The idea to go to Thailand cropped up at the unlikeliest of times. But the alacrity with which we got around to booking tickets, figuring out where to go, how to get there and all the nitty gritty details really surprised me. It was originally meant to be the four of us, which slowly petered down to three, and eventually left just S and me. We’d booked non-refundable tickets and I’d planned my November around this holiday, so we weren’t about to cancel. I’m so glad we decided to go through with it because it really turned out to be just right, in every way. I said before that it isn’t often that you find travel buddies so perfectly aligned to your inclinations. Which isn’t to say that everything about us was same-same. A lot is, tbh, but it’s also that between the two of us we managed to balance our eccentricities, laziness and efficiency out — which made for a great mix! From our obsession for morning chai that was the perfect temperature, to keeping detailed hisaab through the trip, to our single minded focus on eating our way through every day, to being armed with everything from socks to sanitiser to scissors and Disprin between the two of us – we realised we were more than suited to travel on long trips together. It was a holiday with adequate laziness and quiet time (on the island), 80% of which was spent in utter silence, and the enthusiasm to get out and do stuff (in Bangkok).
I landed in Bangalore a day in advance. I spent a day and a half with the folks and on Sunday night we took a flight out of Bangalore. Months and weeks of excitement that had reached a point where I felt I couldn’t hold it in any longer finally exploded when we met outside the airport. It was all a bit surreal. We bought ourselves beer and Chinese food to set the tone for the Asian food fest that was about to be, and got yakking. S had decided to ration out all the things we had to catch up on. Literally every big update and conversation in the weeks before the trip abruptly ended with “But I’ll tell you when we meet”. So with all that saved up conversation, the list of things to catch up on was fairly long. And the conversation was loud, giggly and animated, of course.
We and reached Bangkok at 4 am, which we thought was genius. You know, reach your destination at the start of a day so you can set off exploring immediately and all that. Which was great but for the fact that including checking in three hours prior to departure, delayed departure, horrible low-cost carrier seating and having a lot to catch up on, it meant that I didn’t sleep much. S is one of those lucky people that can pass out quickly, almost anywhere. So when we landed in Bangkok four and a half hours later, we emerged from the Don Muang Airport (yep, it wasn’t Suvarnabhumi this time around) bleary eyed. Information very helpfully told us we were an hour away from the heart of Bangkok and that we could either take a bus or a train, both available right outside the airport, to get there.
We trudged across the walkway over the main road and entered the sweetest, small, quaint little station. Which was basically a covered shelter with a few Thai folks waiting in the last dark moments of dusk to catch a train into Bangkok. A mere 20 thb a head, and a shot 15 minute wait later, a noisy train pulled in. We got into a chair car and it was a while before we got ourselves place to sit. Shaky and noisy, with tea-coffee vendors making their way through the aisle, and locals in various states of slumber, I felt right at home, as I would have in a train in India. We drank a shot of coffee each, “o give us a kick,” S said. Except we promptly drank it and nodded off to sleep. S being herself and dozing off effortlessly, and me trying to make up for all the lost sleep.
An hour later we were at Bangkok Train Station, and came out to hoards of people dressed in black, snaking their way out to a counter where free food and drink was being offered to anyone mourning the death of the King of Thailand who passed away last month. Later I realised this was common sight through the rest of the trip – people everywhere, tourists included dressed largely in black. Whatever the crowds were being handed in styrofoam cups looked like hot noodle and meatball broth and smelt divine. It was nearly breakfast time and we were both starving.
Thankfully, we found a cab fairly quickly. Some sign language, showing the cabbie the address to our hotel and helpfully offering GPS was all it took to get to our cute B&B where we were booked just for the day. It was small and cosy. Very basic, but with crisp sheets, a clean loo (with a shady as fuck looking instant water heater connected right to the shower head) and a hot water kettle and instant coffee – it was more than enough. We freshened up and didn’t give ourselves time to settle, rushing out in search of breakfast instead. As it turned out, we’d accidentally picked a very nice part of town to be in.
