I was really looking forward to Thailand in 1996, undoubtedly the most exciting destination in Asia, in my mind. It was my first visit.
Great beaches, sexy women, great food, breathtaking natural beauty & ruins of fabulous ancient kingdoms.
But transport from the airport to the backpacker centre of Khao San Road was insane, one of the least pleasant airport runs in the world. It was an inauspicious start.
Bangkok is one of most polluted and congested cities in the World.
The climate is great — between November & February. The rest of the year it is either sweltering or flooded.
Sooner or later, every Asian traveller arrives at Khao San Road.
Khao San Road is one of the three Ks of Asia: Kuta Beach (Bali), Kathmandu and Khao San Road.
I was overwhelmed at first. But later grew to love the scene.
I met Sin on Khao San Road, a lovely guy & very organized 26-year-old Japanese backpacker who was travelling 50 countries over 3 years. Sin was the first serious traveller I spent time with.
I was impressed. He definitely influenced my growing love of travel.
Sin’s girlfriend had caught malaria in Africa and was suffering a flare-up in Bangkok. Every second day she needed to lay in bed. Alterrnate days she toured with us, completely healthy.
The Japanese doctors advised her to stay in Bangkok for treatment rather than return home as the doctors here were far more familiar with the disease.
The infamous Tuk Tuk, symbol of Bangkok.
A louder, smellier, more dangerous mode of transport is hard to picture.
Beware anyone who offers you a free Tuk Tuk ride. There are scams aplenty in the sleazy city.
Khao San Road grew up because it is close to major tourist attractions of Bangkok; the National museum, the Grand Temple & Emerald Buddha, and my favourite, Wat Pho.
The second largest Buddha image in Thailand is housed in this, the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok.
Built around a brick core and covered with plaster that is finished with gold leaf, the eyes and feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
This Buddha is huge. And the first reclining Buddha I had come across.
Wat Pho is my favourite temple complex because it is alive, full of monks, kids, students, festivals, soccer games, yoga classes & massage tables.
It houses a bizarre collection of salvaged Buddhas and statuary.
I read more about Thai culture than any other in Asia. Fascinating.
Insects are a popular treat though I passed on the fried scorpion.
Kids catch huge flying insects with butterfly nets, then roast them over the open fire as snacks.
I first saw a Mantis in Thailand, easily the most impressive insect. (Might be tasty too, I wouldn’t know.)
I was keen to visit Patpong, the famous Red Light district of Bangkok.
But by 1996 it had become more tourist attraction than brothel. Families wandered about clicking pictures.
I had a beer in one bar featuring Kick Boxers as entertainment. And I saw the famous clubs where bored topless girls sit behind glass walls watching TV — identifed by felt pen marker like triathletes.
But I left only with fake designer watches. Patpong has become the best night market in town.
Shopping for Buddhas is a popular pastime.
My strong interest in Buddhism started here in Thailand. I like the philosophy & was struck with the contrast between the tolerant Eastern God symbol of the wet paddies as compared with the harsh, unforgiving God of the desert.
I loved a tour to Ayuthaya, one of the ancient capitals.
It’s easy to day trip from Khao San Road. Buses and vans roll in day & night.
Wat Pra Sri Samphet in Ayuthaya, Thailand.
I prefer ruined ruins. They are more evocative of the past than those restored.
The lovely and bizarre Bang Pa-In Palace in Ayuthaya .
Back in Bangkok, I learned to commute by river taxi. Quick, convenient and scenic. The only way to go.
Somewhat disappointed with the crush of Bangkok, right up my alley was the lure of a hill tribe trek in the rugged north.
Our guide was Tien, a former kick-boxer who had travelled in France, fought the Lao in the army, worked for the mafia, & shot tiger with a head torch.
He led us on a three-day trek in Doi Inthanon National Park; Meo country.
We had a good group, all pleased to be getting out into the jungle. This is a very popular tour — over a million take it every year!
The raft trip is a blast. We floated and poled our way through jungle for several hours.
After sleeping in an authentic Karen village, the big highlight was an elephant ride.
Later I travelled to South Thailand and visited a butterfly enclosure. Wonderful.
I’ve taken every opportunity to commune with flutterbys ever since.
I made every effort to avoid it but still somehow found myself in sleazy Phuket, haunt of European sex tourists.
Actually I quite enjoyed a day trip from there to James Bond Island, one of the striking limestone formation typical to this part of the world. We stopped at a Cashew factory & a unique Muslim fisher village on stilts. Sea food dinner was great.
In 1996 the next big thing in Thailand was Ko Tao, a comparatively unvisited and undeveloped island known only to scuba freaks.
I love snorkelling so it immediately became my destination.
Wow. Ko Tao.
The Koh Nangyuan Dive Resort is paradise — the triple bay layout of the island means good snorkelling regardless of weather.
I floated many wonderful hours here.
On a whim I decided to kayak around Ko Tao, a trip which took me about 8 hours.
Unfortunately I got sunburned, so badly so that I felt I should seek medical attention in civilized Singapore.
I would return many times.
Last word: Thailand is often noted for the warmth of the people. I had the opposite experience. I found the Thai cold and aloof, perhaps sick of tourists. The folks in Cambodia, Lao and Myanmar are much happier & more patient with us.