**I will upload more photos once I find an SD card reader!**
The real start of our South East Asia trip was in Bangkok, Thailand. We landed around midnight so weren’t able to catch the train that connects the airport to downtown Bangkok; instead we took a taxi to our hostel. Our driver tried to charge us an extra ฿150, calling it an “airport fee”, but I had read a notice by the airport taxi stand that stated the surcharge fee was ฿50. I handed him a ฿50 note and left (he didn’t argue).
In a lot of ways Bangkok reminded me of India, so I kind of felt at home right away. The heat, the sound of sizzling street food, the broken pavements, and brown faces seemed very familiar. Unlike Tokyo, Bangkok didn’t appear to be as traveler-friendly: not all signs were in English, ATMs were less common (our hostel had one so that was convenient), and public transportation seemed less efficient. However we had decided to take things slow since Japan was a bit hectic, and didn’t mind walking around and getting lost from time to time.
We were especially excited to sit in a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled vehicle common throughout Thailand, so to start off our Bangkok adventure we hailed a tuk-tuk near our hostel. After telling the driver we wanted to go to the Grand Palace, he drove for a few minutes before pulling over to the side of the road and taking out a disheveled map from his back pocket. “You go here,” he said in broken English, pointing to a dock by the water. “No,” I said while shaking my head, “we want to go here”, and pointed to the Grand Palace. He folded the the paper and we were on our way again. About five minutes later he drove into an alleyway that abruptly ended in a makeshift tour agency. Beyond a wooden doorway I could see the river. The driver had brought us to the dock.
We had been warned by a sign in our hostel not to fall for tourist scams, but didn’t think a tuk-tuk driver would be so bold as to drive us there even after we told him exactly where we wanted to go, twice. We got out of the tuk-tuk and were herded to a frowning woman who was sitting at a desk, yelling at a young man (an employee?) behind us. There were a few other tourists around—from the looks of it they too seemed to have been brought there unwillingly—arguing with their tuk-tuk drivers. Without so much as a glance at us the woman began her pitch, “You go on river tour, very nice, two hours, will take you down smaller rivers, and then at the end you will see the Grand Palace.” As she told us this she traced a map that was taped to her desk while her eyes watched the other tourists warily.
We told her we weren’t interested in a boat tour and that we wanted to go directly to the Grand Palace. She kept talking, offering discounts and continuing to lower the price even though we hadn’t said anything. As we started to stand up she exclaimed, making eye contact for the first time, “But Palace not open now. If you go you have to wait. So take the tour and we will take you there.” By now I’d had enough. We walked away from her, past the other groups, past our tuk-tuk driver who we didn’t pay and who didn’t bother to look up from his newspaper, and caught a taxi from down the road. It took us to the Grand Palace for about ฿50. And for the record, the palace had opened two hours ago. That was the most sketch thing to happen to us in Bangkok, and I’m happy to say it didn’t ruin our stay.
Over the next three days we enjoyed visiting several different places in the city:
- The Grand Palace—offical residence of the royal family until 1925 and home of the famous Emerald Buddha
- Wat Pho—the Temple of the Reclining Buddha
- Wat Arun—the Temple of Dawn
- Khao San Road—locally known as the “backpacker ghetto”
The Grand Palace and Wat Pho were two of my favorite places. What I liked the most was how close we were allowed to get to the temples, statues, and other buildings. On the one hand much of the artistic detail had been lost thanks to the hundreds of thousands of hands that touched the walls and the bodies that propped themselves on the sides to get out of the heat, but it was very cool to be able to see the artwork from close up. I wasn’t prepared for how big the Reclining Buddha was! There were a lot of columns in the way which was kind of irritating, but it was still an impressive sight. I’d budget maybe two hours for the Grand Palace (there are several things to see inside, including a coin and artifact museum where we took our time because it was the only place that was air conditioned (it was SO INSANELY HOT AND HUMID)), and about an hour for Wat Pho. There’s also a dress code for entering temples and other sacred places; take care that your legs and shoulders are covered.
PC: Peter Abramson
Other things of interest included eating delicious food (I fell in love with papaya salad; I think we had it at least once a day #sorrynotsorry) and riding a water ferry. There were two things we missed out on because of time: one was a trip to a floating market, where food and other goods are sold from boats; and the other was the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Thailand with over 8000 stalls selling all sorts of things.
Overall we had a lovely time in Bangkok, and got our fill of pad thai, curries, and most importantly, PAPAYA SALAD! Next time around I’m keen on exploring some other areas of Thailand. Onto Cambodia!
P.S. If you want details about where I stayed, my exact itinerary, and some tips for Bangkok, click here.