Categories
Southeast Asia Thailand

Transport Mania: Tuk-Tuks, Motorbikes, and Haggling

Current Location: Cha-Am, Thailand
Current  Weather: 90° F (feels like 107°F)

Days Gone: 5
Days Remaining: 210

I had just finished dinner and was enjoying the rest of my liter-sized bottle of Chang (a Thai beer) when I struck up a conversation with a Scottish fellow named Keith. He was surprised to discover I was from the United States, and I agreed that Americans seemed scarce. Despite being in a major backpacking hub for three days, I had yet to me a single other person from the US. He explained to me that this was because I was especially distinguished, and broke down my rarity with statistics (though no sources were cited, these estimations are probably accurate enough). Let’s say 15% of US Citizens have a passport. That number used to be 5%, but since Canada now requires a passport for entry the number jumped. From that 5%, subtract anyone who wanted a passport for Spring Break in Cancun or any other pleasure-centered respite on a white beach or cruise ship. Then from that number subtract anyone who has a passport for business reasons. Keith estimated that the remainder, those US citizens with passports for “real” travel, was about 1 in 400. He went on to say that, based on these estimations, an American traveling abroad has, by default, overcome greater odds than the same traveler from Australia or Europe where international adventures are seen as commonplace and even expected. Thus, being an American traveling abroad is not only disturbingly rare, it is also something to be proud of.

After this chance meeting, I ended up indulging in the local nightlife with some other characters around Khao San Road. Eventually I found my way back to my guest house room which was located on top of a restaurant on the main strip. It was basically just a room with a fan, but it cost a mere 200 baht ($6) per night. 

As all the best dive spots and beaches are to the South, I decided to start working my way towards the Southern islands. I figured because I have time, I’d just city hop my way down. But now that I’m staying a night in the lazy (and mostly empty) coastal town of Cha-Am, I’m feeling a bit anxious to get to a locale that’s a bit more….social. I did get the opportunity to flex my old travel muscles by taking a public bus from Bangkok to Cha-Am. While private mini-buses were available for 400 baht ($12.30), I knew that a regular bus would be far cheaper. I decided that even if I broke even cost-wise, I’d at least have the added experience of getting myself to/from bus stations, acquiring a ticket, and actually boarding the bus and getting off at the right spot.

Here is how I managed to navigate the shaky world of public transportation. Only read these next four paragraphs if you are truly curious about the process, because I’m going to get technical. After packing up all my gear and making sure I had small bills available, I checked out of my guest house and flagged down the first Tuk-Tuk driver (which really means I just answered his cry of “Hey, sir, where you go?”) His original demand was 200 baht ($6) to the bus station 20 minutes away. After some debate, we agreed that he could take me to a ticketing center 5 minutes away and, if they had a ticket and a bus leaving soon, he would take me on to the bus station itself for a total charge of 50 baht ($1.60). If they didn’t have a ticket he could bring me back to Khao San and I’d pay 10 baht (30 cents).

The ticketing center was government operated and the friendly Thai working said the tickets he sold were a rip off and just to get one at the bus station for 150 baht ($4.60), and that buses left every 2 hours and were never full. Props to this guy for his honesty, it’s great when someone isn’t paid on commission. I told the Tuk-Tuk driver to head on to the bus station and off we went. I knew something was wrong when he pulled back onto Khao San. He claimed the bus station was too far so, after more debate, I just got off without paying as he broke the contract. I walked up to the next taxi (an actual car) I saw and negotiated a fare of 120 baht ($3.70) to the bus station. Some Bangkok taxis are metered and some aren’t, and as such people usually stick to the metered ones. From my airport taxi ride I knew that metered taxis ran about 100 baht per 10 minutes, so 120 baht for a ride that I knew was greater than 12 minutes was in my favor. It ended up taking about 20 minutes to get to the bus station, which was also a shopping mall.

