The Autobiography of a Nobody Pt. 3

Part 3: Khao San Road

Child monk wandering around a temple. 

Neither Jane nor I had ever stayed in a four-star hotel before. Our standards for accommodation have always been lower than most. We see a place to stay as just that. As long as it has a clean bed, then we are normally content. After all, we are only often there to sleep anyway. 

However, even we were wondering if this truly was a four-star hotel. At least we doubted the standards were the same here as they were at home. Not that there was anything wrong with the place, of course. In fact, we thought it was rather nice, but we doubted a real four star hotel would have a problem with ants. 

Still, we were blown away by Jane's booking and believed we were living in luxury. I had never felt so respected before when the receptionists bowed to us in greeting. They had a porter show us to our room where my excitement only grew further. Our bed was in a little alcove on its own and had no framework. It was simplistic; a mattress on the floor in the stereotypical Asian fashion. I thought that was incredibly cool. 

I remember immediately wanting to dive into the culture. Somewhat naïvely, I wanted to eat, sleep, and live like a local. Obviously that meant I had to see temples. 

As keen as I was to get going, Jane kept me grounded. We had as much time as we wanted here, there was no need to go rushing around looking at things straight away. She was right, of course; I was behaving like a child in a sweet shop. Instead, we spent out first day familiarising ourselves with the local area and planning what we could see and do in the days to come. 

That evening was very pleasant. We relaxed outside a bar and watched the world go by, enjoying each other's company. As an example of my naïvete, I bought a scorpion on a stick from a passing vendor. I honestly believed that this was food of the locals and wanted to be a part of that. I had to try it. 

Admittedly, it wasn't half bad. The claws and the tail reminded me of pork scratching and I rather liked it. However, the meat of the body was like nothing I'd ever tried before. It was strange, and something I wouldn't rush to try again. 

Over the following week, I would get my wish. I saw more temples than I could ever care to see. I saw so many that I have forgotten a lot of them and the rest have blurred into one. While it's true they all have their differences, I can honestly say that, once you've seen one, you've effectively seen them all. 

Now don't get me wrong, I don't want to sound unenthusiastic at this point. Each temple we visited filled me with awe. I found them both fascinating and beautiful. The attention to detail and the obvious love they have for those buildings is outstanding, but we definitely saw more than we needed to. 

In all of the temples we visited, Jane took a shawl to cover her shoulders out of respect. Some temples were more lenient than others, but she always made sure to keep covered regardless. 

Most seemed unconcerned about what men wore. Except for one; the Grand Palace. Here, it was mandatory for both men and women to have all skin covered up. Foolishly, we came unprepared. Jane's shawl wasn't going to cut it, and I was wearing only a T-shirt and shorts. 

Fortunately though, our trip wasn't wasted. Clearly they were used to tourists turning up unprepared. We paid our admission and were directed to the changing rooms. There, we were given a plain white formal shirt and trousers. The sizes were a mismatch and reminded me of something you'd expect from lost and found if you forgot your P.E. kit in school. It wasn't fashionable by any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed most everyone was in the same predicament.

The Grand Palace was inspiring. Truly, it was the temple of all temples in Bangkok. It was huge, and at one point me and Jane lost each other, much to her distress.  

The heat of the day was probably the worst I've ever experienced and there we were fully covered up. We couldn't have picked a more exhausting day to visit. Any shade available was packed with overheating tourists. We stopped frequently to join them as it was impossible to stay in the sun for long periods of time. 

Eventually, I grew tired and dizzy, unable to drink the amount of water I needed. I was fine, but the next couple of days wore me down. I felt sick and tired all the time and couldn't concentrate. It wasn't until Jane bought me some electrolytes that I started to perk up again. From then on I drunk as much water as I could, whether I felt like I needed it or not. 

Our introduction to temples actually started with a tuk-tuk driver who was waiting outside our hotel one morning. He offered to show us the best temples at a reasonable price. We agreed, thinking this would be a great way to see the sights. 

Everywhere this man took us he waited patiently outside. He told us not to worry but we felt like we had to rush so that he wasn't left on his own for too long. 

He took us around all the places he promised until it was time for the last attraction of his tour. This one he missed, instead parking outside a shop under an overpass. There was hardly anyone around, and it felt sketchy. 

He pointed at the shop. "Inside, inside," he said. 

"Really?"

"Yeah, yeah," he said enthusiastically. 

We followed his instructions and, upon entering, were immediately greeted by a man as wide as he was tall. 

"Welcome," he said, taking me by the arm. He guided me to a vast array of suits and insisted I buy one. He said he made the best and would fit to measure. 

Jane was frightened and made no attempt to hide it. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried myself. The man was intimidating to look at and he made me feel pressured. We were alone and a long way from home, suddenly I felt very vulnerable. 

"No thanks," I said and quickly lead Jane out of the shop. We climbed into the back of the tuk-tuk and I told the driver that we wanted to go back. 

"Okay," he said. He sounded disappointed.

The journey was silent and uncomfortable. More than once I wondered if we could trust this man to actually drop us back safely. It was an irrational fear, I know. But it still played in the back of my mind. 

