5,4,3,2,1 … Happy New Year …in Bangkok

Alex ‘n’ Dan on Khao San Rd

The week had flown, but we’d had so much fun. Unfortunately, time usually goes go all too quickly when on holidays. We were very excited; we were going back to our beloved Bangkok (people either love it or hate it … we love it!), where amongst many things, we would also be hanging out with our very special friend Dan.We had met Dan in Laos six years ago, but had then also visited him in his native Canada three years ago. He’d been teaching English in Thailand for the last year. He was coming from up north, where he was teaching, and we from the islands in the south … our meeting date was the day before new year.

My chrissy pressie from Dan

Dan had organised for us to stay at The Suan Dusit Place, and whilst we thought it was lovely and both clean and friendly, we felt that it was a ‘little far from the action’. So … we decided to hit our famous (and old stomping ground) Khao San Road (or as Dan likes to call it Khao San ‘freak’ Road), also known as the backpacker’s mecca!  Dan is the easiest person to travel with – we left a note telling him we were making our way there and that we would call tomorrow and let him know where we were staying as he was not due to arrive until late afternoon on New Year’s Eve.

Nothin’ like a few electricity lines!

Khao San Road was only a short taxi ride away, and despite beiing crazy and busy and packed and mad, we felt at home right away.  We headed
straight towards our old favourite, Lamphu House, but that was packed to the rafters! Pensiri recognised us straight away and told us that we should have booked! C’est la vie! So, we did what we normally do … walked around, checked places, checked prices, and chose! We ended up at the New Siam 3, very close to Lamphu House. It was comfortable, clean and friendly; all that we needed. We got ourselves organised in no time at all, and soon ‘hit’ Khao San Road. Although it was mostly as we remembered it (we had only been here a couple of years ago), we were still able to observe how much it had grown, so to speak; more food places, more restaurants, more food vendors and certainly more tourists!  My little Asian backwater was gone! What was once intrepid travel, was now open slather. Whilst the essence of the place was still there, I cringed at a number of things … the locals ‘dressed up’ in hilltribe clothing and selling trinkets on the street in order to make a living, kids and teenagers holding up signs urging ‘falang’ (foreigners) to drink (obviously we have a reputation … like you can’t buy alcohol or get tanked at home!) and both women and men dressed up in THE most inappropriate clothing. But clearly the circus, oops show, must go on!


Does this even require a comment?!

The first hour was spent walking up and down that famous road observing; I am sure that I was a social anthropologist in my last life! I am probably secretly one in this life too! Human behaviour fascinates me; actually humans fascinate me. Dinner time – that’d be Pad Thai, street style. Cheap (very) and cheerful! Without a doubt, the best food I have tried in Thailand is the street food. You might get sick! You might get food poisoning! Yeh, I might get hit by a car too! I want to live my life to the max and savour every little bit of it, including food! It had been a pretty huge day, from leaving the island to munching on street food late at night … that night our sleep was well-deserved.

Food time is always a good time for Alex
Street food

Friday 31 December 2010, New Year’s Eve day we woke up, and were on a mission … well, at least I was. Alex and I had written a list of the things we had to do. Going to the dentist, having a massage (well, several!) and going shopping (for both clothes and ‘computery’ type stuff) were on top of the list. We would try and get some of this done before meeting Dan and Ku (Dan’s girlfriend) later that day. We had a relaxing day and fitting a lot of this in was not a problem. We later came home and got ready to end the ‘noughties’. We met Dan and Ku at their hotel. It was like meeting up with a long lost friend; Dan has become one of those special people one meets on their travels and I know that we will always be friends. When we hugged, it was like no time had passed at all. After a decent round of hugs we made our way to the area around Sukhumvit Road where apparently there were to be fireworks. Dan suggested that we eat in the area of Sukhumvit that was effectively Little Arabia  – why not, always willing to give something different a go! We had a lovely meal in a small Arabic restaurant; the hummous was particularly good!  And I must say, yes it did feel like little Arabia, as people from all parts of the Middle East and northern Africa appeared to congregate there. Globalisation has done many things to many people. In a world where everyone seems  to live everywhere, racism seems like a ridiculous concept, the comedy of the absurd! I have never really understood the concept of racism, and often wonder why people struggle to accept each human being for who they are. I had better not even get onto this bandwagon, otherwise I’ll never get off (another blog, another day)!

