Bangkok, Thailand (13th Nov 2007)
After hearing many a horror story about Bangkok and its scams we were a bit sceptical even getting help in the airport as we first touched down, but after deliberating on whether to take a taxi direct to our hostel or not we opted for the airport bus to save us some money and had a very pleasant journey on real roads in a spacious air conditioned bus (something we hadn't experienced for some time!) Arriving in Bangkok was like a breath of, well, fresh air would be pushing it as the air was so hot and humid but you get the picture!
Arriving at our hostel we were again pleasantly surprised with its location, just tucked away from the main road and a 2 minute walk to the BTS station (Bangkok Transit Sky-train). When we got into the hostel we were told that we would be separated and sleeping in boy and girl only dorms, probably because they didn't want to open up another room and have another air conditioning unit on! This didn't go down too well with Kara who insisted that because we had booked a mixed dorm we should get a mixed dorm and so much to the staff's disappointment they were main to open up an 8 bed, en-suite dorm room with TV and fridge all to ourselves! As the night was still fairly young and we were starving we set out along the main road in search of some food in probably the most humid and uncomfortable heat we have experienced so far. Much to Mark's delight we stumbled across a Mc Donald's where Mark had his first proper meat of the whole trip and Kara had chips with cheese! We ended the night walking along the street market eyeing up some rather appealing fake designer gear and just taking in the atmosphere. On every corner there are homeless and or disabled people begging for money. One thing we both found pretty hilarious was the amount of older European and American, not particularly handsome chaps that were accompanied by young pretty Thai women who's affection levels was negotiable on how much you have spare in your wallet! As we neared our hostel on the walk back through the night bazaars, as we passed one particular go-go bar, 'Pedro's' Mark fell victim to one of the ladies and had his chest felt up as we walked by.
Our first morning in Bangkok came about after a very uncomfortable night's sleep and we set off to have a look around the city and get our bearings. As we were wondering around one of the main streets a friendly Thai man stopped us, asking where we were from, how long we were in Bangkok and telling us how he worked for Toyota. We thought he was being a good citizen advising us where to go until he started recommending a tailor and hailing a Tuk Tuk for us so we quickly made our excuses and left, not wanting a repeat of the Delhi carpet incident! We decided to get BTS Skytrain to Siam Square (the nearest thing Bangkok has to a centre) and found ourselves wondering around a shopping centre called Siam Paragon where Jimmy Coo, Cartier and Mulberry were your average standard of store. We then wondered into the car showroom where Porsche, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari and BMW all had cars on show, Mark's ideal shopping trip if only he had the money! There was also a mini exhibition of iconic furniture from the last century in the mall which was of interest to us both and made us want to fill up a house with thousands of pounds worth of designer furniture! On our hunt for somewhere to have lunch we were pointed in the right direction by a little Thai lady only for the conversation to soon turn to tailors and Tuk Tuk's... we must learn to not be so trusting! At night we found ourselves sitting in a roadside bar, listening to a Thai band cover western rock songs, drinking a 3 litre tower of beer, talking about everything and nothing...needless to say we slept a lot better that night! On the way home just outside the place Mark was felt up the night before, Kara tripped on one of the metal handles sticking out of pavement that are used to get to service the underground and fell flat on her face, luckily the hookers hadn't started work yet and her embarrassment was spared although it was of much amusement to Mark.
After another lie in we decided to spend the day seeing the sights that Bangkok has to offer. After a recommendation from the hostel we took the Skytrain all the way to the end, to the Chao Phraya River and purchased a day pass for the tourist boat. The Chao Phraya express boat is basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river, and the basic service plies from Wat Rajsingkorn in the south all the way to Nonthaburi at the edge of Bangkok in the north and it stops at most of major attractions including the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, etc. Whilst cruising up the river we saw some of Bangkok's finest hotels including the Hilton and the Oriental but it contrast to this we also saw some of the slums where houses were precariously balanced over the water's edge. When we were sat travelling down the river, the ticket collector came stomping over with a long metal cylinder and barked something in Thai, and Mark thought he wanted more money, and with the cosh in hand he tried paying him some more until the guy just yanked our tickets off us, sliced them with the thing in his hand and stormed off again. Anyway, aside from that the boat was easy enough, and all the stops were clearly named in English, Thai and some other languages, so making it pretty painless overall.
Our first stop was Wat Pho, which is the biggest and oldest Wat (Temple) in Bangkok. The main reason that people go is to see the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, which is laid on its side and is forty-six metres long and fifteen metres high, decorated with gold plating on his body and mother of pearl on his eyes and the soles of his feet that are covered in religious engravings. The sheer size of this Buddha is amazing and it's hard to even see it all at once from one end; we both felt however that since it is of no religious important to us it was hard to really appreciate it for anything more that a great feat of engineering and craftsmanship.
