City surprise.

Bangkok surprised me. I spent two weeks there in total, which is nearly two weeks more than planned. Lots of people said it’s awful, noisy, busy and advised to just get out as quick as possible. But I found I loved it. It’s not really anything like you’d imagine. Ok, maybe there are seedy parts, dirty bits. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s a city. It’s certainly better than some cities I’ve been to (Delhi?). Maybe it was the area I stayed in; a Thai residential area. But I found it energising, friendly, cosmopolitan, bustling and vibrant. It’s easy to get around and is filled with lovely happy smiley people.

My second stay was when Nick came to join me to be my travel buddy for a couple of months in SE Asia. Nick’s first time in Thailand, we spent a few days walking miles and miles (literally; I think we covered around 40 miles in 3 days) around the city, eating lots of street food, trying to interact with the locals and take pictures. I met up with Rebecca again before Nick arrived for more food and drinks and a wander round a very wet and soggy Asiatique, a waterfront full of shops, restaurants and bars.

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It was strange having someone to travel with, especially someone I know from back home, after a few months of travelling by myself. It’s different, but in a good way. Someone to share stuff with. Like the experiences and sights that are being seen, but also the responsibility and organisation. Like remembering to take a room key, or figuring out which bus to get or doing a beer run. It’s making a nice change for a small part of my adventure. To share my adventure. We did a lot that week in Bangkok, here’s just a few examples:

  •  Had a few beers. Of course, it had to be done. And of course then I had to introduce Nick to the wonders of the 7/11 post-beer munchie food. Incidentally, there are 6500 7/11’s in Thailand. They are everywhere. Literally.
  • Stayed at the wonderful U-baan hostel in the Thonburi district ran by the lovely Joy (helped by her sister Jan). It’s a great place to stay at; we felt right at home and met some, erm, interesting people. Especially three Australian lads who were on a two-month rampage through SE Asia. The things they had already got up to in the few short weeks they had been travelling can’t really be written down here. And that’s just the things they told us about. The Dark Arts, as they called them, were not allowed to be shared publicly. I dread to think. But they were very sweet and very bloody entertaining. They left after a couple of days to head to a posh hotel nearer the centre of the action…god knows what they got up to.
  • Visiting Khao San Road. The backpackers mecca, we had an idea of what it would be like but we wanted to see it for sure. And it was exactly what we thought. Full of tourists, backpackers, english and irish bars, hawkers, cheap tat and fast food places. Pretty dire, and we were quick to make an exit. Not my kind of place, not my kind of travelling.

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  • Got interviewed by some Thai school children. I was in a shopping mall and I noticed a bunch of boys, probably about 11 or 12, giggling and nudging each other while looking in my direction. Eventually they came up and asked if they could ask me a few questions. I guess they were doing some kind of school project; they asked my what my favourite Thai food was, why and had a picture taken with me. It was all a bit odd but after a few months of being in Asia having your picture taken with people is kind of normal.
  • Discovered condensed milk on toast. Well yes, I know this sounds horrific, but, if you have a sweet tooth you may just be in heaven with this new taste sensation. Thick toast, butter then drizzled condensed milk. Oh. Em. Gee. I love Bangkok food courts. Where else would have a toast stall?
  • And staying on the condensed milk theme, Nick and I found a street pancake stall. A man with a little trolly making pancakes. This is quite popular in Thailand; a pancake with banana or egg (or both), drizzled with condensed milk and sugar. My advice? Try it without banana or egg. Just a pancake, on it’s own, with condensed milk and sugar. I may have died and gone to sweet food heaven.
  • And staying on the food theme, we ate and ate and ate the most amazing food. We didn’t go into a restaurant once; we stuck to street food. There were so many options, and the food was just so bloody good. Amazing flavours, so hot and fiery cooked and served right in front of you by happy smiley people. Street food all the way.
  • Talked to a lot of local people. We talked to loads of people. Well, talked/sign languaged as much as we could. Thai people are so friendly and so happy and so smiley. It was wonderful. I watched Nick make a paper aeroplane for a small Thai lad, we joked with people cooking our food and chatted with the people at the market.
  • Browsed the local markets. These are great places to go. All the foods, the smells, the sounds, the people. Makes all your senses come alive. Living, not existing.

