Poor Circulation: Exploring the World on £20 per Day


In April of 2008, I called time on a career that never was, sold all my worldly goods and set out to travel the world on a motorcycle...

.................... then all of this just seemed to happen

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Post 409: President Donald J. Trump - [Posted November 22nd 2016]




This blog’s been inactive for quite some time, but in my defense, I’ve spent the last eighteen months following the pantomime that turned out to be, the 2016 US Presidential Election. 
Of course, we now know that baring unforeseen circumstances, on January 20th 2017, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President, but for me, the biggest surprise of the entire electoral process was that more people hadn’t seen that result coming.
For eighteen long and arduous months the election bounced from one scandal to the next, both real and invented, as the once impartial media shamelessly backed their chosen candidates whilst shafting all other runners in the race. If I’d been asked to describe the process, from distant beginning to recent conclusion, I’d have to say that the entire election cycle became a metaphor for the rest of the world in 2016: “Totally Fucked-up”.
Even now, many of those who didn’t support Trump are protesting the outcome and claiming that based on ‘Popular Vote’, Hillary Clinton actually won the election. No matter how you feel about the Electoral College or Donald J. Trump, and in my eyes there’s a special place in Hell reserved for both of them, just to the right of the plot marked “Bill and Hillary Clinton”, making such claims after the event seems a little churlish. (I don’t remember German fans disputing the outcome of the ’66 World Cup Final because at the end of ninety minutes, instead of going directly to penalties, they'd played thirty more minutes of extra time during which England scored two more goals). So, despite my best attempts to avoid excessive vulgarity, I think ‘Totally Fucked-Up’ is a fairly accurate description.
For the record, it should come as no surprise to any of you that in the absence of a genuine left-of-centre candidate, I'd "Felt The Bern" and supported the Senator from Vermont. However, with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that Americans had been so determined to send democracy back to the Dark Ages, I don't know why they didn't deploy the nuclear option and simply written-in "King George III".

The irony of writing a critique of US Democracy from my desk here in Thailand hasn’t escaped my attention, and if Alanis Morissette is still following this Blog then perhaps she’ll be in touch.….. don’t you think? 

Post 408: Major Changes for ‘Tourists’ in Thailand - [Posted November 6th 2015]

For five glorious years, I’ve avoided the ravages of winter by spending six months of the year in, and around, Thailand. By accident of birth, a British Passport has allowed me to access reasonably priced double-entry tourist visas with, thankfully, very few questions asked. However, as of November 2015, the Thai visa system has changed.

Previously, I’d arrive in Thailand as a tourist under the 30 Day Visa Waiver Programme, a programme that remains unchanged. As that initial 30 days began to expire, I’d venture north into Laos, and at the Thai Embassy in Vientiane, I’d apply for a double-entry 60 Day Tourist Visa. That particular visa cost $60 and for a further $60 it could be extended for an additional 30 Days on two separate occasions. Under that system, with the exception of two short trips to Laos or Cambodia, I could remain in Thailand for 210 Days.    

However, as of November 2015, the double entry tourist visa has been withdrawn. It has been replaced by a Multi-Entry 6 Month Tourist Visa, which initially sounded like very good news indeed. However, in the words of the original Night Owl ‘This is Thailand’, a Kingdom where things are never quite as straight forward as they seem. To obtain this new multiple-entry visa you must:
                                            
                 1: Apply in your home country
2: Provide six months of bank statements with a balance that never for one day dips below  
   $6,000 (Some early applicants are saying the minimum amount is actually $12,000)
3: Provide a letter from your employer guaranteeing your continued and future employment.

Unfortunately, for me, I fail on all three of the new criteria. So, when the 30 days on my initial visa waiver are about to expire, I’ll head to Laos and apply for a 60 Day Single-Entry Tourist Visa at the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane. Hopefully, I’ll be able to extend that 60 Day Visa for an additional 30 Days at my local Immigration Office here in Bangkok. That should allow me to remain in Thailand until February 2016, at which time I’ll have to once again leave the country. Hopefully between now and then, the new system will have settled into place and my options for extending my stay will have become clearer.

