A Travellerspoint blog

Bloody Bangkok

Disclaimer: If you love Bangkok, read no further.

Bangkok, the land of a thousand smiles. I read that on a billboard here. It sounds cheery enough, sure, but Bangkok has a population of over eight million. That’s a 0.0125% percent smile rate. Funnily enough, I’m with the majority. Every morning when I open my eyelids, it reminds me of waking up after a night involving a bottle of Jack Daniels; cloudy head, sweating, waking up in a strange bed, grasping at any sign of your whereabouts. Then you remember, you slept with your neighbour’s dog. Well, you get that same smack in the face here, “Where am I? Oh, shitsticks I’m in freaking Bangkok.” The city of grime, grit and gender-defying girlymen. I take solace in my morning shower, as that is the only time of day when I am not sweating like a Saharan swine, and I don’t feel that if I looked in a mirror I would see Pig-Pen’s dirtier brother. Vermin scurry at your feet while you eat, and any peace in a meal is taken by the third hawker in as many minutes offering you the same hat for sale which, when worn, screams “I am a twat.”
1000_smiles.jpg Bangkok - The Land of 1000 Smiles

I can comprehend how the allure of the dozens of grand shopping malls may attract the likes of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda & Charlotte, but shopping to me is comparable to sitting through “Legally Blonde,” over and over. Maybe with Babs Streisand singing her rendition of “Goodbye My Lover” sitting on the couch next to me. In short, it’s not my calico bag, baby.
Which leaves basically naught to do but for the taking in of the impressive array of holy temples and Buddhas in all of their grand splendour. Taking a significant portion of a day, you can jump aboard a Tuk-tuk and see all of these sights, visiting many jewellery shops along the way which the driver takes you to against your will, in the vain hope that you may buy a trinket from his cousin. After this excursion, you are indeed left with the naught which I mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

I experienced this magnificent tour first hand my previous visit to Bangkok. Yes, that’s right. This is my second tour of duty in the hazy Thai capital. If you have travelled South East Asia before, you would know too that Bangkok is quite a pivotal point to venture from one region to another. On this trip my wife and I were travelling from Laos to the Philippines, and were required to stop in Bangkok to visit the Philippine embassy in order to purchase an extended tourist visa of 59 days as opposed to the standard issue three weeks. This worked in our favour twofold as…
(a) The Philippines is by all accounts a beautiful gem not to be missed,
(b) An extended visa grants us 38 days longer away from fucking Bangkok.

I wish to tell the tale of the trials and tribulations of this trip to Thailand’s tacky town.

I awoke next to my beautiful bride, on the stunningly serene isle of Don Det, located amongst the 4,000 Islands in the south of Laos. Today was our last day on our 28 day tourist visa in this beautiful country. We stayed as long as permitted and wished we could have stayed longer, such a stunning land and I can’t wait to return. After enjoying our last breakfast we boarded the long boat which would take us to the mainland. From here, we climbed into a mini-bus which was to take us to the Laos border. Our driver was a little loco, a slightly crazed gent in a faded t-shirt and ripped jeans. He seemed to laugh almost maniacally at the drop of a hat, his glass eye the only thing that wasn’t moving as he cackled. The slightly concerning thought of this dude driving us the two hours to the border was made less slight as he took a big swig of his Beerlao longneck as we left the station. True to his Red Bull fuelled nature, he drove like Schumacher on his way home from work about to miss an episode of Lost. Fortunately, there were no casualties of the human variety; unfortunately I cannot speak for the countless number of Lao wildlife pancaked by the critter hungry cruiser we zoomed in. We could not hear the squishing of squirrels due to the decibel defying Lao pop that our dear driver had blasting through the stereo and into our eardrums. I am still undecided as to which I would have preferred given the choice.

