Bangkok (again), Ayutthaya (again), and Pattaya

After Myanmar, I spent another week in Thailand, meeting friends and eating a lot of delicious Thai food.

The whole monastery experience left me skinnier than I started out, and I needed new clothes – Bangkok being the obvious place to shop. I did sample some new restaurants, my favourite being the Veganarie Concept. I’m not vegan, nor am I usually a fan of vegetarian food, but this place was amazing. They prepare their food with vegan ingredients that appear and taste just like meat. It was so so good. If they made all vegan food like that, I’d be happy to go vegan. Definitely going back the next time I’m in Bangkok.

While walking around Sukhumvit, I also chanced upon the best cafe in the whole wide world. A cafe with coffee and fluffy dogs! Exactly like the cat cafes I’ve visited through this trip: you buy a drink, enter the cafe, and play with the animals, only this was better because it had dogs. It was just like heaven.

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I did have a few nights out, and strangely, Khao San Road seems to have changed in the few months I was away. A crackdown at one of the bars on Khao San led to the cops discovering a lot of drugged tourists (like they didn’t already know), and they are now enforcing an old law that only permits establishments registered as a night club to be open beyond 12 am. Most establishments only have a simple restaurant licence, and save a few places, Khao San Road is now pretty dead by 12 am… bummer.

I then visited a super fun friend I made earlier in my trip, who now works in Ayutthaya, and checked out the temples I couldn’t get to the last time. I also managed to see one of Ayutthaya’s giant lizards – who happened to cross the road while I was on a scooter. It took me a while to register what I just saw and I obviously forgot to click pictures. But he was huge. Like a dinosaur.

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Friend + fluffy cats.

I also visited Pattaya – a place I had visited when I was 9 years old – to see what the place was like now, and also to go to the Ripley’s museum that I couldn’t go to when I was a kid. The museum was amazing, as were the rest of the malls and the little sliver of a beach that Pattaya has. What wasn’t amazing was the constant accosting from Thai hookers. I only had some memories of Pattaya from like 17 years ago, and they were all pleasant. What I saw was nothing like it. Lines and lines of bars, each riddled with hookers trying to get you to their bar for a drink (and more). They even have something called go-go bars, where you can get a beer, have the company of a female who works there, and if you like her, pay the bar the price of a beer, and take her away for a few hours. What you pay her for her services is directly to her and extra – but it’s a fully established sex racket, and old men from all over the world were aplenty. I spent both my nights there by getting to my hotel room relatively early because I was neither interested in being catcalled (they do that), dragged by my arms to a bar (they also do that), and groped (yep, they do that too).

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One of Pattaya’s bar streets – picture from a distance because I’d get grabbed by hookers if I were closer.

This visit was supposed to be a transit, but it ended up being so much more. Onto Cambodia…

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Koh Phangan and the full moon party

My first experience with the full moon party (January, 2016) wasn’t that good. In fact, it was terrible. But this time, a friend was flying down (and tickets from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani were cheap), so I thought I’d give it a second chance. Also, I had a few days to spare until I finally flew out of Thailand, so it made sense going to a place that is not the north of Thailand.

Chiang Mai to Surat Thani by flight, followed by a short bus journey from the airport to the Surat Thani’s pier, followed by a ferry that goes Surat Thani -> Koh Samui -> Koh Phangan. It seems like an easy journey when you research online, only that it’s not. The entire journey took me about 8 odd hours – and I was drained by the time I reached Koh Phangan. So I spent my first night doing what I do best: sleeping. My hostel was on Baan Kai beach, a 10 minute ride from Haad Rin, which is where the full moon party is held, and also a 10 minute ride from the Thong Sala pier, which is where the ferry (usually) drops you off. It was a good decision staying away from the noise and chaos of Haad Rin, but a short ride to anywhere on the island, and my hostel owner was a super fun guy, and that made my stay even better.

On my second day on the island, our hostel owner drove us to a small jetty from where we took a speed boat to a tiny beach near a cluster of hills that included the highest one on the island. We then trekked up one of them for about 45 min to one of Koh Phangan’s many viewpoints. The trek wasn’t difficult per se, but the heat made all of us sweat little puddles. The view from the top though? Totally worth the trek.