New year’s fireworks

It was almost 11.00pm when we left the restaurant, and the idea was to walk towards the area of Sukhumvit where the people and fireworks would be. As the biggest countdown in Bangkok happens in Central World Square, we made our way towards it. It was, in good ol’ Aussie lingo, absolutely chockers!  If there were rafters, they would have collapsed! If getting up close and personal ain’t your thing, this certainly wasn’t the place to be!  It was bumper to bumper, with locals and foreigners alike. The countdown was quite tame, I thought, and then off went the fireworks, which I must say were pretty impressive. I pondered on all the places I had had the good fortune to wrap up the new year in … and there have been many, including Christchurch, Quito (Ecuador), Samoa and Nicaragua. I have definitely had, and continue to have a good life! Not luck, just choice! After the last snap, crackle and pop everyone started to disperse, and I suddenly felt extremely thankful that we were leaving a celebration and not some disaster, as a quick getaway would have been impossible! There were people moving in every which direction! It is here that we parted ways with Dan, and agreed to meet tomorrow. Alex and I had to walk quite a way (it was so packed I felt like bleating) before then having to wait a long time for a taxi, and then … that taxi ride seemed to take forever as there were people and cars everywhere …

Welcome to Bogan central!

… Meanwhile back at the ranch, that’d be Khao San Road, the drunken and disorderlies, injected with alcohol and probably a plethora of other substances, were being their OTT (over the top) obnoxious, loud, bogan and inappropriate selves. As they say in Spanish ‘tierra tragame’, or ‘earth, swallow me up’! At that moment (and there have been many), I was SO embarrassed to be a foreigner! We watched the circus for a while and then slinked away, back to our rooms. If tourists and travellers have ever wondered why some people from some countries think that foreigners are inappropriate, all of their questions would have been answered on this night.

Good morning … Bangkok!

New Year’s Day was a relaxing day; we got up late, had some breakfast, wandered around Khao San Rd and Banglamphu to do some shopping, and later met Dan and Ku. Yes, I do occasionally relax! Sunday was the Chatachuk Market. I just love this place! Thirty five hectares and 8000 stalls, this market sees some 20,000 people pass through it every weekend. There is not a solitary thing that cannot be found here. We went early, and finished late! Dan and Ku came for a while and then left. I was, more than a woman on a mission, I was on a marathon. Alex is a pretty patient person, but almost eight hours later, he was totally over it!  Armed with all I’d set out to buy, I was a happy camper!  That night we caught up with Dan and said our goodbyes as he was going back up north the next day, where he works as an English teacher. We were not so sad, as he will soon be in Australia to do a Master’s in Education (teaching English as a second language).

More street food

As would be expected, we spent our last two days packing it all in, both metaphorically as well as physically. We went to the dentist (sooooooo much cheaper than Australia, although it has gone up in the last few years) where we had our teeth cleaned, and in my case, I had a filling (which had, strangely enough, fallen out on the morning of our appointments). A few more massages, street food, some roti at a small Muslim restaurant we have been going to for years … the usual. We have been to Bangkok so many times now, that we just know what to do and how to do it. Ho-hum? Never!

