As I board onto the flight to Bangkok I couldn’t help but to feel the churning of my stomach. Will I be okay? Months of planning, endless nights of researching and a fruitless attempt to find a travel buddy. I was more than determined not to cancel the plan, and this will be my first time traveling on my own. I’ll be lying if I am not terrified.
So the morning started with a dash throughout the airport, trying to re-print my boarding pass. I’ve checked in earlier via the web and opted for bar code scan, but by the time I reached the departure hall the machine couldn’t read my code. So here I was, on the start of my adventure running around the airport like a madman. Thank God I made it on board just in time.
I learnt the hard way that exchanging money at the airport was a bad idea. I lost RM20 while exchanging the Malaysian currency into Thai baht. The best way to do it was of course to hunt for the best exchange rate before your trip, but I didn’t have the luxury of time. A direct withdrawal would also be the most convenient. And heads up! If you’re a CIMB Bank user, international cash withdrawal are free via the CIMB Regional Links ATMs! CIMB Bank is also available in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Update 2017 : Another tip would be exchanging all your money into USD. As it is one of the most stable currency, it is also widely accepted in South East Asia. When you arrive at your destination, proceed to the best currency exchange and convert your dollars. I find this to be most convenient when I was doing my South East Asian trip, as it saves time and all that hassle exchanging one currency after another.
TRANSPORT FROM THE AIRPORT TO KHAO SAN ROAD
From Don Mueang airport head straight to the public meter taxis outside of the airport. Ignore the chauffeur taxi companies waiting outside the arrival hall, clad in suits shouting “Taxi? Taxi???”. I took a peek on their prices and a taxi to Khao San road costs 800 baht! Once outside, simply hail for a taxi and request a meter ride (very important!). A taxi to Khao San road will cost you 200 baht, with an additional cost of 50 baht airport surcharge and tollway fees.
Alternatively, if you’re traveling from Suvarnabhumi airport a metered taxi would cost you 350-400 baht. There is also an Airport Rail Link to Phaya Thai (45 baht) and then take a metered taxi to Khao San for 70-80 baht. Do not take tuks tuks. Don’t even try.
Quick Tip! Print out your hotel address in Thai, and include a map before passing it to your taxi driver! Eliminates language barrier and miscommunication, plus you’ll get to your destination safely!
WHERE TO STAY IN KHAO SAN ROAD
The reason why I decided to stay at Khao San road was simply because it’s the backpacker hub of South East Asia. A Backpacker’s Mecca one would say. Furthermore Khao San road is located in Banglamphu, also known as the old Bangkok back in its glorious days. Just a few blocks away from the Chao Praya river made it very accessible to the Grand Palace and the three famous Wats (temples) in Bangkok namely the Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
I decided to stay in NapPark Hostel, with dorms costing you 399 baht per night. It was my first experience staying at dorms and I would say it’s not too bad. The only problem I had was the lack of privacy (because you know, it was my first time) and the bed next to mine belonged to a couple who wouldn’t stop snogging.
But as times goes (and the bed-neighbour eventually left) I started to see the appeal of hostels among travellers. First of all, it’s really cheap. It also provides free wifi (very important!), laundry services, functional lockers, and a very clean bed and bathroom. There is also a reliable travel agency at the front desk which I really like. Asked them a lot of question and they were really helpful!
Update 2017 : Alternatively you may try the Suneta Hostel (490 baht/night). It’s a little more expensive but I personally stayed there the following year and found it to be decent. I particularly love the cabin beds with your own cabinets and LCD TV, plus they serve free breakfast and a free shuttle service to the airport!
AROUND KHAO SAN ROAD
From the sketchy backpacker’s ghetto portrayed in Leonardo Dicaprio’s The Beach, Khao San road has slowly developed into one of the major tourist spot of Bangkok. Khao San literally translates as “milled rice”, where in it’s former glory the street was a major Bangkok rice market.
My first impression of Bangkok was non other than the scorching weather – it was blasphemously hot in Bangkok! Coming from another tropical country that is a massive claim. In fact it was a couple degrees hotter than Malaysia, the lack of trees and pollution probably add as contributing factor. Nonetheless I was sweating mad the moment I stepped out of the taxi with my backpack.
My second impression of Khao San road was that it’s literally filled with farangs (aptly named for foreigners). I only caught a handful of locals manning the stalls, but considering it’s a really touristy area I was not surprised. If you’re up for a more Thai experience you might find it a little disappointing though..
Also there’s plenty of tuk tuks if you’re interested of heading elsewhere outside of Khao San. A heed of warning, tuk tuk drivers are notorious for scams. Most common would be taking you to a jewellery shop to gain extra commission but this could be avoided by good communication, and to put your feet down on the final price.
SHOPPING IN KHAO SAN ROAD
Everyone knew Bangkok is a shopping haven! And Khao San is of no difference, there’s plenty to shop around in Khao San road!
There were stalls selling cheap clothing, bags, fake leather goods, DVDs and branded goods rip off. I even found a Havaianas flip flop for 200 baht! It was so cheap, I regret not bringing a larger bag to stuff all of these goodies. Bargaining plays a big part here, always use the 50-50 rule! If they offer you 600 baht, go as low as 300 baht. Don’t be afraid to pay more though, as long as you reach a comfortable price you’re good to go.
