Another day on the road (followed by a night of mayhem)
06.04.2009 - 07.04.2009 30 °C
We got on the bus destined for Bangkok, Thailand around 7 am. The bus was kind of unsuited for this kind of travel, as it didn't really have any space for luggage, and with a bus full of backpackers this amounted to the center aisle being piled high with backpacks. The ride wasn't uncomfortable, but stops were tricky, as we had to manage to wade through all the bags to get off the bus (we of course were sitting in the very back). Heidi got freaked out in the beginning of the ride, because she hadn't seen her bag get loaded onto the bus, and she couldn't spot it among the other bags in the aisle when she got off the bus either. She was finally relieved when the bus driver showed her that it had been stowed under the bus in the only baggage locker, along with two other backpacks. Although the bus stopped a few times along the way, we didn't really stop anywhere to get a proper lunch, so we subsisted on some chips and cookies we bought at a small roadside shop. There really wasn't anything notable about the ride.
We exited through the Cambodian border with no problems, and then we had to walk a short distance to queue up for entry into Thailand. Entering Thailand was easy--we just had to fill in an entry form and get a stamp in our passport, no visa needed in advance. Nate made it through without a problem, but Heidi's customs officer was a bit of a stickler for the rules, and wasn't going to let Heidi into the country before she gave him her destination and the name of the guest house she would be staying in. At this point in the trip, we had become quite used to just showing up in the city's backpacker area and finding a place on arrival, so we didn't even know the name of one guest house. Heidi ended up just giving the name of some fictitious guest house, which seems to pacify the customs office., who let her pass through with a roll of his eyes.
We then had to wait on the Thai side of the border for an hour before minibuses came to split our group up into smaller groups. They gave us stickers to identify that we were part of the group, and although we didn't like feeling like we were being branded and herded around like cattle, we heeded their warning that the loss of the sticker would mean we would have to pay again, and took care not to lose them. We made some small talk with a Dutch guy during the wait, and after a while two minibuses finally pulled up. We watched as one minibus filled up and quickly took off, but then were told to first walk here and then go there to wait, and we didn't know what was going on--where was our minibus, and when were we going to leave? We stood around confused for a while, annoyed that we had to wait longer, but were finally directed to get into the sole minibus that had been waiting there the whole time. We finally hit the road, and after a short drive we stopped at...*drumroll*...a Seven Eleven! It was immediately apparent that Thailand was much more developed than the other countries we had seen thus far, and we enjoyed it as we grabbed a hotdog for a snack. We would later come to find that Seven Eleven is one of the biggest convenience store chains in Thailand, and they basically have them everywhere. After a few hours of driving, we made it into Bangkok. The city had a character of its own, and we noticed all the networks of tiny alleyways that snaked between the buildings. Our driver was a funny guy and he made a couple of jokes along the, once stopping in the middle of the freeway and stating with a blank face "OK, Bangkok, finish". At first, we didn't know if he was serious or joking, and we were all a bit confused, but after he started laughing we realized we weren't going to get screwed this day. We hit some heavy traffic--which the driver cursed in good humor--but finally made it to Khao Sanh Road, home to the backpacker mecca of Bangkok.
We wandered Khao Sanh Road a bit, and then ran into the Dutch guy we had seen earlier in the day, who told us where to find the cheap guest houses, just a short jog around the corner. He was a nice guy, and invited us to come out to drink with him and another Dutch friend later that night. We made our way over there, grabbing a delicious chicken satay from a street vendor on the way, and then found there was a whole alley dedicated to guest houses. It was no trouble finding a decent place to stay, although they were a bit more expensive than they had been in Vietnam and Cambodia. There would be no five dollar-a-night guesthouses here. After checking in, the first order of business was to get a ticket out of the city. Although we wanted to spend a bit of time in Bangkok, we were determined to get to some sunny beaches as soon as possible, so we decided to go to the South islands first. We booked a bus/ferry combination ticket to Koh Tao (Turtle Island), a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. We then went to one of the restaurants in the area and got a good Thai meal of spring rolls, spicy green curry, and a basil chicken stir-fry, all of which were delicious. After dinner we wandered back over to the Khao Sanh Road area, where we drank a couple of beers and looked around at all the souvenirs, T-shirts, and other touristy stuff they had on sale there. As the night wore on, many of the small souvenir stands were packed up, and more seating was brought out by the road for late night drinkers who flooded into the area. The partyers came out in strong force, and we joined in the fun after finding the Dutch guys sitting out in front of one of the many bars in the area. We shared a couple of cocktail buckets before Heidi wussed out and went back to the guest house early. Nate stayed out a bit later, but he and one of the Dutch guys headed back early after the other Dutch guy started schmoozing with one of the local "working girls" (of which there were many). Although it was quite early in the morning, there was still a lot of lights and activity, so Nate made it back safely.