Lost in Bangkok
Thailand, the land of smiles. Hot, cheap, and plenty of fun; plus, it's the final leg of this epic 12-month trip of mine. As of this afternoon, I've finally made it — I may well be the last Aussie on Earth to visit Thailand; but better late than never, as they say. My introduction to the nation's capital — the endless metropolis of Bangkok — was appropriately crazy and surreal. I got lost. I sweated like a pig. I held on for dear life in a tuk-tuk. And somehow, I survived. It sure is good to be here.
My Qantas flight from London arrived in Bangkok at about 4pm: and at Bangkok's brand-new Suvarnabhumi Airport, I was greeted by something completely false and misleading, for this hot and steamy city: a cool, air-conditioned interior. Immigration and customs was all straightforward enough, although the queue was a tad bit long: they stamped my passport, gave me the usual Aussie-friendly 30 days visa-free, and I was through. Once I'd collected my backpack and made my way to the front of the airport, next step was finding a bus into central Bangkok. I had no trouble locating the well-advertised shuttle bus service, that takes you straight to the backpacker area of Khao San Road for a very reasonable price. An hour later — after observing the traffic-ridden streets, the looming skyscrapers and the pollution-scarred sky out the window — I was dropped off, and the Bangkok adventure began.
I commenced my time in Bangkok by walking in completely the opposite direction from where I was meant to go. Somehow, in my befuddled and jetlagged state, I managed to fail noticing that all my fellow backpackers on the bus marched off one way (towards Khao San Road), and that I marched off somewhere the hell else. It was a hot and interesting little walk: I ambled through the fine arts university near Khao San; I wandered by the Royal Palace; and I ended up stumbling around the large grassy lawn between the palace and the main road. And all that time, I bore my enormous 18kg backpack on my back, and endured a heat and a humidity level that my European-attuned body cried out at in agony.
But it seems that Bangkok's a friendly city after all. An old man was sitting down on a bench, just on the edge of the lawn, and he took pity on the poor lost farang (lit: "foreigner") who was confused and melting in front of him. So he told me: "you go to Khao San Road, up this way"; and he pointed me in the right direction, explaining that it was quite a long way to walk, and that I might want to hitch a lift there.
And so, during my first hour in Thailand, I jumped in a tuk-tuk — one of those crazy, rickety little motorbike-powered taxis that can be found whizzing and buzzing around every town and village in the country. The tuk-tuk took me on a fun but hair-raising ride over to Khao San Road: those things weave insanely through the city's pea-soup traffic; and what's more, they fully embrace the "anything goes" attitude to road rules that seems to be the norm around here. He got me there in one piece, I gave him the agreed-on 30B (app. $1); and what do you know, I was now in Bangkok and no longer lost.