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  • Took a sky train tour. One day we bought an all-day sky train ticket and just rode the train. When we got to a stop that looked interesting we just got out and walked around. I’d say with this and the walking we’d already done in the non-sky train areas we pretty much covered the whole of Bangkok. All the different places have a different feel; which we could really tell walking through them all.
  • Got grossed out at the Museum of Forensic Medicine. This was pretty gruesome but fascinating. Lots of exhibits and pictures of things showing what happens to the body after car accidents, murders, birth defects etc. A bit macabre but in an educational way. Apart from that all the writing is in Thai so we just had to guess sometimes.
  • Climbed a temple. We had to go to at least one temple so I chose Wat Arun. It’s a beautiful temple, you can climb to the top up really steep steps to get a great view over the river and Bangkok city. It looks like it’s made out of grey stone but it’s not until you get close up that you realise it’s covered in Bangkok grime and actually the stones are white and coloured.

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It’s amazing how we felt at home in Bangkok. It’s not because it’s a big city, because it’s not particularly westernised, although there are some areas where it obviously has parallels and home comforts. We tried to decide why, but couldn’t. I think there are too many reasons. Nick absolutely loved it, and will be coming back at the end of his trip. How long for, he’s not sure yet. But I suspect it has stolen a little bit of his heart.

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Street food.

No, not food that’s somehow found it’s way onto the floor on the street. No, this is a post about Thai street food. Or more specifically, Bangkok street food. Two words: it’s AWESOME. Oh yes, it’s so good it deserves capital letters.

Street food is, not surprisingly, food from stalls on the street. There’s so many different types to choose from. Fruit carts, meat skewers, fish skewers, noodle soup, meatballs, noodles, rice, vegetables. Full plated meals, snacks or take away. Spicy or not spicy. SO MUCH CHOICE. Anywhere you go, there’s something available. And pretty much everything I have tried is so frickin’ DELICIOUS. Spicy, full of flavour and just so god damn tasty. Just sat here writing about it is making me hungry and wanting to go out and eat, eat and eat again.

And the people who run the carts and cook the street food are so awesome too. Happy, smiley, friendly people. Most of them seem to enjoy what they do and are happy to have a laugh and a joke, and love it when you love their food.

Yesterday was an epic street food day. Nick’s been rating his food, and his curry from a little stand near Khao San road has rated the highest yet. And the little guy who served us was an awesome happy little chappy, but the lady who cooked our tea at a little stand just down the road and round the corner from our hostel was the best yet. She was a little whirlwind of activity, joking and laughing with everyone as she went, cooking at a million miles an hour. We sat for ages just watching her. Especially when she was cooking a huge order for this Thai man, who had ordered a feast for two people. She put everything (including some soup) in little clear plastic bags for takeaway, and we ended up laughing and joking with him about how much he’d ordered and whether he’d be able to eat it all.

So, our street food day in pictures:

Brunch: Nick with his highly rated curry and the guy from the stall

 

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Dinner: my hot spicy vegetable/tofu stir fry thing and the happy smiley whirlwind lady

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The day ended with many beers, a ham and cheese toastie, crisps and chocolate from the 7 eleven but obviously that’s not really authentic Tahi street food so the less said about that the better…

Bangkok nights.

I’m going to start this post with a caveat that despite spending 5 nights in Bangkok so far I’ve not really done much, so I’m not sure I’ve got much to write about. My friend Nick is joining me in Thailand in about a week and I’ll be heading back to Bangkok to meet him. So I put off some of the tourist things until he arrives. That and I was also feeling a bit ‘templed’ out after India and China. Oh, and I was also fed up with the heat.

So, I had quite a relaxed few days. I had to sort out plans for getting to Koh Mak where I’d spend a week or so before coming back. Sorting out=researching, figuring out how to get there then going and booking bus tickets etc.

