As previously described, we arrived in the Capital of Thailand fairly early in the morning. We then had what felt like the longest walk to the hotel via the underground Metro station. We didn’t need to board another train, just walk under the city for a while, away from the blazing sun and the commuter-filled roads. Yes, yes you did read that correctly… it was hot! Finally, I’d managed to get back to a city in IndoChina where the temperature was better suited to the clothes packed in my bag!
We eventually made it, emerging out onto the street in front or a G Adventures-recommended laundrette and café, and for those of us who had sensibly arrived in Bangkok a day or so before the tour began, people started recognising landmarks as we approached the hotel. And there was no confusion or anticipation as to what the hotel would be like as it was the same one that we started at. As ever though, the rooms were not yet made up, and so we each grabbed our washbags and a change of more suitable clothing and did our best to freshen up in the bathroom downstairs. It’s amazing how awesome you can feel just brushing your teeth!
Since it was now breakfast time, but we had actually been up since about 5.30am, on arriving at a café attached to a youth hostel and perusing the menu, I ordered a smoothie and a hotdog. Well, sausages and bread is basically breakfast food, right…? Some people wanted to make the most of their final day out travelling, so headed off as soon as they were done eating, but I really wanted to check in and grab a quick shower before heading back out into the city. True to form, the food took a long time arriving, and before we knew it, it was 10am, so we were actually able to check in. I stuck around with the boys for the morning as they had a pretty succinct plan for the day – Wat Pho Temple with the famous golden reclining Buddha via the water taxi, and then a short tuk tuk ride to MBK – the biggest shopping mall in Bangkok.
The water taxi was a frightful experience and I wonder that the boat wasn’t overloaded! There was this tiny little Thai man with a whistle hanging round his neck that he absolutely did not need as his voice was piercing and quite high pitched and it carried with no trouble whatsoever! He was effectively the water taxi conductor and was shuffling people all the way down the boat and gathering their fares. We were all stuffed in like sardines though, so there wasn’t really that much room for us to be shuffling anywhere, but we managed to stand our ground amongst locals and tourists alike and even exit at the right stop. A couple of the lads were from the UK and we were discussing whether the journey was more or less pleasant than a trip on the Tube in rush-hour. Generally, we came to the conclusion that at least there were some nice things to look at on the water taxi.
Anyway, we navigated through the streets to Wat Pho Temple which was truly beautiful. The detailed mosaic artwork on the multiple stupors shimmered in the sunlight and I think I managed to capture some of their glittering in a few minion pics – what do you think? I was not expecting the massive golden reclining Buddha to be indoors, in a room with pillars every 10ft, obscuring your view of his magnificent size. It felt like he was almost hiding from the sunshine, but I guess it is likely much easier to maintain the gold plated effigy when he is not outside and open to the elements. In fact, the soles of his feet were closed for maintenance & restoration! I didn’t think too much of this until I decided to do a little bit of research, and then I realised what I’d missed out on. Oh well, to be honest, the subtle tarpaulin and small blocks of scaffolding at the end of his 46m (~150ft) length didn’t really detract from the massive structure. I attempted, like many others who had entered the temple, to take a panoramic photo on my iPhone, but this just ended in absolute fail where the perspectives were all out. We did manage to have another one of those panoramic shots where one person appears in them multiple times.
We were feeling the heat and were all kind of itching for lunch, so we hopped into a tuk tuk off to MBK as we’d been told there was a great food court on one of the top floors. You did have to wander round, decide what you wanted to eat, top up a cashless payment card and then go back to that specific eatery to buy your meal, but I guess if you’re not a tourist, this form of payment is super-efficient.
Since I was not allowing myself to buy anything at all (bar foodstuffs) until I’d got myself a new suitcase, I didn’t want to spend too much time at MBK. Instead, I headed to the STA Travel Agent to see if they would be able to do a decent deal on the hotel I wanted to stay at in Phuket. Much cheaper to book online instead, so I headed back to the hotel, parked myself with my laptop and booked flights and hotels and dorm rooms and just organised my life, post IndoChina Discovery and G’s Got Talent, generally! I’d decided to prolong the group travelling experience as long as possible, and so I wasn’t going to be saying goodbye to ALL of them at once. A couple of them had already booked into a swanky looking place in Phuket for 5 nights, and a couple of others were thinking about joining in, so in the end there were five of us who splashed out on a bit of a beach holiday for a few days before the rest of our journeys continued separately.
