As a 20 year-old studying abroad in Australia back in Spring 2006 I pondered how to spend spring break. Just a week before spring break I was on the way to pick up some groceries and passed by a travel agencies advertising affordable flights to Thailand. I stopped in, and walked out having spontaneously purchased round trip airfare to Bangkok for an 11 day vacation! Among the things I was most excited for was to have a blast fishing for monster fish, and potentially add a few lifelisters. Since the 11 day trip was the best deal on flights, I would also have plenty of time for sight-seeing. This is a blog about fishing trips, but also about the adventures that go along with them, and any way you look at it this was definitely one hell of an adventure.
Having traveled solo through New Zealand a few months previously I felt confident in my ability to handle traveling on my own. As it turned out, the people of Bangkok generally spoke enough English that I was able to get around just fine. On the other hand, I would encounter problems (some beyond my control, others purely due to my own naïveté) that I had not prepared for that would drive me to a state of mild panic. On several occasions I would wonder how I decided that flying to Thailand for 11 days by myself was a good idea.
I only fished on my last full day in Bangkok, and the results made up for the emotional strife of the previous week. Even without the fishing trip, though, I do not have any regrets about going to Thailand on my own. It was a growing experience and upon touching down safely back in Perth I realized that the good memories I brought home from that trip outweighed the less enjoyable aspects of the experience.
So, before getting into the fishing part of the trip, what were the good and the bad experiences of the trip? I'll start with the bad:
The overwhelming and intimidating size of Bangkok was a factor that contributed to what I felt at the time was bad experience. So did the pesty armies of men attempting to sell me unwanted products and services not limited to suits, gems, textiles, sex, transportation, and tickets to events. It was a frustrating culture-shock for me, but in hindsight I also realize it was a valuable eye-opening experience of what traveling in a third world city of nine million people can be like. I also learned fast to be a more assertive traveler.
One event that was both bad and good was meeting a local man that spent most of the day guiding me through Bangkok. I had seen many of the impressive temples and statues already but on that day we went to a Hindu temple, the seafood markets of Chinatown, walked along the Chao Phraya River, and went out for a 5 course dinner at a hole-in-the-wall joint patronized mostly by locals. We ate, drank, and chatted for hours. I intended to buy him dinner in return for showing me around, but he ordered way more than we could eat (presumably he wanted me to try a little of everything, or to give the restaurant some good business, or maybe both) and lots of Singha beer. I enjoyed the company and conversation, but when it came time to pay I was told only cash was accepted, and I didn't have enough on me. Fortunately an employee offered to take me to an ATM. On his motorbike. So, feeling quite tipsy and with no helmet, I had to hold on to this guy for my life from the back of the bike while he zoomed between lanes of heavy traffic. I thought I was going to die.
Despite the not-so-pleasant things listed above, there were certainly some GOOD aspects to the trip:
Bungsamran Lake - 4/29/2006
Finally, the day of fishing had arrived! Eddie, my guide and founder of FishThailand, picked me up punctually in front of my hotel and we headed to Bungsamran Lake, which I would describe as more like a large pond. We walked out on a boardwalk along one shore and set up for the day. The bait of choice was a baseball sized doughball, made by mixing water with corn flakes with other secret ingredients in a pail and then forming bait balls as needed.
It didn't take long for something to take the bait.
After a bulldog-ish fight I had landed my first Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas; lifelister #38). It was my biggest fish ever, but I would keep raising that bar throughout the day, until I caught one that hit 50 pounds. I was really hoping for a Mekong Giant Catfish of over 100 pounds, but it was not to be. Yet, I would have been thrilled to catch just one.
After a few Mekong giant catfish I caught a shiny catfish with a smaller head and sharp fins: the Iridescent Shark (Pangasius hypophthalmus):
Midway through the day I landed several Mekongs over 40 pounds.
The biggest of them, and my biggest fish to date, was this 50 pound Mekong giant catfish:
By mid-afternoon it was over 100 degrees out, my hands were blistered, and my back and arms were sore from 6 nearly continuous hours of battling fish. The wait between bites was a matter of seconds or minutes, whereas each fish took about 15 minutes to land. By the end of the day I had caught 11 Mekong giant catfish ranging from 27 to 50 pounds a piece, and 5 iridescent shark weighing between 16 and 23 pounds. In total, I caught well over 400 pounds of catfish that day. It was awesome!
I emailed my dad pictures and the story when I got back to Perth, and as a surprise he forwarded them on to my hometown newspaper.
After fishing Eddie brought me back to my hotel and I had one last dinner in Bangkok before flying out the next morning. My experience in Thailand was full of ups and downs, but I successfully added some really cool species to my angling lifelist and got to see an interesting part of the world.
Khao San Road after dark
Wat Suthat and the Big Swing, Bangkok
Big Buddha, Ayutthaya
Wat Phra si Sanphet, Ayutthaya
Asian Elephants in Ayutthaya
Ingrown Buddha head, Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya
Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya
Marble Temple, Bangkok
Rama 8 Bridge in Bangkok
A view of Bangkok from the roof of an art museum