Shaken but safe, we arrived at the border in time to board our night-train. I would like to firstly point out, that these are not as cool as Axl Rose would have you believe. However, they are relatively comfy, and are a great way to get to Bangkok as slowly as humanly possible. Travelling with our dear friend Maddy, we watched a movie to pass the time, before retiring to our curtained cubbies for the night. Lao pop still ringing in my inner-ear and peace seemingly unreachable; Eddie and the boys did a great job of sending me to sleep that night. Thank you Mr Jobs for making a musical memory eraser.
IMG_1273.jpg Sophie on board the night-train

I awoke to a scent that I recalled from years earlier. Where is Captain Planet and his Planeteers when you need them? It was Bangkok alright. Wafting through the window was the unmistakable stench of a city in dire need of a good spring clean. If someone could please call Ambi-Pur and tell them to stop buggering around with fresheners for your Ford Fairlane and order a lavender scented number that can plug in conveniently to a skyscraper or a nearby Buddha that would be terrific.
bangkok_Re..dha_Wat_Pho.jpg Just a thought...

We arrived at the station, bleary eyed but quite well rested and prepared ourselves for what lay ahead. Fighting off Tuk-tuk drivers with our bare hands, we eventually found a metered taxi to take us to Khao San Road, the home of backpackers, bars and booze. A cool scene involving markets that run from first thing in the morning until late into the evening, plenty of places to wet the whistle and a bevy of fellow travellers to bounce stories off of. Hawkers here not only sold aforementioned “twat hats,” but also scorpions, grubs and crickets for a culinary delight. Although I would like to tell you all that I took a handful of each, crushed them up into a creepy-crawly cocktail and threw them down the hatch like Hussain, I will let the truth get in the way of a good story and say that I did not partake in anything exotic this time around. Maybe one day… but probably not.

Finding accommodation, we went hunting for something slightly more palatable than insect meat. I will say this for Bangkok; it is fortunately part of Thailand, and Thai food is some of the most amazing food on the planet. If you are a fan of a good curry, and like me they don’t give you an upset tum, I cannot recommend Thailand high enough. After lunch, I promptly went back to the accommodation and spent the next day and a half on, or lying in close proximity to, the Royal Doulton. It makes it quite challenging to write anything entertaining about such a situation, so I’ll let you use your imagination. But please don’t.
Plying myself up with Hydrolite, a full season of Breaking Bad and positive thoughts of the Philippines, I recovered. I wondered if the events of the past 36 hours had to happen because Bangkok knew somehow that I would write this blog slagging it off until the cows came home. Which if they were in Bangkok, they wouldn’t come home as there is no grass and they would probably all choke to death on the fumes. Speaking of cows, I sadly decided to avoid meat for the rest of this leg (pun intended), and tried to stick to fruit and vegetarian dishes.

The remaining days were spent in the largest workout facility I have ever seen. Check that, the largest of the two workout facilities I have ever seen. A day pass would grant you access to their lap pool, their extensive range of beefcake machines, their rock climbing wall (awesome) and yes, finally, a basketball court. I am somewhat obsessed with the game and this was the first time since leaving my homeland two months ago that I picked up a Spalding and fired up some shots. I do miss Thursday night basketball with the fellas, playing on the greatly feared “Beers” team.

We also went on an amazing adventure to one of the shopping malls. Now, now, before you start labelling me as a hypocrite, we didn’t go shoe shopping or anything. Ok, we did go shoe shopping. We plan to go trekking and caving in the Philippines and I don’t think my trusty Converse All Stars will cut the mustard. After completing the mission as quickly as possible, we found a Tuk-tuk with a somewhat adventurous driver to take us home. I was all inspired to make this entire column about a “Speed” rip-off containing a Tuk-tuk that would explode if it dropped to below 5 km/h. The most nail-biting moment includes when the motor cuts out, and it takes four brave locals to laugh in the face of death and give us a push. I’m sure this may have been fun, but it turns out it’s also a laugh to poke fun at my most loathed city on the planet so far, and yes, this includes the Gold Coast.

In closing, I wish to apologise to anyone reading this that has a close affinity to the city of Bangkok, and if I have offended you deeply, jog on.

Posted by roamingbullocks 06:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Everyone deserves music, sweet music.

Is too much of a Gangnam thing a bad thing?

