So after about a 20 hour overnight train ride from Penang, I had arrived in Bangkok. Now, Singapore and Malaysia were hot, but there was just something a little more oppressive about the heat in Bangkok. I had arrived at around 10 AM and I’d soon come to find out that the mornings in Bangkok are incredibly humid, even in January. By around noon though it eased up quite a bit, and by early afternoon the humidity was almost non-existent. Luckily this wasn’t really much of a factor for me after the first day or two as I’m much more of a night person. In fact even while traveling I could probably count the days I was out and about before noon on one hand. On the other hand, getting to bed at 3 or 4 AM was much more likely.

After getting out of the station, I started to make my way to the infamous Khao San Rd with a few new friends I had met on the train. After a relatively short bus ride we found ourselves in the midst of what is apparently party central for backpackers on a budget. We found a couple of rooms pretty quickly for about 7 bucks each (with air conditioning), and spent the next few days generally just lounging around being bums. We did check out a few of the temples in the old town of Bangkok, but public transportation is rather limited in this area so we mostly just hung around Khao San and lived it up amongst the melange of bars, restaurants and massage parlors. This may sound counter intuitive for someone on a budget like myself, but keep in mind that a one hour massage in Bangkok will run you anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars. It wasn’t hard to convince myself to find a way to work them into my daily budget.

There were temples scattered all over the place here in old town. I didn’t end up touring the grounds of the Grand Palace, but there were dozens of other equally impressive temples, or ‘wats’ everywhere you looked. Here are just a few.

This is a view of the Grand Palace from inside the grounds before the entrance gate. I had planned on going in, but the entrance fee was a little steep (with most of the other temples being free), and they didn’t allow medium format cameras inside, which I found a bit odd.

As you can see, the other temples were pretty remarkable in and of themselves so I didn’t lose any sleep over skipping the Palace. To be honest, I wasn’t really here to sight see anyway.

By now I was about ready to leave Khao San. I didn’t really take many pictures here as I was too busy lounging around and living the dream, so I was eager to get out into the real city and start exploring.

One of the pictures I did end up taking there was this shot of a pregnant woman cooking my $1 pad thai.

At this point, a few of us ended up splitting off to different places, so now it was just Hanna and me left to venture out into Bangkok. Our first order of business was to stop by the downtown area of Silom to try to find a room for the next few nights. After that, we hit the streets and ended up in Bangkok’s Japantown.

We stopped into this place for some food and ended up talking to a table full of Japanese salary men here on a business trip. When they found out that we had just met a few days earlier, they bought us round after round of what was apparently some very nice Sake. Of course it would have been rude to say no.

In downtown Bangkok there were some street-side temples open all night, which had a much different atmosphere than the more traditional temples in the old city. There was a really unique vibe here with the mixture of the traditional and the modern that seemed oddly fitting. Buddhism isn’t just a Sunday mass for many of these people, it was a big part of their lives, and whether they were on their way home from work or out shopping with their friends they always had time for a quick prayer or some meditation.

This night we found a hot pot / shabu shabu all you can eat buffet with sushi and gyoza for only $10 a person. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was, and tasty too.

The next day we decided to hit the streets. Hanna wanted to try to get tickets to a Muay Thai match, so we headed out to the Lumpini area to stop by the ring and see how much they were.

We didn’t end up getting the tickets, but the area around the stadium turned out to be really interesting.

There was a big market set up with food stalls and carts everywhere. Just walking around and sampling the different Thai dishes was an experience in itself.

After spending about a week in Bangkok, Hanna was off to Bali to see some friends, so from here on out I was pretty much on my own. Well, for the next few days, anyway.

On my first day alone I decided to head on out to Chinatown to see what they were doing to set up for the Chinese New Year. There isn’t a train station in Chinatown, so I had to take a stop maybe a mile or two away and hoof it. Along the way I found an area southwest of the Hualumphong train station which I believe is called the Samphanthawong district. From what I understand though, Chinatown also resides in this district, so I don’t know if it has a separate name but it was certainly distinct from the actual Chinatown area.

Along the river separating the train station from this area were these dilapidated houses that seemed to be just moments from collapsing into the murky water below.

They actually seemed quite quaint to be honest. Maybe I can pick one up as a summer home someday.

As I took this picture, the mother in the back seemed to be having a blast. As I smiled and thanked them, she said “He is very handsome boy!”