       

Post 407: The Thai Festival of Song Kran 2558 - [Posted April 18th 2015]

Between 13th & 16th of April, Thailand celebrates the arrival of New Year with the festival of Song Kran. Every April, millions of tourists flock to Thailand and join the now infamous water fights in the Silom and Khao San areas of Bangkok. However, in the Bangkok district of Lak Si, the place I call "home", far away from the commercial tourist traps of the city, in an area where tourists seldom tread, this is how Thais really celebrate ….

Post 406: Supporting The Dhamanurak Foundation – [Posted April 14th 2015]

Our association with the Dhamanurak Foundation began in 2013. That year, my partner Nongnoo decided to celebrate her birthday with a party, but, it would be a party with a difference.  Instead of the usual night of food, beer and birthday cake with a few close friends in Bangkok, she’d decided to host a party for a large group of underprivileged kids in the Province of Kanchanaburi. 
 Located just a few miles from one of Thailand’s major tourist attractions, but appearing nowhere on any map, the Dhamanurak Foundation is home, school and medical centre for approximately 120 kids. Ranging between 1 and 16 years of age, the kids are either orphans, or from homes where for various reasons, their parents are simply unable to care for them. Founded in 2001 by a Buddhist Nun named Jutiporn, who continues to run the centre on a daily basis, the Foundation survives on voluntary contributions from the public.
 Back in 2013, Nongnoo had spent a couple of days gathering supplies and raising money before heading off to Kanchanaburi with four or five close friends. Repeating the celebration in 2014, we’d raised more money and a few more volunteers had joined us, but in 2015, we’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of others. Long before dawn on March 7th this year, fifty people in thirty fully-laden vehicles set out from their homes in various parts of Thailand to offer their support for the kids of the Dhamanurak Foundation.  
 In 2013 all efforts had been concentrated on the party, an opportunity to provide a few hours of fun and entertainment for the kids.  In 2014, the party had still been central to our efforts, but we’d also managed to provide additional support for the Foundation in terms of money, equipment, clothing etc. Another byproduct of our efforts has been an increase in public awareness, and that awareness appears to have kick-started an entirely new movement of independent supporters.
 This year, a group of university students had concentrated on hosting the party, which given the closer proximity of age and energy levels, was an amazing development for the kids. We’d still provided food and special treats for the event, but the student’s support has allowed us to concentrate our own efforts in other areas.
Without the support of volunteers, organisations like the Dhamanurak Foundation simply wouldn’t exist, but once established, money becomes their lifeblood. From our efforts, we do raise and give a certain amount of money to the Foundation, but this is Thailand and we’re silently aware that hard cash in any organization here can be the catalyst for corruption. It’s difficult to believe that anybody would steal money from these kids, but unfortunately, the world is what it is and not necessarily what we want it to be.    
 However, by providing the seemingly boring but costly everyday essentials; classroom equipment, cleaning materials, sewing machines, food, crockery etc., we help them to manage and release their own funds for various capital projects. The Dhamanurak Foundation’s list of needs is long, but with the help of some amazingly generous people, progress is being made. Recently, work has begun on replacing the temporary bamboo accommodation units with more modern low-maintenance permanent buildings, and at the same time, converting previously unused semi-derelict buildings into such things as mushroom growing houses, workshops and poultry enclosures.
If anybody following this would like to learn more, or to in some way help or become involved, then please drop me an email: GMail   geoffgthomas 

Post 405b: Why Don’t You Believe in God? – [Posted April 11th 2015]

