Rudd On The Road
By Steve Rudd
Part 24: Spontaneous Combustion
I'd returned to Bangkok in anticipation of heading south to Ko Samui, one of Thailand's most-visited islands, on which two friends were due to be married. However, they weren't going to tie the proverbial knot for another two weeks, a fact which awarded me plenty of spare time to gad about at my leisure.
It was a scorching hot Friday morning, and I'd just met an English girl called Abi on Soi Rambuttri in Bangkok. We both had something in common: money - or rather 'lack of.'
Reassuringly, she had been lucky enough to eventually score a stack of cash by handing over her passport at a 'Western Union' booth.
I, meanwhile, needed to call my bank back in England to ask that they lift the security restrictions they'd planted upon my debit card, having essentially disabled it until such a time that the person attempting to withdraw cash (i.e., me) was willing to confirm his or her identity.
Given that it was nine in the morning in Thailand, it was the dead of the night in the UK. Unfortunately, the call centre that I so desperately needed to contact only operated during standard daytime office hours, hence I was unable to do anything in the short-term to aid my plight. I'd cope so long as I rang my bank at some point within the next twenty-four hours, for I had enough ready cash jammed in my pockets to see me through the rest of the day.
Abi had only just landed in Thailand, having flown over from New Zealand where she had 'left' her long-term boyfriend.
They still loved each other, but Abi hoped a break would do their relationship the world of good, and that it would force them both to really focus on what they each individually wanted out of their lives.
Abi and her boyfriend John had travelled through Thailand before they settled in New Zealand, and Abi had returned in order to teach English for a while in a school in the northern reaches of the country... in Udon Thani, a city which conveniently lies on the northeastern railway line that terminates a little further north at Nong Khai, a waterbomb's throw from the Mekong River and the border with Laos.
Nurturing no reason to hang around in Bangkok, now that Abi had some money, she considered booking a train ticket without delay until she realised that I'd be around in Bangkok for the weekend, and that it might be sensible to hang back for at least one day so she could relax and get back into the groove of Southeast Asia, its 'workings' of which are naturally far removed from those of countries in New Zealand's league.
Temporarily abandoning her backpack in my tiny room at the 'Mini Guesthouse', we conspired to stick together and do some exploring. The first stop on our day's itinerary was Hualamphong Station. While Abi could have potentially booked a train ticket for that evening's 'over-nighter' to Udon Thani with ease, it's always best to book any bus or train tickets in Thailand at least one day in advance.
As surely anybody who has ever travelled around the country will testify, getting around Thailand is simple, regardless of the means of transport employed. For instance, as soon as a foreigner so much as steps foot in Hualamphong Station, it's common for them to be approached by a member of station staff to help them with interpreting the timetables and finding the correct ticket counter queue.
As a result, we were in and out of the station within ten minutes, mutually aware that if we were in India, for example, we could well have been fighting our corner for service for the best part of the day.
'Where do you fancy going?' asked Abi as she casually surveyed the traffic chaos in front of the station.
I'd long since realised that one of my worst weaknesses was full-blown indecisiveness. Incapable of breaking the habit of a lifetime, I shrugged. The sheer quantity of options was simply too overwhelming.
'How about you?' I jovially retaliated. 'Is there any sightseeing that you'd like to do, or would you prefer to just have a chilled-out day of R&R?'
Easily pleased, she shrugged back.
'Have you seen the wats in Chinatown?' she wondered aloud.
When I confessed that I'd only seen the majority of them from afar, she suggested that we check out the likes of Wat Chakrawat and Li Thi Miew Temple in closer detail.
A little later we decided to jump into a tuk-tuk beside Chinatown's breathtakingly imposing ceremonial gate at Odeon Circle. From there we planned to head in a rough northerly direction across the city to the zoo. Shame we didn't get far before the driver swerved into the gutter and plucked a huge fold-out map of the city from his back pocket.
