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Thailand: Bangkok (again) and Khao Lak

sunny 38 °C
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Our mini-bus to Bangkok arrived a bit earlier than we'd been told so we had to throw the last bits in our backpacks and run out of the door. We were taken to a much larger coach that was pretty old but in good condition with sticky leather seats and a bit of a cheesy, sweaty whiff. As usual, a few plastic lawn chairs were put in the aisle for some poor but seemingly not bothered Thai passengers.
The journey to the Cambodian border Poi Pet took 4 hours and went quickly as we'd loaded up some American Horror Story episodes onto our Kindles. There were some rather nosy French girls that sat beside us at the back who whispered and nudged each other when they saw our fluffy armpits.

We collected our bags off the coach and were given our 'tickets' for the next bus on the other side in Thailand. These tickets were red stickers adhered to our bosom.
We walked to the Cambodian border office and waited in a tiny, sticky prison-esque room for 45 minutes to get officially 'signed out' of the country. There were 6 queues but only 3 windows open. Everyone had to memorise the sequence of alternation from left person to right person and then back again. When we'd had everything stamped we stumbled outside and tried to figure out where the hell we went next. We were on a very big dual carriageway with a building site in the middle and there were no signs pointing to Thailand. We asked a security guard who gave us some vague hand gesture directions and eventually we got on the right track. The walk to Thailand's border office took 20 minutes, across congested roads, carrying all of our bags, in the boiling midday sun. By the time we arrived a the the office to join a slow-moving queue of over 100 people we were so exhausted and overheated that we didn't care. It took 2 hours to get through the border. Every 10 minutes we would kick our bags forward as the queue lazily moved on. To amuse ourselves during the 2 hours we people-watched; cute babies blabbering, spoiled-rotten toddlers having tantrums, shifty looking solo middle-aged men, a group of Canadian Jehovah's Witnesses, a French bulldog and a very loud and annoying body-builder girl from Leeds.

As we burst through the border to Thailand, relieved to be making progress once more, a man saw our red-sticker-laden boobies and escorted us to stand with a little group he'd put together. We were then piled into the back of a tuk-tuk along with 10 other people and everyone's suitcases. It was intimate to say the least. We were hauled off again 10 mins later for a lunch break where we had omelets and chatted to a very nice Dutch girl (didn't get her name) who had had some really horrible experiences involving being scammed and hospitalised.

Next we were squashed into an old minivan that had holes in the ceiling instead of air conditioning ducts, a partially detached bumper and nifty inbuilt kneecap crushing seating. We remained in a sweaty fetal position for 6 hours until we finally arrived in Bangkok at around 8:30pm. We did chat to the cute 18 year old American boy who was squashed up beside me (good job he was skinny) who caught us up with the presidential campaigns.

The one thing we'd forgotton about Bangkok is that it can be a ball ache to get a taxi that will a) know where you're going, b) actually drop you at the right place and c) put the journey on the proper meter instead of charging a made-up rip-off fixed fee. Tuk tuks aren't any better though; they're generally between 20-50% more expensive that taxis. After scrambling around in the dark for an ATM and being turned down by a few cabbies we finally found a guy who knew where we were going. He refused to put the fare on the meter but at this point we didn't care, we just wanted to put our bags down so we agreed on a price.

We eventually found out hostel after a bit of difficulty (we seem to always pick the hidden or unknown ones. We had a private room and although it was all exposed concrete (walls, floors, ceiling) we figured it might make it cooler and saw it as an intentional stylistic decision. Industrial-chic.
The area we were in was perfect; plenty of little bars and restaurants around but nice and chilled and all in easy walking distance. We chose a busy Thai restaurant and sat outside enjoying the metropolitan hum.
We spent the rest of our evening watching crap on our devices, excited that for the first time in a while we didn't have to set an alarm.

Naturally, we had a lie in and then a lazy morning walk to the infamous Khao San road - a short street in central Bangkok infested with backpackers and establishments designed to serve them. We booked our bus to Khao Lak and aimlessly wandered around; doing what we do best - silently judging everyone.
We then got in a cab (which again was like pulling teeth) and drove to the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC). I have been craving some contemporary art for months now as we've only really seen little bits here and there. The BACC is a huge, light building with nine floors of art. We started at the top and worked our way down. We saw some truly amazing art from some incredibly talented Asian artists. There were actually some pieces with much more shocking subject-matters and images than I ever expected. There was of course some Royalist and traditional fare but generally everything from the paintings to the sculptures were as subversive, challenging and thought-provoking as you'd expect from contemporary art.