We met for our final meal together at 7pm in the hotel lobby. Everyone made an effort, pretty dresses and a bit of makeup and we all looked glamorous as hell! Our resident hairdresser treated a couple of the girls to a neat updo and we all tried not to talk about the fact this would probably be the last time we’d all be together in the same place. We waited for our CEO for ages, and figured he’d gotten a little confused with our strange messages back and forth as to whether we were going to one of the expensive rooftop bars or not. We sent him a Facebook message, we tried calling him. Then someone suggested we get reception to place a call to his room, and the poor guy had slept through his own alarms! Bless him, he was absolutely shattered, but I guess working 24/7 for a month would do that to anyone. He was downstairs and we were on our way to the same restaurant that we went to on our first night, reminiscing the time that we didn’t know each other, and all the things that had changed. We had an extra person, for a start! I sent the minion round the table for everyone to do a selfie with him! I need to have a think about what I’m going to do with those pictures… they can’t stay hiding in a private album on Facebook forever…
Our CEO stood up and started a speech that I knew would end with at least some people being in tears! We’d also sent a tip envelope round and I’d put a little thank you note in it that I’d got everyone to scribble on, and a couple of people said a few words, like “Dude, you’re awesome. You make suggestions for extra things to do, you make exceptions and adapt our plans when people have issues, you hunt down doctors in the middle of nowhere and we know you are going to be amazing at whatever you put your mind to. This trip would not have been the same without you, and thanks a million!” and “Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, especially at the Laotian Homestay where it was freezing cold, there was little to no running water, and making me understand that we are so lucky to have experienced these amazing things with people who have zero prospects to travel outside of their town or village or country. They live vicariously through the travellers who visit their remote locations and I didn’t understand why we were there until you explained it to me and gave me the G Adventures book to read on the night train.” And more than one person uttered the phrase “friends for life”. Okay, I didn’t cry, but I did have a massive lump in my throat that I tried to swallow without making eye contact with anyone.
So, after the first emotional part of the evening was over, a bunch of us had already decided to go to a ping pong show. Walking down Khaosan Road, there were sleazy looking guys making disgusting popping noises with their mouths and shoving a ping pong menu under your nose, but our CEO had organised for us to go to a place a little further away from the tourist strip. To be honest, I felt insanely comfortable with the group by then, and there was a fairly large bunch of us that wanted to experience the phenomena, so I was happy to go along. If I was in a smaller group, even as a couple, I don’t think I would have felt safe getting in a tuk tuk, not entirely knowing the destination.
We paid 800 baht, no phone, no photos, only to watch these poor dejected women doing truly incredible and fascinating things with their vaginas. I mean, there was one woman who emptied an entire bottle of Coca Cola up in there, she danced about the stage for a bit, and then refilled the bottle. Women were pulling all manner of plastic ornaments attached to flimsy scarves out of themselves, there was one woman who blew candles out on a cake (hygienic!), here was one who fired darts out of herself with such force that she burst a balloon held 6ft up in the air. I mean, don’t get me wrong, when one woman drew a freaking caricature of a ladyboy with a “Welcome to Thailand” speech bubble just holding the pen between her legs, I was seriously impressed. But at exactly the same time, you can’t help but wonder – how do these women come to the realisation that they can do these things? What horrific things must these women have gone through to decide to work in this shady shack on the outskirts of Thailand’s capital city? Some of them were not young, more than a few were clearly mothers, and it was blatantly obvious that none of them wanted to be there. There was no theatricality here, and the audience had much the same attitude, with over 75% of us watching with eyes wide with incredulous pity, unable to tear away their gaze. The show finished with a couple performing some really crazy heterosexual acrobatics, in the only act to feature a dude, and everyone left as abruptly as we’d arrived.
By the time we got back to the rest of the group, I had my review ready. “Sad but fascinating”. I was a little annoyed at myself for subsidising that sort of activity, but then we kind of agreed that we must have already subsidised activities that we didn’t necessarily agree with, without even realising it, which was actually worse. We left serious talk to the side and continued on enjoying our last night together as a bunch of travellers and took our party to a brilliant little reggae bar a few doors down. I’m not going to lie, anytime I hear a Bob Marley medley, I’m going to be reminded of that night, those amazing people and I’ll feel a little twinge of sadness. But all good things must come to an end, with many goodbye hugs and kisses and promises that we’d definitely see each other at some point in the future, people trickled off into the night in order to grab enough shut-eye before their travel plans for the following day.
The next morning, I said goodbye to the best roommate I could have asked for, had my complimentary breakfast on my own for the first time in forever, hopped in a private taxi to the airport, Phuket-bound, to meet up with two brand new and awesome travel buddies and friends for life. All I was doing was putting off the inevitable. I’ve never been one for goodbyes.