My first week in Asia
06.02.2008 - 14.02.2008 35 °C
I doubt there's anywhere else like Khao San Road in Bangkok. It's quite simply... chaos! For a first time visitor, this road can blow your mind. Its the tourist mecca of the city, most foreigners arrive from the airport and stay there. I booked into a decent spot with a window over the road, with complimentary additional lighting from the 7 meter neon hotel sign right next to my window. Across the road were two booming nightclubs, neon big screens advertising their doors to the masses. Their neighbours are restaurants whose front line in dealing with tourism are attractive Thai 'hostesses' almost wearing small dresses. On either end of the road, taxi drivers offer lifts, and anything else that a tourist may require - I got offered 'Wanna girl??' a few times! Some revellers are still going strong when buses pick up tourists for day trips the next morning at 7am. The food sold by the street vendors is excellent, by the way - its cooked in front of you and takes a minute or two.
I only stayed in Bangkok for two days, of which, the second day I spent in Ayuthaya, Thailand`s old capital. This was mostly because of my experiences on the first day thanks to making the error of taking a tuc-tuc to the Grand Palace. Ok, its probably not that bad, but I'm convinced Tsu (I think), my very friendly and approx 15 year old tuc tuc driver, was trying to kill me. Incoming traffic means nothing to this guy, although I'm sure he must 6-foot under by now. A tuc-tuc is a converted motorcycle with a sort of bench and canopy attached to its back. Its quite fun taking side alleys, but then you get into heavy traffic, and this is a tuc-tuc driver's opportunity to impress with his maneuverability, acceleration, and gap-taking skills. Which are all impressive, and timed to the mili-second - I had some large lorries bearing down on me a number of times. The mesh wire tuc-tuc backing appears a little fragile during those hair-raising moments. Its also interesting to note that you will get a great discount to your destination if you let them take you to some shops they recommend along the way. Inevitably, you find yourself at a jewelry or mens suit store, who finance the drivers to drop off tourists at their front doors. I got to see the Wat Phra Keo (huge, ornate temple) and the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which are both immensely impressive. The art works surrounding the interior of the temple are amazing.
Ayuthaya is an ancient collection of Buddhist temples. Its really worth the trip. Unless you've been to Angkor Wat I imagine. I went on a day tour, which unfortunately makes you feel like you're part of a large herd of sheep! The day tours are efficient conveyer belts of tourists, constantly being transported to each venue, with very specific time limits. On the up side, you do get to see all the top spots, which are all impressive.
Next stop was Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok, for three days. Mixed feelings about this place: Erawan Falls is really beautiful - the water is refreshing and is a weird turqoise colour. It has seven falls in it, and is a great forest hike - it wasnt packed and swimming under some of the falls was a great way to cool off from the rising heat. I also did an elephant ride, which was really cool, and we went off the beaten track into the bush for half an hour.
On the other side of the coin, is a hideous tourist trap called the Tiger Temple. This is an animal rights case waiting to explode (unless that has already happened). Despite discounting it in their lie of a brochure, the tiger temple - without doubt - uses very heavy drugs to keep the tigers drowsy and pretty much asleep for what must be most of their lifespans. I've seen enough wild animals to know that you need a pretty large fence between predators and people. Between the mass of tourists and the dozen tigers there is only a thin rope, which is not to stop tigers, but just to show you were to sit. I had two massive adult tigers not 7 meters away from me, but they were so sleepy they didnt even know I was there. Every time they raise their heads, one of the tenders walks over and thrusts a water bottle at their mouths - the tigers love the flavour and lap up the concuction. Two minutes later, they are asleep and posing nicely for photos, the tenders placing their giant heads into tourist laps. The cubs - in the other den - are guarded by savage western volunteers, who guard their cubs as their own children, claiming that despite the thousand hands that touch them every day, they will remain normal tiger cubs; touch them on the face though, and they're all of a sudden too close to humanity and at the risk of being raised abnormally.
And still the hordes of tourists vans keep coming. Geez, its ridiculous. But I guess if tourists want to pose to with tigers, that's what they'll get, right?
I'm finding it really easy to meet and chat to other travellers - so far met some really ridiculously crazy Dutch chicks (waterfall pic), Canadians, Slovenians, Danes, Brits, Germans, Aussies, and all sorts. I'm seeing quite a few of them in Koh Pha Ngan for the full moon party.
Ko Tau, south east coast - I've just arrived two days ago, and its like a postcard - more to come on this and the dives I've done so far. This morning... scuba dived with a whale shark!! AAAH! And, I got photos. More to come.