9 November 2014
“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.” – The Beach (2000)
Now, I don’t particularly want the same experience Richard had in that millennium blockbuster, but the allure of a beach style holiday in gorgeous, sticky, crazy Thailand had long ago captured me. And I finally have my chance to go. Fourteen days. Four people. Two very long flights. One magnificent eastern adventure.
My journey starts with the usual anxiety-ridden trip to the airport. Do I have everything? Did I pack too much? What if there’s an accident on the N2 and it takes 5 hours to get there?? But sighs of relief are sighed as my flatmate drops me, takes a last photo (for social media to announce my departure from everything work and normal-life related of course) and I queue to check in.
I have my 8,3kg (I know, right?!) backpack plastic wrapped and thus reduced to a fiercely protected but weird little cocoon. Ebola scares are rife at the moment so we all get asked some generic questions and have our foreheads scanned for fever. Phew, my passport gets a CNA-bought lumo green sticker to prove I am not carrying the plague.
Customs and international flights seem awfully quiet this time of day and I almost break out in a happy dance as I make the solo stroll to the airport lounge. Finally, my Thailand holiday. First trip East. First overseas holiday that doesn’t involve work. First trip that doesn’t require a visa! And a little reunion with three other fantastic people: Bruce and Han-Marie who are residing in Edinburgh, and Debbie from Jo’burg. It was quite an exercise to synchronise our flights, but Dubai is where the party will be at as we all travel via Emirates to finally land in Bangkok together.
It’s a long 9 hours on the plane, but I am happily occupied by the in-flight entertainment. And there’s always sleep – a skill I have mastered in the upright position. Dubai airport, aka large building with shops and restaurants, becomes a hunting ground for Debbie, who, bless her, had the longest layover of us all. The reunion is joyous and even more so when we spot Bruce and Han. Hooray!
We land in Bangkok around midday the next day (18 hours since Cape Town) and despite standing ready with bank statements and supporting documentation, we get our Thailand visas stamped in our passports without a hitch. Then luggage, ATM, taxi. And a toilet somewhere in between. Mostly for Debbie, whose bladder made sure we stop regularly for these all important breaks …
Feeling like millionaires with our wallets bursting at the seams with Thai baht, we step outside into the Durbanesque heat in search of a taxi. (The exchange rate to the SA Rand was 1:3, and 1:55 to the British Pound. So unfair, I know). Now, we memorised a couple of ballpark costs before we arrived and bartering is an absolute given pretty much everywhere and all the time in Thailand, but don’t think you’re gonna talk this lady down from her 700B taxi fare. Take it or leave it. So we take it, as it is our quickest and most direct route to another air-conditioned building. And at least the cost is spilt four ways. Nevermind safety, there’s saving in numbers!
The cab driver’s Hawaiian bobble-head figurine dances on the dash as we cruise along the highway. We head to Navalai River Resort – my choice of accommodation after spending far too many hours researching others for just one night’s stay. It was, after all, the Lonely Planet’s choice. And we chose well. Super friendly staff, spacious rooms, right next to the Chao Phraya River, and the best rooftop pool! And a cold towel and juice on arrival. But first, lunch across the road. A little eatery with tables set between greenery and cobbling water features, with promises of papaya salad for Debbie and cold beer for Bruce. Han goes into excitement overdrive as a squirrel darts around in the tree above us. The bill seems terribly high, but it’s the first of many times we have to remember to divide the currency. The cash does seem to fly out of your wallet in this place that way though …
Tummies happy, it’s up to the rooftop pool for a languid swim in the bathwater while the sun sets on another regular day in Bangkok. The temperature hardly budges though, and it’s only the gradual darkness that tears us away from this paradise.
Yet we have one night in Bangkok, so we have to make it count. While there are no intentions of recreating anything resembling The Hangover II, the idea of a cocktail on a rooftap bar seems rather splendid. And since our hotel is right on the river, the novelty of taking a boat for 15B is one we happily agree to experience. The ferry docks rather aggressively at each stop and a woman winds her way through the crowd collecting the fee. How does she keep track of so many people?
Bangkok night lights from the river are a sight to behold and I’m excited for the view from Sky Bar. That is, until they give these four Saffers the once-over at the lift and point out Bruce’s lack of closed shoes. Access denied! (They warned us at the hotel, but noooooo … ) And so the hunt begins. For size 12 men’s shoes. In Bangkok.
Bruce is practically a giant in their retail eyes. But we see it as an adventure and an opportunity to explore a bit of Bangkok on foot while trying not to get run over by pink taxicabs, tuk tuks or scooters. No seriously, I don’t know if it’s even possible to safely cross the road in this city. You kind of need to make a run for it every time. Bruce almost reaches an all time low when he considers a pair of Crocs, but a major market outside the Robinsons saves him from total social embarrassment where he still reluctantly buys what we refer to as ‘The Fever Shoes’.
We’re back with closed shoes and this time we get the green light to the popular Sky Bar, majestically towering at 63 floors, and incidentally where they shot scenes of The Hangover II. The cocktail prices are just as high – expect to pay an average of 600B (about R200) for your precious poison. What the heck though, the view is incredible. And we’re toasting to Bruce’s October birthday while stuffing our faces with complimentary olives and peanuts. Twice I get reprimanded by waiters for taking photos from vantage points I’m not allowed to.
A 200B taxi ride takes us back – specifically to the Khaosan Road market, which is a cacophony of vendors, restaurant music competing for your patronage, and hundreds of tourists milling through the stalls of clothes. Word of advice to future travellers: Don’t panic and buy everything you want here, because you’ll see the same clothes and designs on every island. Trust me. You will. Again. And again. But I don’t know this and blow some Baht on Havaianas (essential!) for about R80, some dresses, jewellery and pants. No regrets. For food we opt for fresh mango slices in a little bag – with tiny stick forks for consumption – rather than the creepy crawlies some Thais are selling. They honestly make more money charging for photos. Fancy a scorpion? No thanks.
Satisfied with the evening’s activities, we stroll on ‘home’ via the more quiet Rambuttri Village to a great sleep on hard beds and in glorious air-conditioning. After last night’s plane trip, horizontal sleeping is the business!