I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in
– John Muir
One of my favourite quotes, which resonates within me, and is the very reason as to why I love travelling even though it inevitable does strain the finances. I try my best to work during summer and budget my travels so that I’m able to pay for them myself.
I was in Thailand during the past week, mainly to dive in Koh Tao. We stopped over in Bangkok for two days to eat and shop.
I’ll be splitting this trip into two posts, for I think the diving bit more than deserves a post on its own. This one would be on the travelling bits, to Koh Tao, and the two days spent in Bangkok.
One thing I cherish about travelling alone or with just a friend or two is that it allows you to fully appreciate the costs of holidays. As a kid, I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at holidays paid for by my mum costing a couple of thousand dollars. Travelling as a teen on our own savings means you gotta budget. You choose the cheapest flight and the most viable accommodation option. You realize that nice hotel beds with bath tubs and awesome showers aren’t the norm. In fact, anything more than a clean dormitory is quite a luxury. I stayed in dormitories/back packer hostels when I travelled to Australia, as well as on both my dive trips to Dayang and Thailand. The month long trip to China was spent sleeping on a mattress laid on the floor in one of the apartment’s rooms. All of these accommodations were more than enough for me though, as much as I was used to my comfy high mattress, bolsters, comforters and spare pillows with the air conditioner creating the perfect comfort. My travel accommodations were more than enough not because they were of great comfort, but because travelling as a teen and taking ownership of your own finances actually opens your mind to the great variety of things that you’d forgo certain luxuries like comfy accommodation for. One thing for me would be diving. Most dive schools offer free accommodation in their dormitories if you dive with them. You could get hotel-type accommodation for a small top up fee, but when I add up the extra expenses and they’re enough for me to go on an extra dive or so, it’s more than enough of a reason for me to stick with dormitories. Another reason would be food ofcourse. Staying in a backpackers’ hostel in Australia gave me the extra budget to visit cafes everyday, and to simply just be rejuvenated by such simple yet rich experiences.
We travelled on Scoot when we left for Bangkok. It was a rather comfortable journey, definitely more so than Tiger [which we travelled on when we flew back]. We then took a night bus down and a ferry thereafter to reach Koh Tao. The same ferry passes by other islands such as Koh Samui as well. If you’ve a bigger budget, you could choose to fly straight down to Koh Samui before taking a ferry down to Koh Tao. Overnight bus journeys aren’t that comfortable as you don’t really get to sleep much and you’ll be awakened by restroom stops in the middle of the night. The bus/ferry company we travelled with was Lomprayah. Decent ride, punctual transportation. They’re one of the biggest around if I’m not wrong. We didn’t fly to Koh Samui as it would have cost over a hundred bucks more, which was a significant amount as we were travelling on a budget.
We later found out that there was another way of getting from bang kok to ferry terminal – Taking a sleeper train from Bang kok to Chumphon. Chumphon is the same area where the ferry departed; its the area on mainland closest to Koh Tao and hence, the place where ferries depart from. Not sure about the cost of the sleeper trains but I’m sure it would have been much more comfortable. Our train + ferry tickets were about SGD 80. They can be easily booked online. Bus journey was from around 9pm to 5am. The ferry ride was another 2 hours or so. Basically the Journey to the islands from Bangkok would be Bangkok – Chumphon(ferry terminal) – the island, unless ofcourse, you’re budgeting enough to fly straight there.
