livestock, so many of these animals have now crossed over into the tourism industry, where the regulations for their care are hardly stringent. But (and this is the BIG ‘but’ we had not previously considered) without the steady influx of tourists who are dying to ride these magnificent animals, there would be little place for them in Thai society, so by boycotting the elephant camps, one runs the risk of inadvertantly worsening their situation.

But this is where the Elephant Nature Park and the inspiring ‘Lek’ (Little) Chailert come in. Lek has been a champion for elephants’ protection in Thailand since the nineties. After some time travelling through the villages near her home, dispensing medicine and training to elephants and their mahuts (something she still does on an alarmingly large scale), she ended up adopting her first elephant calf and raising him by hand. From then on, she has slowly built up capital and acquired enough land to buy and care for almost 40 elephants from some truly disturbing backgrounds. Possibly the most famous is Jokia, and old ex-logging female who was forced to work while giving birth. After the baby fell to its death she refused to carry on, and was then blinded by her mahout as punishment. We also saw a female whose hind legs were caved in at a very uncomfortable angle under her big body, and were told that this was the result of having her hip broken by a large male in a forced mating set-up. With these violent histories in mind, it was all the more sublime to have close contact with  Lek’s gentle giants.

We started off with a great feeding session, and were totally amazed by the sheer quantity of food they could eat. We then moved on to a close contact session with Jokia and her best friend, another female who ‘adopted’ her within hours of Jokia’s arrival, and leads her all over the sanctuary by tapping her with her trunk. From here we moved to a close herd feeding session, which would have been very intimidating were it not for the ever-watchful and expert presence of the mahouts. Once the ellies were full, we were treated to a delicious buffet lunch, followed by a very moving documentary viewing. Usually visitors get to bathe the herd in the river in the afternoon, but unfortunately our visit coinsided with the beginning of the floods, so the river was out of bounds. Instead we got a tour of the grounds, and were given time to hang out with some of the herd a little more before giving them some early dinner.
Lek is determined to show that domestic elephants can be trained by love and positive reinforcement, rather than the torturous process of violently enforced submission which is still the common practice. As a result, visitors are not permitted to ride any of the elephants at her sanctuary, but what she offers is so much more; a really interactive experience with the herd, and a chance to see these majestic animals in a natural, happy and healthy environment.
We left the Elephant Nature Park invigorated, inspired and ecstatic. It was such a phenomenal place and it will remain etched in our memories forever.

Back in Chiang Mai for one more day, we did the only logical thing and hired a scooter so we could see another temple. Doi Suthep is perched on a mountain and overlooks the whole city, so it was definately worth the trip. The temple complex is really impressive, and the views of Chiang Mai were beautiful. As it happens every time we really feel a connection with a place, deciding to leave Chiang Mai was difficult, but the time to move on had come.

On our way out, we saw the first signs that the flooding that had started in the outlying areas had just begun its assault on the city.  There was no way of knowing that the conditions would escalate to the dreadful levels they did, and over the following days and weeks we watched the flooding reports with very heavy hearts.

Ambling in the Andaman pt.2

It is quite quick and easy to get from place to place on the Andaman Coast by ferry, although this may involve some shopping around because the price often depends entirely on which agent you get your ticket from (price discrepancies venture into the hundreds of Baht so it really is worthwhile to check your options). Compared to our bus trip, the ferries have been absolute bliss and as a result we have both developed a bit of mainland-phobia when it comes to travelling in Thailand.
From Krabi, our next stop was Phi Phi, just a pleasant hour and a half ferry ride away.  After hearing such mixed reviews about the islands we were really keen to get there and make our own minds up, and were totally prepared to the take the good with the bad in whatever measures they were dealt. However, the view that greeted us as we rounded the corner into Tonsai Bay was so startlingly beautiful – crystal clear turquoise water framed by white sand and the intense greens  of the surrounding karst formations that the line the beaches – that it was hard to imagine this island as anything but paradise.