According to him, the zoo was closed. When we asked why it was closed, he refused to elaborate. He was far more interested in telling us about a gem shop around the corner. It didn't take us long to realise we'd been duped; 'scams' of this nature are commonly perpetrated by tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok, with the guys at the wheel ever-ready to escort unsuspecting foreigners to random shops where they can often wind up being blatantly fleeced of money.
Unprepared to be taken advantage of, Abi and I fathomed a speedy exit from the tuk-tuk, cutting into the pavement-pummeling crowds without glancing back.
We were quite literally back where we'd started: the train station. Scrapping our plan to spend the afternoon at the zoo, we sought the underground, jumping three stops to the edge of Lumphini Park.
On the back of embracing a much-needed rest in the huge tract of parkland, which is akin to New York's Central Park in that it acts as the lungs of Bangkok to stunning effect, we took a stroll up to Siam Paragon, one of the flashiest shopping malls to rival the extravagant might of the MBK Center.
On a whim, Abi fancied catching a movie. Thus, we hastened to hound out the IMAX, only to stumble upon an aquarium in the basement of Siam Paragon before we had chance to see which movies were being shown. Taken with the idea of ducking into the bowels of the shopping centre's complex in order to observe all manner of sea creatures at close range, we paid our dues and descended, taking our time to pay homage to as many of the four-hundred creatures in residence as possible.
In all honestly, I'd never before seen anything like what I saw down there, with playful ragged-tooth sharks and comparatively subdued rays as keen as each other to show off their attention-demanding figures. Before we'd had chance to clock the time, we'd spent four hours in the aquarium, purposefully strolling in circles so we could see the water rats and penguins being fed in quick succession.
Darkness was threatening to descend when we finally emerged, our sights mutually set on trailing around an expansive market of handicrafts which had been set up directly outside the shopping centre. As she carefully considered investing in a bundle of bracelets, Abi joked, 'I've left my boyfriend, and the best way for me to cope is by allowing myself a spot of retail therapy, OK?'
I nodded. I understood.
As night snatched away the final dregs of daylight for temporary safe-keeping, we trekked around the perimeter of Lumphini Park to Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Consisting of an extraordinary array of market stalls and food vendors, it's a feast for the senses in every respect, not to mention a nightmare for the financially-challenged.
Making do with a simple rice-based meal and a few beers each, Abi and I proceeded to reflect on a day which had been borne out of genuine spontaneity.
It's surprising where random conversations can lead you.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 22: Trios Amigos! By Steve Rudd
OK. So what do you get if you cross a well-to-do Frenchman, a freethinking Englishman, and a mad-as-hell Spaniard? Adventure by default.
I was in Sukhothai, Thailand, all psyched up to savour the unassailable beauty of one of the most dazzling jewels in the country's crown. Long before Ayuttaya and Bangkok succeeded the city as Thailand's capital, Sukhothai flourished as the naval of the nation.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part 21: The One Hundred Baht Experience By Steve Rudd
I was searching for 'The London Hotel', having had the place recommended to me by a friend. Paying close attention to the road signs, I was definitely heading in the right direction as I made tracks away from Phitsanulok's train station.
Confusingly though, the hotel that I presumed to be 'The London' had no exterior hoarding in English proclaiming it to be the place I desired. Its sign was in Thai script, and thus beyond my comprehension.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Twenty: Stray Dogs and Cheeky Monkeys By Steve Rudd
I'd barely made myself at home in Lopburi, and I was already on the verge of being chased out of town. From the off, as I ambled out of the train station after catching an early morning train north from Bangkok, the town's myriad stray dogs were on my tail, as though they genuinely resented backpackers snooping around their patch.
Making more haste than usual to find
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Nineteen: Going West for Eastern Inspiration By Steve Rudd
'Tuk-Tuk!' came the shout across the concourse. In the same beat I was offered a taxi, before a middle-aged lady rushed up offering me a cut-price massage. And this was all out front of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, into which I'd just flown from LA.
