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Manu | 28 October 2012 | 1 comment

Traffic in Bangkok

Walking down Koh San Road for the first time, on your first ever backpacking trip is always going to be a shock on some level. Doing the same on the evening of the Thai Queen’s birthday… culture shock isn’t the word. Thai people adore their Queen, there were fireworks, there was dancing and the crowds were twice as big as they normally are in this city. My friend Rachel and I silently staggered down the infamous street wondering what the hell was going on. I was so tired and just wanted to get away from the relentless noise. Within seconds I understood why so many people had warned me about the tuk tuks (no one had actually been able to explain the warning, they just said ‘watch out for the tuk tuk drivers’). After countless drivers snapping ‘Tuk tuk miss?’ in my face I accepted that being outraged at their rudeness wasn’t going to get me anywhere. You’re not in the UK now Fran, this is a foreign country. In every sense of the word.

When we eventually located the hostel (with the help

Night walk through Bangkok

of a tuk tuk, we had to relent) we settled into our room and found we were at a complete loss at what to do. Feeling nervous and feeling annoyed at said nervousness, I went to the bathroom to freshen up and immediately saw a hideously large cockroach scurry across the dirty looking floor. I sighed apprehensively as I began to wonder why on earth I thought going travelling would be a good idea. My feelings at this moment were confusion, fear and heart wrenching homesickness. But also a huge amount of gratitude that I wasn’t alone! Rachel felt the same as when I returned she very honestly stated that if I wasn’t with her, she would probably be sat in the room crying wondering what she had done this for.

In one fell swoop I realised how excruciatingly naive I was. Why on earth did I think I could do this? I was completely out of my depth, who did I think I was going to the other side of the world to ‘find myself’? I cursed myself for being so mind numbingly stupid and tried to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be going home for another three months.

That’s the one beautiful thing about backpacking for the first time, you spend that much money on flights beforehand that you think twice about going home.

We sat there, all freshened up and wide awake.

‘What do we do now?’

Indeed. We decided to go and get something to eat in the restaurant downstairs. We removed the ice from our cocktails (I don’t always do this now, but again, naivety was still running strongly through my veins) and marvelled at everything around us. Sat a few tables away was a tall woman on her own. No, not a woman, a man dressed as a woman. A ladyboy. To my horror I found myself staring at her with wide eyes. I didn’t know why I was doing this, I had seen transgender people before. There was one who used to frequent the bar I worked at whilst at University and I used to chat with her whenever I served her. There was no judgment and no problem. So why was I now behaving like an ignorant, narrow minded, sheltered nobody and staring at her like she was some sort of freak? I think I just couldn’t cope with the environment. Absolutely everything imaginable was alien to everything I knew, I couldn’t absorb any of it.To make matters worse, even though I had known it was going to be a challenging experience I just hadn’t expected it to be so vivid.

Crowdy street life of Bangkok

Recognising that I wasn’t being myself, I decided that enough was enough. A girl who was quite clearly a ‘backpacker’ (bandana on head, fisherman pants tied correctly), walked past our table and I quietly caught her attention as she did so.

‘Excuse me, can we ask you something?’

She smiled, pulled up a chair and said ‘Yeah sure, what would you like to know?’

Feeling like a total idiot, I said ‘We’ve never been travelling before, this is our first night here. We don’t really know what to do?’

Despite my lack of detail, I could see that she understood me completely. She launched into a tirade of advice: where to buy transport, what to look for in hostels, how to decide where to go. She finished by saying ‘Above all just be friendly, and don’t worry.’

Oh, so it’s really quite simple.

It took a couple of days, but eventually I began to understand how things worked here. We turned a corner the day we went to Chatuchak Market located north of the city. The simple act of successfully catching a bus there and back, along with surviving the incomprehensible traffic,made me realize


that I could do things. Yes, this may appear to be a mundane and less than admirable achievement, but for me it was a milestone. It was a difficult pill to swallow, I had always been someone who pushes their own boundaries. So when a friend invited me to travel with her it seemed like the next natural step, another experience to add to my personality resume. In the space of three short days in Bangkok I realized how arrogant and misinformed I was. I felt my confidence stripped down to its bare bones, and this perilous bus journey in Bangkok was the first step to rebuilding that confidence on a much more solid foundation. It was the beginning of a process for me, one that has now changed my life.Step by step, as I took it one day at a time, I began to enjoy myself more than ever before. By the time we had reached Singapore six weeks later to catch a flight to Australia, I knew I had the travel bug.

Just over a year later on my second backpacking trip, I returned to the city once again. I was very apprehensive about this, even though I knew what to expect and knew that I loved travelling, I couldn’t forget my first impressions and how stressful my first experience there had been.

My second visit was a totally different experience. We were staying in an amazing guesthouse called Suk 11, at the opposite end of the city to Koh San Road. My own attitude to the city and the way it works was more relaxed. I knew tuk tuk drivers were going to shout at me, it didn’t intimidate or aggravate me in the slightest. I was able to detach completely and actually enjoy the city. Even in spite of the fact that we were located right in the middle of the sex district, we had fun – we played a game called ‘spot the sex tourist’, it was pretty easy.

My first impressions of Bangkok shocked me into realizing that in order to cope in a new place, or even just in the world, I had to get over myself, be willing and look for the good in every situation. My second impressions were simply great fun, I look forward to my third.

Frances in Bangkok


Hello! My name is Frances and I write a blog at www.thenletsbegin.co.uk. I’m your usual twenty something lass *and I live near a lovely city called Sheffield in the northern parts of the UK, but I will soon be swapping life up north for life down under. Having gone on two backpacking trips previously, I’m about to start my third with a working holiday visa in Melbourne, Australia. My love for travel and writing have both grown separately but parallel to one another, now I’m hoping to combine the two on my next adventure.

*Manu just in case you haven’t seen the word ‘Lass’ before it’s just a northern UK term for ‘girl’!