GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 2: Khao San Road

Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 32 – Click above to watch video after the jump

Travel Talk is back! After our fall hiatus we are excited to bring you our greatest adventure yet: Thailand.

From the vibrant heart of Bangkok to the remote countryside, we traveled by foot, car, boat, motorbike, ox cart and elephant to savor the the splendor of ancient temples, the energy of the muay thai ring, the serenity of rural life, and every single spicy bite of Thai cuisine. We’ll be bringing it all to you in the coming weeks as part of our special 12-part feature: Travel Talk Thailand.

In this second episode, our hunger for Bangkok night life overcomes our exhaustion and we and hit the streets, or roads… Come with us to explore Southeast Asia’s most notorious strip and meet the wild cast of characters who spend their nights wandering the infamous Khoa San Road.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

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Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special guest: Late night hooligans.
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Air, Conrad Bangkok

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.

South by Southeast: Top 10 Southeast Asia

There’s a lot to see in Southeast Asia. Over the past five months, as I’ve traveled through this amazing region, it’s something I’ve experienced firsthand. From mind-blowing jungle ruins to outstanding food and world class beaches, there’s a never-ending wealth of curiosities for visitors. But with so much to see and do, it’s hard to know what to prioritize. Is Angkor Wat really as awesome as you’ve heard? Where should you go in Vietnam? Is it safe to eat the street food?

If you’ve been thinking about that dream trip to Southeast Asia but didn’t know where to start, today’s post is for you. We’re going to run through ten of Southeast Asia’s most amazing attractions, from the outstanding food to the best adventures and most awe-inspiring sights. Expect to find a few of the Southeast Asia’s most famous spots, along with my favorite “off-the-beaten path” Southeast Asian destinations from more than five months on the road. Ready to visit one of the world’s most fascinating regions? Keep reading below for our top ten picks…#10 – Bangkok’s Khao San Road
You simply can’t make a top 10 list on Southeast Asia without mentioning Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Love it or hate it, it’s the standard first stop for most Southeast Asian itineraries. The sheer volume of travelers, sizzling street food and range of shady characters ensure there’s always a good time and a story waiting to happen.

#9 – Street food in Ho Chi Minh City
The variety, quality and value of eating in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is beyond compare. From the freshest ingredients to crispy French baguettes to the most extreme culinary adventures, the food scene in Saigon is sure to amaze and delight. Check out Gadling’s “South by Southeast” investigation of eating in Saigon if you want to learn more.

#8 – Thailand’s Tarutao National Marine Park
It’s really hard to pick a favorite island in Thailand. There’s literally hundreds of them. But when we saw the secluded beauties that make up the Tarutao National Marine Park in Southern Thailand, we were hooked. This chain of wild, jungle islands offers beach camping, peace and quiet and some amazing snorkeling. Though Ko Lipe has gotten rather busy, Ko Adang, Ko Tarutao and Ko Rawi remain delightfully undeveloped.

#7 – Exploring Angkor Wat
With almost two million visitors a year, it’s clear that Angkor Wat is one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist attractions. When you first set eyes on the stone giant that is Angkor’s main temple, you’ll understand why. The intricate carvings and sheer size of this ancient archaeological marvel are simply mind-blowing. If you’re heading to Cambodia for a visit make sure to check out our 5 Angkor Wat tips.

#6 – Burma’s Taunggyi Balloon Festival
Burma (Myanmar), is the forgotten country of Southeast Asia. Visitors stay away because of the country’s hard-line military government. But those who make the trip inside this cloistered country come away awestruck by the sights and humbled by the friendly, welcoming citizens. This is particularly true at the annual Balloon Festival at Taunggyi, where hundreds of giant hot air balloons are launched into the sky over an eight day event. Make sure you read up on responsible travel to Burma if you want to go.

#5 – Wandering Luang Prabang
Is Luang Prabang the world’s most beautiful city? Achingly beautiful colonial French architecture, serene Buddhist temples and elegant palaces make this former royal capital of Laos a must on any Southeast Asia itinerary. Make sure to enjoy the town’s top-notch eating at spots like Tamarind and enjoy Luang Prabang’s buzzing night market.

#4 – Motorbiking the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle, a remote region bordering Northern Thailand, Laos and Burma, just might be one of Southeast Asia’s last great exotic destinations. The area’s curvy mountain roads and remote villages make it haven for motorcycle trips. Increasingly popular routes, reliable maps and cheap bike rentals make it easy for even novice cyclists to grab a helmet and hit the open road. Check out our guide to motorcycle trekking to get started.

#3 – The Gibbon Experience in Laos
Want to feel like a kid again? Try sleeping in a tree house and flying around on zip lines in the jungles of Northern Laos, home to the legendary Gibbon Experience. This one-of-a-kind eco park is pioneering a new model of forest conservation and sustainable tourism. Not to mention you might get to see some wildlife and it’s a crazy good time too.

