Back Packing in Thailand

Khaosan Road

Like Bees Round a Border Crossing:

My misconception of backpacking:
The weather was awful, again. It just kept right on raining, breaking all previous records for 'fawn tok', and spoiling any attempt to do anything while on holiday. We stay in Aranyaprathet a lot. We know the area, the people who live there, the shops, it's a regular home from home, and having been away for eighteen months it gave me such pleasure to find the same guy on guard duty. Maybe I need to explain that. Our brother-in-law (married to my partner's sister) is a Sergeant in the King's Cavalry and lives in the barracks in Aranyaprathet. After sixteen years service he is now the chauffeur and body guard of the Camp Colonel who I am also aquainted with. I'm always happy to see the smiling face of this Military Police Private who stands guard all night long without complaining and looks so genuinely pleased to see us again after so long. He is much younger than my other half but from the same village.

guard duty The sis-in-law knows him too but she is much older than my one seventh of the family who knew this lad when he was at school even though she is thirteen years his senior. I think because she knows his mother we are a little reminder of home but he knows we have to travel half way round the world to say hello to him.

So one day the weather gives us a break. It was forecast so we knew we could make use of the sunshine and it was only for one day. So what are we going to do with this relief from the boredom of waiting for the Sergeant to finish his shift or the Colonel to go home to his wife because the only bit of entertainment every day is to go to a restaurant and eat. "All the women are going shopping", she announces. In Poipet market at that because it is very cheap and she needs another handbag. It's cheap because it is cheap plastic shit I explained but you're wasting your time trying to tell a Thai that leather is good and plastic copy is shit.

Aran has a very good market, and the monumentally famous Rong Kluea Market (I know, you never heard of it) but it is immense and very inexpensive but Poipet is stupid cheap apparently. "You don't need to take the car" she added. Someone's husband was taking us all to the border and then picking us up when we come back across and off we set.

To me, Aran represents peace and tranquillity. There is no hustle and bustle or dissent. No one is in a rush. And most of all, no street traders or beggars or loudhailers or beer bars or 'HELLO, HOW ARE YOU, SEXY MAN, WHERE YOU GO' so when you get to the border road or immigration or the terminus you are taken unawares. I lost count how many times I was asked if I wanted a 'Veezah Miztah'. I had a tour guide take me by the arm like an arresting officer. I was pestered by taxi drivers in dirty clothes and missing teeth vying to take me to the Cambodian Embassy and children trying to sell me matches. I don't even smoke so they tried to sell me chewing gum and one of them had his hand in my pocket and three children in a row poked me in the eyes and ear with the veins of umbrellas as they strained to shade the sun off me and then asked me for 5 baht. Yet another Thai was asking if I wanted beer or casino or bargirls and "Can I see your passport" and after a mere ten or fifteen minutes I suddenly got it....

I have so many times read the whinings of backpackers slagging off the Thai and the Cambo' and the border police and the immigration service and here I was with a very rude awakening and I am shamed into admitting "now I know what it is that you all get so pissed off about".

I mean, this is monumentally obscene, it is so out of control that it is little wonder anyone can cross the border at all. 'I have a visa', 'I have a visa', 'thank you but I have a visa', how many times do you have to say it and then when one of them says 'can I see your passport' - your temper now begins to boil over as you realise he is not immigration. And then you hear 'HELLO, WHERE YOU FROM', they bloody well know where you are from, they can smell it, and when you answer England they come out with "LAVLLY JABBLY" while rubbing their hands together. David Jason I hope you are reading this. And then another says it and another and another and it is a good thing there is a psychiatric ward at the hospital up by the train station. Except for one Thai lad on the corner of the extrance to the border gate. He asked, "Do you know if any of the falang coming through here might need a visa?" in beautiful English rather than the broken oriental type of Ingleesh. But we were surrounded by 'Farang kee nok' and along came another giant size songthao full of 'farangpak' and I couldn't fathom why he was asking me?

