Still heading north as we wind our way through South East Asia
17.03.2010 - 18.03.2010 28 °C
It would have been possible for us to travel directly into the south of Laos from where we were at the top of Cambodia, however we decided against it in favour of detouring to Bangkok. We heard from several people that the border crossing between Cambodia and Laos is 'unofficial' and therefore you may have to pay a bribe on the way through to the border guard. We were told, depending on who you got this might be very small or quite sizeable, so we thought it best to head west into Thailand instead then we were to get an overnight bus north into Laos. Believe it or not it actually worked out cheaper doing it this way – even before the bribe! Sure we didn't get to see any of southern Laos, but apart from home stays it seemed there wasn't a great deal to do there anyway. Everything seemed to be situated in the north.
On arrival in Bangkok after a relatively painless border crossing, we departed our bus not far from the legendary Khao San Road, the main backpacker street in all of the capital. We then began hunting down a good (cheap) place to stay for the night. After a few unsuccessful attempts we started asking some fellow travellers, and they pointed us in the direction of a quieter street that was also loaded with restaurants and guest houses.
For some reason Bangkok wasn't quite as crazy as I had pictured it. I had imagined the roads crammed with traffic, people everywhere (even hanging out of buses) and a booming sex industry. It actually seemed more like a friendly area, overwhelmed by backpackers who were enjoying cheap drinks, socialising and shopping from the many market stands. It might have been that we didn't visit the part of town that I had pictured in my mind, but it didn't matter, I wasn't disappointed in the least.
The next day we decided to go for a walk around and escape from the bustling backpacker area. We stopped off at a tourist information office, where we were greeted by around 10-15 smiling faces, all eager to help. We chatted with them briefly, then with the help of their map, went on our way. We wandered past some of the major temples, and the Royal Palace, and worked our way down to the flower market, which was quite remarkable. Stacks upon stacks of colourful, immaculate flowers, some crafted into wreaths and others simply sold by the bag.
We worked our way through and continued on to another huge market, this time lined from floor to ceiling with clothes! It was like a maze trying to escape. Steph found an incredibly cheap manikin shop, which would be perfect for when she makes clothes, however we will have to shop by mail order as it wouldn't be piratical, nor economical to purchase a life-sized manikin to cart around while backpacking!
On our way back to the guest house we took a walk through the large area that has been taken over by the 'Red Shirt' demonstrators. It reminded me of walking to White Hart Lane on the way to see a Spurs game. Everyone we saw was dressed in red, some sporting bandanna's and neck scarves, and many carrying red and white clappers. The mood was very relaxed and peaceful, as we ventured onwards through the crowds. It was plain to see there solidarity and commitment. As we watched one of the leaders on stage giving an inspiring speech (or so we guessed from the reaction of the crowd) I had a chat with one of the protesters. They were intent on demonstrating non-violently, with the intention of getting the corrupt Thai government to dissolve, making way for a peoples democracy once again.
After lunch we decided to try out one of the very reasonably priced massage parlours along our road. It was certainly worth the money! Although parts were quite painful, Steph and I both walked out feeling thoroughly relaxed (and a bit bruised)! We had managed to book a bus for that evening, so our stay in Bangkok was only brief, now we were headed for another border, this time to cross into Northern Laos...