My writing work in the US finished, I had decided to head over to Southeast Asia in order to attend the wedding of a couple of friends who I'd first met on my first visit to
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Eighteen: A Mile Of Miracles, And Then Some By Steve Rudd
Taking the bus was too easy, despite the fact that my film making pal Dave Kebo had dropped me off at the Shell gas station at the Wilshire and Vermont intersection in Koreatown which was conveniently situated right beside a bus-stop.
Looking due west along Wilshire Boulevard, my feet felt the twitch before my heart. A bus bound for Santa Monica had just pulled up, and for the meagre fee of a buck and a quarter ($1.25)
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Seventeen: On Foot Across LA By Steve Rudd
I don't like not knowing what's out there. I prefer to be informed rather than ignorant. I hate living in the knowledge that there are sections of certain towns and cities in the world that I know next-to-nothing about.
That's why, given the chance, I always walk whenever and wherever I can. I walk and I walk and I walk until my feet begin to announce their grievances.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Sixteen: When in Venice ... By Steve Rudd
No visit to LA is complete without a saunter along Venice Beach, south of Santa Monica.
The actual beach is beautiful, yet it is the mad parade of stalls and performers which are set back from the beach on Ocean Front Walk that are the real attraction to this part of the city.
It's like the sixties never ended, a slew of tarot card readers, tattoo artists, dubiously talented musicians and all manner of folk on the scrounge for marijuana making
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Fifteen: A Run-In With Gordon Ramsay By Steve Rudd
Having touched back down in LA on what had been a sensationally overcast day, I was glad to see the sun the following morning as I ventured out into Santa Monica, aspiring to hit the beach. I was back in the city to catch up with a friend and to do some writing, but I still intended to make some time to see exactly why people get so excited about the smattering of beaches gracing The Pacific Coast at LA.
It's certainly easy to understand why
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Fourteen: St. Patrick's Day With A Difference By Steve Rudd
In the wake of an exhilarating hike into Runyon Canyon, one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets, I was all buoyed-up to sample a prime slice of LA nightlife. It was St. Patrick's Day, and I was keen to see how Americans celebrate it. Rest assured, I wasn't disappointed. They celebrate the day with just as much gusto as stout-addled folk back in Ireland.
Opting to head downtown in order to appreciate the wide variety of bars in the district, I was accompanied by Dave Kebo, a movie-making friend who I'd first met in Istanbul back in November 2008.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Thirteen: The Green Side of Hollywood By Steve Rudd
Keen to see a side of LA that the majority of visitors to the city never get to appreciate, I couldn't have been more pleased when my friend Dave Kebo, a movie-maker who was raised in LA and knows much of it like the back of his hand, offered to show me around.
It was St. Patrick's Day, and our first port of call was a cafe in the Silver Lake district, east of Hollywood. Neither of us had so far indulged in breakfast, so we ordered up and sat back, sitting out on the busy sidewalk in order to increase our chances of spotting a celeb.
Places to Visit - Beinvenue: Paris in 3 Days for Less Than 100,000 Calories! By Ruth
The long weekend in Paris was a spur of the moment idea hatched by my daughter. I was initially sceptical about the cost. Summer fares to Europe are never less than extortionate.
My cousin in Paris pointed out that fares spike sharply at the end of June and remain high throughout the summer months. Armed with that information, we checked flights for the first week of June
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Twelve: Onwards and Upwards By Steve Rudd
I don't do early mornings. At least I don't do them very well. I mean, was it 5 a.m. already? We'd had less than two hours of sleep, and it was time for my friend Evangelina to whisk me to the airport in order for me to catch my 7:50 a.m. flight with 'Mexicana' back to Los Angeles.
Having joined a bunch of Evangelina's friends for some food and drink at a cantina close to Bellas Artes in the Historical Centre of Mexico City the previous night,
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Part Eleven: Going Barmy in Barra. By Steve Rudd
As I grew increasingly accustomed to the laid-back beach-life around which the tiny Pacific Coast town of Melaque revolves, I realised it was going to be no easy task to pull myself away from this area of Jalisco, Mexico.
