GO EAST!

Tuk-Tuk!’ came the shout across the concourse. In the same beat I was offered a taxi, before a middle-aged lady rushed up offering me a cut-price massage. And this was all out front of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, into which I’d just flown from LA.My writing work in the US finished, I’d decided to head over to southeast Asia in order to attend the wedding of a couple of friends I’d first met on my premier visit to the so-called ‘Land of Smiles’ in 2006.
Such an impending celebration also provided me with the perfect excuse to indulge in a spot of travelling while I was over there.
Instantly awarded a free thirty-day visa as I passed through Immigration, it was an easy enough task to enter the country. It was, however, a tad more difficult to find a cheap way of getting from the airport into Bangkok city centre.Hassled to the hilt by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers who aggressively insisted that the going rate for conveyance to the Banglamphu area of the city was four-hundred baht, I ended up retreating into the airport’s interior so I could ask somebody at the nearest information desk where I could catch a public bus in order to save myself from paying over the odds.
I was promptly pointed in the direction of Gate Eight on the lowest level of the airport where an ‘official’ coach was ready and waiting to transfer new arrivals into Bangkok for just 150 baht.
The journey into and across the city to the Banglamphu district routinely consumes the best part of an hour, but the incredible sights en-route ensure that such time seems to fly by.While many backpackers head straight for Banglamphu because the accommodation is so cheap, and the nightlife so vibrant, other fantastic areas to stay in the intoxicating Thai capital include Chinatown and the Siam Square area.
Banglamphu has long been the main backpackers’ ghetto, though, with neon light-drenched Khao San Road literally packed from end to end with inexpensive guesthouses, restaurants, bars and market stalls.
A multitude of streets which surround Khao San Road are similarly geared-up to cater for travellers’ needs, with a huge selection of travel agents never far away for when people are ready to ditch the big city in favour of savouring the cultural treats that are waiting up north, or the beach paradises pining to be discovered further south.Hoping for a bit of peace and quiet, I opted to find a room on Soi Rambuttri, a lane which is only a short distance from Khao San Road, yet one which is far more laid-back in nature – not to mention cheaper if you play your cards right. For 200 baht per night (which is roughly equivalent to just four pounds), I booked into Mini Guesthouse for a few nights.
My plan, first and foremost, was to reacquaint myself with Bangkok, before catching a train north to Lopburi and Phitsanulok. I then intended to catch a bus west to Sukhothai in order to explore the ruins of its old city, prior to returning to Bangkok where I would – all being well – meet my friends and go from there.
Having arrived in the tumultuous throes of Hot Season, the heat was insufferable, a fact which made me doubly thankful for the fan in my room. Flanking both sides of Soi Rambuttri, food vendors appeared to be selling anything and everything, from bowls of yoghurt-topped muesli and mouthwatering chunks of fresh fruit, to skewers of meatballs and heaped-high trays of Pad Thai, the latter of which is a national dish that more often than not consists of stir-fried rice noodles and bean sprouts mixed with egg or chicken.Feeling peckish, I sat beside a plastic table placed no more than a yard away from where tuk-tuks were speeding past. I ordered Pad Thai as matter of course, and waited for its arrival with baited breath.
While Bangkok might be one of the most exhausting and infuriating cities in the world, it’s also one of the most surprising and thrilling. There’s nothing quite like exploring the atmospheric backstreets of Bangkok, day or night.Bearing in mind that the midday heat can be punishingly intense, perhaps the best times to go ‘walkabout’ are early morning and early evening when it is cool enough to appreciate the staggering number of elaborate temples surreally set amidst the city’s dangerously chaotic streets in all their timeless glory.
For those folk who prefer to see cities on foot as opposed to from the back of a vehicle, Chinatown is only a short walk from Banglamphu. A little further east, Hualamphong Train Station isn’t difficult to reach either, conveniently providing one and all with the perfect opportunity to get out of the city in order to see what Thailand really has to offer.

(Steve Rudd)

If you enjoyed reading the above, Steve’s first foray into print with Valley Press may appeal. Click here for more details.

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