The second stop on my Asian Invasion back in 2013 was to Thailand. You can’t go to Southeast Asia without seeing the beautiful and friendly country of Thailand. The first place I flew into was the capital, Bangkok. People call Bangkok “The Gateway to Southeast Asia.” As soon I cleared immigration and customs, I grabbed a taxi from the airport to the hostel was staying at.
Until I was in country long enough to know what I should pay for transportation, I told the cabby to turn on his fare meter. You will have plenty of taxi drivers coming up to you at the airport and giving you a flat rate to your destination. At first it sounds like a good deal because naive Americans will think that $10 sounds like a good deal, but after you get used to the costs of things, you realize that you could have gotten that same trip for $6 if you would have had him turn the his meter on. It’s also a good way to find out right off the get-go how to determine the cost of things or at least transportation. I would have just taken a tuktuk/rickshaw to my hostel, but it was too far for one of those.
Upon arriving at my hostel, HI-Sukhumvit, I went inside to what looked like a low-grade hotel, but decent at the same time. I walked to the front desk to check in, and the lady at the front desk told me that some rooms (including mine) were having construction done to them and I had been reassigned to their sister Hostel, 100 meters down the road and around the first corner. As I came walking up to this place, I almost sh*t myself. Somehow by the grace of God, I was upgraded from what was a Motel 6 with a room with 4 people to my own private room with a flat-screen TV at their new 4-star hotel.f
Thailand was off to a great start! After checking around 2 in the afternoon, I caught a Tuktuk to Khaosan Road. Khaosan Road is a street in the center of Bangkok where anything and everything takes place. I knew that I could branch off this street and find a bargain at one of the many tourist travel agencies. I highly recommend doing this because all the guesswork will be taken out of the activities you want to do, including transportation to and/or from your hotel anywhere in Thailand. There are plenty to choose from, so you can shop for the best price. After walking into the agency I choose, I came out about 30 minutes later with transportation from Bangkok to Ko Chang (“Elephant Island”), Ko Chang to Siem Reap, Cambodia, plus ringside seats to the following night’s Muay Thai fights at the world famous Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. I think I paid around $120 for everything.
Once transportation had been arranged, I walked back to Khaosan Road to shop one of the many tailor shops they have there. These places are great! They have you pick from a warehouse of fabrics so they can custom tailor the exact suit you want made in the exact color, style, and lining of your desire. (Custom fitting is included in the price too.) By the time I left there, I had designed my own dark royal blue, British-cut, three-button, Burberry-lined, three-piece suit along with a custom tie and oxford shirt for $120, plus another $20 for shipping back to the states. If you do decide to grab a suit, make sure you give two days to allow for your initial fitting and then a follow-up to make corrections. Even though they took my measurements that night and started work on it, I still had to come back the next day to try on the almost-finished product for any last-minute alterations before I left town and they shipped it off.
After my suit fitting, I caught another tuktuk for only a couple dollars to the Wat Po. It is a Buddhist temple complex in the Phra Nakhon District. In Wat Po resides The Great Golden Reclining Buddha, which is one of the largest statues in all of Thailand. It is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is still taught and practiced at the temple. There are plenty of historic temples located in the same area so you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities.
I achieved complete nirvana and exited the wat (temple) and then tried to catch a tuktuk back to my hotel. However, by this time, rush hour was in full effect and it was hard to grab a tuktuk or a cab, so I resorted to taking a motorcycle taxi. Let me say now that I have raced motorcycles and I jump out of planes regularly, but this was the scariest ride of my entire life. We were dipping in and out, side by side with other traffic all while having to dodge a gauntlet of rearview mirrors protruding from the thousands of cars and motorcycles competing with us. My driver was doing all this one-handed while trying to shove a Nokia phone into his helmet so he could have a conversation. I will admit that motorcycle taxis are hands down the cheapest and fastest ways to get around Bangkok. If you don’t mind a white-knuckle, fearing-for-your-life ride until you get used to it, it’s the best ride in the park.
Once I arrived back at my hotel for a shower and a drink to calm my nerves, I went to the rooftop pool. Up there, I met two guys from France and another from The People’s Republic of Congo. They had just arrived at the hotel shortly before and were trying to decide what they wanted to do for the night, so I suggested Khaosan Road because they hadn’t seen it yet. We all piled into a cab and were on our way.
Khaosan Road looks just like the opening scene from the movie The Beach. There’s street food ranging from chicken and beef to scorpions and roaches. There are vendors selling replicas with everything from watches and college degrees to the entire line of Bose and Beats headsets. My new friends and I drank a couple buckets of long island ice teas, ate some bugs, and then went back to the hostel to retire for the night.
The next day, I woke up and headed back to Khaosan road for my final fitting for my new suit and to pick up some souvenirs. After getting my final fitting, I decided to get a replica Beats by Dre headset. I walked in to one of the many stores selling them in plain view and started negotiating for the pair that costs $300 back in the US. After I test drove the pair and color that I wanted, I started to negotiate with the guy and got him down to $50, but I told him that I wanted the pair I tried out and not some pair pulled from the back. They boxed them up in a perfect replica box with all the same stuff you would get with the real ones. I then walked around and bought some other souvenirs, ate some more street food, and then hopped on a motorcycle taxi to head back to my hotel to drop off the souvenirs and shower before tonight’s Muay Thai fights.