From the pier we just wandered straight into ‘town,’ which is basically a series of serpentine footpaths lined with dive shops, travel agents and restaurants, with the odd Seven-Eleven/hotel/hostel here and there. We found that the further away from resort-lined Tonsai we walked, the cheaper our options became, but despite it being the ‘low’ season, many of the budget options we found were already full. So after about an hour of  trudging around with our backpacks, we were so relieved to find a bungalow in our price range that we barely looked at it before our packs were on the floor and we were stretched out in front of the fan. Rainbow Bungalows (as we later discovered they were called) is really conveniently located near the heart of the backpacker action on the Loh Dalum side of the island, so  it only took us 2 minutes to stroll to the beach. But after the glory of our approach into Tonsai Bay, Loh Dalum was like a punch in the nose. There was rubbish all over, the water was shallow, murky and so warm that it could never pass as refreshing, and yet the beach was crowded with people.
Neither of us wanted to admit our disappointment, but it was palpable.
It was only after night fell that we realised that this was that side of Phi Phi; the side that went hand in hand with more nefarious booze buckets, thumping clubs, 24hr tattoo parlours, late night pizza slices and a bar fitted with a Muay Thai (Kickboxing) Ring. Here tourists can pay exorbitant amounts of money to let off some testosterone by getting totally inebriated and fighting one another whilst their equally drunk mates cheer them on from the ringside. Once a night, the Thai ‘pro’s’ came on and ‘show them how it’s done’ by putting on a wonderfully impressive, but completely choreographed show of agile athleticism, much to the delight of their hopelessly coordination-impaired fans. Once again we went along for the ride (drunken tourist Muay Thai is a brilliant spectator sport!), and it was great fun for one night, but it seems that many people go to Phi Phi for this alone, and we didn’t fancy more of the “Same Same, but different” Khao San/ Bangla Rd vibe. So the next day we packed up again and went in search of something a little less rowdy.
It turned out that Phi Phi was actually much smaller than we’d originally thought, and it took just ten minutes to walk from the Loh Dalum side back to Tonsai (avoiding ‘town’), and somewhere in between we found Gypsy Village, where we got a perfectly adequate little pink bungalow, surrounded by Thai homes and playing children, for 350Baht a night. From here we frequented the Tonsai beaches (3minute walk) and explored a number of the others (Long Beach and Runtee seem like great options for people with a budget higher than 500 Baht a night), and got quite comfortable at a very restful establishment called The Hippie Beach Bar, where there was a steady diet of Chang, Cat Stevens, Tracy Chapman and all the Bobs. We also found an incredibly special restaurant called The Orange Place, which is a two-person operation that makes what is arguably the best food we’ve had in Thailand. Fronted by the loud, lively and endearing ‘Eat’ who plays waitress while the quieter kitchen maestro ‘Noi’ does his thing in the open kitchen behind, we returned night after night (and one morning) for both the food and the atmosphere.
Of course, no trip to Phi Phi is complete without making the trip out to Maya Bay on Phi Phi Ley (Phi Phi Don is the larger, main island), the famed location for the film The Beach. We’d heard from a trusted source that it is overrun by tour groups and motor boats during the day (thanks for the heads-up, Anton) so we opted for a sunset cruise instead. Phi Phi Ley is uninhabited as it is a national park devoted to the harvesting of birds nests (for soup), so our first port of call was Viking Cave (so-named due to the rock art depicting Viking long boats within) where we could see the harvesting set-up. After that we were treated to great bit of snorkelling in the lagoon at Pileh Bay, and then it was on to Loh Samah Bay, where we swam to a rope bridge and hiked over the island to Maya. The beach at Maya Bay is stunning, and deserving of all the attention it gets so we didn’t mind all the people. We just sat back with all the others and watched the sun dip below it’s craggy forested peaks.
One of the best things about doing the cruise was that it gave us plenty of opportunities to scope out potential snorkelling spots for the next day ,when we hired a kayak and paddled ourselves out to the goodies. There are plenty of chartered snorkelling tours that go out each day, but one of the most heart-breaking realities about Phi Phi is how evidently its beauty is being rapidly torn apart by the excessive boat traffic in the bays (and human traffic in general). Many patches that looked so promising turned out to be coral  graveyards where the sea bed had obviously been churned up by motors, dive-traffic and what seems to be a widely practised norm of anchoring on the choral. Despite this, we did find some magical spots where the sea life was unimaginably vibrant, but bobbing along with our kayak amongst all the massive speedboats, we could not help thinking ‘how long can this last?’ It seems that Phi Phi is the kind of island where it’s hard to find a way to be ‘part of the solution’ rather than ‘the problem’ and after the wonder of the first few days wears off, it does start to weigh rather heavily.

