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Friday 15 Dec 2006
Bangkok, Thailand

13 October 2005: Bangkok

"Bangkok (originally Bang Makok) was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais -- the City of Angels (and much more: the full name is listed as the world's longest place name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok pop noparatratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" -- "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn"). Get all that?!

The history of Bangkok can be traced back to 1767 when the Burmese army swept into Thailand and sacked the old capital of Ayutthaya. In a state of chaos, King Taksin regathered his army and every available able-bodied Thai male to mount a last-dtich attack to regain the city. He succeeded, but following the recapture of Ayutthaya found that the Burmese had not only looted the city's treasures, but they had also destroyed it beyond repair.

In despair he abandoned the city and traveled further down the Chao Phraya River in search of a site for his new capital. Coming across the temple today known as Wat Arun, he landed at dawn and promptly decided the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River to be the perfect place for his new capital. It was from here that the new age of Thailand was forged.

Arrived in Bangkok at midnight and the electric atmosphere hits you in the face with the force of a steam train. The noise is deafening, the steam rises from the gutters with a hiss as though from the depths of hell itself and the stench is nearly overwhelming. I loved it. We went off in hot pursuit of the infamous Khao San Road where we had been told we could find some accommodation.

If we thought the noise that had greeted us when we got off the bus was loud, it was nothing compared to the chaos that is the Khao San Road. Flashing neon lights bombard you from all angles (if you're epileptic, avoid at all costs) and from every stall, shop and bar music blares at a volume that would ensure a deaf person shuddered. Vibrating along the road we decide that the best plan of action is to leave Maaike with our million and one bags, while Joris and I go and find somewhere to rest our weary heads.

Have I mentioned that Thailand is also known as "The Land of Smiles"? People have regaled us with stories of Thai friendliness and generosity that knows no bounds. Well, that ship had clearly sailed the night we arrived, as everywhere we went we were greeted (I use the term loosely) with surly expressions that bordered on sheer distain. When we finally managed to get the receptionists attention (FYI banging loudly on the counter does the trick) we were shown to a room that would depress a cockroach. Grey walls, bare stained mattress and the obligatory bare bulb swaying despondently in the middle of the room. We didn't even bother torturing ourselves by examining the bathroom. Next.

The next place that we were directed to was up a small alley and above a packed to the gills bar. How we thought that this would be suitable as we vibrated, teeth chattering in time to the music up the stairs is a true testament to the power of positive thinking. Next.

After some careful consideration and a few hand signals, we decided that perhaps the Khao San Road wasn't the best place to rest our weary heads. We had heard a rumour of a place that had a pool on the roof but had so far failed to extract a name out of anyone. Our quick thinking in moving away from Party Central had clearly been preceeded by many others, as none of the places we tried had any available rooms or if they did they were so overpriced it was bordering on the ridiculous. It was now 1am and desperation was beginning to kick in. And to top it off I have yet to see a Thai smile.

We finally stumbled across the My House Hostel, situated about 5 minutes from the Khao San Road. Sounds cosy, doesn't it? The English girl sobbing in the reception about the cockroaches in her room led me to suspect it was anything but.

After much negotiating we were led upstairs (Sobbing Girl in tow) to inspect the room. Since I have a pathelogical fear of cockroaches there was no chance that I would be staying there unless I had inspected every inch of the room and declared it bug free. The 'cockroaches' were the size of ants. I offered to share my room with Sobbing Girl (praying that she would run out of tears sometime in the near future) and the plan was to get up very early the next morning and hunt for the Hostel with the Pool.

I think I've just seen a Thai smile. Nope silly me, it was a sneer.

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