I have made up SO many stories since being in Thailand. I have had to get out of situations more difficult than getting out of a relationship with an obsessive girlfriend (not something I know about firsthand, just making an assumption). Many of these situations would have left me in circumstances such as (but not limited to): dead (maybe), without a kidney (possibly because of previous, another assumption), no money, more money, four more Armani suits than I arrived with (none), and a body more tender than the steaes at Ruth Chris’s Steak House. What’s funny is that this all occurred during my day-and-a-half stay in Bangkok. Quite the opposite experience from Chiang Mai.
When I arrived in Bangkok at 9:30 PM, I had been awake since 5 AM, spent an exhausting day at the elephant park, and was quickly becoming exhausted with all the flying I was doing. So I was quite ready to get to the hostel and fall asleep. I had heard somewhere that a taxi to get to my place would cost around 400 baht ($12). So when I walked into the lobby area, I asked a few of the more elite taxi services how much they charged: 800 baht.
The regular taxi queue had a long line stemming from the front. As I moved to get in line, a man approached me and asked if I needed a taxi. I cautiously told him yes and told him where I was going. He said he could take me there and I made sure he could do it for 500 baht, rather than wait in line, to which he agreed. We walked away from the busy lobby and down into the nearly empty (in terms of people) parking garage (first red flag), he directed me to his SUV and opened the door. On the inside, there weren’t signs such as a meter that hinted this was a taxi (second red flag). Driven by paranoia, I quickly glanced in back to make sure no one was there. Clear.
After about 10 minutes of driving through backroads, rather than through the busy city (third red flag), the driver turned around and told me he needed to fill up with gas (fourth red flag, they should always be full) and needed the 500 now, and 2500 later. Wait, what 2500?? He slyly pulled a laminate sheet out of the seat and handed it to me. This was one of those flat rate taxis I had been warned about! This had gone from a $15 taxi to a $60 taxi! I really had 1200 left to finish my stay in Thailand. I argued that he had said 500 and I didn’t have 3000 baht. He persistently kept dogging me for the 500 first so he could fill up. Uttering a few choice words under my breath (although out loud probably wouldn’t have mattered) I reluctantly handed it over. I considered just getting out, but the surrounding area was deserted at 10:30 PM and probably not the safest option.
As we started driving again, I decided I needed a new approach. I suddenly feigned alarm and told him that I had left my passport at the airport and needed to go back to get it. I don’t know if he believed it or not, but we started heading back in that direction as he got out his phone and started talking to someone. He kept mentioning the word “filang,” which I had previously learned meant foreigner. No doubt referring to me and my idiocracy. He kept asking how long I would be so he could wait. I told him I didn’t know and to just get another passenger, but he was persistent and told me to leave my stuff. I gave him another 500 baht to hold him over and convince him I needed my things. As soon as he pulls up to departures, I throw open the door and run out with him yelling after me. I dash to the regular taxi queue (much smaller at this point) and get in a regular taxi. This trip only costs me 200 baht.
Admittedly, my own naiveté allowed me to fall into this predicament. It made me learn the hard way to go with the gut feeling and to go with the flow. Besides one other minor event (to be covered later), the rest of Bangkok went off without a hitch.
I stayed at a ritzy hostel named Glur (it sounds fancy, doesn’t it?). It was only $10 a night, but I shared a room with 7 other travelers, in this case, all Chinese (sorry, with two Indonesians). It was located right in the city near the river. This allowed me to walk less than a quarter-mile to the river, purchase an all-day boat pass, and go where I needed to go.
I first headed to The Grand Palace. Since I arrived before it opened at 8, there was quite a line forming. You’d think most lines would curve around on the sidewalk, here, they just stretch out into the street, regardless of traffic. Come 8 o’ clock, the gates open and the crowds flood in. If you’ve ever been to Disneyland and seen the surging crowds who rush in upon opening, that’ll give you a good idea of what The Grand Palace was like. Except instead of rides and pineapple smoothies, it’s making donations and burning incense. Upon entering, those of us dressed immodestly (shorts) were redirected to another building where we were given complimentary drawstring pants. I began heading again towards the palace entry, anticipation building, and realized that the entry rate was 500 Baht (about $15). Me being the thrifty person I am, reconsidered, returned my pants, and cleared out. This wasn’t going where you expected it to, did it? The palace looked cool from the outside though!
I headed over to Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, where the entrance fee was only 100 Baht! The Reclining Buddha was quite a sight, laying in at 138 feet long and 45 feet high. Tourists on both sides of me walked the span of the statue with their GoPro’s and cameras in panorama mode. The rest of temple grounds were lovely.
Much of the rest of the day was spent following directions on a disproportionate map I found on the ground. Some of the anticipated activities turned out to be a bust, such as the fourth largest flower market in the world being a warehouse full of potatoes. Or the National Bangkok Museum being closed (the 1 day I am there).
I had heard a lot about the famous Khao San Road that every tourist should visit. I didn’t have that much time to spend there since I had to catch the last boat back home, and didn’t want to be stranded across Bangkok. The joy of the journey was found in actually getting to the road itself. I followed signs that promised a shortcut to the road which ultimately led to a door. Seems like a bad idea to go into an unmarked building with arrows pointing to it. So I did it anyways and it turned out alright. Additionally, I was constantly accosted by smartly dressed men who grabbed my arm and would confidently lead me to their suit shop, attempting to size me up to begin fitting me for my new Armani suit. I come to the conclusion that since I am traveling alone, I must come off as an easier target. Therefore, just like I did when I needed to get into Costco without a membership, I fell in line with random people, pretending to be a part of their group. Unorthodox, perhaps. Effective, yes. Strength in numbers.
At night, I headed back to Glur and made friends with a Brit named Emily. She had sold her flat back in March in order to travel the world. She seemed keen to discuss Game of Thrones and Dr. Who; both of which I did my best to feign interest through. She also asked if I had read 50 Shades of Grey. I thought she was joking, but she was quite serious. We headed over to the food court across the way to get some spicy chicken and green beans (did not bode so well later).
This is that other “minor” event. The morning I was supposed to leave, I headed out into the city before it became too busy. As I joined a throng of people about to cross the street, I struck up a conversation with the person next to me. Chim is a retired Thai teacher who spends his days enjoying the city. He asked me what I was doing there and how I was enjoying Thailand so far. He very nonchalantly asked if I had bought any suits during my visit. After replying no, before I knew it I had been directed into a suit shop where Chim greeted the owner like as an old friend. They began taking measurements and sizing me up. Time to make up another story. I told them I was headed to the airport in 15 minutes. They saw that coming. “We can send the suit to you!” I ran out of the store.
It’s interesting to point out that in Asia, public displays of affection are uncommon. It is rare to see anyone kissing, holding hands, or even arms around each other. This is not the case within enclosed walls. Many of the people I was sharing a room with seemed to be vacationing as couples and were sharing beds. Luckily, I had kept the ear plugs from the international flight over.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Thailand. However, I would recommend to future travelers to visit the outer provinces. It is more of a cultural experience and you can get more for your money.