Sometimes when you are out travelling you just have these days where everything seems to happen in one even though you kind of didn’t plan any of it. Some cities are also just so ready to suck you in and produce one of the insane days, a Bangkok might just be the top of that list. we’ve had some days in the past that feel almost unbelievable, those days where one moment you are sat in the hostel in your pj’s and the next you are parting in the centre of Skopje with the owner of the hostel, drinking shots with people you just randomly protested the government with… Spending 12 hours in a car in the Romanian countryside with strangers and ending up having one of the most random but amazing days. Travelling just seems to throw at you a curve ball and all you need to do is say yes to have your day or evening take a random turn! Just one of those Bangkok backpacking days!
The start of a crazy Bangkok backpacking day!
As with most of these days they begin rather unassuming, you sit around the hostel for way longer than you intended to with no real aims. You start to feel a but guilty about it and wonder what you should actually be doing with your day. Lets just wander out around the area we thought, head into the park and take a stroll! So off we went, dodging lizards bigger than dogs snacking on poor turtles! As we walked and walked we came across, completely by chance, the Vietnamese Embassy. Seeing as we intended to head over in a few weeks we thought, why not check out how easy it is to get the visa here!
Sending off for our Vietnamese visa… Waiting in line and wasting half the day (or thinking we had!)
So next minute we are in the queue in the air conditioned embassy, only to realise we don’t even have our passports or some photos with us! Well, what else are we doing today we pondered, we might as well walk back to the hostel and pick them up. Then we realised we forgot to get some passport photos taken, no bother we will just stand there in a tiny shop getting some awkward photos taken and end up looking like a Russian psychopath in them! Great, but you know all in a Bangkok backpacking day!
So back we were, this time queuing up for what seemed like an eternity behind two American guy, the first sounded like David Blane as was attempting to perform some feat of magic by intending to travel to Vietnam the day after even though a visa takes 5 days. He was trying his best to convince the staff he needed emergency visa exemption because his Thai visa was about to come to an end… they weren’t having any of it! The next guy then proceeded to kick off about how the fees were twice as much for Americans as anyone else… we’ll then you contemplate why that could be! Americans, yet another feature of your typical Bangkok backpacking day!
But actually despite the organised chaos of the Vietnamese embassy and the screaming Americans we managed to apply right there and then! Job done! So what to do next?
Heading out to explore the amazing temples of Bangkok
Hmm. Lets walk some more and see what we find. All around this part of town it felt a little financial and sterile, so we headed down a little side street wondering what we might find. Oh, the canal, and it stinks! But what the hell, the boat is coming in so lets just get on it and see where we end up! It turns out that these canal boats are not like a little narrow boat on the old victorian canals of home. Bangkok backpacking is all about seeing these crazy places many don’t dare visit!
Oh no, this is a wild ride like a log flume in a theme park, but maybe an abandoned one where the water has been standing for just a little too long! The boats seem to race along at ridiculous speeds on what is quite a narrow canal, ticket collectors hang from the side taking money and people seem to have constructed makeshift towns along the length of these pungent city veins. As one barge passes another at such speed the water is churned up into a torrent of waves and foaming filth, passengers quickly pull up the plastic sheeting to avoid getting splashed, at times the boat strains so much if feels like it might snap! But we make it to the final stop, Bangkok backpacking is on!
But wait, it turns out we are only a short walk from the Golden Chedi temple we had been planning on visiting anyway and from there another short walk to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha! So hey, why not visit them now! Making our way around these serine and stunning complexes we were in complete awe at the details of these Wats.
So different from the temples we had seen before in China and Japan we instantly fell in love with the Thai style of Buddhism and their unique temples designs. We were quite mesmerised by what we found here, true beauty and tranquility. A far cry from the sky scrappers, shouting Americans, smelly river boat and roaring traffic!
Swinging by Khao San Road for a bit of Pad Thai
Well, it had already been a long day up until this point and we felt our stomachs rumbling for yet more tasty Thai food. So being only a few streets away at this point we decided to just bite the bullet and head to Khao San Road. After all you know down here you are guaranteed tasty and cheap Pad Thai with endless vegetarian options too! What better way to end your Bangkok backpacking day… or has it just begun!?
So after paying less than £1 each for some of the most amazing Tofu Pad Thai and veggie spring rolls, made right in front of us on the street, we sat down with our new found chop stick skills and dove in! As we did a strange and mysterious woman passed us by and caught our eye. Here tattoos were absolutely stunning, an amazing collage of traditional Asia designs the likes of which I had always pined after! But in a flash, as with the energy of Khao San, she was gone into the crowd!
“Accidentally” coming out with a tattoo!!
Walking around the streets adjoining Khao San with in intention of just taking in the atmosphere and maybe laughing at a few of the “traveller pant” brigade something caught the corner of my eye once again. That same mesmerising design flashed into sight, this time as I looked up I saw that mysterious woman again, having a cigarette outside a small tattoo studio. Soon she slipped inside before we could approach and began talking to someone inside. With a book laid open on a page of Sak Yant tattoos I had to have a flick through. For years I had had my heart set on one of these intricate designs adorning my body. The complex spirals, ancient lettering and mystical patterns drew me in closer and closer. Before we knew it the woman was stood right behind us, watching as my eyes lit up with ideas. Well, getting a tattoo is a staple of the Bangkok backpacking itinerary isn’t it!?
She told us of the meanings behind these ancient designs, of luck, peace and happiness written in the old Thai taken from passages of buddhist prayers. An admirer of the religion I knew I wanted one of these beautiful designs! She send us across the road to “talk” to the artists, who had been tattooing these designs for over 20 years having been taught by a local monk and also studied scripture. The studio itself, unlike many along this infamous road, is clean, professional and very similar to those I have worked in and spent many hours under the needle in back home! I was impressed to see how they guys here had brought this ancient art into the modern century. Using machines instead of sticks was something I had sought out, having worked in a studio for over a year I might be a little picky knowing how these things heal, age and also having studied the health and safety behind tattooing!
Sitting here and discussing designs for the pair of us time went on and on. I wanted something traditional with a certain meaning attached, Shorty wanted something a little more decorative that took elements from these ancient designs. Before we knew it we both had something draw up individually for each of us, two beautiful designs just waiting to be inked on to our skin. As we had been waiting it turns out that a couple of clients had rang up and cancelled last minute…so the chairs were free and awaiting! Well, we’ve wanted them for years and here we are, why not!
Before we knew it we had gone from queuing in the embassy, to having our photos taken in the most random shop, to speeding through the canals of Bangkok, to staring up at a giant shimmering golden buddha, to chowing down on the most amazing Pad Thai…and now here we were, the familiar sting of the tattoo needle piercing our skin once again! I actually somehow manage to fall asleep too! Well, it was a tiring day!
Believed to give the wearer magic powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and protection against evil our tattoos are something we will carry with us forever, a memory of our time on the road and the beautiful chaos this life creates!