20-24 September 2011
After my tour through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, I had a few days left in Bangkok to explore and enjoy myself. I moved from the Bangkok Centre Hotel, where my tour ended, to a hotel on road parallel to Khao San Road. I realise when you’re backpacking in Southeast Asia, you should be spending your nights in a hostel bunkbed for a couple of pounds a night, but when I found a very reasonably priced hotel room, with an en-suite, a double bed and breakfast, I decided to indulge.
I pretty much spent the rest of my time in Thailand on Khao San Road, wandering along the strip, gazing at the market stalls and stopping off at restaurants and bars for plenty of Chang beer. I took the opportunity to stock up on jewellery, bags, gifts and beer t-shirts at the market and back at the MBK mall.
There were a couple of cinemas near MBK and I decided to make the most of my time in Thailand by spending an entire afternoon in them for a double headed: Friends with Benefits and Johnny English 2. Thankfully, they were both in English with Thai subtitles. It might not have been the most cultural option but it wasn’t a choice I regretted. It was actually interesting to see the differences in the audiences reactions to the film. Whilst I did have a good chuckle to Johnny English, I was surprised to hear my fellow cinema-goers in absolute fits of laughter. I felt myself enjoying the film more for it, as I got caught up in the atmosphere.
As time went on, I reached the stage where I was keen to get out of the city for a short while and make the most of the little time I had left in Asia. I found a local travel agent whilst out exploring and booked a day trip to visit the Floating Market, the Bridge on the River Kwai and Tiger Temple.
Although I had already done my shopping, I still enjoyed taking a wooden boat around the Floating Market, dodging other boats and peeking at the stalls on either side of the waterway. After all, how often do you see a market you have to sail around?
Afterwards, my tour group had a stop off at a place which housed a few animals in kinda small cages. There was also a snake show where a charmer got up close to a cobra, which he later brought into the audience before setting it up to fight a ferret in a box. I have to say, I felt pretty uncomfortable. When I first saw the ferret, I thought it must just be there in case the snake got out of hand. Then the performers put them in the box together and tried to encourage them to fight and the animals obviously didn’t want to. Thankfully I soon had to leave.
Next a minibus took our group to the Bridge on the River Kwai, where the Death Railway crossed the river. The original bridge was destroyed but later rebuilt and is now frequented by visitors, who can come and learn about the prisoners of war who died constructing the 258-mile railway under the orders of the Japanese army.
On route from the bus to the bridge, we found a promotional stand for a local safari park. Alongside a couple of handlers, there were a couple of baby leopards, which passers-by could feed for a small fee. It was probably one of my happiest moments, cradling a little cub as it sucked on a bottle of milk. However, looking back on this, I think this one of those activities I’d now avoid as I don’t think being handled by multiple tourists is the best thing for those animals.
Our final stop was at Tiger Temple, where we could have our pictures taken with a group of tigers that lived alongside monks and even play a little with a baby one. At the time, I was completely overwhelmed with delight at seeing tigers so close but, again in hindsight, I don’t think I’d go again. There is a lot controversy over whether tigers are drugged in such places (how else could they be safe for tourists?) and I’ve since seen that Tiger Temple has had its fair share of negative headlines. The tigers were generally quite docile, although one was getting rowdy and I was later shouted at for heading in the direction of one tiger that was being taken on walk.
There were animals other than tigers at the Tiger Temple, including bears, cows and water buffalo. At one point, a buffalo started running across the ground towards a crowd of people, of which I was one – we all dodged out of its way. As we’d arrived close to the end of the day, we had the option of getting in a cage and watching the tigers play. I didn’t take up this offer and this turned out to be a good thing as it overran and one of our group got left behind as our guide refused to wait. I really hope he was able to catch a ride with one of the other buses.
All too soon, I was left with one day left in Bangkok before it was time to fly to England and head back to university. In the morning, I decided to get an infamous Thai massage. I’d never had a massage of any kind before and I thought this would be jumping in at the deep end. I’d heard they could be painful but, y’know, when in Thailand. I wouldn’t say mine was relaxing but it actually wasn’t too bad.
Later, I met up with some people from my tour group who had also stayed in Bangkok for a little while. We spent yet more time shopping on Khao San Road, drinking Chang beer and feasting on the pancake stands. They also wanted Thai massages themselves, so I joined them for my second of the day. This was one was tougher but, strangely, actually more relaxing and I left feeling like all my muscles had been worked out. It was the perfect way to spend my last day in Asia.