unique travel experiences

Month: October 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Getting pickpocketed in Bangkok

If I had to choose out of the two I’d probably prefer to be pickpocketed rather than mugged, but that didn’t lessen the initial shock when the former happened to me in Bangkok a few years back. It took just 30 seconds for me to notice what had happened as I did that reassuring pat of the trouser pocket “thing” that we do, but in doing so realised that the rectangular protrusion of my wallet wasn’t where it should be.

Soi Cowboy District in Bangkok

Soi Cowboy District in Bangkok. Source

Part of me felt violated, part of me felt stupid, a small part of me felt upset, part of me even felt guilty! After all it was 1am, I was in the less than salubrious district of Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, and I’d been ticking off that unique experience of watching live “ping pong ball” shows. Although to be honest I’d been more impressed by the entertainer firing out paper darts and popping balloons attached to the ceiling! Anyway I digress. How can a fairly savvy traveller like myself put myself in a position to be pickpocketed, and worse of all the pickpocket had been talking to me quite openly beforehand?

It all happened back in October 2009 when I left a bar at the end of the night and started to make my way home. A hispanic guy in the street started chatting to me, correctly guessing I was English and walked with me all of 10 yards down the road. My “spidey” senses were on full alert so I was fully aware of my surroundings and his reasonably close proximity to me, although the street was fairly busy and it wasn’t just me and him standing there so I didn’t particularly feel in any danger. Within seconds he was initiating a half-hearted football tackle on me with an imaginary football while smiling and cheering “Ronaldo, Rooney!” I went along with it, while still continuing in the same direction. In hindsight I can now see why he went in for a second fake tackle. He hadn’t been able to get at my wallet the first time round!

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney - not that I blame them!

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney – not that I blame them of course Source

Looking back, what had given me a slight false sense of security was that the trousers I was wearing were of the cotton “backpacker” variety and had zipped front pockets. If my wallet had been in my back jeans pocket, poking its head out, looking back down the street I can understand how it could have easily been swiped. But this one was safely “locked” away. So the first pretend tackle was to undo the zip (something that no doubt happens to Western tourists for a completely different reason in this part of town) and the second tackle was to take the wallet out.

Zipped trouser pockets - not pickpocket proof though

Zipped trouser pockets – not pickpocket proof though. Source

It was at this point I was getting slightly uneasy with the unwanted attention and made it clear I wasn’t playing any more football and headed off on my way, but not before my new friend had the audacity to shout back saying that he and his friends were meeting for a drink in the bar down the road in 20 minutes and that I should join them. “I don’t think so” I thought. Then just 20 strides away I pattered my left pocket out oh habit and realised my wallet wasn’t there. I turned round in panic (not quite in blind panic, but panic all the same) scouting out the groups of people in the near vacinity but nothing. I moved back to where the game of football had taken place but nobody I recognised was there either. At this point I just wanted to get the hell out of there. However it was least a 1h45 minute walk back my hostel in Khaosan Road and how was I going to manage that without any money? And that’s when beautifully I reached into the zipped rear pocket of my trousers and pulled out a small wad of 100 Baht notes (about £10 total), easily enough to get me back home in a Tuk-Tuk.

Heading back home in my Tuk Tuk

Heading back home in my Tuk Tuk. Source

I was still slightly shocked by the sad end to the night but flying along the streets back to the relative sanctuary of Khaosan Road, a wry smile came across my face as I pictured the culprit opening up my cheap, blue “freebie” Fosters wallet in the shadows to disappointly find out it contained NO cards, NO notes,  just 2-3 coins worth about 20p in total and a solditary PADI divers card I’d got back in Australia a few years earlier. So essentially he would have opened it up and seen a picture of me inside giving him a big “two fingers” and a “**** YOU!” Now that was totally satisfying, made up for any intial upset and most importantly made be much more aware of looking after my belongings in the future. Now this could have happened anywhere. It just happened to take place in Bangkok! I’d certainly go back to this beautful city again.

Anybody else been pickpocketed on their travels? Or worse still mugged?

The East Side Gallery in Berlin

Berlin is a city I’ve visited twice now. Once on a school A-level trip back in 1992 and once just last month as we watched the Berlin Marathon. It was on day 1 of our sightseeing that we introduced ourselves to the city with a 35 minutes walk from the Brandenburg Gate down to “Checkpoint Charlie” but I really wanted to see more of the infamous Berlin wall.