I walked around the side to where dozens of buses were parked and searched for a ticket booth. I went up to a booth with a window and asked about a ticket to Cha-Am. A uniformed officer led me into the mall, up not one but two escalators, and past several booksellers and vendors, to a line of tons of tiny ticketing booths. I bought my ticket and wandered around the mall, noting prices about half that of the Khao San district. I also bought a small “Muslim pizza” for 60 baht ($2) that had a strange variety of toppings including corn and (I think) imitation ham. The mall also had a KFC – it’s hilarious to see international chains because the menus are spliced. I’ve seen Subway and KFC both offer slightly different versions of the normal stuff, but they also have Thai additions to the menu, like chicken and rice.

Anyway, I finally board the bus at the last second, pizza in hand, and settle in for a 3.5 hour ride. The whole ride went smooth except for a 30 minute unexplained stop in front of a massive superstore called “The Big C”. Eventually the bus stopped at a nondescript part of a main street and the driver stood up and called out “Cha-Am” a few times, so I grabbed my stuff and disembarked. Having no idea where I was, I sat down at a sidewalk table to see if my guidebook had a map. The town is so small there is no map, but there was the name of a hostel (Cha-Am Villa Beach) with AC, a pool, and wi-fi for 500 baht ($15). I asked a motorcycle transport guy if he knew where it was and he offered to take me for 30 baht ($1). He said it was 2 km away and I tried to talk him down in price but he wouldn’t budge. I folded and climbed on the back of his little 100cc bike, and off we went. So in the end, my total cost to get from Khao San Road to my final destination was 120+150+30=300 baht. So I only saved 100 baht by taking the adventurous route, but I also got to take a free Tuk-Tuk ride, learned of better Bangkok shopping prices, took a motorcycle taxi, and generally remind myself I have the ability to get around without the tourist-ready options if need be.

Shout outs for this post go to Keith of Scotland, Flo of Germany, and the four Thai girls from Chiang Mai (whose names I have forgotten, so sorry) that took me and Flo out to some crazy club in downtown Bangkok.

To my readers, I don’t know what you are particularly curious about, so leave a comment if there are things you want to hear about or things you don’t really care about. Detailed travel technicalities bore you? Let me know. Want to see pictures of crazy Thai snack food packages? Let me know. Want to hear about temples and architecture? Let me know.

Last thing consumed: Chocolate ice cream on a stick – 10 baht (30 cents)
Thought fragment: I saw a naked baby run out into the street and almost get nailed by a passing motorbike. Also, it seems common to have the shower area simply be the whole bathroom. Essentially, when you shower, you’re standing right next to the toilet and sink and water just goes everywhere. The bathroom -is- the shower.
 
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Categories
Southeast Asia Thailand

How to Dine and Shop in Khao San

Current Location: Bangkok, Thailand – Khao San Road
Current  Weather: 93° F (feels like 104°F)

Days Gone: 3
Days Remaining: 212

 Bangkok is wired with energy, it’s almost dizzying. I’m planning on bailing on the city and heading somewhere quieter within a couple days or so. I’ll be back in Bangkok in seven months to catch my return flight, so I can always come back early and spend several days downtown. Wandering the Khao San district yesterday I managed to find scissors for 10 baht (30 cents) and a power adapter for 35 baht ($1). I also found a breakfast option at a corner cafe called the Phomotion Breakfast. It included an omelette, bacon, toast, jam, hot coffee, potatoes, and fresh fruit for 110 baht. The man running the cafe happily told me it was extra special and only 100 baht today ($3). I accepted and was presented with this:

As you can see, the omelette was really just scrambled eggs in the shape of an omelette, but it was delicious anyway. I spent most of the day wandering the shops, stalls, and back alleys of the district to try and get a feel for what was available and what it cost. There is a plethora of items and services on hand, most common being clothing, jewelry, massages, and hair care (and food). A 30 minute spa style full body massage here costs $3. The clothing prices aren’t as phenomenal, most shirts/pants are priced at 200 baht ($6) which equates to sale prices back home. I am, however, already considering trading my jeans for a second pair of shorts.

I had lunch in a little alleyway that transforms into a restaurant by day, chicken and rice for 50 baht ($1.60). It looked bland but tasted amazing and fresh, while I ate several motorbikes squeezed through the alley inches from my table.

