The roads actually weren't roads at all. In fact, someone had just cut down all the trees in the way and from there on out said, “hey, this is a road now.” Have you ever ridden on an old rickety rollercoaster made of wood? (for those of you from Buffalo, like the Predator at Darien Lake) or have you ever been on some other type of theme park ride where you are thrown around, up and down and all over the place holding on for dear life? That's what this was like. Except at a theme park you know for the most part you are safe. That if it was really that dangerous, the theme park would not have it open in fear of a law suit. Well, in this case, you're not really safe, and there are no such things as law suits. It's kind of like Russian Roulette between your car and the other cars, bikes, tuk tuks, motorbikes, and trucks on the road. These roads were dangerous. If I had been hungover in the least, I would have thrown up all over the place. There were a lot of close calls with us gasping for life in the back seat and the driver kind of laughing it off in the front seat. At times we were halfway on the road and halfway down a hill to pass cars, other times we raced to pass a tuk tuk as oncoming traffic was straight in front of us, missing us by inches. The bumps and roads were so bad that at times we were only going like 35 kilometers per hour – which is probably like 23 mph. This is why it takes so long to get to the border.
And then there's the mud. Some of the potholes were big enough to be mini ponds. And if you got lucky enough to accidentally ride through it, your car became completely covered in the red mud. The first time this happened to us, our car got completely sprayed. You couldn't see out a single window. What did the driver do? Keep on driving until maybe 30 seconds of not being able to see ANYTHING (not even what's in front of us, mind you) his windshield wiper fluid finally cleared enough of the window that I wasn't fearing for my life again. This was about 2.5 hours into the trip by now, of constant and intense bumps.
Then, to make matters worse, we came into a monsoon. This was even worse, as you could barely see what's around you. And remember, there are no designated lanes for going any which way. If there is a big pothole, it's very common for another car to go into your lane assuming you'll see it beforehand and there will be enough time to sort out which car will go where before hitting. So, yea, the monsoon caused even scarier conditions, with more mud covered our car. This slowed us down, even more.
A video illustrating the monsoonal road conditions.
Throughout the majority of this trip, I put on my headphones to relax myself because it was quite nerve wrecking. Thankfully, maybe only twenty minutes into the monsoonal conditions, we finally reached the border. We ran out of the car, grabbed our stuff from the trunk and ran to shelter. The water was so heavy, that the puddles we had to step through were up to my ankle. It was disgusting. Remember how dirty I've said that Cambodia is? Well, I was walking through all that filth up to my ankles. Nasssssssttyy. Some puddles had garbage just floating in it. We had to stand outside customs for about 15 minutes before someone finally helped us. We got stamped out of Cambodia and walked into no-man's land. We were in the area between Cambodia and Thailand. There was a casino, some stores, other buildings, etc. At this time, we came into contact with a new type of beggar – the stealer/beggar. One girl was begging Katie for something or other and in the meantime was reaching her hand into Katie's bag and about to steal her cell phone when Katie realized what was going on. Katie grabbed her hand firmly and said DON'T. What nerves!
We filled out our entrance forms to Thailand while being soaking wet. It took some time but we finally got through the border and were now in Thailand. Our destination was Bangkok, but we had really no idea exactly how to get there. We walked around kind of following signs on where to go, and with people shouting to us when we started straying the wrong way. It wasn't actually too difficult to find our way to Bangkok as most people were offering their services to you. We found a minivan bus and a taxi to take us there. The taxi seemed a bit sketchy, more expensive but ultimately faster. After agreeing on our destination, we hopped in to what seemed like a heavenly ride.
Shocking. I was shocked at the roads in Thailand. I mean to just come from Cambodia with so much poverty and non-existent roads – to have roads that are even better than the roads I drive on in Japan was so relieving. In fact, I was shocked at how nice Thailand was in comparison to Cambodia. Like really, how do you just cross border, - where it takes ten minutes and be in a completely different environment altogether. I guess it's the same as crossing from the USA into Mexico but I have never done it, so this was shocking to me. We all dozed on and off in the car ride. Again, stopping at a 711 convenient store on the way helped me put into perspective that we are in civilization again. And how fun it was to try all the new convenient store foods!