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The next day my friend and I went up to this cafe on a hill close to the Thong Sala pier. Almost all places on Koh Phangan can be reached by a THB 100 ride in a songthaew, so everything is easily accessible (a songhthaew is a shared taxi / pick up truck with two benches at the back – they are the easiest and best way to get around the island, and the cab will drop you right at the doorstep). The highlight of the cafe was another viewpoint; you can sit and order a few drinks while you wait for the sun to set. Beautiful, but I’m a little biased towards the previous view point – maybe because of the effort I had to put in to get there.

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Later that night we attended a warm up party to the full moon party called the ‘Jungle Experience’. Also a 10 minute ride from the hostel, we were dropped in the middle of a highway and asked to cross the road. I was expecting an actual jungle party, at least deep in the jungle area of Koh Phangan, but it was in an area that was flattened and looked like parking lot – a grand total of about 100 feet from the highway. I guess they just needed another reason to help tourists party / make money. When you’re on Koh Phangan, you drink the famous buckets (literally a tiny bucket filled with ice, alcohol and a mixer). The ones at the party though were overpriced, not strong, and made me want to use the restroom a lot, which had a THB 10 entry every single time you went. Those visits added up, and I think between my friend and I, we spent almost the equivalent of a bucket at the restrooms. The party itself was alright. I felt the music was repetitive, and the place itself was far smaller than I had imagined. Overall, probably not worth the THB 600 entry, expensive alcohol and expensive restroom visits.

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Totally makes you feel like you’re in a jungle… NOT.

And then just like that, it was the day of the full moon party. Pre-drinking started early in the hostel, a little too early perhaps. But I paced myself well, and was the right amount of tipsy when we got to the full moon party at around 12 am. The place was jam packed, and we saw many passed out drunk people while we walked from the taxi drop point to the beach. Typical full moon party welcome. Clothes that you can and will discard and glow in the dark body paint are a must for the full moon party, and we were on fleek.

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The party is absolute chaos. Thousands and thousands of drunk people on a small beach, dancing. The estimated attendance that night was around 30,000, and that’s about half the amount of people they get during peak season! Protocol is to get a bucket of alcohol or a beer, and walk along the beach until you find a bar that’s playing music you like. And then you just stand there and dance. Or find a random girl and grind (whether she wants to or not) if you’re like one of the many foreigners looking to score.

I was with my friend and a few other people from the hostel, who I promptly lost after I stepped away for a restroom break. So I did a few up and down walks of the beach until I ran into another group of people from the hostel, and we bar hopped and danced until the sun was almost up. The beach itself is full of neon lights, and it looked pretty amazing.

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A couple of bars had some fire performers, who were skilled and amazing. Another part of the beach had an area where they soak a big rope in gasoline and light it on fire. Two of the bar workers then held the ends of the rope and looped it in the air for drunk (and very stupid) tourists jump over. Every few jumps someone would fumble, get hit by the rope, and get burnt as they tried to scramble to safety. Why they would want to do this, repeatedly, after watching others get burnt (some even got some fire rope to the face!), is beyond me. We spent a good amount of time looking at some of these idiots get burnt.

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Look at the guy in the all Adidas wear about to show the world how stupid he is.

(I can’t upload videos because I’m on the cheap, free version of WordPress, but if you’re curious, there are tons of videos on YouTube a quick search away).

The restroom prices during the full moon are double that of the jungle experience – THB 20 per visit. Not surprisingly, most men and some women found it cheaper to just stand on the beach at the edge of the water and relieve themselves directly in the sea. There’s also beer bottles, food, wrappers and empty buckets thrown all across the beach, so it’s best to wear covered footwear to prevent injuries.

Towards the end of the night, my feet were aching, and I had lost the second group of hostel peeps as well, so I got some street food, and made my way to the shared taxis to get back to my bed. My experience was better than it was the last time around, but it still, for some reason, didn’t feel like a party that I truly enjoyed. I’ve had more fun at a simple dinner with drinks. But that’s just me.

