After an incredible week at Elephant Nature Park and some sad goodbyes at the end, it was time to head south again for island hopping. But first, we had a final couple of days in Chiang Mai followed by a quick stop in Bangkok with a side order of Thailand’s ancient capital, Ayutthaya.
We arrived back in Chiang Mai late afternoon, and after checking into our hostel just outside the old city followed by a quick mooch around the walking market, we headed to our old haunt, Pentatonic, to meet some of our ENP friends. As it turns out, no one wanted a proper night out after our mega-week and we just had a couple of quiet drinks. Me though? I hung around to see if our hostel buddy was playing in his band – and then stayed out until 1am chatting to his Thai friends while being the only tourist in the bar.
I ended up walking back in the rain – to find our hostel dorm locked and Ash asleep, and I ended up sleeping in the hallway outside the door until some point in the middle of the night when someone apparently let me in!! One of my more classy moments, of course (and I was sober!).
Goodbye Chiang Mai
The following day, we were booked onto the overnight train back to Bangkok. We explored some more of Chiang Mai, walked up past the north gate, found a super cute café with a waterfall in the garden, and then naturally finished off the day with a delicious and cheap burger and milkshake from our old hostel’s coffee shop.
I could see the appeal of staying here long-term as a digital nomad. It’s incredibly geared up for Westerners (whether you view that as a good thing or a bad thing!) but retains so much charm and history with all the temples and the old walled city.
We also managed to navigate our first songthaew (I had no idea how they work!!) to the train station, and as it turns out, overnight trains in Thailand aren’t actually too bad. Our seat-beds didn’t look like they would ever become anything resembling comfortable, but I was gladly proved wrong when we pulled them out, and the next thing I knew, it was 6am!
We arrived in Bangkok early and headed to the neighbourhood of Silom, where we were expecting a reasonable walk to our hostel. It turned out to be a MEGA-walk to the hostel – but as soon as we arrived, we were offered use of the shower which, being that it was too early to check in, I thought was pretty cool of them.
The day was spent exploring the downtown area of Bangkok via the Sky Train – last time, we only got to see the backpacker area around Khao San Road and it had been Songkran, so we were looking forward to exploring the “real” Bangkok.
We visited Siam Square, Paragon shopping centre, a smaller shopping centre with some REALLY weird displays (and some awesome ones), found the robot building, finally made it to Patpong (of course!) and I excitedly made it to one of the stranger places on my list: Cabbages & Condoms!
Cabbages & Condoms is a fantastically themed restaurant with statues of Santa, angels and more, all made completely of condoms. Even the light shades are made of condoms!
However, there is an important underlying message from the company as they promote contraception to poor communities. All proceeds from the restaurant go towards this cause, and you even get a condom instead of an after-dinner mint!
It’s pretty high up on the weirdest places I’ve ever been – but I highly recommend a visit!
I didn’t manage to achieve any of my 3 “stupid” aims for Bangkok: eating crickets (which is mostly only a “thing” on Khao San Road, and they had been a little harder to find during Songkran), becoming best friends with a lady boy, and going to a ping pong show. Even though we went to Patpong!! FAIL.
Getting out of the city to Ayutthaya
On our penultimate day, I wanted to get out of the city to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. I found directions online for where to catch the local bus and we turned up in Monument Square with no real idea what we were doing. We spotted some minivans to the left and apprehensively headed over, where we were given stickers and told to wait. We’d soon find that colour-coordinated stickers are a big thing travelling in Thailand (they use them on the islands too), and thankfully, a few of us had the same coloured stickers.
Soon enough, we were piled into the van until it was fit to burst. Luckily, most of the passengers were locals, which I’d read meant we wouldn’t be scammed.
And although we weren’t scammed on the journey, we found that Ayutthaya is horribly tourist-oriented. We got off the bus and were immediately hounded over and over to take a ridiculously priced tuk tuk around the ruins. There were elephant rides and a lot of overpriced market stalls at each place.
We decided to find our own way – and got lost within 5 minutes.
Getting lost, however, meant we found an incredible guest house restaurant which did the most AMAZING strawberry smoothies. They were so good that we had to swing by on our way back too.
We headed off the right way, and although it was probably about a 20 minute walk to the first ruins, it was absolutely worth not paying the 400 baht each or whatever extortionate price they wanted for the tuk tuks!!
And once we had made it to the first ruins, it was a beautiful walk through the park, with brightly coloured lizards and… scary-looking packs of stray dogs… to some of the other ruins.
And considering the dark clouds threatening our day, we lucked out with the weather!
By far, my favourite ruin was Wat Phra Mahathat. This is where you can find the famous Buddha head nestled in tree roots, and to show respect you must kneel lower than the head.
It’s also where you can find the rows of headless Buddhas, attacked in a war by the Burmese when Ayutthaya was still the capital. The Buddhas were all decapitated, but I found out afterwards that it was the Thai government who replaced the head on the largest Buddha at the end. I found the whole place incredibly fascinating.
Ayutthaya was WELL worth the trip. It cost 60 baht each way for the minivan which took around an hour. That’s £2.40 for two hours of travel.
And it’s TOTALLY doable without taking the tuk tuks, though I do admit that they’ll take you to some places further out. But for the main sites, we were perfectly happy walking, and it meant we could take in Ayutthaya at our leisure rather than rushing between ruins like we had kind of done at Angkor Wat.
We got back to Bangkok, and that’s when it all went tits up.
We swung by the train station on our way back to the hostel, to book our overnight train down to Surat Thani for the islands. We were ushered into an agent’s office and informed that because this Friday was a national holiday, the trains had been all booked up for days, and the only way down would be by bus for 1,350 baht!! I politely declined in order to check at the ticket desks myself. Sure enough, all trains were booked up until Sunday.
SHIT SHIT SHIT.
What would we do?! There was no way I was willing to pay 1,350 baht for a service that normally costs 600 baht. Dejected, we headed back to the hostel to ask what travel options they had, and to look up flights.
“I’m sorry, we can’t check the buses now until the morning. Hopefully they won’t be full?” She offered a meagre show of confidence.
What were we going to do?! What if we were going to be stranded in Bangkok?!? We wanted to be in Koh Phangan in time for the Full Moon Party, and not only that, we were meeting some friends there. But I am Clazz and I am stingy – I’m not going to pay quadruple for the flight and transfers if I can help it.
And so our final day in Bangkok started out with A LOT OF STRESS. We had two options for buses – one had review after review about how much they scam people and luggage frequently goes missing… and the other was fully booked.
Oh shit. We’re going to lose everything. But we had no choice. We had to risk going with Songserm (for a lot cheaper than the agent had offered!), despite everything we had read online.
Exhausted from our decision and researching every plausible option, we spent the whole day catching up with ourselves in the hostel, leaving just to get some food from the markets and 7 Eleven. Admittedly, it was good to have some down-time – something we hadn’t had since arriving in Thailand!
And then it was time to leave. Filled with dread about what was to come…
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