Berlin Wall - East Side Gallery

Berlin Wall – East Side Gallery

Stumbling across many billboards dotted across the city describing ‘Der Berliner Mauer’ made we want to see an original stretch of it even more, and where better to see it than the ‘East Side Gallery’, SE of the city centre on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (Google link here). It’s the longest art gallery in the world with a length of 1,316 meters.

There are many other isolated pockets of the wall with the ‘Berlin Wall Memorial‘ on Bernauer Str and the Topography of Terror on Niederkirchnerstraße 8 being two great locations. However on this occasion the 4 of us wanted to visit this graffitted section with its famous artworks of Honecker, a Trabi car and various other thought-provoking pieces of artwork.

The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery from across the road

The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery from across the road

The East Side Gallery is over 1km long!

The East Side Gallery is over 1km long!

Take the S-Bahn to Berlin Warschauer Straße station (or Berlin Ostbahnhof which is slightly closer at its western end) and stroll all of 600m downhill to the eastern tip of it. It’s pretty obvious when you get there. At this point you are still in old East Berlin, with the “death strip” lying behind the wall, followed by the River Spree and then the sanctuary of old West Berlin. Make sure you look behind the wall too as there’s information on the hidden side of the wall, a view of the river, plus the knowledge that you’re stood slap bang in the middle of the “death strip” and just 29 years ago you’d have been shot for being there!

It was fitting that it was a dreary day when we went as this added a slightly fitting sombre atmosphere to where we were walking. After all, the imposing wall was an ideologically as well as a physically barrier separating loved ones from one another for many years. In our group of 4 we stopped at each and every piece of artwork, sometimes in silence, sometimes in shared amusement, sometimes falling back individually to contemplate a certain piece … or just in the vain attempt to take a photo of the artwork without anybody other people bring in it!

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - the "death strip" behind the wall

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – the “death strip” behind the wall

Some East Side Gallery facts

  1. Building of the wall (Errichting der Mauer) = 1961
  2. Fall of the wall (Mauerfall) = 9th November 1989
  3. Painting of the wall (Bemalung) = February to September 1990
  4. Repair work (Instandsetzung) = 2009
  5. Length = 1,316m
  6. Cost to visit = free 🙂

My favourite pieces of artwork along the wall …

The great thing about the wall is that everybody’s going to have their favourites. Mine were probably influenced by them being the most famous, or of late of course the most Instagrammed!

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - Trabi! Birgit Kinder: Test the Rest

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – Trabi! Birgit Kinder: Test the Rest

Honecker and Brezhnev - that famous kiss. Dmitri Wrubel: Mein Gott hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben

Honecker and Brezhnev – that famous kiss. Dmitri Wrubel: Mein Gott hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - funny heads by Thierry Noir

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – funny heads by Thierry Noir

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery Group Shot by Gamil Gimajew

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery Group Shot by Gamil Gimajew

… and some thought-provoking ones!

Many of the pieces had a simple message that no doubt go in and out of fashion dependent on what political factors are taking place in the world at the time. This one below was getting a lot of interest due to Trump’s plans to build his ‘Mexican wall’ and translates as “There are many walls to be dismantled”. It was going down very well with the American tourists we encountered!

One for Donald Trump.

One for Donald Trump. “There are many walls to be dismantled” – Ines Bayer, Raik Hönemann

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - Afrikaniche Weisheit by Nette

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery – Afrikaniche Weisheit by Nette

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek: Curriculum Vitae Berlin Wall East Side Gallery - death count

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek: Curriculum Vitae

So get down to the East Side Gallery. Take your time walking backwards and forwards and make sure to step around the back to look at the other side. If you like souvenirs check out the small shop at the very eastern end where you can still buy a “genuine” piece of the wall. It’s now 28 years since the Berlin wall came down so do you think these souvenirs are genuine? It was 96 miles long so probably? Either way most gift shops around town are selling them as well. Tschüß.

35 minutes in Berlin

Of course I’m not advocating rushing around a city in 35 minutes and certainly not somewhere as deep and meaningful as Berlin. However while plotting a route on our 2nd full day in Berlin this blue-spotted route appeared in front of us on Google Maps, one which you could easily turn into a full half day with various add-ons.

So what is this 35 minute walk? Well simply put it goes from The Reichstag > Brandenburg Gate > Hotel Aldlon > The Jewish Memorial > Potsdamer Platz > Checkpoint Charlie.

