Thursday 22 August 2013

My 200th Blog!

Here. We. Go!

So for the last month I have been diving, climbing, sunbathing, eating, drinking and rehabing in Thailand.

Koh Tao to be specific.

The trip was a bit of an unplanned adventure, I didnt even know we were going to Koh Tao until the evening before we left (I thought we were staying on Koh Samui - an island about 60km south of where we were staying)

For those that (like me) know sod all about the area, Koh Tao is a tiny island in the gulf of Thailand that is famed for its extensive diving potential in the surrounding waters.

But before we got there, we had to navigate Bangkok...

Given that we had a 10 hour swap over between flights in Bangkok we thought it might be a laugh to motor round and check out as many of the tourist sights as possible before getting back to the airport.

Unfortunately, we had no idea what they were, where they were, and how to get there.
The Thai staff at the airport were pretty useless on that front as well - I was pretty amazed actually, I really thought they would have a better command of English. Lesson leant...

Anyway, I had brought a book at home that very briefly mentioned a few places in the city, and after finding a cash machine we negotiated a lift to one of them...the Golden Mount...

Sounds good doesnt it...

Opulence on a hill, a buddhist temple of repute perhaps, somewhere with a bit more going for it than a slightly weathered shelter for some flaking buddahs and a giftshop with a view over a smoggy city?

As you can see, Bangkok is littered with temples that peek like islands rising above a mishmash sea of newer development. The islands are beautiful when you can see them, which is why I have highlighted them in this photo, but when you cant, they fade into a background of brown and grey.

After we came down from the Golden Mount we tried to find our bearings so we could get to the Grand Palace, and Wat Pho. Unfortunately, with a poor map and no bearings to work from (the road signs are written in squiggle) we completely failed to make any meaningful progress towards the targets.

While we were standing looking a bit lost, a kind thai guy came over and helped us out. Pointed us which way we needed to go, and in very garbled English suggested he could hail us a Tuktuk to take us there for about 40 Baht. Now, at first I thought he meant to walk us there, probably take us down a back alley and shank me for my camera and passport. So when he got us a Tuktuk, I was quite happy with the arrangement. Especially when it would cost less than a pound to go to both things that we wanted to see.

Our Tuktuk Driver
Once we got into the Tuktuk we were informed that there was some deal going on with the tourism board that would help the driver pay for his fuel if he went on a tour of a few of the other sites as well. Hell, sounded good to me - More bang for my buck, and 40 baht was only about 80p anyway. We didnt really understand what he was saying though. Something about a fat Buddah, a golden Buddah, a tailor and then the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Soudned fair enough, so we got in and started to move. After a while we found out his name was Mai Lee or something along those lines. Naturally, he became MaiLee Cyrus and we made our first friend of the trip.

MaiLee first took us to see a big standing Buddah. No one was around except for a guy selling birds, an old woman selling fruit and a dodgy looking guy with face tattoos sitting menacingly outside the gate...

Trying to ignore this guy, we walked inside the outer wall of the temple and looked awkwardly around waiting for someone to tell us what we were and werent allowed to do. No one seemed to care about us being there, so I cracked out my camera and took a couple of photos.

Big Buddah was neat, no one had shouted at us and we hadnt been stabbed. I felt like we were doing alright. To top it off, when we returned to where we left our MaiLee, he was still sitting there waiting for us!
We got back in his Tuktuk and got a lift to the next exciting place.
Hell. The golden mount could get stuffed, being driving round Bangkok by a guy who didnt seem to care about 'traffic laws' was a laugh. Open sides, wind blowing through my hair, experiencing the city at ground level, this was more like it.

MaiLee was trying to tell us where we were going next, some temple with a Buddah in it. Apparently there was something good about this one, but I couldn't work out what he was going on about. But whatever...for 40 baht it had to be worth a look, no?

When we got there, a slightly chubby Thai guy with hardly any teeth came up to us smiling profusely. He spoke English! Magical! The first chance to actually have a conversation. He told us that he had been working in this temple for 10 years, a mini tour guide, cleaner, and general upkeep manager. He told us that we had been lucky today - the temple was open to foreigners to look around. We took off our shoes and walked in (I was still a bit nervy about having my shoes stolen at this point). We didnt get his name, but I'm going to assume it was LinSae Lhoan. LinSae told us that the Buddah in the back of his 5x10m temple was SOLID GOLD. Hot shit, that is impressive.

There was some history about how it had been carried down from some place further north or something...but to be honest, I had stopped listening to him... A SOLID GOLD Buddah, hidden carefully behind a glass case, a couple of iron bars on the door and guarded carefully by a slightly sweaty toothless old man...Sure thing...Cool story bro.

