Chapter 30: 30?! No way!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Where I stayed
Nana Plaza

Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Sorry to disappoint, but Patong wasn't nearly as scandalous or exciting as I was anticipating. Mostly it was just full of what I mentioned in my last update: lots of gross old men with pretty young Thai girls (and guys) on their arms. I was thoroughly disgusted by that whole scene, which is unusual given how non-judgmental I usually am about these things. Still trying to figure that one out. Even the gay area was a let down. There were a few bars and restaurants, but instead of being filled with studly 20-something uni grads, they were exclusively populated by yet more nasty old guys and the sad campy young Thais who follow them around. Both groups showed more interest in me than I was comfortable with, so I ate there one night out of a sense of duty, but never went back. I think I'm just too innocent (?? ha!) for the sleazy side of Thailand.

Anyway... aside from all that, Patong was a pleasant enough place to hang out for 4 nights and recharge. I spent lots of time online, ate some amazing food, walked for miles, watched some bad new bootleg DVD movies ("Eurotrip," anyone?), read a lot, and formulated a plan for the next few weeks.

The first part of that plan involved getting from Patong to Bangkok. I took the local bus to Phuket Town on Sunday morning, and spent the afternoon wandering around that cute little city. It's much more mellow than Patong, but it's also lacking a beach. At 6pm I went to the bus station and boarded my first overnight bus since Indonesia. This was completely different from the Komodo experience, though. I splurged (well, $19) and went for the 24-seat VIP option, which meant the plush seats reclined all the way, decent food was included, and the trip was generally comfortable. I was the only "farang" (foreigner) on the bus, which earned me lots of friendly smiles. The only problem was that I'm a little taller than most of the Thais, so when the guy in front of me put his seat back my legs got really cramped and I felt like I was trapped in a coffin.

We arrived in Bangkok a few hours early. Like, 5am early. I took a cab to Khao San Road, which is the Bangkok backpacker hub and the best bet in the city for cheap accommodation. It was rather serene at 5:30am, apart from the few drunks stumbling around. I walked in and out of a few hotels auditioning rooms until I found a nice one (A/C & hot water & TV!) at Nana Plaza for $10. The room wasn't ready, though, so I had breakfast with Gareth and Chris, two guys from London who had also just arrived, while we waited for the cleaning lady to do her thing. Five hours later I woke up from a nap, and found that Khao San Road had transformed into the chaotic mess that I'd read about: throngs of backpackers, blaring music, seemingly hundreds of street vendors, and construction everywhere. I liked it.

I spent yesterday afternoon browsing the shops in the neighborhood and checking with travel agencies about flights to Yangon (Rangoon). Finally I found a place that had a decent price (RT $150) and could organize my visa for me (I'm lazy), so on impulse I bought a ticket that leaves tomorrow and brings be back to Bangkok on April 4th. For some reason I've always been fascinated by Burma/Myanmar, so I'm excited to finally go there, but it's a controversial tourist destination. The country is run by an oppressive military regime that has blatantly abused its citizens for decades, and there are strong arguments for and against visiting the country. After much research I decided that NOT going wouldn't be particularly productive for anyone, but that I could have a positive impact by visiting and spending my money with independently-owned businesses while avoiding government-run operations. It's a whole lot more complicated than that, but the basic pros & cons are outlined nicely on the Lonely PLanet website if you're interested:

Today I walked across most of central Bangkok, which took quite an effort. To my surprise, the city was neither the mystique-filled den of chess and sin that Murray Head sang about in 1985, or the crazy-dirty congested hell-hole that other travelers have described to me. Instead, it just seemed like another city - a bigger version of any of the other Southeast Asian cities I've seen, from Hat Yai to Georgetown to Kuala Lumpur. Of course, that's my opinion based on one day of walking... I'll explore the city in more depth on one of my subsequent visits.

OK, time to pack again. There are a few downsides to running off to Myanmar. One is that you're never sure what the customs officials are going to let you bring into the country. Just to be safe, I bought a cheap backpack today that I'll stuff with some DVDs & tech-toys and leave at the Bangkok airport. Another problem is that since the US isn't on the best terms with the country at the moment (you know, sanctions and all that), I have no idea if Burma is still using US dollars for most transactions (it used to), so I'll have to bring a combination of dollars, euros, and baht. Finally, there is no internet access in Myanmar, so I'll be out of touch until at least April 4th! Have a great few weeks, and send lots of e-mails so I'll feel loved once I get back to civilization! =)

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