6 mins

Calling Bangkok home

After conquering Africa, Wander Woman Marie Javins heads to Bangkok to earn money and plan the Asian leg of her trip


Wow. A normal hotel room.

I stared at my surroundings, in awe of the free bottled water, the electric kettle and teabags, the new A/C unit and remote control, the crisp white sheets, the ornately carved wooden bed, and the mini-fridge with the label still on it.

Was it the past four months of buses along Africa’s west coast for MariesWorldTour.com that had me so stunned by modern conveniences, or was it just my jet lag? I'd been on a plane overnight and flown through multiple time zones. I was exhausted and semi-delirious from my connections between Madagascar and Bangkok.

I'd dug around online last night while tucked in under many blankets in Johannesburg Airport's Terrylin Backpackers dormitory room. I'd ended up booking three nights at Feung Nakorn Balcony, though it was located in an inbetween area by Wat Po, not really near anything I needed to be near in Bangkok. The online reviews were excellent and the price was right. I was trying to avoid the madness of the backpacker’s ghetto of Khao San Road – I didn’t think I wanted to be in party-central – but I didn't really want to stay next to a downtown Bangkok shopping area either.

The hotel charged by the piece for laundry, so after a long nap, I collected my dirty clothes and traipsed up the street, ten minutes walk, to Khao San. There was Cherry Laundry, right where it had always been in the alley across from Viengtai, the mid-range hotel I had stayed at many times in past years. Cherry charges by the kilo, not by the piece, and all Khao San laundries are of equal adequate quality. They use machines to wash and then dry in the sun. They outsource for ironing if you pay extra. I go to Cherry out of habit.

Next, I found a mango-and-sticky-rice seller, then headed to a cheap spa for a Khao San facial, manicure, and pedicure. Backpacker spas aren’t the best-quality, but they are dirt-cheap. I was interested in quickly cleaning up my wrecked hands and feet after the four months across Africa. And my nostalgia for the continent had me in a bit of a panic – would I ever go back? I’d roamed the eastern route from Cape Town to Cairo in 2001, then lived in Uganda, Namibia, and Cape Town in 2005, and now travelled from Morocco to Cape Town. Was that it for me and Africa? Was I done, given that I'm ready to get a real job, home, dog when I get back to New York at the end of the year?

And what about Bangkok? I felt a weird mixture of relief at being somewhere familiar mixed with nostalgia for an easier, grimier pre-boutique Khao San. I was going to be in Bangkok a month, I thought, while I caught up on my comic book editing job. Where would I live? How much had changed?

But my favorite street-side pad thai restaurant was still there. I sat down to some outstanding, fresh pad thai and a mango smoothie.

Mmmmmm. Laundry, mani/pedi, facial, nice hotel, pad thai, mango-and-sticky rice, smoothie... soon I'd get an iced coffee. These little luxuries made Thailand seem so delightful, even as I regretted leaving Africa.

Within a few days, I'd need to buy oil-free soap, find a hair colorist, and sort out where to get my iPhone fixed. The SIM tray had quit going in when I'd changed the SIM in the Antananarivo airport. I'd found a recommendation online for a place in MBK mall downtown, but today's ambitions didn't extend beyond walking distance of my hotel.

I made a list of tasks as I sipped my mango smoothie.

- Get hair colored.

- Pick up laundry.

- Get iPhone fixed.

- Find apartment for the next month.

- Get China and India visas.

- Make lettering copies of digital files for freelance comic book gig.

- See dentist for teeth cleaning and check-up.

- Take a night bike ride around Bangkok.

- See a fortune-teller for fun.

- Get out 65-page comic book to Kuwait.

That last one was huge, and likely to dominate my next month. Sixty-five pages don't get themselves to PDF stage. It's what's been holding me up on my blog and taking over my entire trip. But this MariesWorldTour.com had turned out to be massively, hugely, exponentially more expensive than MariesWorldTour.com 2001. The dollar has tanked in the past decade, plus prices have gone up worldwide.

I need the money. So I’d have to work.

I was going to have to make it all fit. Somehow.

And the sooner I found a place to live, the better.

Purely residential neighborhoods were out, I learned over the next few days as I dragged myself around Bangkok on trains and ferries to serviced apartments and short-term condo rentals.

I was only here a month and needed convenience, I realised after looking at too many places that were too expensive, weren’t quite central enough or didn’t have WiFi.

I shamefully crept back to the backpacker’s ghetto of Khao San Road. Sometimes cheap laundry and plentiful street food is all you need, even if it comes with a near-constant party and incessant covers of Hotel California.

I checked a half-dozen hotels in Banglamphu – that's the neighborhood that Khao San Road is in – looking for the right combination of cleanliness, internet, a desk by a power point and window, location and extras like clean drinking water and free breakfast.

While considering my options, I bought some street food and sat down on the steps behind the noodle sellers around Rambuttri, a block away from Khao San. I remembered sitting here in 2003, on the way to Sri Lanka after the final, bittersweet time I'd left the part of Australia I'd then called home.

Tonight was pleasant and not raining for once. Musicians played nearby, competing with their versions of Hotel California and American Pie.

Using a toothpick, I stabbed bits of noodle and spring roll. An older farang – foreigner, like me – sat next to me on the steps behind the street stalls, eating his spring rolls in a similar manner.

I watched the tourists and the food sellers. Some of the tourists looked dazed from jet lag. Others looked dazed from the heat and shopping. Most wandered, looking for the right place to try out dinner in Bangkok.

My eyes drifted across the street to a newly painted building with a sparkling clean lobby open to the street. I looked up at their new balconies and air-con units. Sakul House.

Why, it was a hotel.

A brand-new hotel.

I smiled to myself. That'll be it then.

The Sakul House staff was happy to negotiate in this three-month old hotel. We agreed on a rate, and I committed to a month in the part of town that many hardcore travellers scorn. But I had nothing to prove, and Banglamphu was full of inexpensive and plentiful street food, conveniences, and cheap foot massages. I knew how to take the river boat taxi or the canal taxi to get downtown from here.

And I could move in tomorrow.

I lay on a lounge chair in a row of lounge chairs shortly after that. A man was massaging my feet, which is one of the outstandingly cheap, high-quality things you can have done in Thailand, and I chatted to the Argentinian woman sitting next to me and to the Thai man attacking my foot with a small stick.

I was done with Africa for now, I thought. Maybe forever, but maybe not. I'd built a month's rest in Bangkok into my schedule. Time for move on, forget about Congo and Namibia and Cape Town and Mali.

For the moment, it was all about Bangkok.

All about mango-and-sticky-rice.

And – ouch – all about men poking my feet with a stick.

Want to travel the world solo? Check out our solo travel guide. Fancy taking a career break? Here are 7 reasons why you CAN take one.

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