Then, Bangkok entered into the horizon...towering skyscrapers, Western architecture, real bridges, cars, all that goodness of a built up city that isn't suffering from lack of money. Now, we had agreed at the taxi departure spot that we wanted to go to the tourist street in Bangkok – simply for convenience of location and because that was where all the cheap hotels and hostels are located. Our driver had other ideas in mind. First, he took us to one hotel – even though that wasn't our agreement. Katie & Brian went in to inquire about the prices while Haruka and I stayed in the car to make sure the driver didn't leave us there. They came back out – it was clean and nice but too expensive. We asked him again, please just take us to Khao San Road (that's the name of the tourist street). His response “it's too far, let me show you another spot.” Fine. Spot #2. Same deal, Brian & Katie came out saying it's too much money, etc. The hotel agreed to drop the prices but we still weren't very happy. Finally, after much discussion we decided what the hell, let's just get out here because we'll just be wasting our time driving around. So, it made me a bit mad that we had agreed on a spot before we got in the taxi and then the man denied taking us there but whatever.
We all kind of lazily got situated in our rooms before deciding to head out into the city to try to find this infamous Khao San road. We started out by walking, taking the subway system that has ONE line and walking for maybe 30 minutes more before asking a Tuk Tuk driver to take us there. Can I tell you how bad traffic is in Bangkok? It sucks. That was the main reason the taxi driver wouldn't take us to where we wanted to go because he said it would take two hours from that part of the city to the part of the city we wanted to get to. But, by tuk tuk we went. With a traffic problem comes a pollution problem. Bangkok was disgusting as far as smells go. Granted, so was Phnom Penh and parts of Cambodia but at least it was for the most part a natural stink. Bangkok was pretty much a pollution of car exhaust stink. The tuk tuk was a huuuuge mistake. Since you are sharing the road with buses – if you get stuck behind one, you are having diesel exhaust being blown into your face. And that happened a few times. When that happens, you do your best not to intake in the fumes because it is suffocating. For the majority of the trip, I covered my mouth and nose with my hands, but that action only helped very little.
Reaching Khao San Road, you are suddenly transported from Bangkok and entered to a part of the universe that houses people from everywhere. I can see why this is considered a tourist road, as once again there is diversity all around us. The street mainly consists of shops to buy things, bars, restaurants, food stands, money exchanges – really anything a tourist would desire. You rarely saw a Thai person and if you did, they were speaking English and heavily influenced by Western Cultures. When traveling, I try my hardest to avoid places like this. It seems the most fun I've had in many situations – whether abroad or at home has been at the dive, hole in the walls spots. But, this place was cool, it was fun and it was what I desired. I suppose since I never get to drink at bars in my town in Japan, I'll take what I can get anywhere else – tourist or not.
By now, we were starving as we hadn't eaten in hours and hours. I think walking around for 40 minutes trying to find our way here increased our appetite even further. We chose a place that had a guy playing guitar. After eating our dinner, we only had one or two more drinks before deciding to move on. The guitar player had left and had been replaced by a U2 cover band. Walking around Khao San road we ended up off the road and to a gas station. A gas station by day, a bar by night. It was soooooo creative. They put out all these plastic tables and chairs, hang a huge screen that was displaying the music videos of what was being played, port-o-pottie's set up, bars arranged conveniently and even a wait staff. When it started to rain, they brought out large umbrellas for everyone that was there. Seriously, reallllly cool and creative. I got pretty tanked at this “bar” / gas station. It was also nice because a lot of the people here were in fact, locals. Eventually, we left and went back to our hotel to get ready for our only day to sightsee in Bangkok.