If there’s one lesson that travelling’s taught me, it’s never to offer my personal opinions on partners, politics or religion, especially when drinking. So, when the only other English speaker asked me why I didn’t believe in God, I’d fobbed him off with a generic answer and quickly changed the subject. But, his question had intrigued me.
For all of my adult life I’ve consider myself an atheist, but, I’ve never really investigated the root of my non-belief. My parents were certainly Christian, Methodists, and at an early age I attended Sunday school, and perhaps, that’s where my journey towards atheism really began.
Before I could walk, I was christened, and as soon as I could talk I would kneel at the side of my bed each night and recite this simple prayer: Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon this little child, pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee. It’s safe to say that being christened wasn’t a personal choice, and the words of that first prayer had actually scared me. Why did I want ‘pity’, pity was for people who had worse lives than me, and why would I ever want to ‘suffer’ for anything?
Throughout my time at junior and secondary schools, I’d struggled with reading and writing - later diagnosed as dyslexia - but I’d known that I wasn’t an idiot and actively tried to prove that point by asking lots of relevant questions in class. In general my questions were welcomed by the teachers, but at Sunday school, well, the ministers weren’t quite so accommodating.
At school, my physics teacher had told me that the universe was almost fifteen billion years old and measurably expanding, and that planet earth had been around for at least four billion years. As I’d questioned his reasoning, he’d pointed me towards an entire section of scientific research material in the school library and encouraged me to investigate the evidence and to draw my own conclusions. In social studies, they’d introduced me to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and shown that recognisable humans had inhabited the earth, specifically Africa, for at least 200,000 years. If I wanted further evidence of evolution, I should visit the Natural History Museum in London and evaluate the evidence for myself. So, at the age of twelve, we spent our summer vacation traipsing around London on an amazing voyage of discovery: The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum, The British Museum and the Planetarium. 
For my inquiring young mind, the school teachers’ responses to my questions were appropriate, but in church my questions had seemed neither reasonable, nor in most cases, answerable. I’d been told that God created the earth, and that five days later he created Adam before taking a day of rest. But, if Adam came two thousand years before Abraham, and Abraham lived two thousand years before Jesus, wouldn’t that make the earth, and therefore mankind, at the very most six thousand years old? When I’d innocently questioned the Sunday schools teachers’ timeline, they hadn’t pointed me towards scientific papers, to independent research or to physical evidence in various museums, they’d simply pointed me to their book, the Holy Bible.
The Bible wasn’t an easy read, but I’d struggled through a few random chapters and what I’d found had disturbed me far more than that early childhood prayer. At the time, many of the words had been beyond my comprehension, like ‘Apostasy’, but being told by a loving omnipotent God that if members of my own family ever cease believing in him, I should stone them to death, had seemed more than a little harsh. When it comes to wavering belief in God, I also discovered that the name Thomas had history, and I’d decided that it was time to stop asking questions, and, to stop attending a church that actively discouraged scrutiny.     

Post 405a: Je Susi Charlie [Posted 8th January 2014]

 
As you’re no doubt aware, on Wednesday 7th of January at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, masked gunmen slaughtered ten members of the editorial team and two French police officers. The reason for this barbaric attack, it would seem, was a reaction to the publication, on several occasions, of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. On a personal note, I didn’t find the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to be particularly amusing, or informative, but any verbal assault on humour, politics or religious beliefs should surely lead to dialogue, not death. Sadly, this isn’t the first such deadly response to criticism, satirical or otherwise, of Islam and its envoy on earth, and I’m not referring to the previously published Danish cartoons or even Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses.


For the first example of such a violent response to criticism of the Prophet, we must travel back to 7th century Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad. Asma bint Marwan – daughter of Marwan – was a local poet who openly mocked Muhammad’s claim to be the Slave of Allah, Allah being the Arabic word for God. Vexed by the content of her verse, Muhammad had asked “Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?” That evening, one of Muhammad’s followers murdered Asma while she slept, and upon hearing the news Muhammad exclaimed “you have helped both God and His messenger”. If Islam is a religion of peace, then as with most other religions, it didn't get off to a very good start.
 
So, is it right that we, society, should be openly critical of religion? Many believers will say 'No', especially I suspect when it relates to their own chosen belief system, but on any logical basis, the answer must surely be 'Yes'. Religions, both monotheistic and polytheistic, are by their very nature expansionist, and in this respect Islam seems more determined than most. Religions are like political movements, without national borders, and their manifestos are their sacred books; Bible, Quran, Torah. As Islam’s ultimate and undisguised goal is to attract the remaining five-billion of the world’s non-believers to its fold, by all means necessary, then society has a moral obligation to review, dissect, question, and where necessary, even openly mock its policies and actions.


But, the free thinking world has become an amazingly sensitive beast, especially when it comes to discussing Islam. It’s a beast burdened by the weight of political correctness, and for this deafening silence in the face of mounting sickness, we must all accept a degree of personal responsibility. Since the birth of electronic media, the rise of Islamic violence has monopolised the limelight, but, although Islam has stolen the headlines, none of the faith based movements have been totally free from sin. Charlie Hebdo might not be funny, in my eyes at least, but at least they don’t discriminate. When it comes to being critical of faith, Charlie Hebdo are certainly advocates for equality.