Luckily for us, the man didn't turn out to be a mass tourist murderer. He dropped us off at the top of Khao San Road and we kindly thanked him. We walked away looking at each other with the same expression and sighing in relief. 

We stopped momentarily to talk about our experience, and in doing so, noticed the driver was still sitting there. His head was sunken against his chest and he looked like he was about to cry. It made us realise how silly we had acted, and we felt bad for the man. No doubt he was relying on some sort of commission from those that bought a suit. We couldn't blame him for what he had done, he was just a man trying to make a living. 

We walked back over to him and gave him a fair tip. He seemed to cheer up at this and drove off again. Although it ended well, we decided to make our own way in future. 

*

After our first few days at the hotel were up, we had to find somewhere cheaper to stay. We found a beautiful looking place that was tucked away from the hustle of the city, and the price was good too. It was hard to find; we had to navigate down a back road and an alleyway to get there. 

It was obvious that this was a local's home who had transformed it into a makeshift hotel. The building was a simple structure of wood and thatched roofing and was cramped alongside similar looking homes. Kids ran around playing in the alley while their parents washed clothes and prepared dinner. 

The difference between this building and the others was that it was fenced off. To gain access, we had to knock on a six-foot gate, and as soon as we entered, something caught my eye. I had just disturbed a massive iguana that went scurrying off to hide amongst the greenery surrounding a pond. Excitedly, I tried to get Jane's attention, but it was too late, it had already gone. 

The beauty and the uniqueness of this place made it one of the best places I have ever stayed. The communal space was outside and had a pond at the centre which was brimming with water lilies. At the bottom of this space was an area covered by a structure that overlooked the Chao Phraya river.

All of this came at a price, however, and I'm not talking about money either. The room was hot and stuffy, making it impossible to sleep. We had to lie with a cool, damp cloth on our foreheads if we wanted to drop off. But worse than that were the mosquitoes. We were provided with a mosquito net, but it proved to do very little. By the end of our stay, we were covered in bites. 

We never planned to stay near Khoa San Road as long as we did. It was only through happenstance. On one of our first days, we found a place that sold an open bus pass that allowed travel all through south east Asia. We bought one each and then applied for a visa to enter Cambodia. Unfortunately, the waiting time was a week, which probably explains the number of temples we went to see.  

One of Jane's biggest challenges she faced whilst traveling was the food. Ever since I've known her, she has been a fussy eater. When she first moved in with me, I cooked her spaghetti bolognese for dinner and made the mistake of putting the bolognese on top of the spaghetti. A fierce row ensued because I should have known that she didn't like her food touching. In the end, she decided she couldn't eat that night and went to bed hungry. 

Luckily, for the sanity of us both, she soon discovered pad thai. This became the staple of her diet while I preferred to be a little more adventurous. Unsurprisingly, not all of my endeavours would turn out to be so fulfilling. 

One night, we decided to venture further afield for our dinner; somewhere away from the noise of Khao San Road. We found a nice-looking restaurant and sat inside by a window. After going through the menu, Jane opted for her usual pad thai but I saw something more interesting. When the waitress took our order, she asked me if I was sure, stating that Westerners typically found the dish to be hotter than they are used to. 

"That's okay, I love hot food," I said. 

The waitress gave me a doubtful look before returning to the kitchen. 

Not for the first time, I made a complete fool of myself. I've never liked wasting food, so I ate the whole meal, but it was certainly a struggle. I felt my face go red with the heat, and I was sweating profusely. Jane found it hilarious, but the server kept her distance. I'm sure she was pretending not to notice to save me my dignity. 

After I finished, I leaned back in my booth, nursing an ice-cold beer. Outside, three men caught my attention. They were drinking and playing chess and looked like they were having a good time. I watched them a while, trying to imagine their lives here and what their daily routines might look like. It never occurred to me that I was staring when one of them caught my eye. I felt embarrassed, but the man simply nodded at me and raised his drink before swallowing the remnants. With that, he took the jacket on the back of his chair and left. His two friends followed shortly after. 

This is a sentiment of the people of Thailand; they are unbelievably friendly. Where I'm from, if I had been caught staring at someone I would be unwittingly asking for a fight. This man, though, seemed to understand my interest. 

The interest appeared to be mutual too. Almost every day I was stopped in the street by someone who was curious about my tattoos. In Thailand, I learned that tattoos are mostly worn by criminals and military men. Although this attitude is changing, it's still fairly uncommon for the average person to have them. 

The only people the Thai did seem to mock were other Asians, although I didn't get the impression they were being deliberately unkind. There is a lot of history between them and their neighbours, and it felt like the sort of banter the UKshare with France or America. 

After our meal, we made our way back to our mosquito-infested accommodation. By now, we were used to dodging the traffic on the roads, which appeared to be a free for all. The traffic lights leaned more to the decorative side rather than there for safety, yet confidently we went. 

As we walked, I breathed in the cool night air. It was in that moment I knew I had made the right choice. I could do this forever. 

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The Autobiography of a Nobody Pt. 3
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