I ended up falling asleep passing out at about 6 pm local time without dinner; apparently I’m not as adjusted to the time change as I thought. After waking up refreshed at 2:30 AM, I forced myself to sleep (off and on) until 7. This morning I ventured back out into the city and found another hideaway dining option for breakfast. For those wondering how communication works with a language barrier, this is my breakfast experience:

I peak into the small, shady looking restaurant and see a Thai woman eating a bowl of some sort of soup. It looks tasty so I walk in (it’s also a good sign to see a local eating here). A man materializes before me and asks “wan?” holding up a single finger. “One,” I answer and he nods and gestures to a metal table nearby. I sit down and look around for some sort of menu or picture to point to. This isn’t necessary, however, as the man quickly prepares a bowl of the soup and sits it in front of me. No ordering is needed if the menu only has one option. It consisted of some sort of chicken broth and several types of noodles and vegetables. Three sauce options sat on the table among some other additives, so I chose the watery brown one with red and green bits in it and scooped it into my soup. It became both spicy and sour, yum!

After paying my 30 baht ($1), I wandered around a bit more and found a lady selling toasted bread with jam. She had several slices of a thick yellow bread sitting on a small charcoal grill. “How much?” I asked, pointing to the bread. “Five baht each,” she said, and when I pointed at the jam she said, “yes, yes, 5 baht.” So I gave her a 10 baht coin and figured I would get a piece of bread with jam. She slid one slice of bread back to the hot center of the grill for a few seconds, picked it and and slid a second into the heat, spread jam on the first slice, and dropped it onto the second slice to make a sandwich. She then carefully cut the final product into two pieces and slid them into a small plastic bag which she handed to me. “Korp khun clap,” (thank you) I said in broken Thai with a smile. She seemed delighted and I was happy to have a thick, crunchy jam sandwich for 30 cents.

Now I’m back at the hostel and about to check out. NapPark costs about $14 per night so I think I can find somewhere else to sleep for much cheaper. Also, I need to start thinking about where to go from here. I was originally planning to head North, but with 60 days in Thailand and a lot of nice beaches to the South, I might head down first and then backtrack. I’m trying to not get overwhelmed by the insanity of the city and the infinite options before me. I’m having to adapt to the limitless freedom as much as the time change and heat.

Last thing consumed: Jam sandwich
Thought fragment: 7-Eleven‘s are everywhere and they are the best places to break 1000 baht notes.


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Categories
Thailand United States

How to Get to the Other Side of the Planet

Current Location: Bangkok, Thailand – Khao San Road
Current  Weather: 91° F (feels like 104°F)

Days Gone: 2 
Days Remaining: 213

I’ve had a hell of a time getting to Bangkok. My route was supposed to be Louisville-Chicago-Tokyo-Bangkok and my total travel time was supposed to take about 24 hours. For those curious, the flight was purchased from CheapoAir.com for $1160 (pretty cheap to get to the other side of the planet) and, of course, was non-refundable and non-changable. After a delayed flight out of Louisville (SDF) caused a missed connection in Chicago by approximately 73 seconds – I was told I would be stuck in Chicago for the night at my own expense (weather-related delay). The next flight out was the following day at the same time, 24 hours later exactly.

So, I needed a few things. First, a place to sleep for the night. Second, food to sustain me. Third, something to occupy my time to maintain sanity. Keep in mind that I am now in backpacker budget mode, a terrible mode to be in while still inside the United States. But all was not lost, I managed to stay fed, sleep in a hotel, and contact home for under $20. First, I made a friend with a phone, a girl in the complaints line missed the same connection as me for the same reason. I then found us a free way to get wifi, the complimentary Westin shuttle; the McDonald’s near the Westin offers free wifi (and a dollar menu to boot).

From McDonald’s I checked sleepinginairports.com to discover that the O’Hare airport actually has a chapel in which people have successfully slept in the past. This was my backup plan, but I didn’t want to sleep on a floor the night before boarding 18 hours of international flights. I found a hotel that offered free wifi, shuttle service, and hot breakfast for $70 (the Quality Inn) and booked it using a $50 BRG coupon dropping the price to $20 + $9 tax (read more about how to get these at http://bestrateguarantee.blogspot.com/). My new airport friend also needed a hotel so we split the cost and that made my night in Chicago a mere $14!