No faith escaped the cartoonist’s pen, but only one movement reacted against them with violent and deadly force. Of course, the artists knew that their cartoons would be controversial, and that was precisely their point, they were a catalyst to conversation, debate and hopefully, enlightenment. They were fully aware of the risks to themselves, but they didn’t fear the wrath of Allah, to them Allah was as real as a Unicorn, what they feared, justifiably, was the reaction of individuals who’d been poisoned by his brutal manifesto.
Some will take exception to my choice of words, brutal manifesto, but as with the books of other religions, many of which are reflected in the Quran, the suras of the Quran and Hadith are no strangers to the glorification of violence. 'If they turn their backs, [on Islam] take them, and slay them wherever you find them'.


The editorial staff and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo paid the ultimate price for fulfilling their obligation to the world. But, hopefully, from their martyrdom will rise a movement, a new generation of critical thinkers who will detect the true scent of religion and identify it for exactly what it is.
          

Post 404: Why Thailand? My Thailand - [Posted 7th January 2015]

 
When strangers ask “where do you live?”, and I reply “Thailand”, their reactions are often quite predictable. Most are too polite to tell me what they’re actually thinking, but their knowing smiles are the perfect windows to their thoughts - A rustic home on the beach, evenings on a bar stool, cold beer in hand and bikini clad maidens tending to his every desire ... The lucky bastard!

  The paradise beaches of Koh Phi Phi
I can understand why they think that, just as I can understand why many Thais, and probably quite a few Americans, firmly believe that every Englishman lives in Downton Abbey, but the truth, for me at least, is far removed from their perception. 2014 was probably an average year for me, and I spent just five evenings attached to various bar stools across Thailand. Three of those evenings were at a travellers meeting in Chiang Mai where I was speaking, and the other two were in Bangkok with a good friend; writer and adventurer, Dr Greg Frazier. In each of those bars I was seen, and probably photographed, with a cold beer in my hand, but to the best of my knowledge there were no bikini clad maidens tending to my every desire or anything else for that matter. Sure, I do have a Thai girlfriend, but if I ever asked her to tend to even the mildest of my actual desires, well, I’d become a eunuch and she’d be out of my life in a flash. As for living close to a beach, well, I’m at least 200 miles from any beach that any sane person would ever want to visit. I live in Bangkok, a little area called Lak Si. Ever heard of it? No, nor had I until I moved here four years ago. It’s certainly not a slum, but neither is it gentrified, but at £70 per month the rent on my studio apartment is slightly more attractive than the view from the balcony.
 
  The early morning haze of Lak Si
So, if I’m not here for the beaches, the booze or the bikini clad beauties, then what the hell am I doing in Thailand? Well, it basically comes down to a combination of economics and laziness, something that I’ll try to explain.
 
After riding around the world, settling back into my normal life was impossible. That's not just because my house had burned down while I'd been crossing Siberia, but because a year without working had become an impossible habit to break. What I really wanted was a gentle middle-class lifestyle, the UK definition of middle-class not the lower income American version, and I figured that the annual income of a teacher would be a really good starting point. In England, that would mean earning around £40,000 per year, which sounded like an awful lot of Monday morning feelings and a decent amount of hard work, but in places such as Thailand, a local teacher earns around £5,000 per year. I guessed that with my messy writing, and with a few additional irons in the financial fire, I could earn £5,000 a year without having to sacrifice too many hours of idleness. So, if I could do that while living in Thailand, and Thailand would allow me to stay there, then I’d be laughing.
 
The economics of teachers
Of course, I could have easily chosen Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos or even somewhere in Africa, but I didn’t. I already spoke a little Thai and, well, in the interest of full disclosure, I already had a few female friends here in the Land of Smiles. [Don’t shoot me, I’m only human and I thought you might appreciate the honesty]
 
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to live life with a cold beer in my hand and the warm ocean lapping at my feet, and even to occupy more bar stools, but when you’re living on £5,000 a year, paradise looks nothing like the marketing material that brought you here in the first place.
 

POST 403: I’m hearing only bad news, on Radio .... [Posted 31st December 2014]

As 2014 draws to a close, unless you’re a purveyor of bullets, surgical masks or radical religion, then it’s safe to say that it's been a big year for bad news. I’m sure there’s been some good news scattered around somewhere, but in the main, 2014 has been a horrible year for humanity.
 
