Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 277 (87)


Friday 10th December

Groggy and on full autopilot, we disembarked from our carriage laden with full backpack regalia when the train finally pulled into Bangkok station this morning. Our traveller’s skills are now so finely honed that we sidestepped all the tuk-tuk drivers and touts without even giving them a second glance. Since China, I’m now more respectful of, and give due consideration to, trades people and other locals that depend on the tourist industry. The touts at train stations, however, are a different kind of loathsome breed altogether and I feel no remorse in refusing to deal with them flatly. For they are the bottom feeders that prey on the weak and vulnerable green travellers that have just arrived and are not yet familiar with the going rates. These people have themselves no shame and their tactics are to hit hard and fast, relying on that lack of awareness on the part of the new arrivals so that they can hit them up for that one-time quick profit by charging well over the odds for a short ride into town. It doesn’t matter what country it is, they are always there and they catch many a traveller to a new place at least once. We’ve had our turn on more than one occasion and I don’t look back on those situations with anger or shame. Moreover, getting stung is all part of the game and a necessary evil to help toughen you up for the road ahead. Indeed I can honestly say that I’ve actually benefited from being stung on occasion. Not only has it given me a sharper eye and heightened my senses in those situations where the predators are circling, but it has also given me several interesting stories to tell when I’m relaxing and exchanging tales with other travellers. In the long run, It’s me that has won the day and although it never feels pleasant at the time, I can actually be thankful of that time I was shook down by that crooked police officer in South Africa or that rickshaw driver in Delhi or wherever else it has happened. Yes, it may have cost me a few extra Dollars here and there but considering the life’s lessons it has taught me, getting stung from time to time is one of best bargains going.

Our goal this morning was to locate and get into a taxi where the driver was willing to use the meter. Each and every taxi cab here in Bangkok has a huge sign on the top which reads ‘TAXI METER’ but that doesn’t stop most drivers trying to sidestep using their meters in favour of trying to negotiate what would surely otherwise be a higher fare instead. The last time we arrived Bangkok train station in the wee hours, it took me five or six attempts at finding a driver willing to switch the meter on. This time we were lucky and after just one failed attempt, we made it into the cab of an honest driver that switched on his meter without any fuss. The first driver wanted 100B (€1,92) for the ten-minute ride but our meter read just 54B (€1,04) by the time we were let out in the middle of the still awakening Khao San Road. Love it or hate it, the Khao San Road is the quintessential backpacker ghetto where dreams are both made and lost. The road was stirring but the market stalls were still not fully assembled and our taxi was able to make it all the way to our chosen hotel without too much hassle from the otherwise busy traffic of backpackers, hawkers and market traders all mingling with each other and zigzagging across the road in random directions.

Our hotel of choice was once again the Khao San Palace. At 650B (€12,50) per night for the air-conditioned room with ensuite bathroom, it was less than a third of what we paid for at the Khao Lak Orchid Resortel back in Khao Lak but was still in the upper range of what the Khao San Road has to offer in the way of accommodation nevertheless. The one nicety about this place is the rooftop swimming pool. If nothing else, we could while away any excess hours we may be faced with, lounging around this warm, mini oasis in the sky.

With high season very much in full swing, there was just one little snag – no rooms available. Whilst we were standing at the reception counter, we saw no less than three different couples turned away with the instructions to come back at noon in the hope that someone might have checked out by then. Ordinary mortals might be disheartened by this apparent misfortune but we have several tricks up our sleeves and neither of us was willing to take this lying down. I didn’t much feel up to the task of turning this problem around but Sandy was willing to take a crack at it and went to work on the reception staff. If there’s one thing that travelling teaches you, it’s tenacity and within a couple of minutes, Sandy had managed to secure one of the rooms that was due to be vacated later this morning. We had to pay for the room in advance but this was a small price to pay compared to the victory that she had won us.

Safe in the knowledge that we had now secured a decent place to stay, we were finally able to relax and turn our attentions to filling our stomachs. We’re spoiled for choice with places to eat up and down the Khao San Road and the nearest place to us was just across the street so this is where we sat for the next half hour or so whilst partaking in a little breakfast snack. The road was now nearly fully awake and we strolled around a bit to kill time before our room was cleaned and ready to be occupied. When it finally was, we removed our backpacks from the storage room and took them up to our third floor room. Within seconds, the place looked like it had been tipped upside down with our backpack contents reaching all for corners and all levels. It may look like complete disarray to the untrained eye but we know where everything is and can readily find it when we need it ... most of the time … some of the time … okay it’s a complete mess and we have no idea where anything is but at least we’re comfortable.

Having nearly completed the Asia leg of this trip, I took some time to sort out some photos that we might get printed tomorrow. We had some photos printed the last time we were here by means of seeing just how well they would come out and I was pleased with the results so this time we’ll probably get a larger batch of our ‘best of’ photos printed off. For the remainder of the morning, we both fell into a deep slumber to make up for the poor quality of sleep that you invariably get on a moving train. It wasn’t until around noontime that we awoke again and kicked ourselves into gear.

We popped in to see Matt at the dive shop just around the corner. We had far exceeded the dive package that we initially booked through him and I was keen to give him some feedback into our experiences with the various dive operators that we dived with whilst down South and he, in turn, was keen to hear what we had to say.

I’ve had more massages here in Asia than I’ve previously had in my entire life. At just 250B (€4,81) for a one-hour session, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to have a dainty little Thai woman strip you down and therapeutically massage hot oil all over your body for a mere pittance. Well, what’s a chap to do? We both partook in another full session with our favourite massage parlour just around the corner from our hotel. It’s a fairly large outfit with communal massage rooms covering three floors of the building. They do a brisk trade there and there’s always a half dozen or more other contented customers receiving the full body work-over each time we’ve been.

I’ve often had problems with my ears in the past, right back to my childhood. In addition to perforated eardrums and various other disorders, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had ear infections. Perhaps it was due to all the diving we’ve done over the past few weeks but I’ve developed a rather irritating whopper of an ear infection over the past couple of days and the annoying pain from this eventually sent me back to our room, where I could sit in solitude. I’m like a bear with a sore head when I’m ill and the one tactic that I’ve found that helps make me tolerable to those around me is to lock myself away from them so that I can sit in discomfort on my own and wallow in self-pity. On the way back to the room, I stopped in at the pharmacy that’s right next door and picked up some eardrops for myself.

Bangkok is one of those places where you don’t have to look far for an Internet café and I decided to set off to find one where I could hook up the laptop and send another travel update. There are plenty in and around the Khao San Road but some won’t allow laptops to be hooked up. I suspect that the majority of those places where it’s not allowed has nothing to do with it not being allowed at all. Moreover it’s probably nothing more than the person manning the shop not really knowing what to do with such a request and defaulting to the negative just to be on the safe side. Of the eight or more that I visited, those that would allow me to hook up were either unable to provide me with the necessary configuration information or there was some other technical reason why I was unable to establish a good connection. I eventually stumbled into one place where I was not only able to hook up and establish a connection but both the up and down link speeds were so fast that I was able to synchronise my web site and upload a couple of new photo pages in record time. As an added bonus, this particular Internet café didn’t even charge a minimum fee that most every other place here in Thailand does. For the hour that I was there, I was able to satisfy all my Internet chores, including downloading nearly thirty megabytes of updates for my operating system, and make it out of there for just 40B (€0,77).

Sandy, in the meantime, went off in search of some Christmas gifts for our ever-growing population of nephews and nieces for this year. All of a sudden, Christmas is just around the corner and if we don’t find and send something now, there is no hope of getting anything back home in time for the big day.