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Bangkok for Backpackers: Khao San Road

Bangkok is the major hub for backpackers in Southeast Asia, and khao san road is the area where they all stay. It's a strange place to be, with a sub-culture of its own. We first visited this city on our way South, coming from Cambodia.

Guard at the Royal Palace of Bangkok

We are picked up by a coaster early in the morning at our hotel in Siem Reap. We are the first to get in, so we pick a good place to sit. But after many stops the bus is so crowded that nobody can sit comfortably. When they want to put even more people in the bus, these people refuse. After a long debate, the company will have to find another solution for these people. We move on, but only after yet another stop, adding two more people in the bus�

Once the bus leaves Siem Reap, highway number 6 turns into a dirt road with many bumps and potholes. This is what they mean with the Cambodian highway of hell, which we avoided until now. Unbelievable that this road, the only overland route from Bangkok to the temples of Angkor Wat, is still in such a bad condition. On the other hand, it was only three years ago that the Khmer Rouge was still active in this area.

What a difference

After a stop in Sisophon, we bump on to the bordertown of Poipet. After the formalities we walk across the border, where we are transported by a pick-up truck to a restaurant. It is clear: everything is different in Thailand. Good roads, good food, and an air-conditioned bus to bring us to Bangkok within 4 hours. And when we arrive there, we look amazed at the fly-overs, skyscrapers, and crowded streets. It has been a while since we saw this kind of big city.

Arriving at Khao San Road

Together with another Dutch girl we decide to take a taxi to Khao San Road, the backpacker area in Bangkok. This area is full of budget hotels, so we head off to the one we picked from our guidebook.

Finding a hotel on Khao San Road can be difficult. Why don't you book ahead via HostelBookers? Use the search box below to find the hostels in Bangkok.
Unfortunately, that one is full, and so are the next two. We decide to use our strategy: one stays behind with the backpacks while the other searches for a place to stay. It takes some time, but in the end, we find a place. Hurry, or the spot has been taken already.

The next day, we repeat the strategy to find a better place. It must be the high season here, cause it takes some time before we succeed. We are some streets away from Khao San Road, but when we visit this street, we don�t regret that. It is a very crowded street, with a lot of dubious business going on. Compared to this, Amsterdam is like a kindergarten. We are glad to be in a more laid back area, a few streets away.

Walking Tour

Statues of Marco Polo in Wat Po, BangkokWe are taking it slow in Bangkok, but we just have to make a walking tour along the major Wats and the Royal Palace, just a 10 minute walk away from the Khao San Road area. Wat Po has the largest number of Buddha statues in the whole of Thailand. Enormous rows are on display in long galleries, we think it�s a bit overkill. More interesting are the large statues at every gateway in the complex. We hear a guide explaining that they represent Marco Polo. At another gateway we recognise the old man we saw in China, Confucius himself.

There are a lot of tourists around here. They arrive in busses and line up for the largest attraction of Wat Po: the resting Buddha. When we enter the building, we don�t know where to look. But then we see it, the Buddha hardly fits in the building. In fact, the temple was built around the Buddha. A bit ridiculous, if you ask us, since it is almost impossible to see the complete Buddha.

The Royal Temple

Glitter and Splendour at Wat Keaw, BangkokAfter Wat Po we walk on to the Royal Palace and accompanying Wat Keaw. From the entrance of this walled complex we get an overview of the buildings in Wat Keaw. An ideal spot for a picture, so the many tourists line up here, and so do we. Coming closer, we notice the glitter of the buildings. Colored pieces of glass are used to create that effect, which looks better from a distance. The enormous amount of gold adds to that image.

Highlight of the complex is the emerald Buddha, actually a small statue of jade (not emerald), standing on a high plateau in the central building. There are different clothes for the Buddha, one for every season. In large ceremonies, these clothes are exchanged.

The wall around the wat is decorated with wall paintings. They tell the mythological tale of Buddhism. There is also a miniature version of Angkor Wat, and we wonder what such a Hindu structure is doing here, and if this one is also made by the artist we visited in Siem Reap.

From Wat Keaw we return to the area around the Royal Palace. Here are some more buildings open for the public. It concerns treasuries of antique weaponry and jewels. Finally, we visit a museum of Wat Keaw, showing the complete renovation of this temple complex complete with the original, rotten decorations from before the reconstruction.

Tuk-tuk

Coming from Vietnam and Cambodia, it is remarkable how little motorbikes Bangkok has. Instead, there are many tuk-tuks. The drivers of those offer tours for arount 10 baht (25 cents), but if you do that, they will bring you to every shop that offers them commission, so that�s not a good idea. Instead, we want to use a tuk-tuk to bring us to Chinatown. After a long negotiation, we agree a price of 50 baht, but to our surprise we are first brought to some guy asking questions about our stay in Bangkok. But, with a little delay, we are on our way.

A Chinese temple in Bangkok's ChinatownAfter a crazy ride we are dropped off in Chinatown. First, we enter a Chinese temple. Alters everywhere, tao�st, animist, confucionist, and Buddhist ones. People are offering randomly at each of them. We ask ourselves what their actual beliefs are. It seems they are worshipping everyone and everything, just to be sure to deserve a place in whatever heaven there may be.

Once outside, we walk the markets of Chinatown. Many food stalls, with the delicacies we saw earlier. But the Chinese also trade in jewellery, all sorts of electronic equipment, and toys. Than more and more clothing shops appear, and the Indian people take over. Unfortunately, we cannot find the antique market, formerly known as the thieves market because of the stolen goods that used to be on sale there.

Sikh Temple

We do find a sikh temple, where we can take a look inside. On the fourth floor is the prayer room, where everybody greets a person on a large bed, before they move to a side of the room to listen to some music. When we cover our heads we are allowed to enter every room, but we have no clue of what is going on. With more questions than answers about the sikh religion, we leave the complex.

Boat on the river in BangkokFor the way back to the Khao San Road area, we take the boat. Bangkok is a city with a big river, and lots of canals. In the old days, most of the transport was by boat, and it is still a good alternative to the crowded roads. The express boat makes many stops on its route, but it doesn�t take long to arrive near our hotel.

Temple tour

After lunch, we decide to walk a route along a number of temples. They are all similar, differing only in the amounts of glitter and splendour. At the last one, there is a ceremony going on. Inside are women praying, while outside more and more monks are gathering. One of them starts a conversation with us, and explains that it is a special day of prayers against the repression of all women. After a while, the monks also go inside, and the monk we spoke with appears to be leading the ceremony with a microphone. We do not understand much, so we decide to leave after a while

The rest of our days in the Khao San Road area in Bangkok we spend relaxing, watching movies, and using the Internet. The Khao San Road area in Bangkok caters for many western tourists, with everything they possibly need or want. Just outside Khao San Road itself it�s okay, but after 5 days we have had enough and decide to visit a tropical island.



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