The party was on until much after I left, and there is also an after party that begins at 7 am, and runs until ‘late’. In fact, there were these two girl who came back to the hostel at 1 pm the next day when I was about to leave the island. They partied all night, went to the after party, then went back to Haad Rin (apparently one bar was playing music until 11 am), passed out on the beach, woke up an hour later and came back to the hostel. Obviously they fall in the category of people that absolutely love the full moon party.

In terms of food, I don’t think any restaurant on Koh Phangan really stands out. You could just drop into any place you like, and you’ll get the standard Thai fare and maybe some western food, at mostly reasonable prices. There’s a bunch of street food stalls, like every place in Thailand. There’s also some specialty restaurants like burger joints, steakhouses and cafes that serve German and Lebanese food, but they’re more expensive, and I personally found them lacking.

In terms of activities, there’s snorkelling and diving (they take you to Koh Tao, which is a short boat ride away). But Koh Phangan is mainly a party island, so if you’re there, it’s best to just do what the island is famous for.

Would I go back a third time? Unlikely. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m older now and I don’t enjoy parties that much, or maybe something this intense just isn’t for me. I also found it a little difficult to relate to the younger generation of people who were on the island / the hostel. So while I am not likely to do this again, if you’re curious, I’d say it’s worth checking out once… maybe.

Over and out, Chiang Mai

I’m sitting at Chiang Mai airport, waiting to board my flight to Surat Thani, and I’m really really sad to leave this place. Over the last month, I’ve spent most of my time in Chiang Mai, so though difficult, I’m going to try and condense some the things the city has to offer into this one tiny post, reliving the memories in my head as I do.

My original plan was to spend 2 weeks in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pai, Golden Triangle, the lot), but I ended up spending 2 weeks totally in Chiang Mai itself. Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand, and a digital nomad hub. It’s easy to see why. It’s cheaper than Bangkok, and while it offers everything a major city like Bangkok does, it has a rustic, and more Thai feel to it. The city of Chiang Mai is huge, but the original city, dating back to the 13th century, is still demarcated and known as the city centre / old city. It used to be a big square city surrounded by walls to keep Burmese invaders out. Some pieces of the walls of the old city still stand, as do some gates / entry points.

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Tha Phae Gate (east gate of the city). PS – Just noticed the Hotel M while uploading this picture. 🙂

Chiang Mai is what you want it to be. If you need peace and quiet, it’s easy to find here. If you need to let loose and party, there’s a bunch of bars and clubs that are full of both locals and tourists, every night of the week. I spent my days alternating between the two, and in terms of bars, Zoe in Yellow is my favourite – just like every other person who’s ever been to Chiang Mai. There’s a really nice live jazz bar near the north gate called the North Gate Jazz Co-op that my uber driver recommended the night I got here. Strangely, they played live rock the only time I visited, but I’ve heard some jazz playing the few times I’ve passed by the place, and that sounded nice. Besides that I really liked Garage 48, Reggae Bar and Spicy (nightclub). In my last few days I discovered Nimmanhaemin Road, which is Chiang Mai’s hip street, north west of the old city. It’s full of bars and restaurants, and it’s really really lively. I spent my last 2 nights there – loved it.

In terms of food and restaurants, there’s just so many places I liked, I couldn’t fit them all in here. Chiang Mai is known for its Khao Soi, a Northern Thailand dish of a noodle soup with your choice of meat (it’s Khao Suey minus all the veggies (yay)). I really liked the Khao Soi at Coconut Shell in the old city. They serve it in a bowl made out of a coconut shell – and I think it’s the only place I went to twice in Chiang Mai (besides McDonald’s… don’t judge me, it’s the best drunk food). There’s the famous Cowboy lady near the North Gate that serves pig intestines (actually delicious; recommend). And there’s a whole bunch of delicious street food near the North Gate, at the night market, on the weekend walking streets, and pretty much anywhere you go. There’s a fair bit of western food too if you need a change in flavour from Thai food, and there’s also a bunch of (gasp) Indian restaurants! I only ate Indian food once though, and it was alright. I wouldn’t go seeking Indian food here. There’s also a cafe where you can chill with fluffy pussy cats (see Catmosphere). And lots and lots and lots of coffee shops – my favourite being the Wawee coffee chain. I spent a lot of my days just sitting in a Wawee coffee shop reading.

