Now, onto the next country in my series… bizarre, wild and electric Thailand.
Sun, sand and… ladyboys in Phuket
Arriving from the serene town of Ubud to rampantly wild and humid streets of Phuket was a culture shock in itself. It was buzzing with life: trucks with Muay Thai fighters boxing on top, tourists from all over the world walking the streets and bars blaring loud music. It wasn’t really my thing and I immediately felt out of place.
I arranged for a tour to Phi Phi Islands, well-known for the gorgeous azure waters you see in all the brochures and most famously, the movie The Beach. I took a boat with about 20 other tourists and set off to three different islands where we snorkelled, swum in the warm waters and had lunch. My favourite island, Maya Bay, was absolutely gorgeous; high cliffs sheltered a baby blue bay of water and wooden boats lined the shore, making the whole island incredibly picturesque. However, a downside to those islands is that it is congested with tourists and sadly, sometimes you see rubbish floating around. It wasn’t very paradise-like swimming next to a band-aid!
After a blissful day of sunbathing at Patong Beach, a friend of mine from Auckland messaged me and told me he was in Phuket as well. We decided to go out and enjoy the nightlife at the only place in Phuket you need to know about: Bangla Road. This road is infamous for arguably being the party street of Thailand. Loud bars and clubs line the streets, with women pole-dancing in little clothing to the left and right; there are tourists everywhere, and plenty of drunk ones at that; bar and club ambassadors crawl the streets holding signs for cheap drinks and ‘ping pong shows.’ But the crown jewel? The ladyboys. Bangla is the stage to parade their beautiful bodies and extravagant outfits to the amazed masses. And boy, I must say, they are actually really pretty. My friend and I pub crawled and drunk way too much, and we ended up dancing the night away and having the time of our lives at a random club we were lured into. Bear in mind that this was a Monday night and it was going off. I remember taking a motorbike home, and even though I lived almost opposite of Bangla Road, the guy charged me a waaay overpriced 200 Baht (NZD8) which I happily paid for in my deluded state.
I won’t go into detail, but the next day I got an awful case of alcohol poisoning and my body went into shock from the constant throwing up I had to do. I had no choice but to miss my flight to Bangkok that afternoon which I was really upset about, but thankfully my Airbnb host was gracious enough to let me stay another night and help me with medicine. When in Phuket, right?
My love affair with Bangkok
You either hate or love Bangkok. I loved it and ended up staying an extra week. It is a city mad with constant traffic, noise and excitement and there is always something going on in every corner you turn. Delicious food stalls line the streets, and at a ridiculously cheap price too – you can get the best Pad Thai you have ever had for 60 cents; the shopping is heaven and there is a huge mall at almost every train stop; sprawling markets filled with everything you can buy are rampant in Bangkok; and there are plenty of trendy rooftop bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from. Of course, there are always downsides to a city. In Bangkok, it is the dirty streets infested with huge rats, the sheer humidity and polluted air and the constant gridlocked traffic (tip: if you need to get somewhere fast, forget about a taxi and take a motorbike or the Skytrain which is excellent and very comprehensive.)
In Bangkok, I met a Portuguese hipster who worked and lived in the city and knew the coolest places in town to hit. He showed me rooftop bars with stunning views of the city, cute little cafes and restaurants and the best markets in town. My favourite by far was JJ Green Market, a youth-orientated market selling goods like vintage cameras, sneakers and Japanesque clothes. Right next to it is Chatuchak markets, the largest market in Thailand. It felt like I was in a slum. It was huge, sprawling and easy to get lost in. The crowds of people and the little alleyways branching off here and there make it near impossible to get through all the stalls, but I noticed most of them sold the same things anyway.
While I was in Bangkok, I also visited NightLight, a NGO focused on rehabilitating victims of the sex industry. I spent a whole day with a lovely intern from Canada, touring their offices and learning about what they did and why. It was bizarre that their offices were in the middle of the red light district. I taxied there and thought I was in the wrong place. However, they are strategically located there for a reason – if any woman started to feel unsafe, they could turn to NightLight for refuge. It was fascinating to meet former sex workers working within the organization baking, printing t-shirts and making jewellery. It was also to encouraging to learn how NightLight rehabilitates women who are trafficked from other countries and how they work to get them back home. My passion is empowering and healing women and to one day do that as a living, so spending the day with an amazing organization like NightLight was an incredibly inspirational experience for me.
A not-so-great experience in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai was hot. Very hot. Temperatures were soaring 40 degrees and higher and I fell ill with the flu from constantly going in and out of burning temperatures and air-conditioned rooms. And, because it is a more religious and conservative place than Phuket and Bangkok, I wore jeans the entire time. I only spent five days there, but I actually hated my experience in Chiang Mai for a number of reasons. First, my Airbnb was awful. I stayed in a studio in an apartment complex downtown, but every night I couldn’t sleep due to the barking dogs, the unbearable heat, the loud air conditioning and the domestic issues of the residents. There was one night where I heard a woman crying and objects being thrown around the room. I also found a flea on my bed, and on another night, the toilet pipe broke and flooded the bathroom. When I informed my Airbnb host, she couldn’t have cared less and I had to run down to reception with wet hair to get the pipe turned off.
Another reason I disliked Chiang Mai was because I didn’t find many interesting things to do there. Maybe I was staying and looking in the wrong area, but I struggled to fill in my time. However, I did visit the most beautiful temple I have ever seen while I was there, Wat Chedi Luang. It was towering, ancient and serene and I marveled at the sheer beauty and size of it.
Lastly, I got hit by a motorbike. Yes, you read that right. I was crossing a wide street one night after the markets and out of nowhere a motorbike hit me on my side and I flew back a couple of meters. I was lucky to only get away with a few scrapes on my hands and knees, and the motorcyclist simply fell off and got back up again. He didn’t apologize, even though he was driving on the wrong side of the road, and the only thing he kept saying to me was, “Okay.” He drove off and I stood there stunned and slightly embarrassed as there was a crowd of locals simply watching me. I went home distraught and Skyped with a friend about the incident. We ended up having a laugh about it though, which made me feel so much better (aren’t friends the best?)
By the time my trip in Chiang Mai was coming to an end, I couldn’t have been more excited to leave. I find it interesting that Chiang Mai is a coveted place for off-beaten travellers, and yet I had a completely bizarre and awful experience there. So, why read about a tourist destination when you can go and find out for yourself? That’s one of the joys of travelling – not knowing if you’re going to end up loving or hating a place, and living to tell the stories.
Thailand was a really mixed bag for me, but it has something to offer for everyone. If you’re a beach, party and resort lover, Phuket is perfect. If you love the never-sleeping city life like me, Bangkok will satisfy your desires. And Chiang Mai… well, I don’t know about Chiang Mai. I’ve read of people who loved their time there, so if you read some better experiences, maybe you’ll be convinced to visit.
The food, transport and market goods in Thailand are incredibly cheap and is a perfect place for expats as the cost of living is low. I am planning to relocate to Bangkok one day to teach English as I absolutely love how full of life and opportunity it is. Thai people are mostly friendly and welcoming, but be careful of people who will try and rip you off. Just put your haggling face on and be street-smart, and you will be fine. Also, be aware that Thailand is a place buzzing with tourists from all over the world and that is its blessing and curse; it can be overwhelming at times, but you are bound to meet and make friends with plenty of people, too!
What did you think of my crazy and bizarre experiences in Thailand? Have you ever been and if not, do you want to go? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions down below!