Khao San Road is quite the hipster place to be, with quirky coffee shops, charming restaurants and the last vestiges of Bangkok’s famous street food culture still to be seen. We ducked into this place called Chomp which looked promising. Breakfast was sumptuous, and free wifi and a stand full of all kinds of maps meant we settled in and figure out what we were going to do next, and over the week to come.
The cafe guy didn’t seem inclined to throw us out even long after we’d finished eating and made the very large cups of tea last as long as we possibly could.
Eventually we headed out to try and figure out where we had to catch our bus on the way out later that night. As it turned out the travel company we’d booked our bus+ferry ticket from was not too far form the hotel. Walking distance in fact, across one of the streets that turns into a food street by night! We couldn’t have accidentally planned this better, really. And this was the best part about having a travel partner equally interested in being efficient and prepared. We’d barely suggest something and the other person would promptly agree, because in all likelihood we’d have thought of the same thing.
A short loaf at the closest mall and a minor attempt to try and find the closest Din Tai Fung ensued, but we glazed over very quickly at the chaos of the shopping and excessive sensory overload that is MBK Centre. Luckily we were distracted, and stopped in our tracks, by a mini hawker centre of sorts right outside the mall, lured mainly by our noses to the smells of sizzling meat on a hot griddle, and the sights of raw papaya salad. We very quickly ditched the idea to go hunting for DTF, promising ourselves one meal there on our return, and settled in for pad thai with shrimp, raw papaya salad and some extremely icy mango and passion fruit spritzers.
Here’s the great thing about Thai food, right? It’s fresh and light, yet so filling. But not in the way that greasy, spicy, rich food tends to fill you up by settling in your belly for many hours. It was filling enough for our eyelids to droop, though. It was also hot outside and since we had figured out where to catch our bus later that evening, we decided to retire and catch a quick nap before heading out again. So we returned, drew the curtains in the room and passed the hell out, ignoring the alarms we had very efficiently set to wake us up.
Eventually, room made coffee tempted us to rise again. And we packed and left the room closer to sun down. We traipsed around the street watching the food carts and stalls being set up, as the whole atmosphere was slowly changing and coming to life around us. It was super hard to pick a place, with rows of food carts, all equally inviting and plenty of bars stacked back to back, adjacent to each other. Eventually we went to a place that had a happy hour offer on cocktails and we picked the closest thing we could find to G&Ts. Topped that up with pad thai and spring rolls and walked back to our hotel to tidy up a little and check out before returning to catch our bus.
Catching the bus was super easy and very entertaining. We decided to walk the distance from the hotel, because it didn’t warrant a cab ride. It was nearby and 50% of it wound thru the food lane, which would have been impossible to take by cab. So walk we did. Eventually very sweaty, but so happy to reach the spot where we saw this sign and cracked up completely. However, that incredible piece of communication was no indication of what was to come. As soon as we checked in, we were handed a bunch of stickers to denote our seat number, destination and matching stickers for our luggage. One set went on our bags, the other on our chests. From that moment on we were just herded around and pointed in the right direction by non-English speaking Thai women who were the bosses of this efficient system. We walked up to the point where we’d board the bus, tucked in our luggage and got to the top deck of this basic, but decent double decker bus that took us to Chumphon.
The journey was fairly comfortable. The roads are excellent, not windy like in India, so even my fears of getting sick faded away very soon. The ACs underperformed so my tendency to freeze in travel also vanished. Yet, I couldn’t sleep. I must be getting old, because I used to be the kind of traveller who could curl up or stretch out in any awkward spot and manage to go to sleep. For some reason I just couldn’t. So I tracked the journey on my phone for a bit, read a bit and eventually only nodded off in the last 2 hours of the seven hour journey. The service was pain-free, the bus was decent, even though I’d read some horror stories of leaky roofs and such. The rest stop that we halted at around 2 am was excellent, with clean loos and a lot of food options too. However, I was dazed and wanted to just go back to sleep.
Seven hours later we woke up at the pier at Chumphon. It was still dark, but the cafe was open. We doubled up on chai and waited for our catamaran to arrive. Before it did, the sun came up and cast mad colours in the sky.
Suddenly it felt like it was really worth missing two nights of good sleep.