View The Honeymoon on roamingbullocks's travel map.

I love music. I am one of the many people in this world that can’t walk down the street without listening to his iPod. I take pride in my vinyl collection at home and one of my favourite pastimes is organising it and re-organising it, admiring the covers and inserts and touching the needle down pining for that familiar crackle before the first track.

My favourite band of all time is Pearl Jam. Without a doubt. Twenty three years now they have been making soulful tunes with the amazing voice of Eddie Vedder carrying them. I listen to them nearly every day. Because they have built up quite the back catalogue, I never get tired of them as I diversify between albums, their heavier rock tracks to their spiritual melodies… whatever I am in the mood for.

I believe I can speak confidently in saying that most Australians have a similar passion or if not at least a mild interest in music. Whether it’s those that listen to Hilltop Hoods or Hansen, Silverchair or the Spice Girls, Metallica or Modest Mouse, most Aussies have something they enjoy listening to. Just look at Triple J Hottest 100 Day for example. Oops sorry, I meant Australia Day… But all you Aussies reading this knew what I meant. One of the most historically important days for Australians has now been re-invented to all of us gathered around the wireless, beer in one hand, snag in the other, waiting with baited breath for the announcement of the number one hit of the past year. But I digress, my point has well and truly been reached now that we as a nation love music, and are fortunate enough to have many genres and tastes to choose from.

Imagine then, hearing the one song over and over. Not just what we complain about when we hear Kings of Leon three times a week. I’m talking about hearing the same song a dozen times a day… every day. Now imagine that the song you hear every day over and over is Gangnam Style. Yes, yes, I know it’s great and has excellent comic value when you are driving down the street and you see someone randomly rocking the horse manoeuvre, but believe it or not, it does get slightly repetitive. The locals can't get enough however, probably due to the fact that their choice for tunes is somewhat limited.

Laos has specific rules on the music that they are permitted to listen to. Up until 2003, the Lao government banned any “modern” music as it was just not the Lao way of things. This includes radio airplay and live music. “Saffire,” a heavy metal band that rebelled and decided to play their kind of music anyway, had their plug pulled faster than a Nitschke patient. However, the government (bless their cotton socks) did allow for the introduction of “Lao Pop,” which often involves songs about farming, crops, the weather etc, incorporating one dance move which involves lots of slow wrist movement and swaying. Another interesting point of note regarding the government is that it has final say on a ditty before it is released. For example if I wrote a song, the chorus would say “I love you baby, but not as much as I love cheese.” The Lao government would review this before release, and they have the power to change it to “I love you baby, but not as much as I love the M.P from Vientiane.” Therefore, the licence to your creative freedom is still in the grasp of “The Man.” In saying this, they will never take away my love for a good camembert.
There is still really only a handful of Lao pop artists at the moment, so this combined with some imported Thai pop allows for little diversity in the local’s collections.
If only they had something new, something different. If only…

“Oppan gang-namseutayil! Whoop whoop whoop, whoop whoop!” Crazy dance moves and a catchy tune came blasting across the air waves from South Korea, taking Lao music and it’s people by storm. Imagine the karaoke bars back to their full potential, the peaceful Lao folk tearing at each other to open their voice-boxes down the microphone and bust out the moves. A veritable musical revolution is on the horizon and people all over South East Asia are holding their heads high as they sing “Heeeeeey sexy lady!”

Hopefully this is a new day and the Lao government open their hearts and loosen their stranglehold on the music community. I have a dream that just over the horizon, Laos and all of her people will be listening to the likes of One Direction, Kisschasey, and do I dare to dream, yes I dare… Beiber.
Hmm, then again maybe too much of a Gangnam thing is a good thing.

Posted by roamingbullocks 00:45 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

A Transition

View The Honeymoon on roamingbullocks's travel map.