This area was filled with auto repair shops and used parts stores. Every other store seemed to specialize in one specific part or another, with mounds and mounds of replacement parts outside their shop.

This guy was just out back behind his restaurant sharpening some knives in a cowboy hat.

I ended up making it to Chinatown sometime in the late afternoon, but spent most of my time there up on the top floor of a seemingly abandoned parking garage that was taken over by squatters. It offered some pretty commanding views, and was the perfect place to watch the sun set over the city while listening to some kids having a pretty intense soccer match on the floor below me.

After it got dark I decided to wander around some more, and of course had to stop for some satay every now and then. At 3 for a dollar how can you say no?

Finally arriving back at my hotel, eager to get some rest for my next little mini adventure.

The next day I arrived at the train station to buy a ticket for Chiang Mai. It was going to be a long ride (about 14 hours or so), so I decided to book another night train.

As the sun set, my train pulled up and started loading passengers for departure.

And that’s when the fun started.

I don’t think I mentioned this previously, but the night trains in Southeast Asia are a blast. They’re really the way to go when you need to travel long distances on the cheap. Not only do you save on hotel costs for the night, but the trains themselves are only $10-$25 a trip, you get to sleep for half the journey instead of being bored all day on a day train, and at night the restaurant cars turn into party cars full of travelers like myself. They’re a great place to meet people while saving both time and money.

As the train approached Chiang Mai early the next morning, I barely even noticed my hangover with all the scenic views of lush, tropical countrysides and hazy mountains. It was also a bit cooler up here; a welcome reprieve from the hot, muggy city.

After spending about a week and a half in congested Bangkok I felt a little R&R was in order. Most of my time up here in northern Thailand was spent lounging around drinking either fruit smoothies and rum, or fruit smoothies and vodka. I even had some “Black Cock”, the local Thai rice whiskey. Yea yea, I know. I’ll spare you the inappropriate jokes.

Out back behind a temple I found what I imagine to be a monk house. Must have been laundry day.

One temple had a Buddhist garden full of placards inscribed with various proverbs. This is one that stood out for me.

I liked this scene for some reason. It reminded me of something out of a cool 80’s movie.

Tuk tuk.

At some point I hopped on a bus up to Chiang Rai (not to be confused with Chiang Mai, which is where I’ve been). I shot this out the window of the bus. This pregnant girl was riding in the bed of a two-seater pickup truck while two guys were in the cab.

Now, at this point in my trip I was nearing the end of my 15-day visa and needed to find a way to renew it. Apparently when arriving by plane you’re given 30 days, but when arriving by land as I did, you only get 15. Luckily Burma was only a short bus ride away, so a quick hop over the border and back again would give me enough of an extension to last until my flight to Hong Kong.

I didn’t venture any farther than the border town of Tachilek as I had to leave my passport with the customs officers at the border. To get an actual visa for Burma requires a visit in advance to one of their embassies, however a one-day pass is granted at select border crossings for the express purpose of visa renewals. Well, I believe the official reason is for shopping trips to the markets (or at least that’s what I was told to tell the border guards), but practically-speaking I believe that’s what most people use them for.

So after a few hours spent walking around Tachilek, I was back across the border into Thailand and on my way back to Chiang Rai.

When I got back I decided to check out the White Temple. It’s been under construction for the past 10 years, and from what I understand isn’t even halfway done. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking here.

It was pretty unreal to say the least.

Now that I got my visa renewed and spent some time relaxing up here in the northern regions of Thailand, I felt it was time to head back into the city.

While waiting for my train, I snapped this pic of these kids being transported around the station on a luggage cart.

Back in the city I hit the streets for some photography.

This is a beautiful Thai girl I met by the name of Catalia. She didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Thai, but none of that seemed to matter too much.

I don’t understand how anybody can make sense of their wiring system. It was like this everywhere.

One of the red light districts during the day.

One of the few rainy days I had on this trip so far.

I planned on taking a lot of pictures like this of the buildings in Hong Kong which you’ll be seeing in my next post, but I saw this view from a nearby Skytrain station and couldn’t resist.

One day while walking around, I saw a nearby plume of smoke billowing into the sky. I started to walk toward it, and as I got closer, before long I heard sirens approaching with firetrucks whizzing by me and people running in all directions. I started to pick up the pace to see what was going on.