What I think of Backpackers:

I never cared much for backpackers. I do not mean I do not like them, I mean I couldn't care less, and if I'm honest it is snobbery. Every one I ever met I quite liked so why I feel the need to be condescending toward them I am not entirely sure. I think it might be that I have been infected with the Thai cynicism toward them. Backpackers are convinced they are the backbone of Thailand's tourism because they were there first. They are nothing of the sort and show their lack of education with such garbage. The Victorians were great traders and mastered the world with gentlemen businessmen and they weren't the first either but they are the origin of the Thai expression, 'Phuh dee Angrit'. It means gentlemen come from England but it spawned from the Victorian introduction of dining tables and table cloths, silver cutlery and dinner jackets. And like the Victorian travellers I spend ten times as much money as any backpacker and am considerate to Thai and care about those less fortunate than me.

I stay in hotels not cheap hostels. I stay in Huay Kwang not Khao San Road. I use taxi meters and hire cars not use government buses. I eat in restaurants, not live on the street. I buy expensive gifts for loved ones back home and when I look at something in a market or shop it is because I am interested in acquiring the item and not getting a photo of it. I along with 6 million others every year, help provide jobs and an income for Thailand as well as help support a large family and my other half owns a farm that provides jobs for the villagers. And you are now thinking 'He is just bragging'.

Far from it. Thailand is subsidised in almost every part of daily life. Government buses are subsidised, the river boats, MRT, the Railway, retail business such as 7/11 and Tesco Lotus. Street traders rely on government assistance like hospital vouchers and older members of their families are often on the state pension of 500 baht a month and I have seen backpackers get the hospital subsidy because they had no travel or health insurance but when you survive on street food and government subsidised transport you are not inputting anything into the Thai economy. You are taking money out.

Yes the government want you to visit and allow you to stack your visas so you can stay for months rather than 30 days and yes you are costing them money. But you still provide jobs and an income at working class level. Take you backpackers out of the system and street traders in Thanon Khao San will starve. But you can do something about this contradictory commerce that you cause and then maybe the Thai will change their attitude toward you. You see, when you ask how much and she replies 300 baht, you could try offering 200 baht instead of 50. You have no idea how soul destroying it is for that market stall holder when she has to battle away with you for half an hour to get you to pay five quid for something and then you walk away with nothing. Why do you like to waste their time? Do you think they enjoy it? And then there is the other sort of 'farangpak' who hasn't got any money because he is on a tight budget and he walks around the market not looking at anyone or spending any money.

The expression 'falangpak' is not a compliment. Another is 'falang kee nok', which means bird shit foreigner. It has never been said about me. They mean you. I have heard it explained as white on the outside and black in the middle. 'Kee kwai' springs to mind - bullshit. It is an insult, they mean you have as much value as shit falling from the sky. But you can fix this. Be friendly, smile once in a while, take more money with you and bloody well buy something. Not anything, something Thai, something you can take home as a gift. Show your appreciation and tip 20 baht for service and stop kidding yourself the 80 baht bus to a city 600 miles away is living the lifestyle and seeing the sights. You are uncomfortable and sleepless and hungry and it smells. No, actually, you smell and the Thais around you do not appreciate that either. You need to shower twice a day and change your clothes and take your dirty stuff to the laundry. I saw four backpackers in a Laundromat watching their clothes go round in the drum, you're on holiday for goodness sake, pay someone else to do it. And if you are over 26 years of age you are too bloody old to backpack. I see so many backpackers with more wrinkles than me. They look like the proverbial tree hugger and say shit like 'oh yeah man this is like so crayzee' in that false upper class deep voice and back home they live in a commune and don't eat meat.

