Bangkok (Apr 19-22): Chatuchak Market, Khao San Road, and a Long Wait through Customs

The trip to Bangkok was probably the longest leg of my entire trip, thanks to the longest wait at customs that I’ve ever had to endure. My bus left at 8:45am from Siem Reap, so I had to order a tuktuk to take me to the bus terminal. I booked my bus with Giant Ibis again (the only company that I trusted) for $32 USD/$46.33 AUD, and they supplied each of us with a coffee, water, and biscuit when we got on the bus. We arrived at the border just before noon, so they stopped at the casino for a bathroom break while they took our passports to the Cambodian border. By that point, I was getting hungry since it was lunchtime, and I assumed that we’d get some food soon. We had to walk about 10-15 minutes to the Thailand border, where it was absolute mayhem! After finally figuring out what line we had to stand in, we got arrival/departure forms to fill out, and we stood in the extremely long line.

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There wasn’t any air circulation, there were hundreds of people, and it was above 40 degrees with the humidity. There wasn’t a dry shirt in the room – everyone was drenched! After about 45 minutes, someone walked by selling bottles of water. He must have made a lot of money because we all jumped at the opportunity to buy some water (I had stupidly left my water bottle on the bus because I assumed that we’d just be in and out of customs). There were three separate lines, so every 20 minutes or so, we’d move up about 3 metres. Finally after an hour and a half downstairs, we were at the front of the line! However, this was only to move into the area upstairs. At this point, I was already deep in conversation with some of the people around me – two of which were a couple that I happened to meet over a month ago when we took the same boat tour from Cat Ba to Halong Bay – so crazy! We got to the top of the stairs, but there was a small door leading to the next room, so it was like a bottleneck effect, with everyone trying to push through the door. The closer you got to the door, the more you felt people push around you – it was the worst! I finally made it through the door after about 15-20 minutes but then, the couple that I was talking to was a few people ahead of me (and they were separated from each other as well). We could see the booths at the back of the room, but there was a line of hundreds of people zigzagging back and forth through the room. I didn’t really understand why there had been three separate lines downstairs (separating foreigners and locals) since we were all mixed together upstairs. We were stuck upstairs for about three hours, with no access to food, water, or toilets (unless someone in line saved your spot and allowed you to come back). People started getting really aggressive with other people trying to butt in line (including myself). I’d notice some people who JUST got into the room trying to sneak in line on one of the sides, and I’d just tell them that there was no way that they’d be getting into the line. So they gave up. During our time up there, two older men fell (one gashed his forehead on one of the posts), and I think everyone was dying of heat, hunger, and thirst. I didn’t understand how it could be legal to have so many people in a room with no access to anything. I was surrounded by a bunch of people from the Philippines, so we chatted quite a bit and they said that they were shocked how busy it was that day because normally it’s never that busy. I guess with the combination of it being the end of Songkran (Khmer New Year) AND Easter weekend on a Friday, I chose the worst possible day to cross the border. When we finally got to the front of the line (just before 5:30pm), we couldn’t contain our excitement – I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face! After I got through, my first task was to find a toilet, then water and food. Our tour guide was still in line so I knew I had some time. We found our bus and I was SO excited to see that they had “lunch” waiting for us (at nearly 6pm) – we were all starving! I grabbed some money so that I could use the toilet, and then came back to devour my meal. We finally got going again at about 6:30 and an hour later, we stopped at a gas station so we were all able to load up on more snacks (I don’t think the lunch was big enough after not eating for the entire day). We finally got to Bangkok at 10pm, so I walked to my hostel (which took about 15 minutes) and I checked in. This time, I was staying at Born Free Hostel for 200 baht per night ($9.27AUD) in a 12-bed dorm (I paid more to be in a room with air conditioning). It was one of the friendliest hostels that I’ve stayed in – I think because Bangkok is a starting point for so many people, so a lot of people were looking to make new friends at the beginning of their trips. I contemplated getting dinner but I was so exhausted, I decided to just get ready for bed. As I was getting my stuff ready to shower, the door of the room opened and in walked the British couple who I had been standing in line with before. We were shocked that once again, we were crossing paths! I had a shower and went to bed, and luckily many other people were already sleeping so I didn’t have to feel guilty about going to sleep earlier. However, I was woken up at about 1am because one girl decided to FACETIME HER BOYFRIEND (without headphones). As we all listened to their conversation, which escalated into a fight because the boyfriend was out with some girls, someone finally told her that we were all trying to sleep, so she said goodbye and hung up. However, after that, her friend came in and they proceeded to have a full conversation with someone else in the room. I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t dealt with this very often on my trip, so I was pretty upset about it and wondered if I had chosen the wrong hostel. I finally got back to sleep at about 4am and slept for the rest of the night.