After I showered, I decided to take a real taxi to the stadium because I was too tired to slalom in and out of traffic on a motorbike. I soon arrived at the stadium, gave the guards my pre-paid ticket, and was then shown to my seat. I ended up getting sat next to three French guys who practiced mixed martial arts, and we all had some beers. We paced ourselves because there are 10 fights, each lasting five rounds of three minutes. The first fights start with the eight-year-olds and then goes up in age from there. When you hear the bell ring for the first match and you see these two cute kids come out from their corners, you think to yourself, “This is so cute.” Then the two little scrappers engage in throwing a barrage of elbows and knees to each other’s heads and vital organs. By the time the fights reached the ten- to twelve-year-olds, fighters were starting to get knocked out cold!
About halfway through the fights and few more beers, I hopped the waist-high wall that separates the paying spectators from the taxi drivers who bet on the fights. I wanted in on the action and started betting based on what round it was. We bet if one of the guys was going to get knocked out that round, or if they were going to be able to go the whole 5 rounds. I can sadly say that I did not gamble my way to being a millionaire that night, but I at least broke even.
The fights were over around midnight and then I headed back to my hotel because I had a bus to catch from Bangkok to Trat and then catch a boat to Ko Chang. I was sitting in the front seat of the bus waiting for some other people, and I had a terrible hangover. I put on my new headset to drown own the traffic and crying children and hit “play music” on my phone and the headset did not work. I thought to myself, ”Sh*t, this is exactly what I didn’t want. I thought I did everything to avoid getting hustled.” I then had two choices: either carry around these big headphones for the next couple weeks and hope they start to work or roll down my window and give them to a poor kid—I chose the latter. I looked out the window and saw a kid walking with his parents carrying a basket of fruit on his head. I leaned out the window and told the kid to come here. He put down his basket and told his parents he’d be right back. The kid came up to the window looking scared and confused. I then grabbed the headset with all the goodies and handed it to him. This kid’s face lit up like fireworks, and you would have thought that it was his birthday and Christmas morning all wrapped into one. His parents were just as grateful. I felt a little bad because they didn’t work, but I figured he had a cousin down the street who could fix them.
I then slipped into a short coma until I arrived a few hours away at the docks in Trat to catch my boat to Ko Chang. Upon arriving on Ko Chang, I rented a motorbike for only $10 a day to explore the island at my leisure. I then asked directions to my hotel and was on my way. I followed the directions and came across this beautiful hotel that looked very modern. I thought, “Damn, you gotta love that exchange rate!” I walked in to the lobby and gave my name for my reservation. The lady tried looking me up, but couldn’t find my reservation. I showed her the email on my phone, and she said, “Oh, you’re looking for the huts just up the side road and in the jungle.” I got on my bike and went about 100 yards up a tiny road, only to come across a community of third-world huts. No wonder it was only $12 a night. I went to the first hut that was also the main office. Inside was the ugliest lady-boy I have ever seen. He was dressed in complete drag, loving life, and not at all hiding his Adam’s apple. I checked-in and then he/she showed me to my hut. It looked like at it was straight out of a National Geographic special, but it was only $12 a night and I was in paradise with my own room and water closet (bathroom).
I unloaded my gear and then took the bike back into town where I previously saw a SCUBA dive center. I went in and made reservations for a two-tank dive the next day. I was originally going to go to Pattaya Beach from Bangkok to see the crazy nightlife I heard about in the Navy and dive there, but I made a friend in Kuala Lumpur airport who told me there is much better diving in Ko Chang. She was right. I booked my dive, ate some street food, and then went bar hopping around the island for a couple of hours until I turned it in for the night so I could be fresh and crisp for my morning dive.
The next morning, the dive center sent a truck to come pick me up from my hut. I jumped in the back and was greeted by a gentleman from Sweden. He was there on holiday as well and loved SCUBA diving. We picked up a couple more people and then headed to the docks. There, we were greeted by our dive masters and issued equipment. We then boarded the boat and headed out for a beautiful day of diving. We got back to docks around sunset.
The Swede and I decided to meet up for dinner and explore more of the island. After heading back to my hotel for a much-needed shower, I met the Swede and his buddy down the street from my hut at a classy American Western–themed restaurant for a drink. We each had a few whiskies and then went looking for street food. Along the way, I came across a guy selling Beats by Dre headphones. He kept trying to pitch me, but I said, “Hell no. I already got screwed once on these damn things.” He said, “Which ones?” I pointed at the big pair and said, “Those!” He promptly replied, “Oh, you mean the ones that take batteries?” All the blood rushed out of my face. I asked him to repeat that again, and sure enough I heard him right the first time. Apparently, when I was paying the guy in Bangkok, his partner took out the batteries to use in another display model and didn’t tell me they were battery-powered.
The Swedes and I immediately headed to the next bar to put my shame to rest. Over a drink, one of the Swedes said, “There are fire dancers on the beach tonight.” We walked for about 20 minutes until we came across a big resort that had a dozens and dozens of beach chairs and social areas to mingle before the show started. We had drinks and made some new friends until the fire show started. The show consisted of six men who had fire-twirling talents that I had never seen before. I’ve been to impressive luaus in Hawaii, but this was just a different style and it’s hard to describe it unless you’ve seen it. Nonetheless, the show was entertaining to say the least. I headed back to my hut so I could get some sight seeing in before I left the following day.
On my last day, I woke up, grabbed some street food breakfast and then went to an elephant ranch to get a picture with an elephant. Elephants are greatly revered in Thai culture, so I couldn’t visit the Island of Elephants without at least getting a picture with one.
I got my Kodak moment, returned the motorbike, and then headed to the docks to catch a boat back to the mainland. Upon arrival, the bus driver that I had arranged in Bangkok to take me from Trat to the Thailand-Cambodia border greeted me. I got on the bus and enjoyed the beautiful sights of the Thai countryside all the way to the Cambodian border.