Carnage on Khao San: A Gateway to Adventures
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
Thailand was over three years ago now, so no doubt things will have changed since my visit with new destinations, bars, restaurants and activities rising in popularity. That said, I still want to write a memoir of my visit as much to re-visit my own memories as to convey exactly how much of an awesome place it really is.
First things first, as a bit of an aerospace geek having worked in the industry for four years, I was absolutely buzzing to be flying to Thailand on an Airbus A380. The sheer size of the aircraft is phenomenal and the journey to Bangkok, via the transfer at Dubai of which I’d never seen an airport like it, all set the tone for an exciting, eye-opening experience for what was, to me at the time, a completely new world.
Flying in to the Suvarnabhumi airport, we dived into a taxi and made our way to the hotel in the centre of Bangkok. This trip was with one of my closest mates, Chef, who’d previously travelled to Thailand a few years earlier and appreciates a higher standard of accommodation. No hostels here then! After checking-in, we dumped our stuff in the room and immediately set about checking out the local area. I’ll admit, this being my first time in Asia, I was a little apprehensive about what to expect when out and about in the city but excited all the same. After just half an hour exploring the local area, I’d made my decision. Bangkok is mental. Absolutely crazy. I love it. Vibrant, busy, energetic, bustling, frantic, cool, stylish - there are so many words to describe this place. The humidity was also something that struck me very quickly; it took some getting used to and quickly led to an appreciation for air-conditioning!
After checking out the local area and grabbing some food, we made our way up to the hotel rooftop pool for the rest of the afternoon. The views across the city were magnificent; a sprawling urban mass of skyscrapers and residential buildings glimmering in the tropical heat. We’d arrived on the Sunday, with the plan being to have a big night out on the legendary Khao San road, exploring Bangkok further on the Monday with an early flight to Koh Samui Tuesday morning. After freshening up and changing clothes, we went up to the bar excited for our first night out in Bangkok and two weeks of exploration ahead of us. The doors of the lift opened. Empty. Dead. Not a soul about. We asked a member of staff why it was so quiet, and they explained that there’d been a referendum in Thailand that day with all alcohol banned for the day - disaster! Needless to say, we made our way to Khao San road in the vain hope the law was being flouted and beer plentiful. It wasn’t. My first evening in Thailand ended with an orange juice and a can of coke; in hindsight, a good job considering the carnage Khao San delivered the following night!
Khao San road is something else. A gateway to a world of adventures in far off lands. I once read a quote describing the street as, “a short road that has the longest dream in the world”. This couldn’t be more accurate. It made me feel alive. It made me want to travel the globe. Multiple alleys host market stalls selling fabrics, scents and souvenirs, the bustling atmosphere complimented by the waft of exotic fragrances. Street-sellers wander up and down the street, selling delicacies such as fried scorpions, grasshoppers and other bizarre insects to curious tourists. Travellers sit in the restaurants and bars, exchanging tales and discussing the next steps in their adventures.
Believe it or not, I’m quite a reserved character who sits back and works out the company I keep before diving in, so when a lone traveller asked to sit with Chef and myself over a beer I was initially taken aback. This was my first experience dealing with solo travellers, but I’m thoroughly grateful for that individual taking the brave step to introduce himself on his own. An Australian lad, he captivated us with his adventures, and how he’d left his job to travel South-East Asia for a few months, purchasing a motorbike in the north of Vietnam and riding his way through the country before selling it at the other end. I made a mental note there and then, that should I ever go solo travelling, I’d make the effort to be as approachable and engaging as that guy.
The plan was to have a quiet night on the Monday, taking it easy and being sensible bearing in mind we were flying out to Koh Samui 09:00am Tuesday morning. A good friend from home had hooked us up with some friends of his who reside in Bangkok, so after a day of exploring Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple, we arranged to meet them for a few drinks as a “quiet one”. It didn’t last long. Khao San was alive. A complete contrast from the alcohol-free zone we’d encountered the evening before. The music boomed as crowds spilled out of clubs, partying out in the street dancing and laughing. Ever the idiot to get carried away with the atmosphere and easy to persuade to “stay out a bit longer”, the couple of quiet pints soon turned into the 3-litre Beer Towers; priced at 650 baht, they were too good to resist and, predictably, became my downfall! Cue the arrival at the end of the night and, blind drunk, being slung into the back of a taxi by Chef. I don’t remember the taxi home. I don’t remember Chef asking the driver to stop two blocks from the hotel as a preventative measure before I was ill. I vaguely remember getting carried home. I was defeated. Khao San road had lured me in under false pretences, chewed me up and spat me back out!
You may recall I said our flight the following morning was 09:00am. I woke up at 08:15am. Face down, head against the hotel door in my clothes from the night before. It was one of those scenes from the movies when you wake up and briefly have absolutely no idea where you are. A sinking realisation quickly dawned on me; our flight! It was quickly decided that there was absolutely no way on earth we were ever going to make it to the airport in time, so an additional day in Bangkok was hastily arranged, moping about nursing a severe hangover whilst we booked a flight to Koh Samui the following day. £125 lighter for our troubles, the flight out was arranged and an early night in order ready for departure the following morning.
Thankfully, this time the journey passed without incident and we successfully landed on Koh Samui ready for stage two of our travels. It was at this point that the true cost of our mad night out on Khao San road came to light. I went for a walk along the beach to check out the local area when, on my way back, I could see Chef waving me over to the hotel, with a clear look of concern on his face. Our return flight had been cancelled. Oh great. It turned out that as we hadn’t got our scheduled flight out to Koh Samui, the airline had taken it on themselves to cancel our return journey as well. Once again we were in damage limitation mode, finding a local travel agent to book ourselves a flight to Bangkok once we’d finished hopping the islands!
The morale of the story? Be sensible. Have a drink. Be disciplined. Don’t get carried away and carried home. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, circa £300 later, that "cheap night out in Bangkok" quickly turned into a hard lesson learnt!