If you’re intending to travel during this period, do set aside loads of extra time for getting to the bus terminals etc. We nearly missed our coach as we took about an hour to clear customs and the taxi driver couldn’t enter the restricted zone. It didn’t help that there was a major jam as well. We had a good three hours between our touch down and the bus departure time, but it wasn’t quite enough. There were motorcycle taxis available, which we rode on. I’d say that it was the most exciting part of our travels as we sped down the streets of bangkok past the restricted zones in order to catch our coach. The motorcyclists wore orange vests, which I think somehow helped them with passing through the restricted zone. As much as bangkok was rife with instability, the relations between her people was rich with compassion and friendship. The taxi driver passed us on to the motorcycle taxis, and the motorcycle taxis, upon understanding our need to rush to the bus terminal, gently reassured us that we would get there on time. There were people standing by the barricades of the restricted zones, but both these people and the motorcyclists were friendly with each other even when the motorcyclists could not be allowed to pass. The people standing by would just kindly direct the motorcyclists to a different route, a gesture much appreciated by both the motorcyclists and us. In uncertain times where tension permeates every news report, my encounter with the gentle and kind thai people that night really warmed my heart. The bus operators even held the coaches back a little so that we could sort out our remaining paper work and catch the bus. Not only did they show no signs of annoyance, they even repeatedly reassured us that the coach would wait for us while we finished our administrative issues.
We reached the ferry pier around 5am, and hung around till 7am when the ferry departed.
//edit. [26th May 2014]
Shall finish up the rest of the Bang kok post now (: Omitting the part spent on Koh Tao first; I’ll leave that for another time. This half would definitely have a lot more pictures though heh.
The dive school had a free taxi service on certain hours to help us get to the pier. It was a 10 minute ride to the pier and the taxi service was at 9am. Although it did mean that we would have to wait for quite a while at the pier, and get up rather early, it did save us a lot of walking [was almost an hour or more when we tried exploring the island on foot] and some taxi money. So yes. It was a ferry and a bus back to bang kok again.
I’d have chosen a night ferry if I had the foresight though; it would have definitely been less uncomfortable to be on a long coach ride through the night as compared to the day. However, travelling in the day has its benefits as well. I love writing, and I do diary entries, so that kept me occupied for quite a bit. I love day dreaming too, so that helped a lot. heh. But if you’re one who absolutely can’t sit still and do nothing, a night journey would be much better. The ferry takes you back to chumphon, where the pier on the mainland is. As mentioned earlier, there is a sleeper train from chumphon back to Bangkok. Definitely seems like a more ideal option haha.
We got to bang kok around 8pm that night. Settled for some soup noodles from the street stalls. It was AMAZING. I love their noodles. It had the texture of the Pad Thai noodles and the soup was clear yet super flavourful. [MSG most probably did play a part though]. Cabbed down to our hotel after. Cabs in thailand are rather cheap. Getting around the city shouldn’t cost you more than 200 Baht (SGD 8), and travelling with a friend means you get to split it. Getting from the airport to the city shouldn’t cost you more than 400 Baht (SGD 16). Although meters are present in most cabs, I don’t think the drivers use it much. Do remember to settle on a price with them before you board the cab though (: The Thai people are generally very kind and friendly, but I guess as travellers we do need to take an adequate amount of precautions as well. For example, the tuk tuks do seem a bit shoddy to me, and my hotel had notices urging tourists to be careful about scams and what nots.
Speaking about tuk tuks, there was one night when my friend and I was walking back to our hotel and this tuk tuk kept on bugging us. The driver was super friendly and kept asking us where we were going. We found him a creep when he eventually offered to give us a ride for free. We refused, but he kept on bugging us. He eventually left though. One thing I learnt. When you refuse people in thailand, always do so with politeness. Be it leaving the shops because you didn’t get your bargain, or refusing overly enthusiastic (and creepy) drivers on the streets. The thai people seem to value it a lot, even if you are refusing them. Quite different from the Singapore context though haha. Politeness doesn’t seem to have any mitigating effects if you’re not giving someone the outcome they wish.
We stayed at Citin Pratunum Hotel. It was recommended by a friend who previously went there for a shopping trip. I didn’t expect it to be extremely good or anything because I was travelling on a budget and I just wanted an affordable hotel that was close to the shopping districts. I later found out that it was rated 4.5/5 on trip advisor though! It was an extremely clean place with nice beds and the typical complimentary toiletries and room facilities you’d expect of a hotel. Typical Singaporean me was glad that there was a safe. No swimming pool/luxurious lobbies/carpeted floors but these don’t really matter when you’re in bangkok. haha. Pricing was within our budget too, although I did find cheaper alternatives after I booked the place. We paid about a total of SGD 106 for both nights. So it came down to around 50+ for the both of us each night. Oh yes, don’t forget this God-sent helper called agoda. It helps you to save a lot of money. hahaha (:
We were so happy to be rolling in comfy hotel beds and nice hot showers after our stay in dormitories (which weren’t that bad at all actually).