In Asia and the Middle East, aircraft mysteriously vanished or fell from the skies as Islamic State, Al Nusra Front, Taliban and Boko Haram all rose to new heights of depravity. Taking advantage of the media dead-zone created by the world’s concentration on atrocities carried out in the name of some twisted god of peace, Bashar Al-Assad continued to murder thousands of his own people in Syria while Israel decided to flatten any areas of Gaza that hadn’t already succumbed to their previous bombardments.
 
In Europe, political unrest in Ukraine was swiftly followed by the takeover of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by Russian backed separatists. Despite Vladimir Putin’s claim that it wasn’t a Russian bear shitting in the woods of Donetsk and Luhansk, the outside world disagreed, economic sanctions were imposed and the Russian Ruble collapsed in spectacular fashion.
 
Meanwhile, in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea, the Ebola virus killed almost eight-thousand people, but when one poor individual died in America, it suddenly became Obama’s fault. T-Shirts with the slogan ‘EBOLA - Obama’s Gift to America‘ sold almost as quickly as Assault Rifles and in 2014, sixteen thousand more Americans lost their lives in home-grown gun related crimes.
 
Closer to home, my home, 2014 was certainly an interesting year for Thailand. 2013 had ended with the government in limbo and the country at risk of being physically divided into North and South. Civil War was calling and action had to be taken, so Thailand fell back on its own illustrious history and the Generals seized power in the countries 17th Military Coup. Sadly, that wasn’t the end of Thailand’s political shenanigans, simply the beginning ….

Post 403: Part 3: A Beginner’s Guide to Thailand: 5 Must Do Things in Bangkok

So, you’ve arrived safely in Bangkok, checked into your hotel and discovered the best ways of getting around this amazing city. The next question is: Where to go first? Well, I’ve lived here for quite some time and over the years I’ve visited most of the places that any tourist would ever want to see. Some of those places deliver a better experience than others, but if you’re only here for a few short days, then none of them will disappoint you. Here, I’ll scroll through what I feel are the absolute ’Must See’ attractions of the city, the venues that are guaranteed to leave a lasting and favourable impression. If however, you’re looking for more detail, then send me an email and I’ll help where I can.

1: The Grand Palace

Bangkok's Grand Palace

In the Phra Nakhon District of Bangkok, a gentle walk from Khao San Road, you’ll find Bangkok’s most famous landmark: The Grand Palace. It’ll be clearly marked on your map, right at the edge of the Chao Phraya River, and any taxi driver will know how to get you there. However, what most people think of as the Grand Palace, is actually Wat Phra Kaew, or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Palace, and the Wat (Temple) are located in the same complex and the entry ticket, 500 Baht for foreigners and Free for Thais, gives access to both areas.
Wat Phra Kaew - Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Despite what the loitering Tuk-Tuk Drivers and Tourist Guides tell you, this complex is never closed to the public. It is open daily, but on normal days the latest time for entry is around 3pm in the afternoon. It is a Temple, so you’ll need to dress appropriately. The general rule is no bare shoulders and legs fully covered down to the ankles. But, if you’ve arrived wearing shorts, don’t worry because just inside the main gates they’ll happily provide you with a sarong, or a pair of long pants, for a reasonable fee. It’s a huge complex with much to see, so allow yourself a few hours to enjoy this place. It will be busy, but take your time to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to enter the Temple, after removing your shoes of course, and the locals will be happy to guide you in the lighting of candles, the burning of incense sticks and the placement of ceremonial flowers. The entry price includes a small guidebook that will explain the basics of what you need to know about each room and structure, and small information plaques will fill in the blanks. If only have time to visit one site in Bangkok, then this is the one to head for.


2: Wat Saket
Wat Saket - Golden Mount

A fifteen minute walk from The Grand Palace and Khao San Road, Wat Saket is better known to tourists as Golden Mount. Just look upwards and you’ll see a huge hill crowned by a golden chedi, that‘s the top of Golden Mount. The hill isn’t a natural feature, it’s made entirely by man, but the guidebooks will give you all of the history you’ll need. Once again, it’s a temple, so you’ll need to dress appropriately. Grab a bottle of cold water, climb the steps towards the summit, ring the multitude of bells as you go and feel free to chat with any monks that you meet. I love this place, it’s always a lot quieter than Wat Phra Kaew, the views from the summit are stunning and the monks are some of the friendliest that you’ll ever meet. Don’t be afraid of them, they genuinely appreciate your interest and the opportunity to practice their English.
The Summit of Wat Saket

At the base of the golden chedi, the tall round pillar that is said to contain a relic of Lord Buddha, feel free to kneel down and pray. It really doesn’t matter what religion you follow, or if like me you have no religion at all, it’s just something that you’ve probably never done before, but something that might stay with you forever. Many tourists are nervous, but providing you’re respectful of your surroundings, people will be on hand to guide you.