On Saturday morning, I was planning to go to Chatuchak Market to buy a bunch of stuff (and fill up a suitcase to bring home with me). When I finished changing, I bumped into a guy named Connor who had just arrived from the United States the day before, and who would become one of my best friends in Bangkok. He said that him and another guy (from Greece) would be going to the market soon and said that I could join them. I said that I’d get breakfast first and then meet up with them, so I walked to a nearby bakery and got a coffee and some pastries.

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When I got back to the hostel, we met another girl (from Melbourne) and the four of us decided to go to the market together. I have to say that I was excited to come back to Bangkok because the last time I was there, it was 33 degrees (which seemed deathly to me) but since I had been in 39-degree weather during the past couple of weeks, I would welcome it with open arms. However, I was in for a surprise when the humidex actually brought the temperature up to 49 degrees that weekend! I don’t even know how I ended up surviving… I had gotten used to catching Grab (Uber) everywhere, so I was set on getting a car for the four of us, but everyone else wanted to do it the cheap way and take the bus. We ended up waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the bus to come and then made our way to the market. The market was huge! I didn’t know how we’d be able to find the same stall more than once. However, it was also quite touristy and the prices were a lot higher than what I was used to seeing. Therefore, I ended up holding back quite a bit on the spending, and still didn’t get as much shopping done as I had wanted (but this was also probably because I wasn’t shopping alone). We had lunch at a quite expensive (for the amount of food) outdoor food stall, and then continued exploring the markets until we couldn’t stand the heat any longer. We got on the bus and headed back to the hostel, but on the way, we passed a Dairy Queen and from that moment onward, I had a one-track mind. I wouldn’t keep quiet about Dairy Queen until I finally got some! When we got back to the hostel, we all showered and decided to go out for dinner. I saw a guy sitting in the lobby and asked if he wanted to come join, and he introduced himself as Max (also from the United States), who would end up being my other best friend in Bangkok (he obviously didn’t introduce himself as that). We all went out in search of food, but spent more time walking than eating. We finally decided to get some street food on the street next to Khao San Road, and I got some pad thai. After dinner, we went to the 7-11, where we were able to get beer until midnight. Mike and Simonne had to leave early because they both had planes to catch late that night/early that morning, so that left me, Connor, and Max. We walked back and forth down Khao San Road, which was full of people dancing and having a great time, so it wasn’t hard for us to join in. We didn’t get back until after 2am, and had such a good night!

On Sunday, we decided to do the exact same thing again. I went to get breakfast (with an iced coffee AND a smoothie), and then went back to the hostel, where the boys were waiting for me.

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We took the bus to the market again, and spent some more time walking around. We also checked out some of the other sections of the market. We went to a (very welcomed) air-conditioned plaza, where we all had lunch, and then we continued to a flea market in a mall, where there was a DAIRY QUEEN! The boys treated me to an ice cream cake since it would be my birthday the next week, and I was so happy that I’d have an ice cream cake for my birthday. However, there was one problem… Because it was so hot outside, we had no choice but to eat as much of the cake as we could in the market. And since Dairy Queen isn’t AS popular in Thailand, they only had two 2-person tables, which we stole as soon as they became available. I think the workers were confused, intrigued, AND impressed when we started digging into the cake right then and there. We asked for a knife, a few cups (they gave us their smallest ones), and a few spoons, and we each ate a quarter of the cake.