So after four days we left our beautiful, but shell-shocked, paradise for Koh Lanta, an island further South that promised a chilled hippie vibe and long days of nothingness, which it delivered, to an extent. After a couple of days just lounging around the pool and the restaurant at our budget-friendly resort (the beach wasn’t much to speak of), we once again braved a scooter rental. A large part of the island is protected forest reserve so driving around gave us the chance to take in some beautiful scenery. But overall, we wouldn’t really recommend Lanta over more time in some of the other places we’ve been (especially Krabi), even though it turned out to be a good, affordable spot from which we could do the necessary planning for our travels to come.

 The original plan to jump from Koh Lipe to Pulau Langkawi in Malaysia was foiled by low-season transport issues (we’re thinking Dec might be a better time anyway), so a very reasonably priced (ninety minute) Air Asia flight was all it took to get us down to Kuala Lumpur, the starting point of the Malaysian chapter of our journey.

Ambling in the Andaman pt.1

After almost a week in Bangkok we were more than ready to head down South and get a heady dose of  sun and sea on the famed Andaman Coast. There was only one thing standing in our way: the fifteen hour overnight bus trip. Just to refresh your memories, this was the trip we had booked on our whirlwind tuk-tuk buddha/(fake)TAT office tour, so after many worst-case-scenario warnings from our friends at Sam Sen Sam Place, we were sincerely relieved when the bus did eventually show up (about an hour late). Of course at this point, we had no inkling of the horrors to come.
Let’s just say the bus wasn’t exactly the ‘VIP’ standard it was sold to us as, and this was just the first one. Four different busses, about 100 stops, some eye-wateringly pungent urine stenches, one flat tire, a leaking air-con, incessant Thai-Pop karaoke videos, an attempted scam, much roadside waiting, and eventually, 22 hours and countless Oreos later, we arrived in Phuket Town; sweaty, exhausted, frustratedly, but slightly bemused.
Since we had already made plans to be on the Gulf Coast for New Years (Ko Phangan, 100 000 people, should be an experience), we decided to leave the hardcore full moon party madness till then, and headed straight for what we thought would be the relative  beachside calm of Patong. As if. After meeting up with Anton (a good friend from PE) and Brandon (Hayley’s brother who lives in Phuket) we were immediately introduced to Bangla Road; home to lethal booze buckets, an assortment of lady-boys, ping-pong shows, tattoo parlours and all the other hallmarks of excessive tourist revelry. Somehow though, after our hellish bus trip, this felt like the perfect place to be so we proudly donned our western tourist caps and sank our teeth in, and were accordingly rewarded with top notch hangovers the next day.
We sussed out Patong and decided that we needed somewhere a little less commercial, and allot more idyllic, which it turns out is rather a challenge to find on Phuket in the monsoon season. After one night in Kata (where the beach was closed due to dangerous currents) we eventually found ourselves all the way down South in Rawai, a less popular tourist beach (more of a fishing village vibe) which is infinitely more affordable, relaxing, and (in our opinions) more appealing. Once we decided to settle here for a couple of days, we rented a scooter and went zipping around the Southern part of the island, which really made things far easier in terms of seeing some of the sights, and finding secluded little beaches and more interesting food choices.