3: Chat u Chak Weekend Market
Entrance to Chat u Chak Weekend Market

If you’re in Bangkok on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, then a trip to Chat u Chak Weekend Market is an absolute must. Chat u Chak is often spelled Jat u JaK, even on the official signs, but that’s just the start of the confusion. This is the worlds largest permanent market and as such, should be highly placed on everyone’s bucket list. A few short years ago, you’d come to Chat u Chak Market and Thai’s would outnumber Westerners 100 to 1, but Chat u Chak is now firmly on the tourist-trail and the numbers have certainly evened out. As a result, the authorities have cleaned the place up, the fake Rolex watches and caged animals have gone and the experience is all the better for it.

To get there, you simply take the BTS to Mo Chit Station and then follow the flow of people across the walkway and down the stairs. It’s hot, it’s crowded and it’s amazingly random, but it’s an experience that no tourist should miss.
Chat u Chak Map

The market is divided into two main sections, the inner and outer triangles on the map. These triangles are separated by an open Walking Street: Kamphaengphet Road. Start by walking left or right, it really doesn’t matter which direction you choose, and just keep on browsing until you return to your original starting point. Along the way you’ll find kiosks selling everything that anybody could ever possibly need, and all at reasonable prices. Along this walking street you’ll also find the food vendors and beer bars. Street food of every variety is cooked to order in front of you and if you need to rest your weary feet before attacking the inner triangle, then grab a stool and a cold beer or soda at any of the busy bars.

The inner triangle is a warren of tight alleys, hot sweaty and crowded. At busy times, which is just about anytime, the masses of people around you will dictate which direction you travel in. If you see anything that you’d like to buy, then buy it when you see it. Don’t make the mistake of making a mental note to return, because although every kiosk has an address written above the store, you’ll probably never find it again. You have the usual array of mass-produced goods; tee shirts, shoes, bags, crockery, army surplus, jeans, jewellery, phone accessories, trinkets etc., but you’ll also find stalls selling artistic one-off products that are generally reasonably priced and Thai artefacts that are generally not. The things that pique your interest may be genuine, but this is Thailand, so buyer beware.
Chat u Chak Outer Triangle

As the sun sets, the inner market begins to close down and the younger trendy Thai crowd migrate to the outer triangle at areas 3 through 6 on the map. This area is fashion heaven, but as a Westerner, if you’re anything larger than ’Average’ in size, then you might struggle to find anything suited to your frame. The exodus towards this trendy fashion street is usually my cue to leave the market, but if you’ve bought anything that you’d like to ship back to your home, then there are several outlets, DHL etc., who’ll help you with door-to-door shipping.

Chat u Chak Weekend Market can sometimes feel like a good work-out, but the investment of energy is worth it. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget and all future markets will seem tame by comparison. Well, almost all other markets.


4: Chat u Chak Green Weekend Night Market 
Entrance to Chat u Chak Green Weekend Night Market

Three years ago, this weekend market migrated from Lad Phrao to it’s new location behind Chat u Chak Park. Back then it was Bangkok’s best kept secret and my favourite place in Thailand. However, in the last twelve months things have changed quite dramatically. Young fashionable Thai’s have discovered this place and taken it to their hearts. It is without doubt the coolest market in all of Asia, perhaps the world, and while you’ll probably still be the only Westerner here, you’ll certainly never feel lonely.

To find Chat u Chak Green, come out of Chat u Chak Market, keep the market perimeter to your left and Chat u Chak Park to your right, and just keep walking down the road. The entrance to Chat u Chak Green Market will open up on your left, so just take a deep breath, take your partners hand in a firm grip, wander inside and enjoy the eclectic experience.

