Become a Snail and try Backpacking

Oh my fu@#*ing back!
by Somchai

backpacking

Personally speaking you couldn't pay me enough to backpack. Humping smelly creased clothes around in 90 degree heat is not my cup of tea. Backpackers always seem to look like backpackers, and very rarely scrub up well. But if you insist on becoming a snail and having your home on your back, here is some helpful pointers for backpacking in Bangkok.

The most popular backpacker area is undoubtedly the Khao San Rd in Banglampoo ( see the Khao San Rd section ), but one area that also gets a mention in certain guide-books, including an extensive review in the good old Lonely Planet is an area called Soi Ngam Duphli off the busy Rama 4 Rd. Quite frankly you would be insane to want to spend any amount of time here. Iím ashamed to say that in the days when I was as green as grass, I actually lived here for a couple of years, because I thought it might be nice to be among some fellow Europeans and to have the opportunity to eat at restaurants with something other than rice on the menu. But I would say it was one of the happiest days of my life when I said goodbye to this place for the last time. I swore that I would never go back and Iíve been true to my word ( although Iíve driven through it a couple of times in the past 6 years).

It is an area rife with low-class, disease-ridden whores, the most desperate down on their luck foreigners, and the most unscrupulous foreigners and scam artists. Itís also home to some of the cheapest, most run-down guest houses in the city. And in the middle of all this Sodom and Gomorrah is the Malaysia Hotel, a hotel which has the nerve to call itself a 3-star hotel. You take a walk into the coffee shop at midnight, look around at the dregs of humanity perched on its battered, moth-eaten bar-stools and decide how many stars youíd give it.

Khao San Rd in the Bamglampoo area of the city has become almost world-famous helped no end by the exposure it received in the movie ĎThe Beachí when good old Leonardo found himself in a 100-baht a night fleapit and his adventures really continued from there. Over the past 2 years, Khao San has managed to go a little more up-market with quite a number of attractive beer-bars and pubs, and one or two 3-star hotels which will run you in the region of 700 baht a night. However , the 200 Ėbaht a night dog-kennel does exist and if you remember the magical scene from the movie where the brilliant Robert Carlyle talks to our hero through a dividing wall of chipboard and torn wire-mesh, you already have a decent idea of what standards those rooms aspire to. Frankly if you can stay ONE day in Bangkok, and be willing to return to a room like that after a hard day pounding Bangkokís hot sticky streets, then youíre a far better man than I am. 

But for travelers on a budget, this area is by far your best bet. There are lots of good value restaurants where you can nurse a 10 baht bottle of water and sit your way through half a dozen videos. Restaurants where you can sink your teeth into such heavenly Thai delights as Banana pancake smothered in yoghurt (Iím convinced thatís all some travelers bloody well eat). There are also numerous street vendors selling overpriced souvenirs and trinkets. But the uniqueness of Khao San in Thailand is in the range of services that are offered by the enterprising Banglampoo folk. These include fake I.D cards, fake university degrees ( for the would-be English teachers), body piercing while-U-wait, and street-side hair braiding for those of you looking to recapture the 1970ís Bo Derek look ( and who wouldnít).

 I go a couple or 3 times a year to Khao San. It’s a fun place to while away a few hours watching the travelers with their long straggly beards and bushy armpits. And that’s just the women. You should see the male of the species. I’ll have a little browse in the bookshops dotted along the street to try and seek out the odd bargain second-hand paperback, but the high prices that the booksellers ask for are a joke.

But fair’s fair , the Khao San Rd Thais have a remarkably high tolerance to all the idiosyncracies of the world travelers and tourists and you rarely see them get hot under the collar because some scruffy geezer is losing it over apparently being cheated out of 5 baht. I take my hat off to the Thais in that respect.

A word of warning to anyone who is thinking about getting an English teaching job. If you go for an interview and mention that you are living in Khao San, it will only be a desperate school that employs you. Khao San is synonymous with the backpacker ( Thais have a more derogatory term) and the backpacker is synonymous with unreliability. That’s how most language schools look at it. There are two websites that I recommend about backpacking in Thailand, one is www.khaosanroad.com and the other is www.backpackthailand.com

Q: Had a chance to enjoy the fun of backpacking. How did you get on?

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