It was about 4pm this afternoon, and I was trying to get back to Khao San Road, after my shopping spree in Pantip Plaza and nearby Pratunam Market. I managed to get a metered cab in the morning — and this was good, since as far as taxis in Bangkok go, meter is cheaper. For getting back, however, it seemed that competition was a bit more fierce: the majority of taxis around Pantip were full; and of those that were empty and that I did manage to hail, they all refused to use their meter, and instead quoted me their outrageous farang special flat fees, which I rejected. In the end, I was forced (reluctantly) to take a tuk-tuk. And when the driver said: "velly cheap, but make some stops on the way", I knew that what I'd managed to heretofore avoid in Bangkok was now inevitable — I was going to take the famous "Bangkok Scenic Route".
Apart from the classic entertainment stock-up, Bangkok is also a great place to expand the ol' wardrobe for a bargain. This afternoon, I wandered over to Pratunam Market, where I came across the wholesale outlet of "Nobody Jeans". Their stock is a bit pricey (by Thai standards), and their policy of "no trying on" is absurd (even after you've bought it — I tried changing clothes in the shop after I'd paid them, and they threatened to hand my money back!); but they do sell very nice jeans. Since my traveller jeans are threatening to vaporise into thin air, if worn for too much longer, I figured it was time to invest in a new pair. Luckily, the new jeans do fit (despite the complications in trying them on).
Upon the advice of my cousins — who are seasoned veterans in the field — today I headed over to Bangkok's Pantip Plaza shopping centre, and perused the extensive movie, music and computer-related wares on offer there. Three hours and several thousand Baht later, I was satiated. I've been waiting a looong time for this opportunity, and there's no way I was going to let it pass by un-seized. Should be enough DVDs to fill up every sleepy Sydney night and boring long weekend for the next year or so. Plus, enough music to make a year's worth of never-ending bus commutes and long queues fly right by. Attention all friends back in Sydney: you know I owe you, so please grab and burn at will when I return. Amazing how they keep the prices so low here in Thailand, and yet manage to sell nothing but 100% genuine, legitimate MPAA-endorsed goods :P.
Tonight I finally got around to visiting the largest and the most famous of Chiang Mai's markets, the city's Night Bazaar. The market runs every evening from around 6pm-12am, and it stretches along a broad avenue for about 5 blocks. It's an incredible experience: the market is filled with endless food, endless souvenirs, endless clothing, and... well, endless everything! I arrived there a bit late this evening (11pm), and the cheap eats in particular were largely closed by that time; but I still managed to find some places where I could grab a bite. I'll have to return to this market another night, and to explore its many and varied colourful stalls a bit earlier.
My first purchase from the sprawling markets of Khao San Road, this evening, was a new backpack. Jack Wolfskin — high-quality German brand — and of course, this being Thailand, 100% genuine and original :P. For 400B (about $15), not a bad deal either. The plan is to leave my enormous bulky backpack (along with all my unneeded warm clothes and other accessories) in storage, here in Bangkok; and to travel around Thailand with this much smaller and lighter pack instead. 'Coz let's face it: you really don't need much when you're romping around in Thailand.
From Wat Phra Kaew, this afternoon I jumped on a ferry down the river, and explored the looming skyscrapers and the bloated shopping malls that comprise central Bangkok. The place is nothing like the chaos and squalor of Khao San Road; and yet, it's also vastly different to what you'd expect from the downtown area of a Western city. The river ferry service from Khao San down to the Central Pier is great fun: fast, cheap, breezy and very scenic — great way to see the city.
I didn't have long to spend in Frankfurt — just tonight — and I made it a quiet one. I did a little bit of shopping in the area around Frankfurt Hbf (central station): it's a seedy and unattractive red-light area; but it's also packed with numerous indistinguishable cheap variety stores, where I was able to finish off some of the things that I still hadn't replaced since losing them (e.g. new headlamp, new combination padlocks). The free pasta dinner at Stay and Learn was good: and I met an interesting Brazilian guy over dinner, as well as a big group of Italian students (mainly girls), with whom I had a nice shmooze. Other than that, it was just a bit of online time — I met a random Peruvian girl at the cafe down the road — and then off to bed, in preparation for tomorrow's early start.
We made it: here we are now, ready to go skiing in beautiful Kitzbühel! This evening was really just about settling in for a week in town. I'm lucky enough to have gotten a 6-bed dorm room all to myself at Snowbunnys: apparently, there'll be nobody to share it with until Wednesday. Craig, Sarah, Kade and myself had no trouble finding ski gear and clothing for hire this evening: the hire shop next door to the hostel was very busy (everyone preparing for the Monday run), but they had plenty of good-quality gear for everyone; and it wasn't too expensive either, especially with a 10% "Snowbunnys discount" :P. Plus, we managed to find The Londoner — one of Kitzbühel's most famous pubs — and to relax there over a few Flying Hirsches, while enjoying the pleasant sounds of the pub's shameless "fake band" (about 80% of the time, they were just pretending to play or to sing, with a backed recording actually doing most of the work).
I woke up in my little field near Lercara this morning, only to discover that my bicycle's back tyre was completely flat. Eek! No idea how this happened: but since the tyre was fine all day yesterday, I can only assume that it got punctured by some sharp plant or rock, as I was wheeling it through the field yesterday evening. Worse still: when I attempted to change the tyre before setting off, I realised that I was unable to do so — despite having a pump and a spare inner tube, I had no tyre levers, and no spanner that was the correct size for undoing the back bolts (and yes, unfortunately the back tyre is bolts, not quick-release). Talk about a horrible start to the day — flat tyre in the hills of Mafialand, and no means of fixing it. What was I to do?
After a crazy day of trains and ferries, I've made it to Messina, my first stop on the island of Sicily. Messina is a nice enough town, but certainly nothing special: there's nothing here to attract tourists; apart from the fact that if coming by ferry, it's the main way in. Anyway, although I'm all geared-up for camping during my Great Sicilian Ride, I decided to just stay at a hotel here in town tonight: by the time I reached Messina, it was already too dark to get out into the countryside; plus, I need to buy food and other supplies, and I need to finalise the setup for my bike.