Our final destination with Dragoman was Bangkok. We had one night here with the group, and then we stayed extra nights to meet up with some friends from our South America trip, who were en route to Myanmar themselves.
We didn't do much sightseeing here, this was predominantly a social interlude, but we did get as far as the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. Having seen so many Buddha figures in Myanmar, we found it hard to get excited about the Reclining Buddha, but the palace was quite impressive.
A couple of practical points. Don't be put off by tuk tuk drivers or 'helpful passers by' telling you the palace is closed, as this is just a ruse to get you to go somewhere else. You will need to bear in mind the dress code here. On our visit, and from other accounts, it seems the rules are not always consistently applied, but generally, trousers or skirts must be below the knee, (they may insist on full length,) and shoulders must be covered.
It says that if you wear flip flops then you must have socks on to cover bare feet, but this wasn't enforced on our visit, so perhaps have some in your bag just in case. It does seem a silly requirement when you then have to take shoes and socks off to go inside the buildings. They do have trousers etc to borrow near the gate, but that means more queuing and leaving a deposit.
The Grand Palace was built by King Rama in 1782 and the site covers over 218,000 square metres. The grounds would be very pleasant to walk around, but for the intense heat and general lack of shady places to sit and get a refreshing drink - on which point it is a good idea to bring your own water.
The buildings are varied and some of them quite stunning, but the crowds are huge. The main attraction is Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Buddha was discovered in a Stupa in Chang Rai in 1434. At the time, it was covered in plaster, but someone noticed that the plastic had flaked off on the tip of the nose, showing the green stone beneath. Believing it to be emerald, the plaster was removed; it turned out to be carved from jade, but the name stuck.
The Emerald Buddha has a costume for each of the three seasons, and it changed by the King himself in a special ceremony. as is often the case, photos were not permitted inside, but we got a sneaky one through the window.
Aside from that though, we largely spent time eating and drinking with people from the group or the friends we were meeting. We stayed close to the Khao San Road, so it was easy to get there when we wanted to, but a lot of the time we went out just a few streets away in Sansom, which was a little less frenetic, a bit cheaper, and nicer. And you can get a litre of beer in a can.
Thailand has never been high on our list, partly because it is such an established backpacker and beaches place. Whilst I have no doubt that there will be some beautiful places, (and we are going to have a quick stop in northern Thailand later in the trip,) we have no interest in doing the beach resorts.
Khao San Road really is the backpacker hub, and is filled with people heading to or from exactly those resorts we are avoiding.
It is full of just about every cliche you can imagine, from the teenaged 'first holiday with friend's clan who scream excitedly at everything, through the late twenties/early thirties 'I'm too young to settle down and want to prove I can still party' mobs, to the aging hippies still pretending to be dropouts, despite this being their fortnight holiday before going back to their 9-5 job and their mortgage.
Everywhere you look people are wearing the Thailand uniform of shorts (skimpy for the girls, big and baggy for the guys) or the wide leg elephant print elasticated trousers, and bikini tops or T-shirts - usually tie dyed or with deep meaningful slogans. In most cases, these clothes will never see the light of day again once they get home, but for now, they show just how freespirited and individual their wearers think are.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I am disapproving of the people here, I just find it amusing, and at the same time slightly sad, that all of these 'free spirits' are doing and wearing the same things.
The main street and those nearby are full of western food options, bars and souvenir stalls, so you can have the taste of Thailand without stepping too far out of your comfort zone.
But if you do want a culinary challenge, you can also pick up your fill of fried bugs, such as crickets, cockroaches and scorpions; of course most people just want to take a selfie with these delicacies rather than actually buying and eating them - a fact that the stall holders have cottoned on to, so most now charge a fee for the photo.
This is also the place to get yourself into one of the ping pong shows. Don't mistakenly go to one of these expecting to see people playing table tennis. How can I put this delicately? The ping pong balls here can only be fired by ladies with their legs spread wide. It is apparently quite entertaining, but as many of the women doing these shows have been forced into this and others aspects of the sex trade, and are often treated terribly, it was not something we were willing to condone by going to see.
Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.
Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.