As I arrived on the scene it was apparent that this was pretty serious. Bangkok is full of little quasi-villages; wood and sheet metal houses built practically on top of each other with narrow alleyways twisting between them. I hadn’t thought about it before, but if a fire starts in the middle of one of these places it wouldn’t take long before the entire development was burned to the ground, tossing hundreds of families out onto the streets with no place to go. Everybody seemed eager to help, so I jumped into the fray to do what I could.

After a while they apparently got everything under control, and from what I could tell it didn’t seem like anyone was seriously injured. Just another crazy day in Bangkok!

One evening I decided to grab a few drinks up on the top of the State Tower. Apparently this was one of the locations they used to shoot a scene from the Hangover 2. I haven’t seen the movie, but with views like this I can see why they would have shot here.

This is where I spent my evening, mingling with fellow travelers. Looking over the railing gave me a straight-down view of the city from a staggering 63 floors up. That net around the bottom was hardly comforting, and was the only thing that would have stopped me from plummeting to my death had i leaned a little too far over.

Another hazy day comes to an end.

Girl enjoying a martini, overlooking Bangkok.

Dining at its finest. You had to make reservations here at least a month in advance, and the menu didn’t have prices.

And on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, here we have the red light district of Bangkok. Well, one of them anyway. This is Soi Cowboy, and was reminiscent of a scene out of the movie Blade Runner (except with a lot more half-naked Asian girls).

These girls were handing out free beer. Of course it would have been rude to say no.

This poor girl had to hold this sign up all night while nearly everyone that walked by wanted to take a picture. Naturally, I had to as well.

Most of the clubs didn’t allow photography inside for obvious reasons, but this was one of the more tame clubs, so I guess the girls didn’t mind.

I spent most of my nights in Bangkok just wandering the streets, sampling the food, meeting and photographing the various people and things I saw.

Bangkok is a fine city during the day but it’s just so incredibly busy. It can get maddening walking around most places with all the people, motorbikes and of course the heat. And don’t even think about going into one of the shopping plazas in Silom. Every day the malls are ten times worse than Christmas Eve or Black Friday here.

At night though, everything seems to settle down. The air gets a bit cooler, the sidewalks a bit emptier, and you’re really able to just relax and enjoy yourself.

Of course there is still much excitement to be had, you just have to know where to look for it.

This monk seemed to be taking a much needed break.

When I was taking the train back into Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I noticed that along the tracks in the northern part of the city there was what looked like a makeshift little shanty town on both sides of the tracks. One night I decided to go check it out and met this guy there playing with at least a dozen kids. These people had literally nothing to their name, but were all as happy as can be.

Now, for better or for worse I seem to have an incredible sense of direction. Usually it’s a great thing to have, but every now and then It’d be nice to just have absolutely no idea where I am. So one evening in Bangkok I set out with the intention of getting as lost as possible. This was going to be no easy task, as I had plenty of maps of the city that I had been studying and using to navigate through my previous adventures, so I was going to have to step it up. I decided to hop on a random water taxi and see how far it could take me.

After a good hour or so of speeding down this narrow canal away from the city, with the sun starting to dip over the horizon and confident that I had successfully gotten myself completely lost, I figured it was time to get out and start my adventure.

Shortly after getting off the boat, I happened upon a large streetside market selling fresh fruits and vegetables.

I stopped in to a local cafe for a quick bite to eat.

I ended up finding a main road, so I tried to pop down a few random alleys to keep my currently-bewildered sense of direction in check.

Right around here the unthinkable had occurred. The shutter on my Minolta X-570 was officially dead. Luckily I had a backup back at the hotel and I was leaving for Hong Kong in a day or two, which happens to be known for its second-hand camera markets, so it wasn’t a huge deal. I ended up wandering around for a few more hours completely lost and eventually hopped in a taxi to take me back home. The ride back in traffic took about 90 minutes and came to a grand total of $2.80. I still to this day have no idea where I went, but it remains as one of the more memorable nights I had here in Bangkok.

And with that, the time had come for me to leave Thailand. As much as I didn’t want to go, I was really excited to finally see Hong Kong. The old streets of Kowloon, the high-tech skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island, the stilt-houses in the remote fishing villages on Lantau.. My time in Thailand was all I could have hoped for and more, but my trip wasn’t even half over yet and I still had so many amazing places left to explore.

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