However, it was only when we caught the ferry across to Rai Lay Beach in Krabi that we got our first taste of what the Andaman really has to offer; soaring limestone karst formations, emerald waters, serene beaches, lush forests and no cars. Rai Lay and Ton Sai are veritable islands, as even though they are part of the mainland, enormous karst buttresses separate them from the larger Krabi Province, so they are only accessible by boat. The whole area is rock-climbing heaven and there are climbers everywhere you look, on every climbable surface, and there is no doubt that  if you stay long enough even the most hesitant individual will eventually be taken in by the climbing mania. Walking across the island from Rai Lay West to Rai Lay East (there is only one footpath) we were taken in by the abundant plant and animal life; the swathes of greenery only broken by sheer limestone cliffs and the boisterous monkeys. It is incredibly humbling to be somewhere where nature so clearly has the upper hand and it takes a good couple of days for one’s senses to adapt to the surroundings, as we found that even on our second and third days there we still could not help but marvel at the scenery  every time we walked anywhere (stalagmites and stalactites even envelope the walkway to the beach). This wonder was only compounded when we rented some kayaks and got to see some of the offshore formations more clearly – some of them really defy logic.
Now, perhaps it is just a by-product of the seriously easy-going Thai demeanour, or perhaps it is more to do with the super-chilled do-what-you-want-but-we’re-not-accountable island vibe that permeates places like Krabi (they are very proud of their police-free status), but there seem to be significantly fewer health and safety precautions in these places than, well, anywhere else we’ve ever been. Seeing families riding five-up on scooters with no helmets (sometimes the driver would be no older than 13) in Phuket should have been our first indication that Thai measures of what constitutes a dangerous activity are not really on par with what we’re used to. But despite these forewarnings, we decided to tackle the ‘mildly challenging’ hike to princess lagoon, a completely enclosed lake which is only accessible via what turns out to be a death-defying hike up and down one of the aforementioned monstrous karsts that dominate the Krabi skyline. The four of us (Hails and Joff, Brandon and Anton) are by no means inexperienced when it comes to hiking and other generally challenging outdoor activities, but this was not just a ‘mildly challenging’ little stroll. It was hands, knees and bums most of the way, in very thick mud, interspersed with some rather jagged rocks and very steep inclines. Add to this about 4 vertical drops of four metres or more in which the ‘hike’ becomes a rock-climbing and abseiling expedition (surprise!) – with only mud-sodden and uselessly slippery guide-ropes to help you not plummet to certain death (or grievous bodily harm) – and you might start to get the picture. To put it bluntly, it was an emotional roller-coaster with peaks of being sublimely awestruck by the unparalleled beauty of the place, and being scared absolutely shitless whilst feeling our way down totally unknown and unpredictable rock faces with no idea what was below (barefoot Brandon was our saviour-pioneer for most of these parts). But we got there, thankfully with no casualties, and it was one hundred percent worth it! None of us wanted to be burdened by bags while we were walking, so unfortunately no cameras were handy, which was just as well, since it was not exactly a camera-friendly path, and pictures (no matter how good) never seem to do these kinds of experiences justice. Just trust us – it was magnificent!
That night we treated ourselves to a delicious buffet dinner, and then walked to the ‘Last Bar’ for some Changs and a really impressive fire show, knowing all the time that Krabi was under our skin for good, and that we’d definitely be back.

Temple Necks and Market Sweats pt. 2

There’s nothing you can’t buy in Bangkok. There are markets on just about every street corner where vendors sell everything from fish ball skewers to second-hand flip flops. On our way back from China Town (more on this below) we drove through a night flower market (the day is just too hot so the market starts at dusk and is open till almost midnight) that stretched over four blocks and it was just brimming with every kind of bloom imaginable, with the scents and aromas to match. This pretty much epitomises the Bangkok markets; there are no half measures and no matter which one you end up in, you can be sure that your eyes will be darting furiously, while your brain lags exhaustedly behind, unable to comprehend the sensory overload.