#2 – Trekking in Luang Namtha
Chiang Mai has Southeast Asia’s most popular treks, but they are often overcrowded and disappointing. Instead, head to Luang Namtha in Northern Laos, an increasingly popular base for hikers looking to visit remote hill tribe villages. Imagine waking to the sound of roosters, bathing in a river and drinking moonshine with a village chief.

#1 – The ruins of Bagan
Move over Angkor Wat. There’s a new champion in town. The ruins of Bagan, a stunning complex of over 2,000 deserted temples in Myanmar, is quite possibly the world’s most amazing sight. Spend your days exploring the ghostly structures by horse cart or bike, discovering ancient Buddhist murals and climbing hidden staircases to gorgeous 360 degree views. If you want to read more about Myanmar, check out our guide to ethically visiting this fascinating country.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann spent the last five months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Dim Sum Dialogues in Thailand: Street music

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and most of the rowdy backpackers have deserted Bangkok’s Khao San Road. A large rat scurries down the gutter of the street, stopping only to inspect trash and empty plastic buckets that have been strewn about the pavement. A few dispersed food vendors finish packing their stalls for the day and roll them towards wherever home may be.

Compared to the energy of the road during the daytime, it feels eerily silent and motionless. I begin the walk toward my $8 USD-per-night hostel when the reverberation of a guitar slowly starts to fill the void of the early morning. The sound grows louder and I see a small crowd of maybe ten people sitting and standing around a guitarist on the sidewalk.
The guitarist is outfitted with the flare of a seventies rock star. Skinny bellbottom jeans, a pocketed shirt with shoulder straps, and American sneakers. He has long, bushy black hair that bobs at his shoulders as he strums an acoustic guitar. He’s playing the chorus of Yesterday by the Beatles, and the handful of young tourists are fervently singing along. When he finishes, a young girl with a British accent shouts out “Let’s hear some Dylan… I know you know Dylan!”

I sense a little of reluctance from the guitarist – “I don’t know all the words, but maybe you can help me”. He obliges and strums the opening chords. “How many roads must a man walk down, before they can call him a man…”

The British girl leans over to me and boastingly says, “See he knows it, he just needs a bit of prompting.”

I settle in to the small crowd and hang around for a couple more songs. Radiohead. Neil Young. Eagle Eye Cherry.

It’s my third night staying on the Khao San, and I’ve seen him out here both previous nights. Each time I passed him on the side of the road there was a group of travelers crowded around him, half listening, half engrossed in their own conversations with new acquaintances. I want to know why the guitarist is out here at this hour. For money? For fame? For friends?

As the crowd starts to break away and socialize amongst themselves I move closer and ask what his name is. In a thick Thai accent that was undetectable during the song, he gives a small smile and says “Diow. Did you like my songs?” I tell him that I did, and ask if he’s ever bothered by the few rambunctious stragglers that stagger up to him and try to compete for attention. He softly replies in broken English, “Well if they come and respect me, I would appreciate it. But I play here, I’m not ask someone to come to listen or play, if you don’t like – you go, if you don’t like then stay and that makes me happy.”

I ask what makes him happiest – why does he come out? “When I play and then have alot of people listen and sing along, it’s what makes me happy. For money it’s not really important – but the feeling is much more important for me.”

My inquiries keep coming. What’s your biggest dream? He stops to consider it, repeating the question to himself. “To buy a Ricken-backer.” He laughs. “For now, I don’t really have a long goal, I just a short goal everyday I want to finish. For this goal today I make short goal first – I guess long goal is maybe to buy a house. Even maybe big goal is to grow the tree all over the world…” he trails off, looking down at his guitar, and starts to pluck at the strings.

He looks up, ready to change the subject. “Do you want to hear my song?” he says. I feel honored that he’d share an original with me and I tell him that I’d love to hear it.

The strumming is edgy with a distinct, steady rock beat. I can tell that he’s far more into this tune than the previous covers he’s been playing all night. He closes his eyes, letting his voice break into high notes that are remnant of his influences from British rock. The lyrics are extremely simple, but it’s my favorite song of the evening.

He looks up for approval at the end of it and I tell him how much I enjoyed it. I mean it. I ask why he doesn’t play original songs more often. “Most people, they want to hear things they know. Things they can sing with too. Sometimes I play my songs, but most of the time they like things they know.”

How ironic. Wandering souls coming from across the world to have a solo performance from a talented local musician, and we’d rather hear something familiar, something from our side of the world that we can spout off to as well.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing – he’s intentionally crafted his image and style from the legends of the West…and it draws people in. It gives him the small crowds that he enjoys.

I’m struck by how soft-spoken and genuine he is. No real big goal. Just short goal. Maybe buy a house. There’s a lesson to be learned here, but it’s way past my bedtime, so I thank him and say goodnight.

