Flying Solo in SE Asia

Thailand-Travelogue  |  Travel time: January - May 2010  |  by Kelly House

Bankok, Thailand

What a first day. I arrived in Bangkok at midnight, after a solid 23 hours of travel. Because I was getting in so late, I opted to hang out in the airport for a few hours, then take the bus into town instead of trying to hail a bogus taxi in the middle of the night and pay for an extra night at the hostel. Sleeping in the airport actually wasn't that bad and, to my surprise, it seems to be a popular practice. The chairs around me were all filled with backpackers using their packs as a pillow for the night.

As soon as the morning buses began running, I took one to the Vietnamese embassy to get my visa for next week's flight. For a mere 2300 baht, they'll have it done by Monday afternoon and I can continue on my way. I met an American, Paul, who's teaching in Hanoi for the past year and a half and traveling the region in his spare time. He said to expect to either love or hate Hanoi, and sometimes both at once. He also said I could have trouble traveling by myself at night there, unlike what I've experienced so far in Bangkok.
From there, I sought out my hostel, the Bangkok Centre HI at Sukhumvit Road. There are two other women sharing the dorm-Mila and Letisha. Mila is from Edmonton, Canada and is spending a year in Australia on a work visa and traveling SE Asia in between. Letisha is from France and is on a three month holiday which seems to be off to a rough start. Her original plan was to spend the first two months of her trip in Myanmar, but the trip was doomed from the start. She missed her first plane into Bangkok and had to postpone her trip a couple of days, then had only been in Myanmar for a short time when she became severely food poisoned and had to be "hospitalized." In truth, the Burmese version of a hospital was a wooden plank in a room smaller than the average bedroom. Nothing was done for her until she told them she was dying. Luckily, she began to pull out of it and they gave her an intravenous drip. Once that was empty, they sent her on her way-literally kicked her out of the hospital with no transport and no followup. The German she'd been traveling with was nice enough to wait for her and helped her return to Bangkok to rest up and fix a broken tooth which had become infected and now will require surgery and a crown. She's in Bangkok until further notice, regaining her strength. Even after all that, she said she still hopes to return to Myanmar. A stronger woman than me.

Both Mila and Letisha are traveling solo, so I talked with them about their impressions of it. They were both nothing but positive and said so far, they've encountered no problems. Granted, tourism in Thailand is much more typical than Cambodia and Laos, but they said they've found it easy to link up with other travelers and in the end, it's more rewarding than going with a travel partner you can't shake if they begin to get on your nerves.

After chatting with the two of them for a bit and agreeing to meet up for dinner later, I headed for the metro to explore the city. I took the metro and the Skytrain to the river pier, where there are tourist boats that cruise the river and make port at 14 different points along the route. Bangkok is unique in that the city is divided from its neighbor Thonburi, the former capitol city, by the river. And although the river isn't the trade hub it used to be in ancient times, you still can see how it is a major life force for the city. Many of the marketplaces are still situated near its banks, and locals as well as tourists still use the river and offshooting canals that run through the city as a means of transport. I rode the boat to the end of the line near Khao San Road, Bangkok's major backpacker's ghetto. It was both disgusting and amazing-dirty, slummy accommodations filled with twenty-something Europeans in dreads and leather sandals. Peddlers selling everything from pirated movies to bongs to Buddha shrines and sarongs were literally everywhere. And wherever they weren't, the street food vendors were. The street food here is amazing. Pad thai, roti filled with bananas and chocolate, every imaginable type of fresh fruit, and tons of other Thai goodies are served cheap and easy from little carts on the sides of the streets. My first two purchases were a bag of sugared peanuts, an iced coffee which also came in a plastic bag, and some of the freshest pineapple I've ever eaten. Anyone who knows of my love for food can imagine how much I'm loving this.

After Khao San, I wandered the old part of the city, which is filled with Wats and shrines on every other corner. I visite4d the Democracy Monument, as well as the City Parapet Fortress and the Golden Mount, which was by far the coolest. It's a multilevel Buddhist temple with an enormous golden spire at the top. If you climb to the top, you get a panoramic view of the entire city, with the soft droning of a monk's prayer reverberating through the temple over the sound of a banging gong.
Probably the most interesting part of my day was the tuk tuk drive back to the skytrain station. The first couple of tuk tusk I hailed didn't seem to have a clue where the station was, so I took the first one who told me he could get me there. I'm not sure whether or not that was a lie, but I do know it took me about 30 minutes to get the equivalent of less than a mile. The streets of Bangkok are so crowded that I literally could have stuck my hand out the side of the tuk tuk and it might have gotten hit by a passing vehicle. That didn't stop my driver from weaving through oncoming traffic, doing u-turns in major thoroughfares and driving 50 mph through crowded back alleys. I felt like I was in one of the Jason Bourne movies, only instead of a fast luxury car, my getaway vehicle was a clunky, doorless glorified go-kart. Here's a photo of life from the back of a tuk tuk:

In the end, I didn't die in the suicide cab and I'm currently preparing to wash up before getting dinner with my roommates. Perhaps some Pad Thai to celebrate my arrival?

Life from the back of a tuk tuk

Life from the back of a tuk tuk

Entrance to the famed Khao San Road.

Entrance to the famed Khao San Road.

One example of Bangkok's delicious street food: Fried coconut pockets.

One example of Bangkok's delicious street food: Fried coconut pockets.

Venice of the East.

Venice of the East.

Traditional dancers in a Bangkok park.

Traditional dancers in a Bangkok park.

Golden spinnarette atop Golden Mount. It's actually much larger than in the photo, but my camera couldn't capture the entire thing.

Golden spinnarette atop Golden Mount. It's actually much larger than in the photo, but my camera couldn't capture the entire thing.

© Kelly House, 2010
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The trip
 
Description:
A post-graduate's experience traveling without companions through mainland Southeast Asia.
Details:
Start of journey: Jan 27, 2010
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: May 2010
Travelled countries: Thailand
Vietnam
The Author
 
Kelly House is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 10 years.
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