We saw two guys standing in line so Connor ran over to offer them the rest of the cake, and they ended up being from Canada and were very excited to have some ice cream cake. The market was closing soon, so we made our way through the pet part of the market, which was quite sad since most of the animals looked dead because it was the only way they could cool off. I questioned if any of them were ACTUALLY dead multiple times, but Connor assured me that they were just sleeping.

I didn’t do as much shopping that day but instead helped the boys buy some clothes to go out in that night. We went back to the hostel to shower and then I still had to pick up my drumsticks, so we all took a Grab to Hard Rock Cafe, I bought my drumsticks, and then we walked around for quite awhile, searching for food. It was already past 10pm by that point, we were all starving, and everything seemed closed so we took another Grab back to Khao San Road, got some kebabs, and had another night walking the streets.

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We ended up sitting ourselves down, where we met up with some more people until the place closed down. We then got ourselves in a weird situation, where one of the spa owners came up to us with two Canadian passports, so we found them on Facebook and wrote them. However, some other Thai people got involved and said they’d take the passports back (including a random tuktuk driver on the street), which seemed really sketchy. We said it was okay, that we’d take the passports back to our hostel, and that we had already messaged them about it. But then everyone else got super aggressive and started yelling at us for the passports, taking pictures of us, and saying they’d call the police on us. The passports ended up going to the local police department on the corner, so we just wrote the people telling them that they would be there. We then made our way back to the hostel.

My flight was on Monday at 3:15pm so I slept in a bit, packed up my stuff (which got considerably heavier!), and Connor and Max walked me to the bus stop.

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I was so sad to say goodbye to these guys, as we had gotten so close during the past couple of days. Their trips were just beginning and mine was finished, but it was the perfect end to my trip. I was going to miss my wolfpack!

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I got to the airport at 1:15 to check-in, and I had finally paid to check in a bag (which cost me $80!). Once I got through security, I decided to get some food since I hadn’t eaten yet and as I sat down to eat, I got an email saying my flight had been rescheduled for 4:35pm. Then about 45 minutes later, I got another email saying it had been rescheduled to 5:30pm. Then, the departure screen said that it would be leaving at 6pm. I started feeling nervous because that meant I wouldn’t arrive in Kuala Lumpur until 9pm and I had another flight at 10:30pm. Any later and I definitely wouldn’t make it. While I was waiting for my flight, I was going through my Facebook and noticed that Rebekka (a Canadian girl living in Melbourne, who I met briefly in Ho Chi Minh) was IN Kuala Lumpur for the day and would be going to Melbourne that night. I wrote her and asked what flight she’d be on, and she said the same one as me! Life is full of coincidences… So I finally boarded my flight and when I landed in Kuala Lumpur, I had to speed walk for about 15-20 minutes through security and to the other side of the airport. By the time I arrived at my gate, they had already started boarding so I ran to go to the bathroom, get some water, and stand in line. The 8-hour flight was long and I don’t think I got any sleep.

We arrived in Melbourne at 8:20am the next morning in Avalon airport, where they had customs officials who actually grilled us hard (the first time I came to Australia, I didn’t talk to a single person). I got my bag, got a ticket for the Skybus, and waited for the bus to leave. Rebekka showed up and sat next to me so we chatted for the hour-long ride into the city and then went for breakfast at Southern Cross because we were both starving. She went back home, but I was so exhausted so I sat and relaxed for a bit and then made my way to Jess and Vic’s house, because they graciously allowed me to stay with them for a few days until I found a place of my own. However, I’ll save that story for another post. Love always