An urban jungle with intense heat, high humidity, smoggy traffic and "no thank you, I don’t want a massage" - welcome to Bangkok! A city not for the light hearted and while a glass of cold Chang might seem to cool the situation, be prepared to suffer when the sun comes up. An Irish man like myself, who hasn’t seen the sun in a few, will know all about it.
With so much on offer, and so many districts to discover there certainly is something for everyone in Bangkok. A endless list of temples, wild nightlife scene and plenty of buzz about the local markets, active night and day where you can buy just about anything. Not to mention the amazing and world renowned street food stalls. It takes a bit of common sense to pick the right ones, which more or less means, go where the locals go and you can’t go wrong… Of course you can’t pass through the streets without noticing a bit of sleaze along the way. Saying that, it strikes me that only a small minority appear to take part in such activities and perhaps that primary western view of Bangkok is a little unjustified.
All that aside, my quest to travel the world, embarking on a travel photography career had begun. 4am according to my re-set watch but me off course, WIDE awake with jet lag, so out comes the camera and off I go. River bound just west off the grand palace in search of sunrise.
Mistake number 1 - take care venturing down the dark alleys leading to an apparent desolate and covered pier. You might find that several locals have taken residence there and will have as much a fright as you do when shapes suddenly start to arise from shady corners. Me there with my tactical backpack and large metallic tripod in hand. That silhouette during early dawn is enough to panic any waking soul! Moving QUICKLY on…
Mistake number 2 - so you found a floating pier and not a soul in sight. A wide view of the metropolis, bridge across the horizon, connecting an urban jungle with riverside temples all ready to come alight with the morning sun. The still water a perfect foreground for those classic reflections. Brilliant! Then comes what was clearly, with retrospect, the 1st boat passing of the day, great, prepare composition and patiently await the boat sailing into the foreground. What I hadn’t predicated was the boats enormous wake, destined for my floating pier. Built on a simple 4 pillar axis I quickly found my self playing rodeo whilst trying to balance both tripods with finger and toe, both precariously near the edge. I could only but laugh to myself amidst the panic, as did the spectators from the boat. The pier showing no sign of slowing down and the sun, rising and falling as fast as it does that near the equator - I took a few hand held snaps and packed up, happy to have my gear intact.
Mistake number 3 - while I’m not a fan of air-conditioning that shiny controller with the big red button was staring at me from across the room. Bleep and a welcome breeze surrounded my every orifice. What I failed to consider was all that tightly formed glass, hidden safely away in my camera backpack… The night had fallen so out I went to explore the Silom district and surrounding area of club alleyways and night markets. Having done a quick pre-check my camera settings were seemingly in order until I came across some of Bangkok’s finest vendors, happy to pose for a big camera. Fuelled with a dash of excitement, ready to capture those notorious portraits I slung the camera up to my face, my eye found the view finder only to find a quick forming mirage of frost and mist triggered from the shear heat of my face. Remove, wipe, remove, wipe… oh dear. One hour had passed and still misty so back I went for some essential maintenance. Air-con off this time round.
Bangkok, you have not defeated me! I will be back, equipped with a pair of experienced travel feet, finger on the shutter. Anyway, I spent my last of only a few nights exploring the local Silom area with a few fellow travellers from our i-Sleep Hostel. All set for the next mornings venture inland, destination Chiang Mai, I assessed the situation and decided instead to divert my attention to the coast line in search of fresh water and silky sand. Hello Koh Chang Island, the 3rd biggest island in Thailand and for only 430 bat from Ekamai Station Bangkok to Koh Chang Port Side, you can’t go wrong… or can you?
Choosing from the cheaper side of travel options seems like a no brainer to any long term traveller or even for those with a more budget conscious attitude. Why spend more, right? Well one thing is for sure, you’ll never forget your first SE Asian tour by the local ‘VIP’ transit agency. From the printed ticket at the bus station, including a lane and coach number that doesn’t exist. The locals your driver picks up at random destinations along the way, seemingly unaware of the one bag rule (Ryan Air would do me proud) in an already cramped mini van. The sudden regret that you didn’t invest in noise cancelling headphones when the speaker right by your head tunes into the local pop channel. Most of all though, is the confused look on all your travelling faces when you get chucked off 2 or 3 times on route, at what could only be considered a street side banana stand, run by the local kids keen for a bit of extra pocket cash. Chucked off without a legible explanation or any guarantee of your pre-paid forward journey while your driver speeds off leaving you with nothing but what little faith you have left.
8 hours later and thank god, the ferries in sight and Koh Chang is on the horizon…