The pace of life which afflicts Melaque is a world away from the hustle and bustle that comes as part and parcel of larger towns and cities
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Ten: Sun, Sand, Sea ... and a Man on a Mission. By Steve Rudd
In terms of beaches, visitors to Mexico genuinely are spoilt for choice. World-class stretches of sand are to be found on both The Pacific Coast and The Gulf of Mexico, with old favourites in the ridiculously commercialised forms of Acapulco and Cancun still managing to draw in huge crowds with ease.
However, some of the country's lesser-known beaches are
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Nine: A Perfect Demonstration of How to Protest. By Steve Rudd
Fans of folk who like to voice their opinions can't go wrong in Mexico. I mean, barely a day goes by without some demonstration or protest taking to the streets, and those in its favour tend to come out in such force that it's only a matter of time before the 'rally' passes you by.
You certainly don't need to make the effort to seek out such rallies
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road Part Eight: All Aboard 'The Nerve-Shredder' to Puebla! By Steve Rudd
I really couldn't blame the lady at the ticket counter for giving me such a puzzled look. After all, I had just asked for a ticket counter instead of a ticket.
I was at the main bus station in Oaxaca City, Mexico, intent on buying a ticket north to Puebla. Having clocked numerous signs emblazoned with the world Taquiller, I wrongly assumed that such a word was the Spanish for Tickets. In truth,
Places to Visit - Cusco, Peru - La Ultima Cena Con Cuy By Ruth
The flight from Puerto Maldonado was uneventful. The flight attendant served coca tea, Inca Cola, and Cusqueno beer to interested passengers. The city of Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, sits in the Andes Mountains. The elevation is roughly 11,000 feet. The updrafts buffeted the plane a bit during landing.
At the airport, old women peddling bags of coca leaves crowded towards the passengers.
Places to Visit - Rudd On The Road - Catching up with Steve Rudd as he hits America in style ... Part 1 By Steve Rudd
The flight from London to LA was a long haul to say the least, yet it was made more tolerable by the company. I'd barely got settled when the guy beside me introduced himself as Jim Becket, a film director and documentary producer who lived in a place called Ojai, a little north of Los Angeles. He'd just returned from working in Athens where he'd sold the rights of his latest documentary to
Places to Visit - Playing Chicken In Turkey Part 1 By Steve Rudd
It wasn't the best welcome to Turkey. It was the dead of night, we'd just crossed the border, yet there I was, beside a Mancunian called Liam, being frog marched back to the tiny hut that issued visas. Upon crossing the border, us English lads had been issued the correct visa, but the official had inexplicably neglected to stamp the visas with our entry date.
Places to Visit - Roaming Around Romania By Steve Rudd
I was worried. It was four a.m., I was on a train bound for Bucharest, and somebody was tugging at my bed sheets from below. Coming around from a bout of deep sleep, I urged my weary eyes to focus. They were having none of it though, refusing point blank to reveal the person before me.
'Is there a problem?' I asked, hoping that a response might bowl my way in English.
Places to Visit - Gibraltar and La Linea, Spain By Mo
Recently I went on a week long trip to Gibraltar and La LÍnea, Spain staying with my mum and dad in their La Linea flat. My twin sister and her boyfriend were also at the flat on holiday for a week and had rented a small car booked online for only 60 quid for the week. I think that included car insurance too so a pretty good deal.
They all met me at Gibraltar airport and we walked across the border with Spain
Places to Visit - The London, Bath and Bristol Chronicles By Steve Rudd
I knew I should have taken the train. Being stuck behind a combine harvester is never fun in a car. In a coach, it's murder. The battalion of towering power-line supports that stoically marched across the dead level Lincolnshire landscape didn't help. From their indifferent vantage point, they simply taunted.