We then headed towards the Grand Palace and had numerous touts telling us we couldn't get in because we weren't appropriately dressed for the time of day and that if we went on a 2 hour Tuk Tuk tour of the area we would be allowed in when we got back; yet another one of the scams that people try to run on any people who they think might fall for it. When we finally reached the entrance to The Grand Palace all we had to do was each borrow an item of clothing to cover our shoulders/legs; Kara got a lovely grey men's shirt that came down to her knees and Mark ended us with some sweaty, plastic like material pants that were slightly too Thai size and not British ber belly size, anyway, as it was do that or not go in we banged it on and was ready to go. The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings in Bangkok and previously served as the official residence of the king of Thailand from the 18th century to the mid-20th century. The palace complex sits on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River and can be seen from quite a distance as you approach it. The other approaches to the palace are protected by a defensive wall of 1,900 metres in length, which encloses an area of 218,400 square metres (knowledge is power)! The palace itself was awe inspiring and was of such grandeur, all immaculately finished in gold and jewels that shined in the mid day sun. The only real disappointment we saw was the fact that you were not allowed to take photos in all the places which were the most impressive bits, and the main chapel was under refurbishment and covered in scaffolding...
The victory monument was next on our list of things to see and luckily the skytrain went straight to it.The monument is situated in the middle of a 6 lane roundabout and as interesting as it was to see it, it was more fascinating just watching the traffic in all its multicoloured glory. At night we strolled down the night market, purchasing a few its and bobs before heading back to the pavement bar for another tower of beer and live entertainment!
For our last day alone in Bangkok we were at a bit of a loss for something to do so after waking up at lunchtime we headed down to Siam Square having now become skytrain professionals! We wondered around the shops for a while and felt well and truly depressed as everything was out of budget (street shopping seems to be more our price range!) so we went and had some pizza for lunch. It was here that we realised Mark's stomach has shrunk as having once been able to polish off a large meat feast and garlic bread, he was now barely able to finish a medium pizza!
The amount of times someone tried to scam us was the only real disappointment about Bangkok and although the people are much easier to deal with than in India, it was still a big annoyance. Anyway we knew about certain scams and got most of them tried out on us while in Bangkok. The main few are as follows:
Gems and (supposedly) precious stones are the more sophisticated and highly professional scams, which offer a "special discount" as it is the king's birthday or a tax free day or some reason. Normally they involving promises of high resale value back home at a supposedly huge profit, and sometimes they even employ foreigners to act as satisfied customers so that you will buy into the idea and spend all our money on polished glass.
We had also read that you should be highly sceptical of anyone telling you that your intended destination is currently closed, or that they can sell you a discounted admissions to all the main attractions since most temples are almost always free and open just about every day of the year and anyone telling you otherwise is most likely out to scam you and get your money anyway they can.
There is no such thing as a Lucky Buddha or Lucky Buddha day! This is one of the scams that got tried on us nearly every day, the touts are out to trick you into getting a Tuk Tuk to visit several souvenir shops or a gem scam shop by pointing you in the direction of 'best Tuk Tuk in Thailand' who can take you to these made up places they first pulled you in with.
Finally as we have already mentioned a couple of times, at all the popular tourist sites, if you are stood still for a second or looking at a map, it is not uncommon for an English-speaking Thai to approach you out of the blue and strike up a conversation. They are just the high end touts who like all the others just want to get you in a Tuk Tuk and off to the shops and tailors and jewel shops, etc. One thing they will always ask is 'your first time in Thailand?' we found it best to just say no and walk away or at the start just pretend to be German and mutter 'Guten Tag' and they soon clear off onto the next victim.
Our actual last day in Bangkok was the day we met up with our tour group in the evening and for us it was spent packing and travelling across the city from east to west and into the heart of China town, which in itself seems like a whole new country; the street signs and shops and adverts all change into Chinese and the bad traffic seems to get worse and louder. At 6pm we went up to the roof top terrace on the 24th floor to meet our new leader and group and we all seemed to hit it off pretty well straight away. For our evening entertainment and ice breaker we headed down to the notorious Kho San Road area which is backpacker central and no different to any big tourist area in Europe, filled with bars, restaurants and the touts. Our guide took us to a great little place that served traditional Thai food which everyone enjoyed immensely. After eating we went to a bar to watch the Chelsea Liverpool game that was being repeated on ESPN and hit a few bars before going home earlyish as we were on the road for a 9 hour drive in the morning to Cambodia.