Having never been to Asia before, there were plenty of places I wanted to tick of my list, but due to time constraints of our around-the-world trip and the need to keep our number of flights down, we stuck to some of the more traditional tourist destinations – recommended to us by friends. Our first taste of Asia began in Bangkok. Landing into the bustling city full of unusual sights, sounds and smells, all in the dark of night was somewhat of an attack on the senses. We negotiated the underground taking us away from the airport and into the city – towards Lumpini, the area in which we had chosen to stay.
The sound of car horns, a barrage of red lights, intense heat combined with high humidity; smells of street food, sewers and sweat, and signs in a language all so distant from that of home.
We negotiated the way to our AirBnb for the evening based on my vague memories of a youtube video detailing the route to the apartment that our host had posted. Of course, this video was shot in broad daylight and everything looked so different from that of the night. Wishing I’d watched the video more than one hurried time, we did indeed find our way to our apartment and started our Asian experience with some not so traditional Asian cuisine… pizza.
The next day we set off into the city. A map we’d picked up from the airport in hand and no real agenda, we decided to get the underground into a central station and head out from there. Our rough aim was to head towards the Chao Phraya river – which I’d read about in several blog posts and travel books, before heading to the Grand Palace. Now this is where anyone hoping to head out to Thailand in the future should take note…
I was warned before our trip began that there are a lot of people who will try to scam you – something as a traveller you come to expect of many tourist hotspots around the globe – but little did I realise how quickly and easily it could happen.
A nice man in a nice suit sees that we are holding a map. In hindsight we look like classic tourists who might as well be carrying a sign saying, ‘We are lost. We have money.’ The kind (or so we thought) man explains that he can help us to get to the river and that there is a lovely river cruise that we *must* go on. He waves down what appears to be a random tuktuk and speaks to the driver in Thai (so we have no clue what is going on) and off we go.
As you can probably imagine, the tuktuk did not take us directly to the river but instead to some shoddy office for a boat trip of extortionate prices, which was down the end of a back alley. Doing the conversion maths I worked out this boat trip would cost well over £100 and this is where my basic prior research knowledge kicked in, remembering that a ferry ticket on the river should costs as little as 50- 70 pence.
Okay, so we figured out that we were being scammed, but didn’t quite know how to get back down the alley to civilisation and don’t quite like the look of the hench guy watching over us with eagle eyes.
I pretend to look interested, “Oh wow, this boat trip sounds great! We’ll have to bring our friends and get them to come along too. Can we go and grab them? They’re staying nearby so if you hold a boat for us we’ll come back shortly.” It was the perfect escape. The prospect of them scamming more tourists allowed us to slip from their slimy claws and escape the tourist trap. A few minutes walk away we bump into a different man who tells us that the road we are walking along is dangerous and that tourists should not go along it because there is a protest on today and the police arrest people. I’d read something about protests but couldn’t quite figure out if this was another scam or not…
Hoping to get over our experience of the Bangkok ‘river cruise’ and avoid any ‘protest’ that may, or may not be on, we decided to jump in a different tuktuk, asking for the Grand Palace. This driver clearly had other ideas in mind too and we end up at some sub-standard tiny temple with nothing to see except a simple alter and a couple of monks. Not what we asked for. We were starting to lose faith in the people of Thailand and decided to spend the rest of our day based on foot – oh and the ferry, when we actually found it!
2 hours after setting out we found ourselves back where we started and headed out from there following our own map-reading advice. We eventually made it to the Grand Palace – which several people told us was shut in a ploy to entice us into their silver shops, but we were falling for nothing else! We picked up some elephant-print trousers at a haggled price – something all tourists in Thailand have to do as a right of passage? and headed into Wat Pho temple. Bright coloured mosaic tiles, serene waterfalls and epic grandeur awaited within, which you can read more about in a future post.
Don’t think Thailand is all scams and tourist-traps, we had many beautiful days in the diverse and beautiful country that I’ll be documenting soon… Let’s just say we got off on the wrong foot (but hopefully you’ll learn from our experience). At least we ended the day smiling!