Saying goodbye, Bangkok airport

And so, as the old adage goes, ‘All good things must come to an end’. We had to get up early to catch our flight and so the night before saw us packing our backpacks. I first looked at what we had bought, and then I looked at our backpacks. I really could not see how all that was sprawled all over our double bed and on the floor was going to fit in. Amongst all the stuff we had bought  there were no nick-knacks or dust-collectors (we only buy clothes and things that we can use … I made this decision years ago, as I am not a hoarder and I do not like clutter).  Included were six cushions for our benches (our table at home has two benches and not chairs) – I seriously could not see where they were going to go, or how they were going to fit in. Somehow, however, in true backpacker form, we filled EVERY tiny little bit of our backpacks, to the point where we thought we were going to bust the zips, yet still managed to be under the weight required. I should not have been so surprised; it’s an artform that we have perfected over the years.

One last meal before boarding the plane

An organised taxi to the airport? Nah! We got up, armed with our (by now) very heavy backpacks, and flagged a taxi down! We’ve done this a million times, and doing it ourselves has become second nature. The rest is the same old … arrive at the airport, check in, board the plane, in my case sleep, arrive home … and then start planning the next trip. And there’s always a ‘next trip’ looming on the horizon …. who said you ‘work to live’ not ‘live to work’? Welcome to our world!

Ombi

“Religion  is the opiate of the people”
– Karl Marx

Next: Our stopover in Singapore before touching back down in Melbourne.

Beer Lao, Alex’s pressie … in house joke
New friends Lili & Jaime from Brazil
Local transport
I always knew Ronnie was evil!
My obsession with Ronnie
I love this!
Welcoming 2011 Thai style

Happy New Year with Ku and Dan

How to beat the consumerist Christmas debacle

Back in the land of smiles!

That’s easy… run away!  And where to?  Who cares!  Overseas is always a good option!  It’s quite funny, when people see me after not having seen me for a while, I usually get asked, “So, where are you going to next?” It’s usually said tongue in cheek, but the ironic thing is that I usually HAVE booked a holiday to … somewhere!  We knew months ago that we wanted to spend Christmas overseas, and so we diligently plowed through our options.  We also knew that it had to be something relatively cheap, as we would like to go to Ecuador some time in the not too distant future, and getting to South America isn’t ever on the cheap side.  It was in September or so that we stared scouring for cheap destinations and flights.  We ended up finding a pretty good deal with Jetstar to Thailand … no food included, no screens for movies, basic … yes, yes, yes … who said it’s about the journey and not the destination? They got it all wrong, it’s the destination that counts! We ended up booking a two week holiday…Thailand here we come!

Happy to be back!

Alex and I have both been to Thailand several times.  I, in fact, have been so many times that I have lost count (I should do what our friends Richard and Jo do, which is keep a table of ‘where, what, when’).  I must say that it still remains one of my favourite countries – I love the food, culture, people and shopping (yes you heard correctly, ‘shopping’!  For those of you know that know me well, you would also know that normally I despise this pastime.) Where would we go and what would we do?  With such a short time away, we decided that we’d spent the first week or so on an island (which one?) and the other in Bangkok.  Many people do not like Bangkok, but once you acquaint yourself with her and get to know her well, she really is lots of fun!  We would also be meeting our very special friend Daniel there.  We met Dan backpacking through Laos in 2005, and later went to visit him in his native Quebec, Canada, a few years later.  He is one of those truly  special people you meet on your travels, in the  ‘I know that we are going to be friends for a long time’ league.  Daniel has been teaching English in the north of Thailand for a couple of years, so we thought that spending New Year’s in Bangkok together would be loads of fun.

Ko Chang sunset

We had booked our flight for the 22 December, and I should add here that I had only recently started a new job.  In late November I started at Diabetes Australia – Vic as Media and Communications Co-ordinator.  Funnily enough, I work a block and a half away from Alex, so we are able to travel into work together.  Technically, I am in the CBD and Alex is in Carlton, but we are both on the edge (of the suburbs in which we work), so to speak … probably on ‘the edge’ in many other ways too, ha, ha!  So three weeks in, we were off to Thailand.  As usual, packing occurred virtually on the last night.  With a new job, that had taken up a lot of my time and focus, there was not a lot of time to think about our upcoming trip.  When I sat down in that plane, I was exhausted. Who needed food and movies?  I slept most of the way!