'Technology is overtaking everything,' said the woman in front, Read more...
Places to Visit - Kate Langan's Travel Journal - Thailand
Tonight we ate at a Thai Taverna, there was a baby elephant going by so Becky took my photo. We are staying in Phuket also as we have found a really nice basic room that's really cheap. It's clean and got 4 stone walls - not like the wood hut! I loved the wood hut but was bitten to death by the mozzies. No mozzies here - yey! And I'm not a huge fan of the cockroaches!
Places to Visit - The Three Peaks Of Yorkshire Challenge 10th June 2006 By Steve Rudd
'Good morning gentlemen - rise and shine!' As I slowly came to my senses I couldn't
help but glance at my watch. I'd been warned the previous night that we would be
woken up at 4:15am sharp, and barely a second later.
Unfortunately, that really was the case, and as exhausted as I was, there
was a mammoth 25 mile walk ahead...
It's a shame that I'd only managed
Places to Visit - A Weekend in Amsterdam By Dave F
Amsterdam is a city of freedom which instantly appeals on a lot of levels.
What's the point of a holiday if you don't have the freedom to go and do what you want, when you want?
If, like me, you want to wander aimlessly from coffee shop to coffee shop getting as
stoned as humanly possible whilst ogling half-naked women through dirty windows
and snacking heavily along the way,
Places to Visit - Christmas in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka By Dave F
I hate Christmas for too many reasons to mention and the chance to get away from it
all this year it was an opportunity too good to pass up. Knowing someone with a
house in Sri Lanka which stands empty for 9 months every year definitely has its benefits.
I'm travelling with a mate and his daughter who've been here several times before
so I get some insight
Places to Visit - Skiing In Bulgaria - Part Two By Steve Rudd
Giant Christmas trees loomed as far as the eye could see below, as I marvelled
at the extraordinary engineering it must take to make a gondola a reality.
After the thirty-minute ride to the top we were immediately greeted by a
stunning panorama of the surrounding countryside which was beautiful beyond words.
So pristine and so serene.
Well, serene if you can discount the
Places to Visit - Skiing In Bulgaria - Part One By Steve Rudd
I could have thought of worst places to be, seeing in the New Year, as the last
second of 2005 ticked over into 2006. Happy New Year indeed.
For the best part of the past ten years myself and my friends have contented
ourselves with heading into the town centre of Driffield every December 31st
for one of the few nights of the year when it genuinely hustles and bustles.
Places to Visit - Walking The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path - Part One By Steve Rudd
Get out of the city and into the country, sooner rather than later.
A great many people genuinely have no idea how scenically diverse and breathtaking some
swathes of countryside are in the UK, and such a fact is a great shame,
because while they might be spending all their spare time in dirty and cramped
urban environments, there's often fresh air and inspirational
Places to Visit - Thailand By Rich Mills
Expressing the experience of being here in Thailand is difficult to put into words.
The sensorial experience is so mind blowing that you begin to feel overloaded.
However it is the smallest of things that grab your attention, and stick in the mind.
We are waiting for a taxi to take us down to the ferry, so that we can go
over to the small island of Koh Maak.
This is where we will get the full
Places to Visit - Ostend Weekend By John Allbones
I needed a break. Well, you just do sometimes don't you?
The constant day to day drudge of the nine to five erodes your spirit until a
change of scene is all you crave. Nothing fancy, just a few days will do.
Preferably abroad, it just seems more of a break when you're on foreign soil.
I managed to grab a late deal on a long weekend in Ostend.
So desperate was I to get away,
Places to Visit - Eight Feet and Two Weeks On Crete Part 2 by Steve Rudd
One of the best ways of exploring the huge island of Crete is by car: in your own time, at
your own speed and in your own style.
Without the stress and cost of embarking on guided tours.
Head into any of Crete's major cities such as
Hania, Rethymno or Iraklion and you'll be bombarded by rent-a-vehicle establishments, all
of which are fiercely trying to