MaiLee was still waiting for us on our return. Time to go to check out the Grand Palace! Woop Woop!

or not...

MaiLee wanted to take us to a tailor first, apparently he needed to go there to get some stamp or something for the fuel. Whatever, we had hours to kill, and I had heard about how good the Thai tailors were, it might be fun to window shop for a bit. Now... for those of you who have read this far, you probably see where this whole thing is going, and believe me when I say that it is painfully obvious in hindsight just how dim we were being. But I still think we were coming out on top of this exchange. I mean. 80p for our own personal chauffeur around Bangkok for 3 hours? Winning

We could have looked like this guy!
MaiLee took us away from the temple and drove for a while, eventually starting to take some smaller streets,
dirtier, fewer white people, more fruit sellers and some odd looks. Eventually we arrived at the tailor's. A grubby little store, nice inside I guess, but the setting could be improved. Still, it was baking outside and the store had AC so we went in and a greasy looking guy wearing a tshirt handed us some catalogues.
We leafed through looking at various suited men for a while. Great! Those guys certainly looked like they enjoyed wearing suits. Fortunately I work in a chemistry lab, so handmade tailored suits are not really at the top of my list of stuff to buy. However, Jamie showed a slight interest in them and the guy HOOKED ON.

Talk about a hard sell.

Jamie eventually feigned poverty and the guy stormed off to sulk back at the desk with his three other mates. Who gave us some dodgy looks as we walked back past them.

Now, I'm not saying my actions stopped us being stabbed and left for dead in the backroom of a seedy tailor shop in Bangkok. But I think they probably did. Seeing the situation, and feeling my mortality, I bit the bullet... and I now own 3 'silk' ties of varying colours.

When we got back to MaiLee, he seemed to think that we would like to go and see some more of his friends in another tailors. Now, at this point I can say that I am glad that Jamie was there, because I would have probably just gone along with it with a laissez faire smile on my face. However, Jamie had stopped liking MaiLee somewhere around the time he threw us into a high pressure selling situation. And MaiLee learnt this in no uncertain terms. We soon found ourselves travelling post haste towards the Grand Palace and Wat Pho with a sulking Tuktuk driver.

Upon arrival MaiLee informed us that both the Grand Palace and Wat Pho were both closed for the day (...wut?) and that we had best find something else to do.
MaiLee - you betrayed us. I am disappointed in you. Jamie somewhat irrationally paid him DOUBLE the agreed fee and we made a move to find an internet cafe so that we could book a hotel for the evening.

I'd like to say that once we were walking again, my impression of Bangkok was improved. But if anything it was reduced. The place is dirty, crawling with street sellers and crowded. After MaiLee's little game, I was also left assuming that anyone talking to us was almost certainly trying to make a quick buck at our expense.

Ah well.

Here's a calming picture of a boat:

Now, you might have thought that we would learn our lesson from all this. And only use things that we knew to be trustworthy for the rest of the holiday. You might have thought...

After finally sorting ourselves a hotel, it was time to get back to the airport, and that required a taxi. I dont know shit about how to get a taxi in London, let alone Bangkok, so we did what any sensible white tourist would do. And walked out to the street and asked the first vaguely Thai looking person we met to point us to a reputable driver.

He motioned across the street to a line of nice yellow and green cars, each with the word TAXI written on top of them and then helped us cross the road. What a kind guy. Wait. Wait a second. Why are we going this way. What is this? This isnt a taxi. This is some pimped out orange monstrosity with a rear exhaust larger than my head. Jamie...Jamie...what are you doing? Why are you getting into this clearly unlicensed taxi? Oh god, I'm getting in too. This is it. We are going to be driven down a back alley and stabbed. Damn, we had done so well!

We started driving. Me - desperately looking at my map, trying to get any idea whether we are even going the right direction. I look up and spot his taxi license on the front window. Unfortunately the guy in the picture looked nothing like the guy driving our car. Great.

Eventually , however, we started to see some signs with a plane on them and I began to chill out. When we actually arrived at the airport I considered it nothing less than divine intervention. Perhaps all those temples we visited paid off.

Finally we boarded the plane to Koh Samui and fell straight to sleep. Which is where I will leave this story for now.


- A Beautiful rendition of Browin in da wiiind by a live musician,
- A brief rundown of diving in Koh Tao,
- A damning review of the accomodation we suffered,
- Some pictures of a Norwegian girl, her Canadian friend and probably some more boats,
- and if I can get the video to upload, then a video of some of the bouldering on the island

Adieu mes amis!

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