First day was spent shopping, only to return for water breaks and to hide away from the sun during the peak hours.
You’ve to try this while you’re there. The coconut ice cream is awesome. A friend reminded me to try it so I was hunting for the coconut ice cream vendor on the streets. Its 20 Baht (less than a dollar) if you want it in a paper cup and 30 Baht if you want it in a fresh coconut. GET THE ONE IN THE FRESH COCONUT. It’s a mega huge serving. They drizzle condensed milk over it and scatter some peanuts, which completely compliments the dessert. You get to munch on the coconut flesh as well! A great way to cool off from the heaty street food + the crazy sun.
Plenty of street vendors sell freshly squeezed orange /pomegranate juices. I was initially hesitant about trying these squeezed juices and street food because I’ve a rather sensitive stomach. But, I actually didn’t have any bouts of diarrhoea which is pretty rare for me. The thai people are very considerate people. Be it your mango sticky rice or what not, they use gloves when preparing the food. Yes, even on the streets. Plus, when you order grilled sea food (I had plenty of grilled octopus YUMMMZ), they re-grill it for a bit to heat it up. The freshly squeezed juices are quite a treat. Do try it.
Shopping is really good in Bangkok. I was looking at my loot when I got home and for the first time after shopping, I actually felt no guilt whatsoever. 100 SGD can get you tonnes of things. I actually spent less than that for a full day of shopping and clothes there typically do not cost more than 10 SGD a piece. SGD 4-5 is actually rather common. And the clothes are actually of pretty good quality. Don’t be too quick to snap up 250 Baht clothes though. That translates to around 10 SGD which actually is on the high side for bang kok, unless you’re looking at really really good clothes. Hit the street stalls before the touristy malls like platinum mall. It helps you to get a good feel of the price range and judge for yourself whether you’re getting a good bargain at the malls. Platinum mall has rather good stuff, though prices are likely to be 10-20% more than street stalls. Then again, the clothes there tend to be of slightly better quality, and of greater variety than the street stalls. It’s air conditioned too, so it’ll be more comfortable shopping in there.
Most of the sellers operate by wholesale. Meaning 3 pieces or more and you’ll get a reduction in prices. Regarding bargaining, please don’t attempt the 50% reduction bargaining feat; I would think that the sellers will be terribly offended. Try to buy two pieces minimally before asking for a bargain. If not, just try to bargain conservatively. Afterall, the clothes ARE cheap and the vendors are trying to make a living too. There are a couple of snobbish vendors. Just turn around and walk away haha. There’re plenty of stalls selling similar items and I personally feel that if you’re in the retail sector, you should never snub your customers. And as customers, you should never have to put up with it. But generally, give them a huge smile and it usually helps with the bargaining. HEH HEH. #triedandtested
On our last night there, we were combing the streets for dinner, and we were wondering why we just couldn’t find dinner amongst the street food. After a while, we realize that they don’t sell menu-like items. Most of the stalls sell dishes packed in small plastic bags (Something like Cai Fan), which you buy together with separately packed rice. A pack of green curry and a pack of rice was just 25 Baht (SGD 1), grilled octopus 40 Baht ( less than SGD 2) and grilled meat around 10 Baht (less than 50 cents). Tom Yam seems to be pretty expensive on the streets though; they were at least 100 Baht (SGD 4), which was considered rather expensive because you could get a bowl of noodles for just 40 Baht. However, the tom yum there was really really good, and the price was likely due to the amount of seafood they dumped into that bowl of tom yum.
So yes, it was the hardest we’ve ever worked to get dinner. Combing the streets was tiring but strangely fulfilling.