In the queue beside mine in the Thai immigration hall at the border gate were a couple. She had blonde hair that hadn't been washed for weeks and was matted and she was easily 40+ years old. Her husband looked even worse and had a small piss stain on the front of his shorts and wore sandals and long grey socks folded over at the top with little red flags hanging out the top of them. Each had an oversized Bergen over one shoulder and passport in hand. Whoever you are, you looked like shit. You are the falang kee nok and you give tourists and young backpackers from the west a bad name. No one wants you let alone Thailand so please don't ever go again. I'm serious, they didn't look to me like they had ever done a days work, and this is the problem with most backpackers. They are gap year students or they got a subsidy which they used to go to Thailand instead and I know someone who got a university grant to go and study rain forest fauna. She went to the full moon party instead. Your budget is too tight to survive let alone live.

On Thorn Tree, a forum that was originally intended for backpackers but has been hijacked by sensible people like me, is the same question asked over and over again by potential backpackers. "How much do I need to budget for food, hotel, transport, entrance fees on a daily basis" - I hope this now starts to look like a stupid question. If you need to budget, you cannot afford to go. Thailand is not cheap, it sucks money out of your wallet, but entrance fees are 100 or 200 baht, buses 80 baht, hotel 600 baht, street food 20 baht per portion and 10 baht for fruit. How much you will eat and how many sights you will see in one day is up to you not anyone on Thorn Tree and if you need to ask this question you are not planning your trip very well. Tell daddy you need more money or don't go because if you need ex-backpackers to plan your trip for you, you are not endowed with enough grey matter to survive.

Going to Angkor Wat

I joined the Thai immigration queue because they do not need a visa, which means it moves quicker. Because I was in it, two backpackers joined me and I pointed to the sign that says 'Thai Passport Only' and explained they are in the wrong queue to whit they enquired 'Well why are you in this queue then?'. Politely I explained it was none of their business and the officer will turn them away if they use this queue and after 10 minutes or so we were walking the long walk against the tide of Cambodian market traders headed in the opposite direction pulling tatty wooden barrows filled with second hand Levis and matresses that will have to be unloaded on the Thai side so immigration can lift the false floor and look underneath for illegals. As you proceed through this current, you are pestered by Cambodian children and yet more asking if you need a visa and 'I have taxi' by which time you are responding 'well bully for you'. Then you have to walk past the casinos and bargirls and you'd think you'd get accustomed to "Hey sexy maan, where you goh" but trust me you don't, especially when it is not the prettiest Kampuchean you ever saw and your wife is walking beside you, which means Cambo' prossies are also not the most observant/fussy.

no rails holiday palace casino cambodian boy
At last you reach the other side and pass through the gate to safety only it isn't. Oh no, when you exit into Cambodia there are hundreds of taxis waiting to take you to Angkor Wat and then they all start the silly bollocks of 'ok I take you anywhere you want' when what they mean is they will try to take you somewhere that will pay them for potential customers and I watched the over-matured backpackers walk with nose in the air and deaf ears as they ignored the begger with no legs. I mean how much do you have to have missing before an English backpacker understands they genuinely are in need? Or am I misunderestimating the paltry value of falang kee nok? Can they seriously not afford to give the malnourished Cambodian legless begger 20pence?

So aloof was this pair of nincompoops they walked right on past the street urchins, and I don't blame the the children not wanting to go near them, on past the hooligan taxi mob and on past the pleading bus conductor trying to ask if they wanted Siem Reap. No matter where they were headed in Cambodia they wanted to get on that bus and likely took the long walk to Poipet bus stop where the same conductor subsequently asked them the same question. From here on they can live like kings though because Pol Pot tore Cambodia to pieces, destroying its infrastructure, its manufacturing base, its farmlands, and the war cost the country and its people their heirlooms. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies on its neighbours to provide them with commerce. So why are the stingy backpackers called farang kee nok back in Thailand?

