12.12.2013 - 18.12.2013 30 °C
After two glorious weeks it had came time to say goodbye to Cambodia and head to Thailand’s capital Bangkok. I was chaffing at the bit to get there and it wasn’t for the city’s legendary nightlife or shopping. Best mate Sara had finished her final uni exams and was waiting for me to party in Asia’s sin city. After a couple days there the plan was to head to the cheesy tourist resort of Phuket. While it wasn’t going to be another version of The Hangover II, I was actually looking forward to relaxing the cultural experiences a little and just being a dumb farang. What's a farang you ask? The Macquarie Dictionary describes it as:
Farang : Farang or ‘falang’ as it is pronounced by the Thais is a term used to describe white foreigners in Thailand. While it is not derogatory it carries some negative connotations much like the term 'gringo' used by the Latinos.
Okay, so that definition didn’t come from a dictionary but it’s a word you’ll often hear in Thailand (and if you don’t I guarantee it’s being used behind your back).
After a long and tedious bus ride from Siem Reap Brayden, Jay and I had arrived in Bangkok. We found Sara at our hostel I’d booked around the corner from the backpacker Mecca of Khaosan Road. I hadn’t seen Sares in 18 months so we did lots of catching up over a sneaky Bangkok cocktail or three.
The following morning the four of us set out to knock over the city’s few ‘must sees’, starting with a ferry to the Grand Palace. This is the home of the King of Thailand who is a kind of God like hero for the vast majority of Thais. He’s so revered; it’s even forbidden to walk on a Thai Baht note because it bears his image. Getting into the palace is suitably a very serious business with a dress code stricter than some of the world’s most exclusive clubs. Brayden and Jay had to borrow shorts, Sara was asked to wrap a sarong over her shorts while I was given a long traditional skirt to wear over my tights. But it was all worth it for the wonder that was the Grand Palace.
--- Onboard a river boat.
--- Dressed for a King.
--- The palace complex is the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
--- Parts of the complex dates from 1782.
--- Gold, gold everywhere!
--- Temple of the Emerald Buddha - the most sacred temple in Thailand.
Just around the corner to the Grand Palace is the incredible Wat Po temple complex, home to world’s biggest reclining Buddha. At 43 metres, it was quite the site!
With the two major sites ticked off it became apparent we had worked up a bit a thirst. We hailed a cab and requested the Moon Bar, 61 storeys above the chaotic city. It was a brilliant idea at the time but we had forgotten Bangkok’s legendary traffic. After well over an hour we had arrived at our destination that had looked so close on the map. Thirstier than ever, we hit ‘61’ on the elevator and zoomed up into the sky. As the doors slid open it was instantly apparent our backpacker attire wasn’t going to cut it in this swanky establishment and our journey had been for nothing. Sure enough the staff told us we couldn’t enter wearing what we had but they did have a solution. Brayden and Jay were given dress pants and shoes and Sara and I were presented a pair of black ballet flats at no charge. How good is that? What wasn’t so great was the price of drinks. But we had made it this far so we ordered away and sipped slower than we’d ever sipped before.
As good as the Moon Bar was, nothing beats the atmosphere of Khaosan Road. The ‘No Check ID’ bar was a personal fave with the DJ happy to relinquish his duties to Sara and me. The No Check ID bar didn’t know what hit it as we blasted Spice Girls, Bon Jovi and Tupac (Jay’s request) from its speakers and the revellers were loving it.
--- People watching on Khaosan Rd while getting a five buck foot massage is a must.
No trip to Bangkok could be complete without a spot of shopping. As we prefer dirt cheap to designer, we went to the Chatuchak weekend market. This place is humongous with something like 15,000 stalls selling anything and everything.
--- Chatuchak is said to be the biggest weekend market in the world!
--- Choc peanut coated frozen bananas. Yum!
Not content with a few hours at Chatuchak, Sara and I decided to take the two hour bus ride to the floating markets of Amphawa. Because really, markets on terra firma are just so mundane. The two of us were so impressed. It was unique and the atmosphere was so festive. Plus it was practically farang free!
--- Amphawa floating markets.
While Sara and I were fighting for bargains, Jay and Brayden were watching men fighting for Baht at one of Bangkok’s Muay Thai stadiums. Attending a fight is a a must do for anyone interested in martial arts and the two of them loved it.
All in all the four of us had had a perfect final night in brilliant Bangkok and I was so happy our visit wasn't at all effected by the recent political upheavals we'd seen on the news.
Okay so there’s no denying Phuket is an overated, overpriced tourist resort that backpackers should stay away from. On the other hand, there’s no denying the area Phuket resides in is extraordinarily beautiful. I mean check out Sara's shot flying in from Bangkok….
An hour’s taxi ride from the airport brought the four of us to Karon beach. Unsurprisingly it was ultra touristy, ultra expensive and full of Russians (actually that last one was a surprise). I felt pretty bad for bringing Sara and Jay here but at least it was just going to be 3 days and to be fair the beaches of Karon and neighbouring Kata weren’t bad. If you don’t mind sharing the sand with a pack of sunburnt farangs, that is.
--- Sara rehydrating with an icy cold coconut on Karon beach.
--- Kata beach...Jay's face says it all.
The best bit about our visit to Phuket was a trip out to the islands. Our cruise took us to a few stops, the best being Phi Phi island. This island was wiped out in the 2004 tsunami but has bounced back and is again looking like the supermodel of tropical islands. Nearby Maya Bay is also a stunner with surprisingly descent snorkelling. It also happens to be where they filmed The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio.
--- Jumping off the boat into the blue waters of Maya Bay.
--- Enjoying a drink on Phi Phi island...wishing I'd thought to have stayed here and not in Phuket!
Like all good farangs to this region the four of us spent our final night out on the town in Patong. It doesn’t get much seedier than this place. I’d describe it as an open air brothel meets carnival. It’s a world I had never seen before with lights to rival Vegas and prostitutes everywhere you looked (most often on the arms of gross white men). Pimps, ping pong shows and party bars abounded and I guess it was kind of thrilling. But I also felt guilty for the girls and boys who were selling themselves. For us Patong would be a few hours in a crazy world we’d never experienced, for them it was their 9 to 5. It was lucky this was our last night in Phuket as I’d had it with feeling like a stupid indulged farang and couldn’t wait to leave.
In the morning Sares left for four nights on Phi Phi Island and Bray, Jay and I flew to Penang in northern Malaysia.
We have just one week left of this crazy world adventure and we’re aiming to go out on a high.
--- Brayden's expression sums up our feelings toward Phuket and yes his photo is indeed on a plate...and yes this plate is now my favourite souvenir ever.