“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men”
After months of planning where, when and how to go on our data journey, we finally committed to Thailand only to arrive in time for a government coup. (doh). This is what we found, as well as our thoughts on how to prepare for the unexpected while setting up a mobile life abroad.
Arrival in Bangkok
We arrived in Bangkok at around 9a.m. local time & the temperature was already 30 degrees outside. Our preparation for arriving in Bangkok had been sparse, as all our effort in the last month had been on finishing our job commitments, packing up our London life and seeing family / friends. So beyond the 2 first nights my sister had booked for us and the frantic reading of Lonely Planet in the 12 hour flight we had nothing else prepared. Fortunately this was enough and two buses and a 15 minute walk later we were in our hotel near the Khao San road and heart of Bangkok. Exhausted we had a quick battery recharge, plenty of water and set out to explore Bangkok on foot, as this has always seemed the most sensible way to get a feel for a city. We found the following:
Street food is delicious
Anyone who is travelling outside Europe or North America will likely have visited a travel clinic for advice on all the nastiness that can happen there. Of course it is wise to be prepared and Sabine and I had our cocktail of Hep A, B, Typhoid, Rabies etc immunisations. But this being Britain you also have the NHS advice to not touch or eat anything you cannot see being boiled before your eyes. Combine this with the fear that your insurance will not cover you unless you have been taken ill by a thoroughly sanitised, factory produced Starbucks sandwich and your heart is thumping the first time you try Thai street food. Well we did try it, loads of it, and it was a ridiculously good meal for £1 and we are okay so far – stay tuned. The street food is everywhere, on side streets and main roads, prepared on portable wheelbarrow style units and consumed on adjacent white plastic chairs. The only slight problem was my nut allergy….not a terribly bad one, so ultimately at times it meant I would try a small piece of something and then Sabine would have to finish the rest. Anyways we opted for a hand-written note saying: “I’m allergic to nuts” which made street food even easier:
Touts are tolerable but annoying
When we think about Tourist touts and scams, the inevitable benchmark for us is always our Cairo experiences. Although this is not entirely fair as we visited Cairo between periods of revolution and the resulting tourism drop had made people more even more obstinate, it is still the most persistent hassle either of us have experienced. Bangkok was much less invasive. There are still popular scams. The most prevalent being taxis and tuk-tuks offering 40p (20baht) journeys to see multiple buddhist temples as it is a national holiday, (they will take you to commission paying shops and waste your time). The best advice we have got for this is true all over the world but particularly in Thailand, it is rare that someone will stop you in the street unsolicited and talk to you, so if it happens BE SUSPICIOUS. As with the rest of the world these problems are centred on tourist areas.
Heat is constant (in May it seems anyhow)
The temperatures in Thailand still confuses me, it is hot, as you would expect ~ 30 degrees and humid. But it seems to be hot all the time, it doesn’t get much cooler in the early morning or evening maybe 3 or 4 degrees max. This just confuses me coming from Britain!
City has something for everyone and a coup
Bangkok is a city which seems to have something for every budget and taste, however questionable that taste might be. There are hippie trail backpacker digs, boutique hotels with pools and nearby tourist sights, all nearby a bustling centre where the Gucci heeled Thai and expat elite eat imported steaks, champagne and oysters. This means that you can live here and enjoy the city whatever your budget, alternating between seeing the most modern Imax films in air conditioned shopping malls to eating $1 dollar meals next to an old Buddhist temple. It was somewhere in between these extremes, that we found out about the army coup. After walking out from having our first Thai massage at 9pm we went to the nearby 7/11 to pick up water before continuing going somewhere to eat. While in the 7/11 we asked for directions to a restaurant we had heard good things about to an American, he advised somewhere else then as an afterthought said you are aware the army has taken over the country and you have to be off the street in 45 minutes. We had a resulting panic, discovered the skyline was shut, the roads gridlocked and many taxi drivers headed straight home themselves or charging extortionate prices! Thankfully we were fortunate enough to find an honest taxi driver to take us the 40 minute drive back to our hotel, arriving just when the curfew ended. The next day we heard from our friends and family asking about the coup which was all over the news. The truth was, we were 5 minutes walk away from the centre of one of the demonstration site and there was really nothing to report. There were a lot of tanks and soldiers which made for some intimidating photos, but you could walk past this without hassle and everyone we met was getting on with their lives. In the days since, we have debated whether it is sensible to stay in Thailand and kept an eye on the news constantly. It is difficult to keep the right perspective amongst the sensationalism of the news, the foreign language and first hand experience of something so alien to us, but it appears life continues relatively unaffected for most.
We have had to adapt our plans like the rest of Thailand to be off the streets by 10pm, but on the whole the journey continues, uninterrupted and long may it continue….