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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

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7 January 2015

Bangkok: Plaza's, Pop and Ping Pong

17th - 22nd December 2014

The train journey from Ayutthaya to Bangkok was comfortable and went without any holdups. Rail is certainly the most hassle free way to travel Thailand as you don't have to put up with unprofessional and mismanaged private minibus firms and you know the locomotives will arrive on time.

On the advice of a family friend we decided to avoid Khaosan Road (Backpacker Street) and stay at "Saphaipai Hostel" in the heart of the financial district. The financial district is much more accessible than Khaosan due to its close proximity to the Skytrain (BTS) and Underground (MRT) networks. The hostel is only a ten minute walk away from the nearest ferry terminal which brings you close to Khaosan anyway so all round it made perfect sense to use the facility as a base to explore the Thai capital.
Saphaipai was a real luxury stop for us and although we stayed in a ten person dorm the beds were a good size (we could actually lay down in them without adopting the recovery position) and other services like great showers, wifi, breakfast included and a tour/ticket desk we couldn't ask for more.
The only downside was that because the wifi was so good it did reduce the social aspect of the hostel. Sometimes we wanted the staff to adopt a 8pm curfew (I hear there good at that in Thailand) to force people to look up from their iPhones and actually do some real social networking.


Central Bangkok
To be honest we didn't really see Bangkok as a destination to witness historical or cultural sights, we saw it as a place to purchase some vital gear. To date we have been using an Ipad mini for all the blog admin and I really needed to purchase a new small laptop. After a little research we found a great place for anything electronic "Panthip Plaza". The plaza is five floors of everything gadget, mobile and computer related. It renowned for being the place to purchase knock off electronics. I purchased a the latest fake Samsung Galaxy for £60 and I can safely say its crap. Although thinking about it I should have opted for an IPhone 6 with Android software for £80.
If you want legitimate stuff head to the very top floor where you can find Panthips main  electronic department store (check link below for more info).

We continued our shopping spree as we were both in need of a couple of T-shirts and the chance to try some free samples of cologne. Every backpacker knows that 6 months is more than enough time for the sweat rot to take its toll. Just a few BTS stops away is Terminal 21. Nine floors of every shop known to mankind including the much sought after H&M.
Terminal 21 provided our first cultural opportunity in Bangkok in the form of a visit to the cinema. Unlike most countries Thailand takes its pride in its royal family to a new level and before any film showing everyone must rise for the national anthem. With our movie and shopping requirements fulfilled we moved our focus onto experiencing the city.

Sure its a sprawling metropolis but that doesn't mean its all concrete and crime
To orientate ourselves with Bangkok we decided to meet our family friend Eqbal for a few pints in "Flann O'Brien's Irish Pub". The chain has occupies four sites across Bangkok with the Silom Rd branch as its newest. The place is by far the best example of an Irish pub we've seen since leaving home. They have great western and thai food, good beers, live sports and bands. On Friday nights this bustling bar beats to covers from the "Bangkok Beatles" who were spectacular and quite deservedly have a great expat following.


The Bangkok Beatles                  courtesy of: thailandblog.nl
Flann Obrien's Silom bar is just a few streets away from one of Bangkok's notorious tourist spots "Pat Pang Road (Red Light District)". On our second night after getting to know roommates Moon (Chn), Cameron (Aus) and Arna (Aus) we decided to venture to this area to find a "ping pong show". Now we know there are legitimate places to go on Pat Pang to see these shows however we sadly walked into the wrong one and ultimately ended up a little out of pocket. So here are a few words of advice.
  1. Agree an entry price. (the legitimate venues will always charge an entry fee so if you ask at the door and the say its free, don't enter because chances are the beer prices will quadruple. That's what happened with us.)
  2. Don't allow your group to be ushered to a venue by guys at the end of the street.
  3. If you do go somewhere and it feels like a con get out as quick as you can (you may have to throw some cash in the process).
  4. Don't go to a ping pong show when your so pissed you cant stand. The reason is obvious as you will loose all your cash and probably get a good kicking  in the process.
(it must be noted that our experience was a bad and frustrating one and we did meet people who saw a show with no problems at all)
 
Being hustled hurts when your travelling on a budget but we learnt from our mistake and used the opportunity to take in the sights around Pat Pang. The street has a notorious reputation made famous in "The Hangover 2" for good reason. The street is swamped with hundreds of prostitutes, sex shows and "pool" bars. Its fair to say the street isn't held in high regard with most Thai's who see the street as a blight on the cities reputation but its still an interesting place.
 
Another Bangkok street popular with tourists is the previously mentioned Khao San Road. The street is wall to wall eateries and bars with a few clubs thrown in for good measure. Its almost solely populated by tourists in the evening and the place makes a good setting for a good night on the piss. Although if your looking for a cultured and civilized evening where your not going to be hounded to buy bracelets, knuckle dusters and other random crap look elsewhere.
 
It wasn't all bars and strip clubs though I promise. On our penultimate day Jono and I ventured towards the heart of the Skytrain network to visit a building of learning. The "Human Body Museum" is pretty hard to find as its located on the 9th floor of the Dentistry Faculty Building of Chulalongkorn University (near Siam Square). However its well worth spending time to locate. The museum only occupies two small rooms but the entire exhibition is made up of 14 dissected plastinated human bodies donated from Japan. Its certainly the weirdest and possibly most interesting museum we've ever visited. The best thing is there's no gate fee although small donations are accepted to help maintain the site.

The human body like you've never seen it before.
We had a great time in the capital which must seem weird to some readers as I know Bangkok is a bit like "Marmite". Sure its busy, seedy and dilute of culture but it was nice being thrown back into civilization even for a few days. The only annoying thing is that I wish the bus station was positioned next to the Sky rail network. We gave ourselves two hours to make our evening bus and our taxi arrived with five minutes to spare. Don't travel by taxi in rush hour its a nightmare.

After avoiding another hiccup in our plans we made steady progress south towards Krabi a little pissed off, flustered and knackered but relieved.


Quick Links

Saphaipae Hostel
Khaosan Road
Human Body Museum
Terminal 21
Panthip Plaza
Flann O'brien's Pub
Patpong Rd: Red Light District