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Khao Soi at Coconut Shell.
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Cowboy Lady cooking up those piggy guts.

For the touristy stuff, the city is also full of wats and monuments. It’s impossible to cover them all. As you walk through the old city, you’ll randomly come across a wats along the way. I had made a little list of the ones I wanted to see, and my favourites from those are the Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and the Three Kings Monument.

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Wat Phra Singh
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Wat Chedi Luang
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Three Kings Monument

Within the grounds of the Wat Chedi Luang lies the city pillar of Chiang Mai. It’s an exclusive to men kinda place, but women, you’re not missing much.

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There’s also Doi Suthep, which most travellers love, but you gotta rent a scooter and ride up there. I didn’t go because I just didn’t want to travel 30 min by bike in the hot sun.

For shopping, there’s a night market that runs every night near the Tha Phae Gate, where you can shop for clothes and souvenirs. It’s a little less lively on the weekends when there’s the Saturday walking street and the Sunday walking street running elsewhere in the city. All of these places are filled with locals vendors and lots and lots of yummy street food. They’re also really crowded.

A lot of cooking classes, massage classes, trekking tours, village visits, waterfall tours, and elephant sanctuary visits run out of Chiang Mai (see The Elephants) – so it’s very easy to find something to do / have a weekend (or weekday) getaway. And being the central hub of Northern Thailand, it’s so easy to hop on to a bus and make a trip to one of the nearby towns / cities. You can go literally anywhere from Chiang Mai. There’s also a bunch of gyms (they got Crossfit) that let you do a day drop-in, should you feel the need to workout during your travels – I did, all that food has gotten me fat.

They also got malls, multiplexes, a zoo, and many massage parlours, and you’ll always find something to do or see in Chiang Mai.

The point I think I’m trying to make is that this place truly is amazing. It’s a little early in my trip for this, but if I had to pick a place as my new home, Chiang Mai would be topping that list – for now anyway.

PS – As I’m proofing this post, it seems like I’m really trying to sell Chiang Mai. But really, it’s an awesome place.

PPS – If you’re reading this Thai tourism board – you owe me!

762 turns to Pai

Everyone seems to love Pai. Everyone, it seems, but me. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Pai. I just don’t love it. If places could be dated, Pai is the place I’d friendzone.

The much advertised 762 road turns separate Chiang Mai from what I am sure used to be a truly incredible Pai. I took the minivan up to Pai from Chiang Mai; however, there are also buses, taxis, and adventurous tourists can also rent scooters and make the 3 hour odd ride themselves. Although websites and travel blogs warn you about these 762 turns, the motion sickness that follows, and the many accidents that occur if you rent a scooter, but the road seemed easy peasy to me. I saw a lot of tourists with crutches, bruises and bandages from their ride to and fro Pai, and I have only one thing to say to them: amateurs.

Here’s what I like about Pai:

There are no big chain restaurants. In fact, there are no small chain restaurants either. It’s a short distance from Chiang Mai. The main village area is tiny enough to cover on foot. There are waterfalls, hills and even a grand canyon (copy cats) a short scooter ride away.

And now here’s what I don’t like about Pai:

I expected Pai to be this really tiny, quaint town – which it is. What I didn’t expect was that the town would be so westernised that it is easier to find a western meal than it is to find Thai food. The fabled night market is full of bruschetta, lasagna, shawarma and burger stalls. They even have steakhouses! No, really.

There’s also a famous mushroom shake restaurant, where you can get high and ‘trip’ in the nearby rice fields – a lucrative option for gap year 19 year olds – not so much for me. Weed is of course, in abundance too.

At the end of it, I asked myself if I had really just travelled 3 hours for a place where the most fun things to do were yoga, drink, smoke weed and walk around like a hippy? Turns out I did. Was I happy about it, absolutely not.

So, while I’m sure Pai started out to be this amazing Thai village getaway, it has been supplanted by western and hippy culture – to the extent that you can’t even see the real Pai anymore.