Monkeying around on Ko Chang

The only thing we had booked was our first night in Bangkok (which actually means ‘City of Angels’).  It had to be close to the airport, as the next morning we had to catch  a bus from the airport which would take us (coupled with a ferry) straight to the island of Ko Chang, which is on the eastern side of Thailand, near the Cambodian border. How had we picked which island to go to?  Well, we knew that we did not want anything commercial or touristy (Like Phuket, Pattaya or Ko Samui) but we also wanted something relatively close to Bangkok and where we had not been before.  A few years back we had been to Ko Kood (or Kut), very close to Ko Chang, and had loved it.  We had heard, back then, that Ko Chang, had become commercial over the years, but we thought we’d give it a go. Bad move!


Arriving on Ko Chang by ferry

Upon arriving to the airport we made our way to the Orchid Resort.  It was very close by, which is just what we needed, as we had to be back at the airport the next morning, to catch a bus at 7.00am.  It was quaint, and clean and quiet; just what we needed, as we were exhausted.  We were each given a voucher for a free ten minute foot massage (massages of ANY description are to die for in Thailand), which we took, laying by the poolside at almost midnight, after we had dumped our backpacks upstairs.  It was bliss!  After that it was a quick shower, and we were ready to hit the sack.  I think I was out in under ten seconds.

Streets of Ko Chang
Not too impressed with Ko Chang, hey?!

The next morning we were up before 6.00am getting ourselves organised, and back at the airport in order to catch catch our 7.00am bus. Before we knew it, we were on the bus, making our way to Ko Chang. As I looked around I felt comfortable and at home. The sights, feel, sounds and ambiance of Thailand, over the years, have become comfortably familiar.  It’s possibly one of the few countries outside of the Latin countries (for which I have a passion, and some say addiction to!) that I can keep coming back to and never get sick of. The bus ride was several hours, and then we were on the ferry… bus and all. Luckily the sea was not choppy, as I am prone to motion-sickness. It’s always a lovely feeling as a boat rocks up to an island with azure waters and swaying palms; it’s that wonderful feeling of isolation, secret get-away and bliss rolled into one. Of course, we had not organised a place to stay (normal for us), but we had kind of chosen an area that we’d start looking in. We had not had that much time to do research, but figured we’d go somewhere on the central west-coast of the island.  We asked around when we got there and were told that Kaibae was a nice little place, with a nice beach.  As we jumped in the songthaew (which is basically a small pick-up truck), and started to make our way to Kaibae, I had a sinking feeling in my gut!  Whilst I understand that even developing countries have the right to ‘develop’, I could not help but be somewhat mortified by all the construction, development and rubble lying around. This was NOT the island bliss I had been expecting!  We got off at Kaibae, and walked around looking for a place to stay.  It looked OK (just!) but as it was only a couple of days before Christmas, most places were booked out.  I can’t say that the beach blew me away either.  There was lots of rubbish lying around and it just didn’t look clean.  Nope, not staying here!

Gu’s Bay … tranquil and relaxing

We jumped back onto another songthaew and made our way a little further south to the infamous Lonely Beach.  This place, unfortunately, is not so lonely anymore and has been overrun by backpackers.  We were totally unimpressed with the almost one kilometre strip of virtually bumper-to-bumper bars and tacky souvenir shops, completely over-run by foreigners.  Alex looked after the backpacks whilst I trawled the strip looking for a place to stay.  Apart from the fact that almost everything was booked out, the little that was left was overpriced and/or close to more rubbish than a tip!  This was not looking good, and I was starting to feel like Ko Chang was one big mistake!