For lunch we stepped into the massive MBK mall opposite where we shamefully settled on Subway sandwiches. Weirdly, this particular Thai subway offered an omelet as an 'add on' to your sub; which we of course partook in. After listlessly meandering the artificially lit corridors, occasionally peering into shop windows we got bored and went back to the hostel.

We went back to MBK the following morning as we'd found a whole cluster of camera shops on floor 5 and as we had the whole day to burn before catching our coach at 6pm, we thought we'd try our luck with my kaput DSLR. In the end only one of the shops offered repairs (the official Canon shop) but I was told my camera would need to be sent to a manufacturing facility to be looked at and fixed, which, considering it was almost Thai New Year, would take 3 weeks. On top of this, because I don't have a warranty, it would cost me a small fortune. Ah well, worth a try.
With nothing left to do (and shopping not being our thing), we found ourselves in one of the many food courts. For whatever reason the mall was even busier than the previous day, and the food court was chockablock. Every table was full with locals, tourists, singles, couples and families; consuming with vigour. Lauren found a veggie stand and I decided to get some fried chicken from the little street food market outside.

We head back to our hostel to get our bags and walked 15 minutes to Khao San road. We had over an hour to burn so we opted for a cheap massage in one of the many parlours on offer. We had our own little private cushioned den and were a little surprised when Lauren's masseur turned out to be male. We followed the instructions to get top-naked and got sufficiently yanked and contorted. Although a little painful at times it was just what we needed after lugging our bags around.

Not long after we were collected by a man best described as the Thai Captain Jack Sparrow who walked us, and some other travellers to a little grass verge where coaches were lining up. We waited for the best part of an hour on the side of the road and were finally ushered onto our bus; which was nice enough. Luckily for us we had first dibs on the seats an chose the two next the top of the stairway so we didn't have anyone reclining onto our legs. The bus made two extra stops to collect the rest of the passengers and was full in no time.

The passengers were mostly groups of young backpackers but there was also a French family with two young girls. One girl who sounded German stumbled up the stairs holding a large bottle of beer in one hand and a bag full of beers in the other. She was with an American guy who was on his way to a similar level of inebriation. The bus attendant told them that the buses are often checked by the police and so they'd have to pack the unopened beers away and finish drinking to avoid being fined. The couple snorted in defiance at his request and carried on as before. It's fair to say I think most of the bus were hoping they'd just fall asleep. Unfortunately this didn't happen and the girl spent the first hour of the journey shouting, walking up and down the aisle and banging on windows. When we stopped at a petrol station to fill up, she climbed down the stairs, kicked the door and demanded to be let off to go to the toilet and have a cigarette. The attendant explained that this was not a rest stop and it was not safe for anyone to get off. The girl carried on as before until Lauren told her that we would probably be stopping soon for a proper break so she should go back and sit down until then. Weirdly she obliged and shut up for a short while, but, after another hour she started shouting about doing a shit in her seat. She then walked to the top end of the bus where there was some sort of direct channel down to the driver (like the old double deckers) and proceeded to verbally harass him for 20 mins, demanding that he stop so she could go to the toilet. I must say here that although I completely understand that we all have calls of nature to relieve, there was a perfectly functioning toilet ON THE BUS that everyone else had been using without issue.

Needles to say, the driver got to the end of his tether and all of a sudden we came off a slip-road from the highway, mounted a curb and came to a jolting stop. The doors immediately opened and we heard the girl saying things like "whatever, I don't care, you should have stopped before, I have rights" etc. She got off the bus and started having a very slurry argument with the attendant. Her travelling companion was proclaiming that he didn't know what was going on or why she had been kicked off the bus, even though we'd heard him goading her to go and annoy the driver. He stood up and a load of beer bottles rolled from his feet down the length of the bus. He then pushed past the two little girls who were sleeping and woke them up. It was now half 10 and I'd had enough so I told him to collect up his bottles and join his friend outside; if anything to ensure she wasn't left on the streets of god knows where on her own in the middle of the night, drunk.
He did get off and we then all waited half an hour until their bags were found and unloaded. The rest of the bus saw this palaver as an opportunity for a fag break and so they piled off and lit up. The poor Thai workers just had despair written all over their faces.

As we waited for the smokers to finish up we watched the girl and her buddy walk over to a street which appeared to have a few business on it. The girl then stopped at a bit of grass, pulled her trousers down, squatted and took a shit. After a closer look we realised that she had done this in front of a police station. Luckily for her, it was closed.