If you want a chill, laid back, bare-bones, hippy, western food serving town, Pai is the place for you. If it’s not, I’d recommend the more cultured, tiny city of Chiang Rai instead. More on that in my next post.

PS – it was raining really heavily while I was there, which means no pictures.

The Bar Mafia

Nestled away in dingy first floor room in the Patpong district of Bankgok you will find a peculiar institution – one with women on a stage with stripper poles and no panties.

While this may seem like a really cool ‘bottomless party’ (Harold and Kumar reference – YouTube it!), it is in fact what you think it is… a god damn ping pong show.

If you ever are in Bangkok and go to any tourist area, literally any of them, you will be approached by at least one Thai guy with a worn out, laminated piece of paper that reads ‘ping pong show pussy pussy pussy’. You usually avoid him and laugh at the kind of tourist that falls that.

But that night, we actually went looking for the guy…

Didn’t take us long; 5 steps into the main street, and we had our man. A little bargaining and we quickly arrived at a price that worked for all parties. THB 100 per person to catch the show (we were 8). He led us through what seemed like a legit night club entrance, all the way up to the first floor, which suddenly seemed nothing like a night club. The place was dimly lit, had the stripper poles and bottomless women I mentioned above, and reeked of scam. A quick glance to the table near the entrance, and who do I see? Good old Indian men enjoying the show! Woo!

Anyway.

Once we got to our table(s) – the seats were all along the perimeter of the place, so that everyone gets a good view of the stage – we are asked to order a drink each. It’s not acceptable not to. It’s a business, I get it – we order a beer each for another THB 100. That’s THB 200 each – so far so good.

The show begins…

Avoiding the specifics because it’s unbelievable gross, the lovely ladies:

(1) accurately shot darts towards some balloons;

(2) lit the candles of a plastic birthday cake and skilfully blew them out;

(3) shot ping pong balls towards us (they left us some paddles on the table to get into the game); and

(4) smoked a whole cigarette!

Now, in case you think this is no major feat for a woman, they did all of this with their vaginas! I have not seen, or heard (god, the sounds), anything like what I witnessed that night. I would even say I am somewhat scarred by what I witnessed.

Noticing we had had enough, the bar owner / manager lady comes to us with our bill. THB 12,800 (~US$ 400 for those wondering). That’s THB 1600 per person!

Obviously, we refused to pay that ungodly sum for the ungodly acts we had just witnessed, but she was firm in her demands. She even produced a whole different laminated piece of paper that, instead of saying ‘ping pong show pussy pussy pussy’ like we were expecting, said ‘ping pong show – 1300′. The additional 300 was for the originally agreed 100 for entry, 100 for the beer, and 100 for tip! The gall.

Anyway, arguments ensued. We told her we had agreed to 100 for the show with the man downstairs. She said she owned the bar, and not him, and this was the price. Fair point, but when she realised we weren’t going to pay the full amount, she quickly dropped to 800 per person. We stuck firm on the 200, some of us even tried to bargain for 150. And this is when the owner / manager lost it.

You see, I referred to her as the owner / manager, because as we would soon find out, she actually had a boss as well. So I’m not completely sure if she was the owner or the manager. Off she goes, and comes back with her iPhone, threatening to dial her boss’ number. We call her bluff, she dials – making it a point for us to see that she is in fact dialling the BAR MAFIA!

She did this a few times. Either Mr. Bar Mafia was really busy, or he was just avoiding her calls. Can’t blame him though.

The asking price slowly drops to 600 per head, then 400, then 300, and then an acceptable 250. We pay her, one of us smashes a beer bottle to make a point, we exchange a few ‘fuck yous’ with the bar people, and we were out.

Having escaped the dreaded Bar Mafia’s clutches, we go to an actual, 100% legit bar this time, drink a few more beers, and dance away the night.

And with that, I have successfully encountered, tackled, and survived my first Thailand scam.

Final verdict: To anyone still considering checking this out. I do not recommend this experience. To anyone. Ever. Never ever ever.

I wish I had pictures, but the Bar Mafia was watching. 😉