Accommodation at Gu’s Bay

I made my way back to Alex and the backpacks, and was about to tell him that the news regarding accommodation was not good, when he introduced me to a local, who suggested a place to stay on Ao Bai Lan, which was the next spot down from Lonely Beach. So, this is how we came to stay at Gu’s Bay, a gorgeous, non pretentious place, with everything we needed  as well as being extremely well priced and it was not overrun with bars and a million people.  What a relief!  It had such a serene feel, and whilst the beach immediately in front of us was rather rocky, the swimming pool made up for it!  We made ourselves at home immediately.  That night (24th December) we walked to Lonely Beach for a bite to eat, as there really weren’t many options in the food department where we were.  We picked a seafood place with lots of locals, and I must say, the food was brilliant.  On the way home we found a massage place that was still open – what an excellent massage!  The Thais are masters at this.  Despite it not being a long way back to our accommodation, the road was windy and unlit, so we had to catch a songthaew.  So what does one do when she/he does not want to be amongst a multitude of loud and drunk foreigners…

Sunset on Ko Chang

… We had walked back to Gu’s Bay and could hear some music wafting over, so we decided to make our way towards it.  It was coming from the Dusit Princess, an upmarket hotel close to where we were staying. As we got closer, so did the music. With more front than Myers, we walked straight through the hotel to the area where they were having a Christmas spectacle and whilst we did not join in the buffet meal, we did get a few decent hours of entertainment.  Apart from my shorts and singlet, I felt like a queen! We had a great time actually, and the concert was most enjoyable, hosting dancers and singers alike.  Being the past life social anthropologist (people watcher!) that I am, I was entertained (from all angles!) for hours … stilettos, sequined tops, bouffant hairstyles … really, a whole other world!  It ended just after midnight, and I waltzed out as gracefully as I had waltzed in…with crocs, shorts and a singlet top! Gotta love it!

On the pier at Ban Bang Bao

Apart from being woken by a disorderly bunch in the swimming pool in the early hours of Christmas morning (which I got up and addressed!), we had a great night’s sleep. After a lazy breakfast, we made our way down south to Ban Bang Bao.  Once home to a quaint fishing village, it has now become one of the island’s major tourist attractions, with a pier stretching well out into the sea.   This pier is home to a plethora of seafood restaurants, which are well frequented by visitors. This fascinating place is where local residents have built their houses with poles pitched into the sea and the bridge linking every house is set up to join the community together. Although hot, it was lovely to wander around, observe and try some of the local delicacies. After a couple of hours we made our way to the beach close by, and unlike the central part of the Ko Chang coast, where the beaches were infiltrated with multitudes, this was just lovely and relaxing. Sunbaking, reading, relaxing, running on the beach at dusk … what more could one ask for?

Time to go to Ko Kood

The next day, we decided to move on. Although we had had fun, Ko Chang was not really us. We wanted and had expected something a little more idyllic. Having said that, as places become more popular, things change, and I am all too aware that even I am part of that change! With fond memories of our time in Ko Kood and Ko Mak, islands close by, a few years earlier, we decided that we would revisit Ko Kood. With such little time, we wanted to come back and say that we had ‘really’ enjoyed ourselves. With this, we had a relaxing last night in Ko Chang, and organised to catch a ferry to Ko Kood the next morning.

Ombi

Next: A few days on (truly) idyllic Ko Kood, before we hit Bangkok.

Paradise Updated!

Books read:Paradise Updated by Mic Looby (Thanks for this book Vick…I cannot tell you HOW appropriate it was given where we were staying and what we were doing!)

“Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are” – Bertolt Brecht

Dedication: For my maaaaaaate Rozzie!  This one’s for you! Who would have thought that meeting some cool chick on one of Brazil’s most spectacular beaches some 11 years ago would lead to this … one seriously cool friendship! The world’s people are broken up into two groups … those who get it and those who don’t!  You are soooooooo going to get this (please refer to Ping-Pong shot below) … LY(very)LT!!!! Ombs

This one’s for you Rozzie!

‘Pier food’ – Ban Bang Bao








The way to Alex’s heart? His stomach!