A pair of lively Italian twins from Naples come up to take pictures with him. The crowd is smaller now but has reformulated around Diow. They call out a few more requests, and he accommodates them, starting up on a well-known Doors song in a crisp western accent. I hear the opening lines as I walk down the deserted Khao San…

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger. Faces look ugly, when you’re alone. Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted, streets are uneven when you’re down…”

Diow can be found playing on the sidewalks of Khao San Road most evenings during the week & weekend. You can check out a recording (audio only) from the performance below:


Dim Sum Dialogues in Thailand: The Khao San

All this month, Dim Sum Dialogues will be bringing you stories from the road. The first destination: Thailand – from Bangkok to Ko Phan Ngan…to discover the hype behind the legendary Full Moon Parties.

It’s approaching midnight fast, and the immigration lines in Suvarnabhumi Airport are long. Walking through the modern, sprawling airport, I remind myself not to touch anything in the Duty Free stores, thanks to a Gadling article that I read a few weeks prior to my trip.

The immigration official examines my passport. “First time to Thailand?” he asks. I nod my head. He points a small, futuristic Logitech camera in my direction, presses a key on his keyboard and waves me through. I skip baggage claim. All I’ve brought is a backpack, a camera, and a sense of adventure – my ideal vacation.
Once outside the airport, I scan the sidewalk for the signs advertising the A2 Airport Express – which I had been told would take me to a place called Khao San Road. Everybody recommended the area. “It’s really the only place you want to stay in Bangkok”, friends had told me.

I find the bus at the last minute, pay my 150 baht and find an empty seat among a few young people that look well-traveled. I settle in to the large seat and stare out the window as the bus merges on to a large, elevated highway. The cleanliness and engineering quality of the highway takes me by surprise. I had heard that Thailand was a developing country, but the bright LED lights that adorn the skyscrapers seem to suggest that Thailand is a little more prosperous than the other developing countries I’ve been to. But then again, the view from the highway can be deceiving.

After 45 minutes of driving through the expansive city, the bus rumbles to a stop at the end of a busy street in the Banglamphu neighborhood. I step out of the bus and am immediately overwhelmed with the amount of activity buzzing at this hour on a weeknight. Hundreds of people are milling around one long street that’s lined with neon signs and advertisements for hostels, bars, and restaurants. Vendors peddle goods out of small road side stalls and mobile carts: t-shirts, hats, pirated DVD’s, fake driver’s licenses, jewelry, souvenirs, falafel, pizza, beer, pad thai, even fried insects – crickets, beetles and worms are all available for purchase.

A boom of tourism in the 1980’s gradually made the area known as a place for cheap accommodation with easy access to the Grand Palace and temples that are popular with tourists. Now it’s a destination in its own right, touted as “The Gateway to Southeast Asia”.

The first few hostels I wander into are fully booked, but there’s a seemingly unlimited number of options in the area, and I’m able to find a basic room with a fan, a bed, and not much else. I set my bags down and head outside to explore the rest of the scene. Every type of traveler imaginable is represented. The street is full of dreadlocks, tattoos, Havaianas sandals and oversized backpacks. New arrivals look lost and overwhelmed. They blearily rub their eyes while thumbing through guidebooks in search of a place to sleep.

Taxi & tuk tuk drivers are everywhere, discreetly offering passengers rides to ping-pong shows or late night clubs. As the night gets later, they all seem to be offering rides to the same place – a late night club called “Spicy”, which apparently pays taxi drivers commission to wrangle tourists to the club with a cheap fare, so they can command an exorbitant cover charge upon arrival. I wander down the road frequently stopping to chat with welcoming groups of people sitting on the curb of the road. They sip large bottles of local brews – Chang or Singha – and swap stories of their recent adventures of tubing in Laos, trekking in Chiang Mai, or diving off Ko Phi Phi.

An especially engaging American tells me about a 3 month motorcycle trip he just finished. He bought a Russian Minsk in Hanoi for $400 USD and rode with a friend through the north of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, eventually selling the motorcycle for nearly the same price when they had reached their destination. The following month he plans on riding a bicycle through India & the Himalayas.

Patrons of the sidewalk bars are momentarily interrupted from conversation by a young Thai girl that begs them to buy roses so that she can go home for the night. She can’t be older than 8 years, but is already an expert saleswoman – offering to place bets on a game of thumb-war when the roses are declined. A few moments later, an old woman with a bag full of cheap Thai souvenirs comes and places a funny hat on a tourist. Everyone laughs and takes pictures, but no transactions take place and the woman moves on down the road.

I’m completely taken in by the stories, the laughter, and the energy of the place. It’s a paradise for backpackers with a passion for meeting new people and making spontaneous travel plans with new friends.

Things begin to quiet down around 2.30 in the morning, and I decide to call it a night. Several people around me have made plans to go to the full moon party – and we exchange phone numbers, promising to find each other when we get to Ko Phan Ngan. If that plan fails, then we agree to track one another down on Facebook so we can be best friends for the rest of our lives…