I didn’t want to be in the middle of backpacker central, so the place I stayed in was in a mainly Thai residential area south of the river; nice and quiet and away from the madness and crowds. There was a little night market selling mainly meat, fruit and vegetables (most of which I couldn’t recognise and had no idea what they were) that popped up near there so I spent a bit of time walking round it. It was a hive of activity, with people chattering and cooking, the smells and colours all so strong and fresh. It was a full ‘in your face’ experience, making all my senses feel alive and a great way to introduce me to some Thai culture. It also made me pretty hungry so after a bit more wandering I found a little place to eat in. Nothing fancy; just a few tables and a small kitchen at the back. A proper little Thai eating place, where it kind of feels like you’re sat in someone’s living room. There’s no menu, just a load of Thai writing on the wall. The woman couldn’t speak English; I couldn’t speak Thai. We looked at each other with bemused looks on our faces until a chap sat behind me came to the rescue. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I ended up with some kind of chicken fried rice dish. The tastiest chicken fried rice dish I’d had ever. Add in some fierce chilli flakes from the table and it was incredible. Oh, and the best bit? It cost me less than a £1. “Welcome to Thai food, Paps.” I thought. One of the best things for me about travelling is the food. Trying new food, finding different places to eat. And I’m pretty sure Thailand is not going to disappoint. Especially as they also have fruit carts! I am so excited about this. Carts full of melon, pineapple and other [as yet unidentified and untried] fresh fruit. For pennies. I am SO going to eat healthy while I am here. It’s like the melon on a stick snack carts in China all over again. Such a shame England doesn’t have anything like this. All we have is carb-heavy, calorie laden shitty snacks like pastries, crisps and sweets. No wonder people struggle to eat a healthy diet when out and about, the options are so limited. Maybe that could be my new job when I get back? Fruit-Cart Operative. Wonder how many people would go for it?

That night I sat on the hostel roof with some guys also staying there drinking Chang beer from the local 7/11 (taking dibs on who would do the next beer run), making paper aeroplanes to throw off the roof, watching a thunderstorm in the distance and just chatting about travel, life and the universe. It was such a relaxed evening, a perfect way to spend a few hours, although I’d realised my tolerance to alcohol has definitely diminished and I felt more than a little drunk by the end of it (which was around 2am in the 7/11 getting beer munchie cheese and ham toasties and Hersheys chocolate). I wasn’t drunk enough to forget though that it was a Thursday night, which only means one thing: Film Club night back in the UK, and as 2am here is 8pm back there, my Film Club buddies got a drunken hangout call. I can’t really remember much about the details of the conversation but I remember laughing a lot. And them laughing a lot. And getting chocolate all over myself. Love them.

Walking round this area at night (not while drunk, obviously), down all the little streets and alleyways is like having a glimpse into real life for the people who live here because all the houses have main rooms that all fully open out into the street. It reminded me of those kid’s dolls houses where you could open the front and see into every room. Each building houses something different; people making shoes, people’s living rooms, arcade machines, fabric shops, sewing shops. You name it, there was probably someone doing it. It felt a bit voyeuristic, walking round and gazing into their lives. But a smile and a hello is returned with a wide grin and a warm greeting back, which made me feel better.

One day I went to Lumphini Park and wandered around for a bit, looking for the monitor lizards and checking it out as a possible place to run (it passed). It’s a nice place to pass the time and people watch for a bit. That evening I went out for dinner with a woman who lives in Bangkok, who I know through an internet forum I go on. Another meeting in real life of a random stranger that I only know through the internet, but this time no running, just eating and drinking. I had a great time, and she treated me to dinner and wine at a trendy bar which was super generous of her. I love that the world is such a smaller place nowadays, that I can meet new friends in all kinds of ways and that once again I’m reminded that the world is full of kind, lovely, generous people. It was nice to see a ‘friendly’ face while I’m travelling, and find out more about real life in the city, rather than just hitting the tourist spots. That’s what travelling is about for me.