We all got on our merry way again without the nuisances and, at approx. midnight, we had a 'proper' stop at a predictably expensive truck stop along with a load of other buses with weary westerners on them. We picked omelets and a packet of chocolate biscuits, not to relieve hunger but to just because we were awake and we could.
For the remainder of the journey we struggled to sleep. The sticky leather chairs didn't recline very far and a group of lads behind us had decided to play some sort of game that involved the loser getting a tattoo of Mr. Tumnus.
The low level itch of anxiety we both felt as a result of the maniacal driving (which probably felt worse because we were high up) didn't help deliver us to dreamland either.

We made it to Surat Thani at around 5:30am where we got off, collected our bags and sat for a while, playing with a cute Siamese kitten. We were put on a tuk tuk and taken to another bus station where we got on another coach heading to our destination; Khao Lak. When we booked our tickets we'd been told that we would arrive around 9am but this ETA was a little off as our latest bus attendant told us we would be getting in at 11:30.
We did have another break halfway through this second journey where we ate what we could, not fully sure what day it was and whether we needed food or not. At least on this bus we managed to fit in a few snoozes.

As asserted, we arrived at 11:30, ending our 18hr journey from Bangkok. A short taxi ride got us to Parisia guesthouse; a lovely place in a quiet little suburb where we had our own room and bathroom and a little balcony. Having had only a couple of hours of sleep in the last 30 hours we were both a little delirious, not to mention stinky, so we happily rushed to our room excited to sleep and wash. We quickly realised that the water supply was off, apparently to the whole area, so not only could we not shower, we couldn't flush the toilet either. Bloody marvellous.
We had a long well-deserved nap and decided to check out the nearby market to get some food (as the water was off we thought it safer to eat barbecued stuff from a stall as opposed to restaurant food). The market was charming, with as many locals as tourists and lots of fresh fruits, veggies and animal bits. We got some fried snacks and had a browse, secretly hoping that someone would spontaneously shower us with clean, soapy water. I even paid 10 baht to use a functioning toilet at a nearby café.
That night we went to sleep more tired and more dirty than we'd ever been in our adult lives. Character building you could say.

The next morning we awoke to find that the water was on! Hurrah! I jumped under the shower with such gay abandon it took me a good few minutes to notice that the water tasted like the sea. Yes, it was as salty as the beads of sweat consistently running down our backs. We sighed another sigh at this fact but hey, at least it was water. A bit of salt never hurt anyone! And, it might actually do us some good as we're probably low on essential salts anyway!

After cleansing we head out on a short walk to Bang Niang beach. At least it should have been a short walk, but for us two geniuses, it ended up being a 45 minute head-scratching, bicker-fest. We did find the beach, or at least we found the sea; large waves crashing on larger jagged rocks below the edges of resort hotels. "Where's the beach with the sand? The one where people go to sunbathe and swim?" we asked a few different passers-by. They all gave us different directions that got us even more confused.
We gave up eventually and sat down in a restaurant for lunch. The menu had no vegetarian options on it whatsoever so we asked the waitress if she could modify the dishes for us. She obliged and brought out the freshest, most delicious tofu meals we'd had in ages. Spirits restored we made one last ditch attempt to find the beach, and, obviously, we found it.

We found some free sunbeds and chilled for a while, having a little paddle in the very choppy Andaman sea. In typical Aisha and Lauren style we got bored of the sun quite quickly and went back to our little home to watch the film Impossible. For those of you that might not know, Khao Lak was the worst hit town of the 2004 boxing day tsunami and the film Impossible tells the true story of a Spanish family who survived it. We seem to have gotten into a habit of watching films related to our current surroundings; The Killing Fields while in Phnom Penh, Tomb Raider while in Siem Reap and now this.

That night we abandoned our normal 10pm bed time and head down to Moo Moo's cabaret bar to watch a performance. There we saw numerous gay anthems (Whitney, Liza, Madonna etc) mimed by some very beautiful, very dolled-up Thai performers. Some of the acts were better than others; it was obvious that some of the girls didn't know much English as they were miming gibberish but it only added to the fun.

The following day was Thai New Year, aka Songkran. After a lazy morning we put on our least favourite, quickest drying outfits and braved ourselves for a soaking. And oh boy did we get soaked. As soon as we stepped outside we were spotted by a group on the opposite side of the road who had water-guns, and that was the start of a long session of wet, wet wet. It was all good fun and we walked around with our eyes and mouths as shut as we could get them always anticipating the next attack. Every man and his dog were out; Thai and felangs were lapping it up. Even the police and their cars weren't safe and didn't stay dry for long. Some of the water was ice cold, some of it was warm and almost all of it was salty.