It is not because Thailand is richer than Cambodia. Nor are Thai people more snobbish than Cambodians, although they are snobs with their own. It isn't even cynicism. It is because Thai are better educated than too many farang take for granted. Khunwilko on Thorn Tree said that bargirls do not speak Thai properly. How stupid can a farang be to think a Thai does not know how to speak Thai? It's like saying a Brummie doesn't speak English. He also says that bargirls are uneducated. Sadly it is Khunwilko who is uneducated, and yet he lives in Thailand, but since 1963 when US charities arrived to start proper schools and school meals and innoculations it has been law that all Thai children between the ages of five and eleven must go to school and learn to read and write in both Thai and English. Homeland Thais in their sixties may not be able to read and write but their offspring can and part of their curriculum is to learn about England. They know the houses of parliament, stonehenge, telephone boxes and Policemen's helmets. They know who Princess Diana was and who our queen is (although they sometimes get Elizabeth confused with Margaret Thatcher). They also know that not all Englishmen have succeeded in life and live on the streets. We call them tramps. Thai call them 'farang kee nok'. And you backpackers with no money are tramps. Welcome to the Thai language.

So how do you get to Angkor Wat?

bus to aran I don't know apparently, because I have never backpacked around Thailand. I think that belongs in my Thailand Experts page but I genuinely have been told to butt out because I do not know stuff like this. It mattered to the Aussie who got bit by a dog and didn't have the money to pay the rediculous hospital fees for Rabies treatment and I took him to a Pharmacy where the nurse gave him the injections and a note for his doctor at a fraction of the cost. It mattered to the American lad who didn't know which way to head for a hotel in Udon and it didn't occur to him to have a map or a compass. It also mattered to the couple who were refused entry into Laos because they couldn't understand the immigration officer was only asking them to fill in the bit that asked where they were staying. And this is what I tend to find with backpackers. 'We know what we're doing', or 'it's the experience', and what would a tourist know about 'seeing the real Thailand' like there is two Thailands and I mistakenly keep going to the wrong one.

Backpackers who get into difficulties must number millions because they're everywhere I go but my advice to you is go backpacking but please, don't join this brigade of plonkas who perform this impossible bodily contortion of sticking their head up their own arse. In fact do your research anywhere except on Thorn Tree or they will mould you into them. I mean things like hiring a motorcycle. You do not need a International Driving Permit because you are not on long term stay, you are a visitor. When you hire do not give them your passport, you are legally required to carry it with you when you are on the road. How many times I have heard, 'but they won't let me have the bike', and the answer is go to a different hirer.

From Bangkok you can go by bus or train to Aranyaprathet. The bus goes from Ekkamai and you want the one marked to Talard Rong Kluea. You can get to Ekkamai using the skytrain. The bus times are about every three hours and the first is at 5am. This bus will get you to Aran just before 10am so it's a fair distance. So, you need a list of hotels in Khao San Road and a map of Bangkok's main streets and the MRT and BTS route maps. Also the bus timetables from Ekkamai and maybe Mo Chit as well. You need the address of the Cambodian Consulate in Bangkok. There are various suggestions on the web as to where it is but I can assure you it is at 518/4 Pracha Uthit Rd in Wang Tong Lang. The visa fee is 1000 baht and only takes a few minutes to arrange, unless half of Khaosan Rd is there. You can also go by train from Hualamphong station and they run twice daily at about 6.00am and 11.15am. The train takes even longer than the bus and you can read more about all the transport routes at wikipedia/aranyaprathet.