Night time Flower Market

Apparently, Bangkok used to be known as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to the extensive labyrinth of channels and rivulets that snake around the city. So we thought it fitting  to start at the Damnoensaduak floating market, which was touted as the oldest and the biggest. It is about an hour and a half out of Bangkok, and the longtail boat ride there was definately one of our highlights. As with many of the ‘authentic’ Thai sights we have visited, Damnoensaduak was heaving with tourists, but this actually added to the atmosphere for once.  After what seemed like a mandatory detour down the quiet canals of the market where the usual tourist fare was on offer, our paddle boat (Thai gondola-style longboat) turned the corner and we were greeted with pandemonium. The main canal was absolutely jam-packed with deadlocked boats. Credit must go to our oarswoman, who tried doggedly to forge us up the canal that seemed to be more boats than water, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Every time we gained a metre, a motorised longtail would come pummelling through the entropic mass and just push us straight back to the start of it all again, while the oarswoman’s slew of verbal abuse was drowned out by the engine. After many attempts we had no choice but to do the rest of our exploring on foot, which was actually a very good way to see everything. The local Thais usually come to do their market business early in the morning before the tourists arrive, but the social dynamics of the traders remain evident throughout the day. Many are weathered women who have honed some inspiring skills when it comes to navigating busy canals with boats loaded to capacity. Some even juggle this with working over piping hot burners as they make some pretty delicious bits and bites. We eventually found a good vantage point where we could just sit back and watch the the river and its intriguing occupants pass us by while we guzzled our coconut pancakes.

That night we wanted to venture into China Town and hopefully get to see a different side of Bangkok, but the side we saw was not the one we expected. Apart from being an entire suburb of Shark Fin restaurants there was nothing that really distinguished it from the rest of Bangkok, until evening fell, that is. Despite being decidedly disheartened by the awful amount of Shark Fin on display, we stuck it out to see the lights of Th Yaowarat blink to life, and all of a sudden, China Town woke up. After bargaining a no-stops around-the-block tuk-tuk ride we were carted through the hustle and bustle at rocket speeds as China Town gave us real a taste of her sights and smells.

Shark fin restaurant

The following day we headed off to Chatuchak, aka ‘The Weekend Market’, with absolutely no idea of what was in store.  It is an enormous, warren-like series of undercover market streets that all spill out onto a number of open central thoroughfares, but knowing which one you’re in is almost impossible – most of the time we were just grateful to be out in the comparatively cooler and fresher Bangkok air. Once we realised that attempting to navigate the place was a practice in futility, we simply started wandering, crossing over from one market city to another, browsing and haggling on the way. There is no general theme to the goods on offer, though there were a surprising number of Country & Western type stalls, complete with Willy Nelson soundtracks, chaps, plaid and spurs.  If you’re looking for an enormous Swastika tapestry to fill the space above the fireplace, this is really the place to get it (we really saw one). South Africa was arguably dubiously represented, as the only things we found were a Die Antwoord t-shirt  and a badge of the old flag that said “Fuck you, I’m a white South African” (not surprisingly, this was also one of the Nazi regalia shops). Despite this, we found some kindred spirits in one shop and had a great chat (across the language barrier) about the status of punk and rockabilly in the Bangkok music scene. It’s that kind of place. We spent the entire day there and we did not even see half of it.

Die Antwoord shirts at weekend market

A strange store, we found these right next to the Gay Pride flags and peace signs.

Just as things started shutting and we decided to leave, the heavens opened and we got stuck in a spectacular Bangkok monsoon downpour while we waited for our bus, so by the time we got home we were exhausted and sopping, but slightly refreshed.
That night, on the way home from dinner, the sounds of some very good music drew us into Ad Here 13th Blues Bar, where we were blown away by the bluesy prowess of the Banglumphu Band while enjoying a couple of hard-earned Changs.