After an hour or so of walking around checking out the festivities, Lauren got a bit tired of the inadvertent wet T shirt competition and the last straw was her beloved spring rolls getting drowned by two English kids. After this atrocity, we went back to our room to dry off, getting one last sudden bowl of water thrown point-blank in our faces by an English lady. This made Lauren's blood boil and I had to try and talk her out of giving said lady a fist to the face in retaliation.

The following day was an adventurous one. We were collected by our driver-come-tour-guide Run early in the morning and taken to Khao Sok national park, approx. 60km inland from Khao Lak. We had paid a lot more than we wanted to for a day trip to the park as we opted not to do an elephant ride. Because 99% of visitors choose to do the ride this meant we had to have our own private tour to avoid it. We didn't dwell on the cost too much as we were just glad not to be a part of the elephant tourism trade.
Run told us about his life; we learned that he'd spent most of his early adulthood playing electric guitar in a band and gigging around Thailand for just enough money to get by. He told us that he had given up his music career in order to support his wife and 3 children and to ensure he was around to see them. He talked about the fact that he hadn't picked up a guitar in 8 years and that he doesn't know if he ever will again.

When we arrived at the park Run proved himself to be a very knowledgeable guide. He knew the Thai, English and sometimes the latin words for every plant, tree and animal we saw on our 3 hour trek through the jungle. We saw hundreds of glorious bamboo trees (which there are over 1000 different species of) and various lizards (mostly skinks). We also heard many birds as well as some gibbons. Run told us about the thousands of animals that live in the jungle including snakes, spiders, monkeys, elephants, tigers and even some remaining farming people.

We trekked to a small waterfall and lake where we swung on some U shaped bamboo hanging from the trees and listened to nature at its best. We didn't struggle on the hike as much as we thought we would. It was incredibly hot and humid (our cameras kept steaming up) but the trees provided some shade (albeit blocking any sign of a breeze too). Perhaps we've gotten fitter during our trip.

We'd certainly worked up an appetite walking 4km in the jungle so Run took us to a restaurant owned by ex-Olympic boxer Worapoj Petchkoom. We ate our mammoth vegetarian lunch and even go to hold some of Petchkoom's winning medals. Upon Googling him later, we discovered that Petchkoom had been banned from boxing for a short period for posing in a spread for a gay magazine. This obviously made us love him even more and we were gutted we didn't get to meet him.

After lunch we head back to the park to go canoeing on the river. To get to the river we walked through a large cave where some monks were performing some sort of prayer for Thai new year. They very kindly blessed us as we walked through; perhaps sensing our crap canoeing abilities.
As we approached the river we saw that we were the only visitors and that there was one inflatable 'canoe' (more like a dinghy). We then realised that we had our very own oarsman - wahey! Relieved at the fact we wouldn't be rowing ourselves around in a circle for 2 hours we happily hopped into the 'canoe' and watched as the plethora of fishes hung around waiting for us to throw 'em some food.

It soon became apparent that the river was incredibly shallow. In parts so shallow that we could have gotten out of the boat and walked ourselves through the river with water barely covering our ankles. This meant that our poor young rower had to periodically climb out and push us over the riverbed. At least we got a bit of a gluteus massage.

Other than the occasional bum scrape the voyage was incredibly peaceful and scenic. All we could see was clear water, fish, trees, birds and the monolithic limestone rock formations all around us. There were also a few local village people bathing and playing in the river, some with their pet dogs.
At one point, we came across a troop of bamboo rafts being transported to storage at the end of the season;

After almost 2 hours on the water, with reddened shoulders and sore coccyxes we got back in Run's lovely cold minivan and returned to our guesthouse. Like two kids who'd been at the fair all day we were all tuckered out.

Back in Khao Lak town we had a bit of a rubbish tea at a local restaurant called Joe's Kitchen and called it a night. We hoped that we'd be able to recuperate the following day on our bus to the island of Ko Lanta.

Posted by advensha 07:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged monkeys wildlife nature bus trekking cambodia thailand jungle bangkok tour lizard hot border backpacking national_park travelling canoeing sweaty queue humid khao_san_road nightmare khao_lak khao_sok bamboo_raft poi_pet hang_tep_bus kicked_off_bus drink_tourists

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