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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Days 99 & 100: Diving and onwards to Bangkok

THAILAND | Tuesday, 12 February 2008 | Views [842]

Tuesday 12th & Wednesday 13th February

I got up around 06.00, packed up the rest of my stuff, and caught up with the guys who had booked themselves on the dive. There were a few bleary eyes, but we were all excited about it, and it was a lovely, clear morning (as they all had been since I arrived in Thailand). We were out on the boat by 08.30, and sailed to the 'Chumphon Pinnacles', a dive site further out than we had been before (about 45 minutes from our 'home' anchoring point).

Our dive master for the trip was a Spanish guy called Yogi (derived from 'Jorge') from Zaragoza (who was basically a younger version of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, but without the stupid beard, and probably more footballing acumen). He briefed us on what we were going to do, what we were going to see, etc. We got our gear on and joined the other fifty or so divers who had come to the spot, about eight boat loads in total.

Once we got in the water, we descended the buoy rope, making sure that we didn't go down too quickly in order to get used to the changing pressure (similar to when you go up in an airplane, it also helps to swallow or to hold your nose and try and blow through it to 'equalise' the air pressure and so relieve any discomfort). After we set off, it was clear that this was a really good site: several large submerged rock pinnacles, much of which was covered in various types of coral. This was home to a huge variety of tropical fish: yellow tail barracuda; jackfish; titan triggerfish; yellow tail fusiliers; blue branded angelfish (my particular favourite); a huge shoal of batfish (which was possibly the highlight of the dive). It was incredibly good, not just the sights of underwater life, but also the lack of sound, which made it a very peaceful and serene experience.

The next dive site was closer to the dive school. 'Jeda Gang' is a shallower site (going no deeper than 14m) and it was good, but not as impressive as the other places that we had been taken to. However, we once again saw a satisfying array of fish: a 'Spanish Dancer' sea worm (which moves through the water, its sides fluttering like a flamengo dancers frilly shirt); titan triggerfish; yellow tail fusiliers; blue-spotted ray; blue-spotted coral trout, among others.

We returned to the dive school by 12.00 and had some lunch (diving makes you hungry!) and said goodbye to the guys. I got changed and a taxi picked me up at 15.30 to take me to the pier at Mae Head. I had bought a combined boat and bus ticket which would take me from the beautiful island of Ko Tao to the busy streets of Bangkok. The boat to Chumphon was a much bigger, more modern and quicker one than that which had taken me over to the island five days before. It took two hours to get to Chumphon, and we immediately boarded the bus to Bangkok, so it was all very smooth and easy.

The bus stopped several times for food and toilet breaks. It was full of other tourists, quite a few backpackers like me, but mostly people over for a few weeks holiday and no doubt making their sad and sorry way home. It was a very good service in all, and cheap too, costing about 12 quid for a long journey. We arrived in Bangkok at 05.00, right on schedule, although I wasn't happy at once again getting into an unfamiliar destination at what was still the middle of the night. I had called a few guesthouses during a stop on the way to Bangkok to enquire about the availability of rooms, but they had all told me that I would need to call back later in the morning, once their guests had started to check out, before they could offer me a room. This wasn't ideal, but there wasn't anything I could do about it except wait.

I got a taxi to one of the guesthouses near the Khao San Road (the major backpacker area in Thailand, and probably the biggest centre of its kind in the whole of SE Asia), as I thought it would be a good idea to at least get to the area that I was intending to stay. Very few places were open, so I plonked myself in an internet cafe for a few hours.

I started my search for a room around 07.00, stopping off for coffee in the restaurant of a large guesthouse (the 'Sawasdee', which appeared to be a chain of guesthouses that covered this area). I asked whether they had a room free, and the young guy behind the desk had to be woken up by one of the cleaners. He grunted at me to come back at 08.00. At this stage, I was knackered, with only coffee keeping me from conking out. 08.00 came around and the guy sneered at me, telling me to come back to 09.00. I was quite desperate for somewhere to crash, so I was being unusually tolerant of this guys shoddy treatment towards me.

When 09.00 came around, an equally sirly girl had joined the guy at the reception desk. I got a begrudgingly positive reply to my question of there being a room available; she seemed to be in competition with her male colleague to see who could be most obnoxious to the potential paying guests and still get away with it (knowing full well that there is a lot of competition for rooms from backpackers, many of whom are dead on their feet after marathon bus journeys or early starts). The room seemed to be fine, so I started the process of checking in.

A couple of Scottish guys were also checking in, but the male receptionist was unashamedly trying to screw them for money, so they walked out. At this stage, I was asked to pay a deposit of 1000B (I had never been asked for one in all my time in Thailand, especially one that was the equivalent to a stay of four nights). I was very keen to secure a room, but not desperate enough to let someone take advantage of me and blatantly treat me like crap at the same time. I told them that, on second thoughts, I didn't want the room either, and gave them back their key. They didn't react very well to this at all, getting even more angry when I scored a pen mark across the check-in details that I had just filled out. The guy grabbed my wrist, and almost swung for me. I pulled my arm away and told them that they couldn't treat people like shit and get away with it, and walked out. All the while, the receptionist screamed after me like a little bitch: 'Get your ass out of here! Get your ass out of here!'. I still can't figure out what movie that line comes from because he sure as hell didn't learn it at school.

After trying to remain calm, I walked about for another while, but most places were full. I eventually found a room at the 'Baan Sabai' guesthouse, relieved to have somewhere at long last to rest for a while (I had only dozed for a few hours on the bus). It hadn't been the best start to my time in Bangkok, and my first impressions couldn't have been much worse.

After having a lie down and a shower, I felt a lot better, and decided to walk about town to get my bearings and take in some of the sights, in my usual fashion. I stopped in at the tourist information office, picked up a map of the city, and aimed for the direction of the town centre, as I at least intended to accomplish a few errands while I was here. However, I soon learned that the reports of Bangkok being the 'shithole' that some of the people I had met in Ko Tao had given to me, were not unreasonable. The traffic makes it a very polluted and congested place, and, for the most part, a very unpleasant place to navigate on foot (trying to cross the road is a gauntlet you have to run if you want to get about). As I walked on, my opinion of the place deteriorated, for the inadequacy of the sign-posting made the whole city seem like a giant puzzle. It was one of the few places I have truly disliked on this trip.

I finally found the main commercial street and the large shopping malls which flank either side (and with the elevated tracks of the Skytrain dominating the middle of the road, shading the dark and dirty footpaths beneath). I intended to make the most of the undoubted facilities on offer in Bangkok, which included picking up some contact lenses, and sorting out an 'exchange order' for the Japan Rail Pass that I needed to get prior to my arrival in Japan in the middle of April. It wasn't the most attractive environment, but at least these places got me away from the pollution and the traffic on the streets outside.

After a few hours, I made my way back to the guesthouse, passing long the Khao San Road proper for the first time (I was staying in a street nearby called Soi Rambutri). It didn't seem as bad as I thought it would, although it didn't appeal very much to me either (crap bars, stalls and shops selling cheap clothes and souvenirs, and people selling random items like fake ID cards). I got a haircut and a shave in one of the many salons, and it made a change to be treated by a nice lady, as opposed to the old Indian men that I have become accustomed to. I crashed out early after a long, tiring and trying day. I was planning to leave Bangkok the next day, thinking that by staying any longer I would just be wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Tags: Adventures


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