Thailand diaries part 1: Making friends with an ex-monk in Bangkok

My first venture into south east Asia had me feeling a bit like a millionaire. Changing up my pounds for Thai baht left me with more than a handful of colourful bank notes, promising me false riches in a country where everything seemed inexpensive.

I arrived in Bangkok with £150 worth of Thai baht and somehow found my way to my first hostel of the trip, Bed Station. I say “somehow found my way” because it’s probably one of my best achievements of recent times. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction and can be found, more often than not, wandering the wrong way for quite a while. My plan initially was to buy a Thai SIM card when I arrived at Bangkok airport however my inability to be patient and sensible meant that I rushed straight for the Sky Train to buy a ticket to the centre.
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I knew vaguely how to get to my hostel because Google Maps had showed me the exact route. I had to get on the Sky Train until the end of the line (easy enough) and then catch a bus and then walk up the road. Simple in theory, horrendous in practice. I sorted out my train ticket without a problem but couldn’t find the bus stop. Eventually, I decided to walk until I found another bus stop and then saw that someone had scrawled “Khao San Road” in black marker pen on the side of the bus stop. This seemed like a good enough indication so I waited there until a bus came along before hopping on and falling asleep. Not a great shout, but also not really too surprising considering I’d had a 13 hour night flight from the UK, on which I’d managed about five hours sleep, aided by a sleeping pill. The lovely Thai bus driver woke me up when we were apparently at Khao San Road so I got off and looked around, seemingly expecting to see my hostel right in front of me. Obviously, because this is real life and not a movie, this did not happen. So I wandered around in a vague direction, fruitlessly trying to connect to local wifi, before a miracle occurred and I actually walked into the hostel. See what I mean about being impressive?
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I don’t usually go into too many details about hostels but Bed Station is worth shouting about. Not only does it have a (admittedly small) swimming pool but also a great bar, outside chilling area and even a gym. Not that I went to the gym, but it’s useful to know that it’s there… right?
While I knew I only had a few days in Bangkok before flying to Vietnam, I thought I’d stagger my activities over the course of a few days. However, somehow I managed to cram almost everything into a single day. All with the help of a lovely Thai ex-monk, who started chatting to me in the street.
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I’d decided to go out and explore for a couple of hours before dinner, as my hostel had seemed pretty quiet. I was walking up the main road when a guy about the same age as me came up to me. I’d been warned quite a few times about scammers in Bangkok so I was cautious when he asked where I was going. But as I didn’t really have anywhere specific in mind, there was no need to lie. I explained that I’d just arrived in Bangkok and was wandering around to get my bearings. He offered to show me around – and in true British politeness, I had no idea how to say no. So off we went, walking up the main road and me clutching my bag very tightly to my chest. He said he’d show me some of the best temples as well as some of the other sights, which I took with a pinch of salt. But lo and behold, he was true to his word. I was so used to scammers in Morocco refusing to do anything for free that I was quite reserved at first, expecting the same thing in a different country. But he showed me around for about two hours – showing me the government buildings, the best spot for Muay Thai fighting, the famous Thai swing and more.
He pointed out his favourite spot for Pad Thai, the temples I should go back and visit the following morning, and other things that only a local would know. Two hours later and we’d circled back around to Khao San Road. I wasn’t sure how long this evening would go on for, and I was still cautious that he was playing the long game and was still out to scam me. So imagine my surprise when he turned to me and said “I live just up the road from here so I’m going to head home now.” He showed me exactly how to get back to the hostel and off he went with a smile. I was amazed – perhaps I’d been too judgemental in advance but he was literally just a friendly local who wanted to show someone around. He thanked me for letting him practice his English and I thanked him for the tour and I never saw him again.
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Filled with fresh confidence, I decided to buy some fresh mango before heading back to the hostel. I strolled down the famous Khao San Road, paid the equivalent of 80p for a huge bag of fresh mango, and walked back to the hostel. It was at this moment when it all went downhill. I met a group of people from the hostel, headed out for some Pad Thai with them (which cost around 60p) and then went back for drinks.
If you’ve been to Thailand before (or various other parts of SE Asia) you’ll know about the famous bucket drinks. If you’re not in the know, then the clue’s in the name: miniature buckets like the ones you’d find by the seaside, but not quite as wholesome. Instead of being filled with sand and childhood memories, they’re filled with cheap spirits, mixer and lots of ice. They might look a bit ridiculous to take back to your seat, but they’re cheap and save you too many trips back to the bar. Perhaps it was my laziness or maybe just the novelty that was the reason for the downfall of my night. I’d already been pre-warned of their potency by my flatmate, who’d visited a couple of years back and earned the nickname “bucket” for drinking too many and spending the rest of the night throwing up. Which, of course, is exactly what I did, too.
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In my defence, the first two buckets tasted pretty weak. I’m usually a gin and tonic kind of girl but a bucket of G&T seemed like a bit of a weird choice so I reverted back to my 18-year-old days and went for a bucket of vodka lemonade. And then a second bucket of vodka lemonade. And then we ended up at a terrible bar and then eventually a really good club – if you can call the outside part of a restaurant with some extra chairs dotted around it but surprisingly good music a club. I made the mistake of asking for a strong bucket and the guy making it took me more than literally. What happened next was a combination of drinking too much, having a balloon (seemingly legal in Thailand) and then passing out for all of 20 seconds. I’ve never passed out in my life so it wasn’t really my proudest moment. A bit later on we headed back to the hostel and I spent the rest of the night predictably throwing up. Again, not my proudest moment but certainly a memorable(ish) one. I made some great friends that night, that I ended up hanging out with for the rest of our mutual time in Bangkok. When I awoke the next morning (or, at about 2pm, which I’m blaming jet lag for) they laughed at my hangover and I enviously listened to their stories of what they’d been up to while I’d been fast asleep and trying to rehydrate myself after my hangover. So it might not come as too much of a surprise to learn that Bangkok day two was very low key: the furthest I ventured was to Khao San Road round the corner to hunt down a very specific passion fruit smoothie that I’d tried the night before. Day two ended with more Pad Thai and more mango before I headed up to bed, ready and determined to approach day three with more enthusiasm and less alcohol in my body.
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