The market is divided into two distinctive parts, permanent stores at the rear and pop-up stalls to your right. I always start with the pop-ups, and if I need anything for the SuperCub C90; whitewall tyres, pimped-out 72 spoke rims or a replacement indicator cover, then this is where I‘ll find it. It’s part trendy Auto-Jumble, part Hollywood Memorabilia and part 70’s Kitsch. Everything you never really needed is here; movie props, old advertising signs the size of your house, iconic posters, vinyl records, 1920’s barbers chairs, vintage clothes and giant WWII search lights. If Chat u Chak Green doesn’t have what you were never looking for, then you’re probably walking around with your eyes closed. This is a ’Holy Shit’ kind of market, a place where you actually need nothing but want to buy everything. But, don’t expect to grab yourself the bargain of the century here. Sure, the clothes and trinkets are reasonably priced, but when it comes to genuine collectables, the Thai’s understand not only the price, but also the true value of everything. Chat u Chak Green Market isn’t cheap, but that’s not the reason that you’re going there.
Some of Chat u Chak Green's Eclectic Merchandise

After browsing the pop-ups, follow the sound of music and move towards the rear of the market. Here you’ll find trendy clothes, modern one-offs and genuine vintage, and a wide range of music bars and eateries. This place is more than alive, it’s positively buzzing with energy. And the people here, well, they’re just visually beautiful, it’s as if they‘ve been sprinkled with handsome-dust and released into the night. They must have Beauty Police on the entrance, and I somehow manage to sneak passed them without being noticed. This must be the liveliest open-air venue in Thailand. For Bangkok’s trendy hipsters it’s the place to be seen, and despite that, I absolutely love it. Do yourself a favour, sit down in a converted oil drum chair and listening to the live music. Grab yourself a cold beer and a genuine bowl of Pad Thai, and just watch the world walk by you.

5: Baiyoke Tower II    
Bangkok's Baiyoke Towe II

In the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok, close to Platinum Mall, you’ll find Thailand‘s tallest building. At 1,000 feet tall and with 85 floors, Baiyoke Tower II provides the most amazing viewing platform for Bangkok. It’ll cost 500 Baht to visit the rotating observation deck, but if you enjoy watching sunsets over amazing cityscapes, then this is certainly the place to do it.
View from the rotating Observation Platform

Arrive before sunset and remember to bring your camera, and if you have one, a tripod. Spend an hour or two slowly rotating high above Bangkok watching the cityscape transform as darkness descends. There’s a bar and restaurant close to the viewing platform, but there are certainly better roof-top dining venues in the city. No, don’t come here to eat or drink, just come to experience the amazing views. 500 Baht will buy a lot of food and beer in Bangkok, but a viewing experience like this is absolutely priceless.

.... Bangkok is a city of 14 million people, one of the most visited capital cities in the world, it has the richest of cultures and I’ve only mentioned five different attractions. Of course, there’s so much more to see and do here, but I’ve only listed the essentials. Provided you arrive here with an open outlook, then you can’t fail to enjoy yourself and create memories that will stay with you for life.

Post 403: Part 2: A Beginner’s Guide to Thailand: Getting Around in Bangkok

So, you’ve arrived safely at your accommodation, the room and hotel aren’t quite what you’d seen in the photographs, but let’s face it, you’re only paying £20 a night and have you seen what £100 a night will buy you in London or New York these days?

The first task, is to get a map of Bangkok and find out where you are in relation to what you want to see. Most maps of the city are free, they’ll give them away in reception, but you’ll have to work your way around the array of misleading adverts in order to pick out any of the details. You’re probably staying somewhere around the Silom or Sukhumvit Road areas, or if younger, then maybe even Khao San Road. Wherever you are, you’ll have lots of transport options available.

1: Taxi Bikes
For short trips, less than a mile, hop onto a Taxi Bike and you’ll get there quickly, and usually still in one piece. They’re actually quite safe, crashing is bad for business, but please, ask for the crash helmet and fasten the damned thing properly. Depending on the length of the journey, most trips will cost 20-40 Baht, or outside of the tourist districts, 10-20 Baht. Just look for a group of guys on a street corner wearing matching jackets, they’ll be more than happy to help you.