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And what visit to a big city is not complete without going to Chinatown (via boat)? Now I’ve actually been to China, it’s a bit of a different experience for me. I like it. The one here had lots of small streets with markets, food stalls and everything in between. I’m pretty sure I’ll probably go back again with Nick so didn’t really do much else apart from walk through. Oh, and stop for something to eat at a street stall. Everywhere you go there are little carts that serve up mainly a kind of noodle soup with some kind of meat or meatballs for tiny prices. They quite often have a few tables to sit at nearby so I got my bowl of noodle soup and sat down, adding in chilli flakes to make it a bit interesting. Probably added in a few too many but that’s by the by. They had chopsticks. Oh how I had missed chopsticks over the last few days; forks and spoons seem to be the utensils of choice here. I’d spent a month in China mastering my own special way of using a pair, and really enjoyed it. Now, granted, my method is probably not the same as the ‘proper’ way of using them but it does the job. The chap at the food stall obviously didn’t think so as he came over with a fork as I was halfway through. Hmm. I didn’t think I was that bad. I waved him off with a smile, he returned it with a confused look and a grin.

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I’ll probably go back to Chinatown as I’m pretty sure Nick will want to go there. Nick loves trying new food even more than I do, so I can’t wait for more street food adventures. Mmmm. All that fresh food, packed full of flavour and more heat than you can handle (if you want). Oh, I’m sure we’ll do a bit of sightseeing but it’s the food. It’s all about the food.

Runs around the world #11

Bangkok, Thailand

First things first. Bangkok isn’t any less hot and humid than Hong Kong. Ok, well, maybe a teeny tiny bit. But not much. Second, night time temperatures are not that much different to day time ones. Which means any run is going to be on the warm side. But, well, I’m used to it now. Aren’t I?

Either way, I haven’t got a choice. If I want to run, I have to run. After a quick internet search and conversations with a few people, I’d been pointed towards Lumphini Park as a good place to run in Bangkok. A park with large open spaces and paths around the outside totalling 2.5km, it was an obvious choice for either a morning or evening run. I chose evening. I’ve mainly been running in the morning so wanted to mix it up a bit, and decided to go at about 7pm. Technically I figured it might be at least one or two degrees cooler. So, I hopped on the sky train and hopped off at the park.

There’s some kind of protest going on there at the moment although I’m not sure exactly what it’s about as all the banners and speeches and things are all in Thai. Something about justice though. I weaved my way through all the people gathered at the main gates listening to some speeches and music on a big stage and started my run, alongside other joggers. Following the path round the outside of the park, the first thing I noticed was that it was flat. No hills here. This was welcome.

I didn’t have a set distance in mind, but wanted to do at least 4 miles. I knew I could still run 6 miles after Hong Kong, so knocking out a 10K was probably an unconscious goal. I kept to a nice and steady pace, which back in the UK I’d consider slow, and actually would have struggled to run at (around 10 mins/mile). It still frustrates me that I’m running so slow, but, I know that it’s because it’s hot and I’m not as fit as I was. Dammit. And I still overtook some people, so I guess I’m not that slow.

As runs go, it was good. I managed to do 6 miles in total. The park was pretty at night, especially the reflections of the skyscrapers on the lake. There were many other joggers, including other westerners. I felt like part of a bit of an exclusive club. My legs generally felt good (although they started to get a bit tired at about 5 miles) and I guess I’d sum it up as a nice, easy jog with no major dramas. A very sweaty, nice easy jog. When humidity is high, it’s a bit like running in a steam room. The sweat just pours off. In some ways I quite like this; it feels like you’re actually doing something. Someone I know once said to me about running and exercise “if you’re not sweating with snot coming out your nose and feeling like you’re about to die then there’s no point in doing it”. And he’s got a point. And if you care what people think, then you’re screwed from the get go. The whole point of exercise is to get your body working. To push it. To keep going. Not to worry about what you look like or what other people think of you.

But, being sweaty doesn’t help your money stay in your pocket. At some point near the end when I pulled a wet, sweaty iphone out my arm holder to check my distance, I also pulled out the only money (a 100 baht note) I had on me. Unfortunately I didn’t notice, but luckily for me, a park ranger did, and cycled back after me to give it back. I could have kissed him; that was the only money I had to buy some much-needed water and food after my run. That water and the boiled egg off the man on the street never tasted so good.

I enjoyed that run so much I went back the next night to do it all over again. Only the next time I only ran 4.5 miles, and the boiled egg was replaced with the most amazing rice-chilli pork-fried egg combo street food. That meal, my friends, was one of the best meals I have had. Whether it’s because it was after a run or whether it was just mega tasty, I don’t know. And I don’t care.

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