The two of us met up in Bangkok without a hitch, and before you could say Sawadee we were off to our hostel near the Hua Lamphong train station. It ended up being a great area of the city to live in, as it wasn’t heavily touristed, and was only a short walk away from Bangkok’s Chinatown — at least ten times the size of the one we have in Toronto. For all the bustle there and the infinite number of knickknacks and nibbles being peddled, it was surprisingly quiet. We seemed to be the only tourists exploring this hectic maze, yet no one tried to sell us anything, not rides, not tours, not even lunch — an extreme contrast to the rest of Bangkok.
From every direction, the city clamoured for our attention. An assault of smells from every corner: urine and the wet rot of fruit; drying squid; sizzling chicken; sewage and lakewater; curlicues of diesel; scorching saw-split metal; caramelizing bananas. The streets were total chaos, traffic lights an afterthought or a joke. Whole streets of lottery ticket peddlers. Peeling paint, ramshackle stalls, street squatters selling old National Geographics and wristwatches. Everywhere portraits of the royal family. Endless calls of Tuk-tuk! Tuk-tuk! Rrrot-taxi! from omnipresent drivers. And for Sam, constant offers for a tailored suit: Nice shirt? Make you handsome!
Inevitably, we visited Khao San Road; we found it surprisingly small and uninteresting considering its reputation as the backpacking epicentre of Southeast Asia. We managed to get to Wat Pho and a variety of smaller temples as well — the former being especially impressive and housing one of the largest Buddha statues around, the famous Reclining Buddha. We also took a ferry along the Chao Phraya River and had a small glimpse of some of the flooding.
All said and done, we were pretty happy to leave Bangkok after a few days, and decided to head south. More or less by accident, we ended up at a place called Railay Bay. We could not possibly have been more lucky — it was a total paradise. Compared to the nearby islands, Railay is reasonably undeveloped and extremely quiet. The place is mostly run by a bunch of Thai rastas, so the vibe there is extremely laid back.
There were two gorgeous beaches for sunbathing, sheltered on each side by massive limestone karsts (and in case you were hungry, pad-thai peddling boats moor themselves daily on the beach). In case you felt like something more thrilling than the prospect of a tan, Railay had tons of rock-climbing opportunities (including free night rock-climbing). To spare our wallets, we stuck to the free trekking paths leading to the lookout point and the lagoon. It was a serious climb! The rock surfaces were slick with red clay (which completely destroyed our shoes and any clothes we were wearing) and the ‘path’ down to the lagoon involved multiple stretches of rappelling oneself off a cliff, clinging to an old rope. Sam ventured down while Alanna, er, provided emotional support from base camp.
Anyway, in case we thought it didn’t get more perfect than slurping on fresh pineapple by the water or exploring the unspoiled lagoon, we were wrong. Our last night there included an amazing dinner with the friends we’d met on the island, followed by not one but two unbelievable fire shows, a free Muay Thai boxing match, a wild dance party, and a midnight dip on the West beach in water completely illuminated by phosphorescence.
From Thailand with love,
Sam & Alanna