Part 1 – Bangkok – “Hey man, this is Asia”

By the time we reached the hotel, I was sweaty, annoyed and unimpressed. From one side of the town to the other, the brilliant skyscrapers had been replaced by discoloured low buildings with smudged windows; Bangkok’s swanky department stores faded into rows of cramped shops selling everything from tools to stuffed toys. The streets were filled with people, shoving to get past one another, packed together like sardines in a can. The midday sun and humidity engulfed the city in a dense and intolerable heat. The air reeked with all sorts of unpleasant smells, and I nearly fainted as we walked past a sewer.

Is this going to set the tone for the rest of our holiday? Thank God it’s only one more night here in Bangkok. After having spent the past three nights in the more ‘modern’ side of town in a 4.5 star hotel, we were a little shell-shocked. This hotel (if you can call it that), on the other hand, is situated on the edge of Bangkok’s ‘Chinatown’, a.k.a backpackers galore, and it’s the starting point of our journey through Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Intrepid tour group met at 6pm, the welcome meeting was followed by dinner and drinks. We hopped on a local bus, which took us to the backpackers’ district in Chinatown for 9 baht per person. The night was young, so it was still stinky hot as we stepped inside our first ‘local’ restaurant. It turned out that the little restaurant wasn’t the air-conditioned sanctuary I had hoped for, instead, it was semi-alfresco and the only cooling device was a fan blasting away near our table. Being the backpackers’ district, we were a little suspicious of just how ‘local’ this restaurant really was. Dinner consisted of curries and vegetable dishes, Ben declared that he liked the food (‘the best curry I’ve ever had’) and I was quite indifferent, but what did we know? The price was great though, I’ll take a big meal for 150 baht any time!

After dinner, we went for some cocktails at a bar that was supposedly one of the top ten bars in the world. It’s a little hard to believe that this road side bar with a cart that doubled as a liquor cabinet and a working bench would make it to the top ten.  But as I downed my first 80 baht cocktail (a long island ice tea), things started to look a lot better, the conversations were flowing and the night grew considerably cooler.

We soon found out that there was a reason for the sudden drop in temperature – it started raining, and when Bangkok rains, it pours. Taxis were hailed, but none were suitable as they all seemed to have taken the opportunity to charge a premium. We took shelter under some awnings, and watched the rain wash the heat off the buildings and streets, but somehow, it didn’t wash away the spirits of those still chatting and drinking away under the sun umbrellas. The neon-filled streets took on an almost dreamy effect in the pouring rain that it almost looked beautiful. For the first time that day, I started to appreciate this lively city, and slowly soaked up its odd but inviting atmosphere. We finally found a taxi. As I turned to thank the lovely owner of the bar for holding an umbrella for me whilst I got into the taxi, I realised something that should have occurred to me much earlier – this is what it’s like, this is Asia, live it up baby.