My flight the following day was then delayed by five hours due to mechanical problems. At least this time they gave everyone meal vouchers, so I couped up in Chile’s for a couple hours with some more airport friends. To all people who shared my pain dealing with United, I give a special shout out to Vanessia, Melvin O., Katie of Indonesia, and Jessica of seat 57K.


My flight to Tokyo was successful and I did manage to take some cool photos of some mountain range near Alaska. In Tokyo I was greeted with vertical scrolling marquees of Kanji and very high-tech toilets complete with bum-washer and deodorizer buttons. I also had to go through security again where they took my scissors. My Tokyo-Bangkok flight was brilliant because I somehow got an exit row for free and nobody was sitting next to me. Once arriving I made it through immigration with little delay and customs consisted of a nice Thai man waving me onward with no baggage checks. I found an ATM and pulled out 10,000 baht (about $308) to get me started (ATMs will give you the best exchange rate, take out large sums to avoid acruing lots of international charges). I also found a vendor to break down a few of my 1,000 baht notes so that I could pay for my taxi with exact change.

The taxi from the airport was metered so no haggling was reqired, and the roads were clear as it was 4 AM. The 40 minute ride cost me 450 baht ($13.87) and left me on the corner of a dirty street where the driver pointed and said “walk rest of way.” I confirmed that the road I was on was actually Khao San Road before letting the guy leave. After a bit of walking and an offer of prositution, I found an English speaking hotel worker with a map. Thus, I made it to my hostel where they actually had held a bed for me! I’m currently staying at NapPark Hostel. I fell asleep at about 5 am, woke up to sun shining in after what I though was a long night’s sleep only to discover it was only 2 hours later. This time change stuff is weird.Now it’s going on 10 AM and I’m going to go grab a shower and some breakfast and head out to explore the area by day.

I need to buy a power adapter, scissors, a knife or multi-tool (mine tiny multi-tool was taken at Louisville airport security), and a razor or beard-trimmer. Finding these things and remaining awake until a “normal” bedtime are my goals of the day.

Last thing consumed: Chicken Teriyaki (airplane style)
Thought fragment:
I must remember that I can no longer drink tap water nor flush toilet paper.

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Categories
United States

Wanderlaunch – The Legend Begins (in 7 Days)

Current Location: Louisville, Kentucky; United States
Current Weather:
75° F – Sunny

Welcome to Wanderlust! This is where you can read the constantly unfolding story of my adventures backpacking through Southeast Asia. That’s right, in just seven short days I’ll embark on a seven month journey from my landlocked home state to the Far East and back again (I hope). This means you now have the exciting opportunity to watch, from the safety and comfort of your own home, as I battle everything from language barriers to giant spiders to Traveler’s Diarrhea

If that last line disgusts you, you might want to reconsider visiting. There are times when it’s going to get rather sweaty and unpleasant around here. But that’s just one side of travel. If you are intrigued instead of dissuaded, you will undoubtedly be rewarded with colorful tales wrought with peril and a smattering of tasty foods. You will even get to view the results of my attempts to photograph things of exquisite beauty. 
If all this sounds pretty cool to you, feel free to read a bit more about me, learn about my journey, what I’m carrying, and maybe have a few questions answered while you’re here (like why I’m going in the first place). Want to make sure you don’t miss a thing (I mean really, wouldn’t you be pretty bummed if you missed a post where I got bit by a shark, mugged, flooded, or otherwise suffered from humiliation and discomfort)? You can subscribe to Wanderlust via email updates or with your favorite feed reader by using the menu at the top right of this screen. How’s that for convenience!
For an even deeper layer of travel-stalking, my latest Twitter post appears at the top of the site. If you want to get up close and personal, follow me.

As a final note, Wanderlust will always remain ad-free and easy on the eyes. There is no schedule for blog updates as my ability to connect to the webs will wax and wane. As will, I presume, my sanity. Thanks for stopping by!

If you want to get in touch with me personally about something blog- or trip-related send an email to twocents.wanderlust@gmail.com. Otherwise, feel free to comment below with feedback, suggestions, and exclamation points!