Thailand: Land of ladyboys and golden temples

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Wat Phra Kaew, also known as Temple of the Emerald Buddha, within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. (Photo by Joshua Zimmerman)

By Roo O’Loughlin

Thailand. Awesome. I loved everything about my trip to Thailand last December. The whole country has a very relaxing atmosphere. People are really chilled out and friendly, things are super cheap and there’s tons of stuff to do. And everyone in Thailand smiles — prostitutes, police, office workers, bus drivers, trekking guides and fellow tourists.

Simply being in Bangkok is a great experience. I’ll never forget riding on the back of a motorcycle weaving through the city’s traffic-jammed streets, wandering around one of the city’s mammoth shopping malls or catching a ferry along the rivers.

The temples of Bangkok also are really amazing. The biggest one I went to (whose name escapes me) was quite ornate, with many ornaments covered in gold, intricate carvings and fascinating murals depicting old Thai legends. It was like seeing a really large picture book with scenes of huge armies fighting each other and giant monsters eating humans and getting killed.

The thing that I found most interesting in Bangkok was the ladyboys. Some of you may have heard that Bangkok has a few lady boys. That’s not true. Bangkok has heaps of ladyboys. The ladyboys range from painfully easy to spot to “I can’t believe she’s not female.” Sometimes they’re hard to identify because some of the ladyboys have been using hormone therapy since they were kids. When my friend accused one of them of not being entirely female, she got angry, grabbed my hand and dragged it down to regions where males usually like to go. All I can say is the surgery is top notch.

Outside of Bangkok, things didn’t get any less fun. Traveling by train to Ayutthaya, I saw some wonderful ruins of a former Thai empire. I rented a bicycle and rode around the town checking out various ruins and chatting to different people.

Going further north, I ended up in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second biggest city. It was much quieter than Bangkok. I was a little sick of temples by this stage, so I decided to go on a three-day guided trek. The biggest highlight of the tour was riding on top of an elephant while feeding it bananas. The only problem was when I ran out of bananas. The elephant, which had originally been taking bananas out of my hands with its trunk, started blowing the contents of its trunk onto me. They may be smart animals, but they can be a little childish as well.

After the tour, before I headed to the beaches in the south, I went to see some Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing. I’m not someone who’s generally into watching people kick the snot out of each other, but watching the Thais do it to each other was pretty cool. It was amazing to see how high they could swing their legs. They really got into the match. The only downside to the whole experience was being subjected to Thai traditional music. Thai friends of mine described it as the sound of a bagful of cats drowning. They weren’t wrong.

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Children pose for photos with Domokun in Chiang Mai. (Photo by Joshua Zimmerman)

Two days before New Year’s Eve, I arrived at the port to go to Thailand’s most famous party island, Koh Pha Ngan. It became apparent just how many other people had thought of going there as well — lots. Finding accommodation was so tough that I elected to sleep in a tent rather than spend half my day searching for a vacant room. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the beaches on Koh Pha Ngan. There were no waves and the water didn’t feel that clean. However, most people don’t go there to swim. They go there to party.

The New Year’s Eve party was massive. There were about 10 huge bars spilling onto the beach and each were playing different kinds of music: house, trance, happy hardcore, techno, etc. There were people walking around twirling bits of wood with fire at each end. There were Thais coming up to me offering drugs (at least half of whom I suspected were local law enforcement). There were people running into the ocean screaming out. A lot of people were walking around with small buckets containing a Red Bull, a soft drink and several shots of liquor. Mostly, people just talked and danced — all night long.

However, the islands offer a lot more than partying pleasure. The day before the party I went with a Japanese-French girl to climb the island’s highest peak, which was a very sweaty experience. Plus the diving over at the nearby island of Koh Toa was awesome (except for my Nazi diving instructor). The place was really beautiful and the food was delicious. Actually, the food was awesome everywhere in Thailand.

Overall, Thailand is an excellent place to go. There is so much stuff to do, it’s cheap and you meet lots of cool people along the way. There’s no excuses my friends. Go there.

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting there

I bought my ticket from IACE travel on the seventh floor of the MID building, which is on Aioi-dori in Hiroshima city. The agency is listed on the Get Hiroshima map. Try to buy your ticket three months before you go for the best deals.

I got a ticket going from Hiroshima airport to Bangkok airport. You can get cheaper deals going from cities like Fukuoka, Osaka and Tokyo, but when you factor in the price of the shinkansen, it usually works out to be the same price. I took the limousine bus from the shinkansen side of Hiroshima Station to get to the airport. You can also catch a bus to the airport from Onomichi and Fukuyama.

Getting Around

Around Bangkok, taxis are relatively cheap, although always insist on the taxi driver using the meter. Non-metered fares are always more expensive. Tuk-tuks and riding on the back of motorcyles are fun alternatives, but try to haggle the first fare quoted to you. They should at least be 20 to 30 baht cheaper than taxis.

Going north, I went by rail. It was much cheaper than flying and more comfortable than a bus. I booked my tickets through a travel agent. I only booked through an agent because in the peak season, many of the train tickets have already been booked (some by travel agents willing to sell them to you at a higher price). It’s best to first try to buy your tickets from the railway station (no commission charged). If there are no available tickets, then shop around because the commissions charged vary by travel agent. Only buy from TAT certified travel agents.

Going south, I went by VIP bus. I had a relatively good experience in terms of comfort. Leg room was okay, it was air-conditioned and there were movies to watch en route. However, I did get 200 baht stolen from my luggage. The general rule is if you can’t see your bag, then carry your cash. Some of the VIP bus companies can be dodgy, so ask other travelers who have already traveled to your intended destination about their experiences.