THE THAI STREET FOOD EXPERIENCE
The first thing I did touching down Bangkok was to hunt for some street food, and I settled for the noodle soup stall just opposite the hostel for 30 baht. It was the best introduction to Thai street food ever.
Although the noodle may seems ordinary to you, it was the side condiments that took the cake. Consists of fish sauce, sugar, chilli flakes and chilli vinegar, you can add each condiments to your heart’s desire. And just for the sake of trying I added a spoonful of everything into the bowl and it was so good! It was a little too spicy though (too much chilli flakes!) but it was so good!
Food is plenty around the area, as there are loads of small stalls lining by the street. Khao San has officially became my favourite street.
My personal favourite would be the coconut ice cream (40 baht) and you can find them everywhere! Can’t order in Thai? Simply grin, point and smile.
BUT WHAT ABOUT STREET FOOD HYGIENE?
Some people may express their concerns regarding street food hygiene – but here’s a small tip. Keep your eyes out for the locals. Chances are if there are locals flocking to a stall, the food should be good enough for you to eat. A popular takeaway stall is also a good sign. Don’t be afraid to try new things, it’s adventure food time!
If you ended up with a tummy ache (it happens when I ate something too spicy) always carry some meds with you. I personally love taking Imodium during emergencies. Malaysian-favourite charcoal pill chi kit tek aun is also a good remedy.
Alternatively there are also Burger King, McDonalds and a range of 7-Elevens if you’re worried. There are also various restaurants and bars to cater to your needs. I personally love the Ronald McDonald’s statue outside of McDonald’s, I almost can hear them saying “sawadee kap”.
KHAO SAN ROAD AT NIGHT
The real Khao San road pops out at night, and this is when the whole street came to life! There’s plenty to see, plenty to eat and to shop around, and you’ll never get bored of what Khao San has to offer.
I was so amused by this portable ATM and money exchange! They changed location every night, but to see it in action was weird. Talk about convenient! Also I noticed there were more of a crowd at night compared to during the day, and there’s more stalls popping up too.
A typical touristy dinner would consist of the classic Pad Thai, and local Thai beer. Pad Thai is definitely more than your normal kueh tiaw goreng – I love the sweet sour spicy Thai infused flavour! Of course there’s the various condiments that gave it a kick (fish sauce, chili flakes, chili vinegar and sugar). A squeeze of lime and peanut flakes pulls the dish altogether making it one of my all-time favourite Thai food.
Speaking of local brews, Thailand boasts three local beers; Chang, Singha and Leo. We always made it a game whenever we met someone new at the hostel – are you a Chang, Singha or Leo person? I am personally a Chang as I find it to be the smoothest, while Singha always ended up to be the most popular, leaving poor Leo for those with an acquired taste. Also beers are pretty cheap! 7-Eleven sold them at 30 – 40 bahts, while local bars priced them at 50-80 baht depending on where you go.
And the must have dessert after every meal – mango sticky rice!!! I am head over heels for anything mango so this became a quick favourite! Fresh mango, sticky rice and coconut milk poured generously all over it. Yum!
I also spotted these local grubs at night, funny as I don’t see them anywhere during the day. I personally don’t think the Thais had these for food, maybe once upon a time but not anymore. You could see it’s a tourist trap – I don’t see locals trying them.
However, a trip to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without trying these crunchy delicacies. 20 baht per insect, 50 baht per scoop. The woman told me the cricket was good, but it looked too much like a cockroach so I opted for grasshoppers instead.
I told mum I tried the grasshopper and she was like “nyamai bah nyak” (it’s good). Coming from Borneo eating insects is nothing new, my dad loves the ulat sago (sago worm) but I preferred them deep fried. The grasshopper was definitely not bad, it was crunchy and salty. All the other tourists watched in amazement as I popped one into my mouth (considering that I look local…and having a grasshopper). I guess I was the only one who had the guts to try one that night. Lady selling insect was happy.
TRYING SOMETHING ILLEGAL? TRY AGAIN.
Although there’s a place for you to make fake IDs and certificates, take caution as Khao San road is heavily patrolled by the police. It used to be pretty dodgy, but now I think they’ve tighten up the security. I don’t see much lady boys and prostitutes around the area, although if you’re into that kind of stuff then you should head to Pat Pong.
The red district of Bangkok is notorious for ping-pong shows, but please be careful. My fellow dorm mates went to Pat Pong and 3500 baht just flew out of their pockets and straight to thin air. They got enticed to a ping-pong show for 100 baht with complimentary beer, but when they got upstairs they got conned out of their pants. When they tried to make a scene they were intimidated by the bodyguards, and you know a loss cause when you’ve seen one.
If you’re curious by all means – go. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Khao San road has been good and full of character, and true to its name it is a Backpacking Mecca. I love it here, mainly because I met so many people, and mainly because there’s so many things to see (and to eat).
And that was when I realized that traveling alone – is not so lonely at all. You get to meet people along the way, just don’t be afraid to say hi. I admit that I’m pretty shy among new crowd, but coming here forced me to break that barrier and it’s not so bad at all. There’s so much I need to learn when it comes to making friends with total strangers but this is a good head start.
Until then, safe travels!