Everyone warned me about the chaos in Bangkok, but it’s hard to grasp until you’re surrounded by buzzing mopeds, tuk-tuks and taxis, whilst trying to negotiate a path to the other side of the road. The oppressive heat and inevitable hangover following our first night out in Bangkok didn’t help the initial stress.
How did the chicken cross the road?
Hand in hand, Billy and I quickly learned that most traffic will ignore a green man for pedestrians, unless those pedestrians are bold enough to walk out into the road anyway. It’s like a game of chicken. I found that edging my way out first, making eye contact with drivers and sticking my hand out like an old man with a presumed authority helped — no point in trying to play it cool when you’re sweating like a beast and the pollution is turning your bogies black. Either way, the chicken only got to the other side by being bold.
Who needs a map anyway?
Our guesthouse gave us a pretty shite map when we arrived. We didn’t fancy walking around with our noses stuck into our mammoth Lonely Planet ‘South East Asia on a Shoestring’, so we decided to take advantage of the maps that seemed to be attached to random lamp posts — how helpful?! Here we made our first major error, the kind you only make once. A helpful Thai man approached us and pointed to where we were on the map. He was chatty and I was impressed with his desire to show us where the best attractions were. Admittedly, we were flustered from our first brush with the daily game of ‘chicken’. Either way, before we knew it we were being hustled into a green tuk-tuk that would take us everywhere for just 40 baht — although my instincts told me to resist, it seemed pretty cheap…
Infact, these guys work on commission, they take you everywhere but where you want to be. Our first stop was a tourist ‘information’ centre and that’s where we left him, we gave him the 40 baht anyway but man was he pissed. For the rest of our stay in Bangkok, we were either mapless or hulking our Lonely Planet around with us. Maps really make life easier, so I would advise investing in a wee map of Bangkok to avoid being drawn into this scam.
Tourist Information Centres: here to help?
When in a new city, tourists are naturally drawn to tourism information centres to pick up maps, find out about the top attractions and get advice. Unless you are looking to book an over-priced tour package, you will leave a Bangkok Tourist Information Centre none the wiser. Having been dropped at this centre against our will by the tuk-tuk driver, we figured we’d go in anyway and see if we could get any tips for the first leg of our trip. What we got was a complete itinerary, with fixed dates, times and at a cost we already knew was inflated. He wanted us to purchase a package there and then: we said that was never our intention. He wouldn’t even let us keep the notes he had made on scrap paper, as they were ‘confidential’.
If you have ever had the pleasure of speeding down high-ways and zipping between cars on the game Vice City, you will either be thrilled or terrified when taking a taxi across Bangkok. Our first trip from Bangkok airport to our guesthouse had me clutching for a non-existent seat belt and holding my breath as we slipped between cars and zig-zagged at speed. The brakes regularly threw us forwards as the rear end of a car sped towards us. I would advise checking for seat belts before taking off in a taxi, but then, I’m anal about seat belts…
Another note for those hopping into taxis: always get them to put the meter on first. When on our way to catch a train from Hua Lamphong train station the driver tried to set off without the meter on, he then tried to take us to a tourist information center before telling us he didn’t have any change and attempting to keep a substantial amount of our money.
The Grand Palace is pretty spectacular, it’s one of the must-see attractions in Bangkok. Imagine the disappointment of arriving and it’s closed, but it’s grand, because the friendly tuk-tuk driver who informed you will take you to alternative attractions… This happens all the time, we saw it first hand and have spoken to people who told us they hadn’t seen it because it was closed. The Grand Palace is open everyday. Never take anyone’s word for it if they say an attraction is closed, always check for yourself to avoid any boo-boos.
Be street, don’t be mean.
When so many people are trying to take advantage of you, it’s hard to maintain perspective. There are lots of lovely Thai people who aren’t necessarily trying to rip you off, they’re just trying to make a living. Trust you’re instincts and be firm, but don’t let those wily chancers taint your treatment of Thai people on the whole. At times I felt frustrated and suspicious, but then I would meet someone who totally contradicted the negative experiences. Billy and I met some great people in the Samsen area. We got talking to a couple of Thai ladies in the cafe around the corner from us and chatted easily about Bangkok, things to do in Chiang Mai and their experience of moving to Europe. They gave us genuine tips and an alternative perspective on Thailand. Try to keep an open mind in the ‘Land of Smiles’.