aranyaprathet train station songthao in aranyaprathet

Corruption at the Border

You won't miss the station at Aranyaprathet. It is a Halt. It didn't used to be but Pol Pot ripped up the railway link that ran from Ayutthaya to Siem Reap. There is only one line and one platform so you won't go the wrong way. Outside are tuk tuks and a huge songthao. A songthao is a taxi or bus or sharabang with a wooden bench along each side that looks decidedly unsafe but this is the 'real' Thailand. This is your discovery that there is two Thailands. One that you tour and one that Thais live. It is a third world country and you are an outsider looking in so please try to give them a little bit of consideration. Either vehicle will take you to the border but the songthao is cheapest and according to the sign on the back it is only 1 baht. I suspect that's probably meant to be 10.
Don't follow the sign tuk tuk sign in aranyaprathet unless you want to get a tuk tuk. If you are coming on the bus it will stop outside Rong Kleua Market. It is recognisable by its vast size and how busy it is. You can alight here and walk through the market or straight ahead to the tee junction and turn left where you will find my new friend the visa man. Proper name Prom Phearom. You do not need his help if you have already got your visa whilst in Bangkok and if you haven't you can make an application at the Cambodia desk in the main hall. But this is where you discover your second of the tribulations. The officials are as corrupt and scamming as the moneymakers outside. If the official does not have a shiny metal badge on his uniform like the one on the right then you are talking to a Thai who is going to ask you for 2000 or even 4000 baht. Ask him for your passport back and move up to the next desk. Even then you can get a scamming Cambo' who will also ask the wrong fee and some have told me the Officials just refused to stamp their passport unless they shelled out 2000 baht. If you have problems like this you can go back out to Prom who will sort it out for you for a couple of hundred baht.

Do not choose to do a day trip. This is the crux of backpacking anyway, but you cannot get from Bangkok to Angkor Wat and back in one day, and it is too expensive. The minimum time needed to do this journey is three days. We crossed for 4 hours and that visa cost 20 quid and it took an hour to get from one side to the other. To cap it all, I thought most of the market was shite and every time I asked how much something was I got a bloody silly answer. The missus bought a denim handbag from the days of Chairman Mao for £2 and 200 copy Marlborough Menthol for £1.60 - She only smokes 4 or 5 a day, I don't know why she bothers and I wish she would stop it, but I could smell it from inside the house when she was outside with all the doors closed and thought someone had lit a garden fire. When she spoke to me, from 10 feet or so, I thought perhaps she had been eating the localised garden fire ashes. Thankfully, after the third cigarette she decided to give them to an aquaintance who I can only presume she doesn't like very much.

So ignore Poipet and go straight to Siem Reap (unless you are using the government buses again in which case go straight to Siem Reap via the Poipet bus station) where you will need accomodation and be prepared to be disappointed. It is heaving with traffic and Angkor is heaving with tourists. It is not the tranquil setting its builders intended it to be and neither is it cheap. You will shell out about £250 for two of you to go to the temple for one day, though the pass is valid for three days. Prices are higher than the UK, which I consider bloody rediculous, and it isn't that good. My choice of hotel however is definitely the Angkor Pearl Hotel in Svay Dangkum in Central Siem Reap. Their rooms start at about fifteen quid while their service starts at about 4 stars.

With all this overpricing and corruption I don't think Angkor is worth a visit unless you are touring SEA and passing through Cambodia (which is about all it's worth) and if you are a Thailand tourist go to Ayutthaya instead or go and see the stunning Wat Pra Kaew in Bangkok. The way SEA treats its tourists is disgraceful but this is such a poor region that officials are not paid a basic living and this kind of job is considered 'cream' because you can make a bit extra from the tourist. And as the tourist, you can't do a bloody thing about it. I have heard the Cambodian Consulate pull a few fast ones too and the Embassy will tell you things like 'you cannot get a visa at the border'. You feel like everyone is on the make and the tourists cause a feeding frenzy. If you plan to come across the other way into Thailand you will be issued with a 15 day free pass unless you have obtained a multiple or triple entry visa before leaving your homeland but I have seen these cancelled on return. If you are in this predicament then calmly accept the 15 day pass and refuse to pay for it and then go to Prom who can also arrange 60 day Thailand visas. You can call him on +66 877 818333 however if you're reading this it is probably too late. But this isn't corruption. This is one giant tourism scam and the Police and Immigration Officers who are not already a part of it turn a blind eye as this obscene business model continues only because there is a market for it - it is called 'farang kee nok'.


I now know how they feel. They try to keep a low profile because everything feels like a scam. They don't want to be noticed. They just want to tell everyone back home how good they were and put it on their CV. Go on do it! I'm jealous, but not jealous of the falang kee nok, I aspire to be something a little better than that. You students should do the same - be aspirational..