Here’s the happy girl with our harvest, as well as some random street shots.
And yes, our dinner harvest! Tomyum, green curry, grilled seafood, sticky mango rice, and beer ofcourse 😀 My tongue died that night. Everything was so crazily spicy and beer didn’t seem to help. But it was a good sacrifice willingly made. HAHAHA.
The mango sticky rice deserves a shout out on its own. For 60 Baht, its a boxful of sticky rice and a whole mango drizzled with coconut milk. The sticky rice was awesome. It was sweet and soft. The mangos were some of the best I’ve ever had. Soft and sweet. Perfectly ripened. It was so good I actually packed one to the airport when I left the next morning.
Thailand produces two beers (or more, but I only know of these two) – Sing ha and Leo. Singha is stronger with the bitey finish but Leo is much smoother. Both of us loved Leo and I was worried I would end up returning with a beer belly. HAHA. kidding. I don’t think a beer belly could develop with one beer every other night. Regarding drinking, which I’ll elaborate more on the dive post because drinking was such a great part of the culture on the island, I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking per se. But I’ve personally never liked clubs. Okay lah, I’ve most probably only been there once or twice and I’ve never stayed past mid night which was when the clubbing really started. I love the taste of (good) beer, a bit of whiskey, some baileys and a long island. I love bars because of their ambience as opposed to clubs, where you can’t even hear your friend. Reaching the legal age of drinking almost two years back reminded me of the responsibility re-vested into us as we turned 18. I don’t have a high tolerance towards liquor (actually, my tolerance level is no where near decent) , and I dislike placing myself in a vulnerable position in clubs which is more likely than not to be the case should I enter one. I know a lot of people go to Thailand to party and all but I’d say it isn’t exactly a very safe place to party. Liquor would most probably be cheaper but vices are plenty. But yes, I still love my beer so I try to drink it in safe places. During this trip to Thailand, it meant bringing my beer back to the hotel. hahaha.
On the last day, we headed for a massage before going to the airport. I had a free foot massage voucher from the hotel and my friend went for a full body massage. It was pretty good (:
We grabbed our favourite soupy chicken noodles before heading to the airport. I preferred the clear one though. We had some five hours to waste because we headed to the airport early in light of the political uncertainty in bangkok. Was glad we did though. We reached slightly past 3pm and a coup was announced at 4.30pm. I think the streets are actually safer with a coup hahaha. Just that it would have been a lot harder getting to the airport. Taxi fares would most probably increase by a significant amount and we were low on cash by then. [the perils of shopping].
Bang kok’s airport is a rather pleasant place to be in. Toilets are clean and water coolers are aplenty. After you pass through immigration, the duty free shops are pretty amazing. They have plenty of luxury brands, even down to footwear and perfumes. They carry all the brands I’ve seen in Changi Airport and even more. The fluctuation in exchange rates unfortunately meant that it wasn’t cheaper to buy skin care products in Thailand as compared to Singapore though.
We had about almost three hours to kill after checking in. Girls being girls, we spent it at the skin care section, browsing through brands we’d want to try, comparing prices and turning our noses up at anti-ageing products, pridefully announcing that it wasn’t quite the time for us to buy them yet. HAHAHA
Perhaps, in couple of years it will be. The essence of youth is just so precious and there isn’t a better way to fully appreciate it other than to travel. To open your mind and senses to cultures so different from yours, to environments and experiences that are foreign, and to travel with a carefree mind that you’ll never have when you reach adulthood, which entails taking on the inevitable burdens that come with it.
Thailand has been very kind to us both, although I don’t quite understand why people would go there purely to shop. It definitely is worth stopping over if you’re in transit or already in Thailand though. If you’re considering travelling there during this period, I’d say not to put it off. Just avoid large gatherings and plan ample time (which would be in terms of hours) to get from airports to places. Spending 7 days in Thailand has inevitably given the local people there some sort of a place in my heart. And I certainty do wish for this turmoil to be soon over, such that tourism will resume to enable these locals to earn their keep.