2: BTS Sky Train
Bangkok has a Sky Train, or ’BTS’ as they call it here. It’s like the Tube in London, except it’s above the ground and it actually works quite well. Check on your map and find a station close to where you want to visit. The BTS is easy to use and all of the announcements and signs rather helpfully employ both Thai and English. Arriving at your nearest station, change your 100 Baht note into 10 Baht coins at the glass window - just look for the queue of people and that’ll be the window you’re looking for. Then at the ticket machine - look for the other queue of people - identify the price for a ticket to your destination, press that number button, insert your coins and the ticket will magically appear. Then, just follow the signs to the platform, jump on the train and listen for the various announcements: ‘Suparni thor pai Ari - Next station Ari‘. If the BTS station is a mile from your final destination, then let a Taxi Bike take you the rest of the way. Or, be brave and walk there. If you get lost, everybody you pass will be willing to help you, in fact, they’ll see it as an honour to assist. The maximum one-way ticket price on BTS is currently, I think, is 50 Baht ($1.50).

Now, if you’re staying around the Khao San Road area, quite possibly the most ’unThai’ street in Thailand, then the second piece of bad news is that you’re miles away from the nearest BTS Station. However, you’re fairly close the Chao Phraya River. The river cuts through Bangkok and is dotted with ferry stations. To get to the nearest BTS station, just jump on a big ferry, 5 Baht, and jump off at Saphan Thaksin. From there, it’s about 100 yards to the BTS Station, appropriately named, Saphan Thaksin.


3: Meter Taxis



All around Bangkok you’ll see brightly coloured Toyota Corollas; pink, yellow, green etc. These taxis are very reasonably priced. However, make sure the driver uses the meter and understands exactly where you want to go. If a driver refuses to turn on the meter, then make sure that you agree a firm and fixed price before setting off. Taxi drivers will generally know the major destinations and landmarks but they’ll often struggle with small hotels and private addresses in distant districts. Unlike in London, taxi drivers here in Bangkok don’t study the ’knowledge’. So, if you’re going out drinking for the night, and you’re staying in an obscure place, then it’s advisable to carry a card from your hotel or guest house with you. Just hand it to the taxi driver and they’ll get you home safely.

4: River & Canal Boats
 
I mentioned the big Ferry Boats plying their trade on the Chao Phraya River, but Bangkok also has a million smaller canals, called ‘klongs’. Navigating the main river is relatively easy, and although journeys are slow, they’re cheap and show you parts of the city that you‘ll never see from the streets. On the klongs however, navigation is more difficult and even now, I tend to get horribly lost, usually by jumping on a boat that’s heading in the wrong direction. But, to be honest, getting lost in Bangkok is fun and at these prices, not too expensive.

5: Tuk Tuks
 

Tuk-Tuk’s, where to begin? I understand, you’re in Bangkok for the first time and the image of a tuk-tuk is so iconic that you simply have to ride in one. Actually, they are fun, but be warned, every tuk-tuk driver who’s willing to carry you anywhere is also looking for a payday. Flag one down, or find one at the side of the street, give the driver your destination and set a firm price. Whatever happens, don’t allow the driver to make a detour to a Gem Store, his brother’s Tailors Shop or any other place that you really don’t want to visit. The price you pay will be more than the price of a taxi, but provided the driver goes only where you’ve initially asked him to take you, the journey will also be more memorable. 

6: Local Buses
I’m assuming that you won’t be trying to drive yourself around Bangkok in a rental car, but if you are, then good luck with that, it ain’t easy. That leaves three other major forms of transport in the city; Baht Buses, Public Buses and Mini Vans. Baht Buses, or Songthaew, are little more than Isuzu pick-up trucks with benches in the back and a canopy above. You’ll probably never see them in the heart of Bangkok, and if you do you’ll have absolutely no idea where they’re going to take you. So for all but the most adventuous of tourists, they‘re probably best avoided. Public Buses, these are the Flintstonesque charabancs with loose wheels, open windows and belching black smoke form their exhausts. They’re cheap, and you'll see them in central areas of the city, but unless you can read and speak Thai, then you‘ll never know where the hell you‘re going. 
 
That just leaves the Mini Van, the silver or white 15-seat Toyota’s that fly along the road at twice the speed of sound. They’re cheap, and if you know where you’re going then they’re amazingly practical, but, they’re also ever so slightly dangerous. Thai’s use Mini Vans all the time, for both long and short journeys, but most Thai’s are Buddhist and have several future lives to look forward to. You on the other hand, probably only have this one life to enjoy. So, enjoy you’re time in Bangkok and please, avoid the Mini Van.