Khaosan Road. Once again I’m standing on the craziest street in the world. The street that never sleeps and where imagination becomes reality.
Five hundred meters of thousands of drunk people passing by and merchants offering almost everything. Especially interesting are the codes that they use to capture your attention. „Tuk-tuk Sir?“ – an invitation to a ride in two-stroke Japanese tricar. “Bum-Bum“– an invitation to sex. Lip jingle „pok-pok“ is a symbol for a ping-pong show. About the latter mentioned, it would be utterly distasteful to write about the placement of the white ball and the skill of launching it.
Yes, Thailand is a place where a smile sells it all, sometimes on the thin line with bizarre. There are ladyboys smiling on the both sides of the street or third sex as approved by law, who are often even more beautiful than women. They are offering foot massage, rest, excursions, fun. If you want to make CIA card or BBC press ID, it can all be done. For 200 thai bahts, or 3 euros, you almost get an original.
Even though it’s interesting, Khaosan Road is unfortunately only thing that many see in Thailand. Luckily, I’m not one of them. Neither is Toni Marušić, young adventurer, parachute and nature lover from Dugi Rat. Fellow traveler you can only wish for. For both of us, Khaosan was only a passage through which we accessed cheap accommodation in the nearby streets, while being loaded like allies in Normandy.
Yes, we are backpackers, and we carry everything we need on our backs. Toni carries around eleven kilograms. I carry two kilograms more, while there is extra seven kilograms of equipment on my front. He is our logistics and communication, I am photographer, cameraman and writer.
Though assignment! – experienced people might add. But we enjoy it. If “assignment” is even a word to describe the one-month long joy that will follow. Soon enough we come to a minor street where I stayed back in 2014. Shockingly enough, two years later, nothing has changed. Same woman, dressed in folk costume, selling wooden frogs. Rusty street dog, looking like a mutant from Resident Evil, sitting on the same place in front of omnipresent “7Eleven”.
Cherry on top of that scene would be Mario, waiter in dirty street restaurant, who we named that because he wore the same Balotelli shirt day after day. I don’t know what that shirt is made of, but it’s looking good. We are sleeping in a solid room for a solid price. If two chickens in a Croatian market cost about 10 euros, then we spent the night for the price of those animals.
Thailand is very beautiful, but it is filled with tourists and because of that it has lost the authenticity which it had several decades ago. Therefore, we are saving it for the end and with the sunrise we start the Journey to countries where traditional villages, wild nature and indigenous people can still be found. I deliberately wrote capitalized Journey, because it is an imaginary route which makes you go where your heart leads. And heart lead to Cambodia and its rural town Siem Reap, by which lays our first attraction – Angkor Watt, mysterious temple for the Khmer Empire dating from 12th century.
Although the bus was full, there were seats for the two of us. I sat on the place of the codriver, while he sat on the crate nearby. Therefore, I was opening doors and even payed some tolls, for the road which was more macadam than it was concrete. Samonara and Kem Heva, our likeable drivers were giggling. They were less likeable when they tried to charge us $40 for the visa, even though the price on the Internet said $30. Classic scam attempt.
Our first contact with Cambodia was infernal. Literally. The sun was roasting dirty pavement, which was choking like sulphur. Police car passed by, filled with incarcerated people holding inside grids.
Toni looked at me and said: “Where did we come? I imagined idyllic green pastures, with women wearing traditional nón lá hats planting rice. Now I feel like I am in Africa!?”
We continued our ride on the disastrous road, with abstract and overloaded vehicle scenes shifting. Very common were bikes with careful father driving three or four children without helmets.
We arrived to Siem Reap in the late afternoon, and as soon as we left the bus, “tuk-tuk” drivers took us by surprise, offering of course best and cheapest accommodation. In this case scenario, I chose the most likeable, so the moment later we were in Adnans’ vehicle.
Smiling Cambodian was trying to cover bad bamboo tattoos with some sort of add-on sleeve and was complaining how he worked all season for €200. We also learnt he planned to move to Thailand. Besides “Pub Street” and night market, the town wasn’t offering much. Very soon we arrived to a $7 per night hostel. We payed Adnan double the price to take us to the famous archeological site at dawn.
We were awake at 4am to catch the best spot to photograph the reflection of the main temple in the lake, where thousands of nenuphar flowers bloom at daybreak. And then – unpleasant surprise. We are not alone; dozens of tourists are already at the spot. The sky is not promising the arrival of the sun any time soon. The assumption soon becomes fact. We are in tunnels, corridors and temples of the impressive complex for quite some time, while people are still waiting for that magical aurora.
While we were exploring all those wonders of architecture, with walls carved with depictions of their life, at the same time we conclude that ancient civilization of the Khmer was wealthier and more advanced than the one today, and had more significance in the world.
There are a lot of tourists, but we can still find peace. The site is spread over as much as thirty square kilometers, with its hundreds of buildings. A definite favorite was Ta Prohm temple, made famous by movie Tomb Raider.
If eight hundred years ago someone had told King Jayavarman that the temple – where more than twelve thousand souls lived – would one day be consumed by the jungle, he would probably have that messenger executed. However, this imposing shrine – with all the trees, roots and vines, which capture every pore of the structure – is no more than a kingdom of macaques, only ones reigning. A typical example of how in the end nature always wins, no matter how godly man felt.
We have encountered hundreds of street artists, some of whom could have had global impact, if only they were born in the West. That is how a beam image of Angkor Wat and the ebony Buddha head found a place in my backpack.
We travelled 8593 kilometers in a few days. What followed was a short visit to Phnom Penh and a jungle in southern Vietnam, where dozens of poisonous snakes, monkeys, bears and buffaloes can still be found. The adventure was about to start.