Berlin in 35 minutes. A nice starter route

We were in Berlin for the marathon the next day on the Sunday so we wanted to see some sights but without having to walk too far. We had the day after the marathon on the Monday for that. So my little route encompasses 2 historical structures, a “comedy” moment spot, a newer memorial installation for some contemplation, a famous square and finally a fairly ordinary location which suddenly became suddenly became infamous in 1961.

Der Reichstag

A resplendent government building with its new glasshouse dome stuck on the top of it. Take some picture outside of the main facade with the German flag fluttering in the foreground. Go inside of course to experience the new glasshouse building, booking the tickets in advance if you wish to do so.

Berlin Reichstag

Der Berlin Reichstag

Inside der Reichstag

Inside Der Reichstag. Source: Wanderlust Chloe

Der Brandenburger Tor

100m around the corner is the Brandenburg Gate. Significant for it being the backdrop to proceedings in 1989 when the Berlin Wall can down, the location of “The Hoff” singing ‘Looking for Freedom’ on New Year’s Eve 1989 (but not actually bringing the wall down), and for the marathon runners the thing they run through with just 200m to go! A beautiful structure.

Der Brandenburger Tor the day before the Berlin Marathon

Der Brandenburger Tor the day before the Berlin Marathon


The Hotel Aldon

100m further on from the Brandenburg Gate is the Hotel Aldon. Remember that day back on 19th November 2002 when the late Michael Jackson decided to dangle his baby over the hotel balcony? Well it was here at the Hotel Aldon on the 3rd floor up, 2nd window from the right.

Hotel Adlon and that Michael Jackson balcony

Hotel Adlon and that “Michael Jackson” balcony


Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

200m down the road is the Jewish Memorial. A controversial new installation completed in 2005 taking up some prime real estate in central Berlin. With no real centerpiece itself you can walk up down, backwards and forwards amongst its 2,711 concrete slabs, all with varying heights but the same 0.95m width and 2.38m length. The abstract and somewhat vague installation leaves much time to ponder and seek interpretation of the message it’s trying to convey. I found it to be strangely tranquil and certainly a place to reflect on past atrocities.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Potsdamer Platz

Once busy pre-wall Potsdamer Platz found itself divided in two when it went up on 13 August 1961 but over the years it became a popular spot for curious tourists, especially when an observation platform went up allowing members of the public to look over the wall at the wilderness beyond. It was also one of the earliest locations where the Wall was “breached” to create a new border crossing between East and West Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz train station

Potsdamer Platz Train station

We literally stumbled across a line in the ground depicting where the wall once stood. We weren’t quite standing one second in the West and one second in the East but we appreciated the significance of this historical marker. The day we visited Potsdamer Platz felt fittingly open and bleak which added to the overall effect of where we were.

Berlin Wall Marker in Potdamer Platz

Berlin Wall Marker in Potdamer Platz

Checkpoint Charlie

The last of the 5 legs takes you from the memorial to Checkpoint Charlie, the gateway between East Berlin and the American sector of West Berlin. Now containing a slightly (read “really”) tacky spot for tourists to have their photo taken with “real” border guards, but also a place with a handful of exhibits and small museum and what I liked best, the original signage. A spot I remember visiting back in 1992 on a school A-level trip but even then already 3 years after the wall has fallen.

Either love it or hate it cheesiness at Checkpoint Charlie. I was the latter

Love it or hate it cheesiness at Checkpoint Charlie. I was the latter

Original Checkpoint Charlie Signage for when you entered West Berlin

Original Checkpoint Charlie Signage for when you entered West Berlin

You could easily spend a half day exploring these 5 spots, sandwiching in the Tiergarten and its Siegessäule tower between points 3 and 4 plus the Topographie des Terrors before you get to Checkpoint Charlie. Either way Berlin with its recent political past, various remaining examples of its infamous wall,  plus of late its emerging tech areas to complement its punk and techno music scenes make Berlin a wonderful european city to visit, and that’s before I even mention its cuisine and beer houses. I’ll be back again, hopefully. Prost! 🙂

Check out two recent experiences of Berlin by travel bloggers Wanderlust Chloe and Heels in my Backpack with more infomation on getting around and spots to eat and drink. The House of Small Wonder being a key spot for some “Instagram action” and the best coffee I had all week!

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