asia · thailand

Goodbye Chiang Mai, Hello Bangkok, and A Day in Ayutthaya

After an incredible week at ENP and some sad goodbyes at the end, it was time to head south again for island hopping – just in time for the Full Moon Party. We arrived back in Chiang Mai late afternoon, and checked ourselves into a hostel just outside the old city. In the evening we had a quick mooch around the walking market before heading to our old haunt, Pentatonic, to meet some of our ENP friends – and bump into others!

As it turns out, no one wanted a proper night out after our mega week and we just had a couple of 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 and kicking back while being the only tourist in the bar.

Then I walked back in the rain to find our hostel dorm locked, 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.

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Chiang Mai north-east of the old city.

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 and then naturally finished off with a delicious and cheap burger and milkshake from our old hostel’s coffee shop.

We also managed to negotiate a songthaew to the train station, and as it turns out overnight trains in Thailand aren’t actually too bad. Our seats looked like they wouldn’t become anything resembling comfortable, but I was gladly proved wrong when the next thing I knew, it was 6am!

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Our beds for the night! You can see the seats underneath and why I didn’t think we’d have a good night’s sleep.

We arrived in Bangkok early and headed to Silom where we thought it would be 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. We visited Siam Square, Paragon shopping centre, another shopping centre with some REALLY weird displays (and some awesome ones), the robot building, Patpong (of course!) and I made it to one of the stranger places on my list: Cabbages & Condoms!

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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!

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Well this is definitely going to be one of my all-time favourite ‘pictures with Santa’!!

I didn’t manage to achieve any of my 3 aims for Bangkok: eating crickets (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.

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, completely unsure of what we were doing. We spotted some minivans to the left and headed over, to be given stickers and told to wait. We’d soon find that stickers are a big thing travelling in Thailand, and thankfully here, 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 people were locals which I’d read meant we wouldn’t be scammed.

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The headless statues of Ayutthaya, remains from a war long ago

And although we weren’t, 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.

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We headed off the right way, and although it was probably about a 20 minute walk to the first ruins, it was worth not paying the 400baht each or whatever they wanted for the tuk tuks!! And once we were there, it was a beautiful walk through the park, with brightly coloured lizards and… scary looking packs of stray dogs… to some of the others.

And considering the dark clouds threatening our day, we lucked out with the weather!

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The most famous image of Ayutthaya. You must show respect by kneeling lower than the head for your picture, though we saw people who didn’t.

Ayutthaya was WELL worth the trip. It cost 60baht each way for the minivan which took around an hour. That’s £2.40 for two hours of travel.

Then 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 1,350baht!! 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 1,350baht for a service that normally costs 600baht. 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.”

What if we were going to be stranded in Bangkok?!? We wanted to be in Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party, and not only that, we were meeting some friends there. We NEEDED to get there, but I am Clazz and I am stingy – I’m not going to pay quadruple for the flight and transfers.

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 of how much they scam people and luggage frequently goes missing… and the other was fully booked.

We’re going to lose everything, we thought. 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.

And then it was time to leave. Filled with dread about what was to come…

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