Not two months ago was I hauling a guest’s luggage up to their room on the second floor, making polite conversation…
“Where are you from?”, “How long are you in Tasmania?”, “Well, if there is anything else I can do for you during your stay, please let me know and I would be happy to drop everything else I am doing and help.” The best part was I meant every part of it. My job was my pride and joy. I worked as a concierge in a five star art hotel, where we offered only the best service and ran a damn fine ship not only because of the quality of the establishment but also living up to the reputation of the second to none customer service offered there.
No request was too great, no wait, no request above the belt was too great. We prided ourselves on how well we would meet all the guest’s requirements, but the concierge and front desk team also prided ourselves on our appearance. Sharp suits, slick haircuts, shiny shoes and even shinier smiles were not so much an expectation from the powers that be, but something we would all take pride in.

My daily routine would be to get up in the morning at 5:30am, over one hour before my shift began. I only lived 10 minutes from work. This gave me enough time to have my morning shave, apply my moisturiser, make sure my hair was just right, iron my shirt, pull my pressed suit on and knot my tie into the most perfect double windsor no matter how many attempts. Every day. Yes, I was bordering on metrosexual, but that is how much my job and that hotel meant to me.

Not two months ago I resigned from my beloved job to wed my beloved fiancé. Our grand plan was to tie the knot, and flee the country on a one way ticket to the world. Our trip began in Bali, which is a beautiful and popular destination for newlyweds. We don’t really go much on the over-crowded party scene of places like Kuta Beach, so we spent our first few nights in the quiet, culture rich town of Ubud. Imagine my disgust, when the first guest house we went to (setting us back approximately $15 per night, in comparison with the $455 rooms I was used to looking at daily) had a bit of mould up the walls, a bathroom light that flickered like something from “Hostel” and the hot water was as cold as Bill Clinton’s poker face.

Now, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I have travelled within a budget before to Bali, Thailand, USA, Mexico and the Bahamas. I was not completely green to travelling shoestring style but when it was discussed that we were travelling cheap like the budgie, this was not what I had had in mind.

After this night, when I awoke to discover that both my wife and I had not had our eyeballs drilled out by some psycho-killer, and that I had actually had a decent nights rest, something inside me changed. Since then, the price for accommodation has decreased. $13 on the Gili Islands, $10 in Thakek in Laos, and I am currently writing this article at midnight overlooking the Mekong river and paying $7 for the privilege. I am now happy paying pittance for a pillow to spend more on what the great world has to throw at me outside the walls of our accommodation.

Something else has befallen me too. Something I thought could never happen from those mornings looking at myself in the mirror at 5:30am.
I will confess I did pack my $40 hair product and my moisturiser. I can honestly say I haven’t touched either of them. I traded my product in for a straw hat and my moisturiser in for a pair of loose fitting pants. A razor has not touched my face since the day of my wedding, and although I do shower nearly every day, my hair has digressed rapidly from my slick “yes-sir” quaff to what I now like to call my “get-fucked-please-sir” mop. I no longer desire the feeling of donning a bag of fruit and shiny how do you do’s, and have in place my comfy jacket purchased for my motor bike expeditions and trusty dust covered thongs that take me wherever I need to go.

My wife asked me what would happen when we do eventually arrive in Hobart. Would I shave my beard and re-unite with my $60 monthly haircut regime? I thought long and hard about my answer. I love the feeling I have now. I am a traveller. So many worries have been lifted from my shoulders, one of the least of them being my image. In saying that, I loved my job. I loved the place I worked and I loved feeling pride in knowing that we were the best at what we did. So maybe, just maybe I could pull the suit jacket over my shoulders again. But I am more than happy to report that my days of $60 haircuts, $40 hair product and moisturising my ugly mug and well are truly a thing of distant memories.

It just goes to show, if you feel tired of the monotony of your life or your work, pick up and take off. Throw away your hair product, fancy shoes and over-complicated lifestyle. I haven’t much money, so if all that stands between you and escaping the rut of a rat-race is the courage to spend money on seeing the world and not investing in 10,000 Google shares, put down the pen and pick up a passport. Like me, you may even surprise yourself.

Posted by roamingbullocks 03:10 Comments (5)

(Entries 6 - 8 of 8) « Page 1 [2]