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Thailand / Laos Part XI.a: Bangkok (first time around)

23 Feb

Maria had planned our arrival in Bangkok for the late afternoon, which would give us plenty of time to get to our hotel and go out that evening. We’d known that we should walk out of range of the official airport taxis and to the outdoor taxi platform, where a metered taxi was said to be far less expensive. But as we tried to figure this out, the sign for the skytrain caught our attention and we thought we’d give it a try.

We asked the ticket agent how we could get ‘downtown’, and he told us to just take the train to the end of the line. Easy enough. We caught the train shortly after and were headed into the city with a view of the sunset.

At the last station we hauled our bags down the stairs onto the street and found ourselves amid a hustle of traffic. We needed to get to the Democracy monument, which was at some kind of roundabout, and as best we could tell, there was a large roundabout some distance up the street. So with all of our bags in tow, we thought we would give it a try.

An hour later we still had no idea where we were. We’d tried to hail several taxis and tell them where we were going, but none of them spoke English. We tried to show them the map to where we were going, figuring they would recognize the city structure and at least narrow it down to the area we’d wanted to go, but this too saw no success. A map in English was no good to us, the drivers just looked and scratched their head, one after another before finally giving up and coasting off.

We’d finally managed to tell one driver where we wanted to go, and after our bags were packed into the trunk he told us the fare would be 300 Baht. We were new to the city, but not stupid, and already knew this was a ridiculous overcharge. “Use the meter” I said, but he refused, as drivers mostly do with tourists. Then he stopped the car and made us get out because we wouldn’t agree to his fare. I know that most people in this situation would cave to get where they were going, but I’m too stubborn to let people take advantage like that, and more, to let them think they can take advantage like that. It was the beginning of a long trip dealing with or trying to avoid drivers-for-hire. So many of them are crooks and they’re to be avoided if possible. Even the locals we watched would negotiate with a driver and most of the time, let them drive away because their prices were too high.

As we tried to examine a map we’d found on the side of a closed tourist booth, a woman came and helped us get a taxi. She dealt with him in Thai, and all arrangements were made to get to our hotel for 100 Baht. Wow, finally someone with reason. As it turned out, we weren’t even that far from our hotel, so it was a good thing we hadn’t taken the other cab or I might have had a few words for him after the 5 minute drive.

I was already beginning to feel flustered and frustrated by Bangkok, and then arrived at our hotel to find that our reservations did not exist.

“I made a reservation online for three nights, but I canceled one night.”

“Our records show that you had made a reservation but then canceled them.”

“No, I canceled one night and was still charged for two nights.” I had examined the receipts carefully before I left, because I had been charged $20 CAD just to cancel one night’s accommodation. In that email had been a verification for the remaining two nights.

The reservation had been made through a third party booking site, so the hotel clerk checked us in anyway and assured me that they would take care of the problem with the third party.

My mistake was not printing a copy of the revised email, but in the end it didn’t matter.

If you must book online, ALWAYS try to book directly with the hotel. I would even advise using Skype to call them ahead of time and make your reservation by phone. Booking through third party websites that charge a premium for their shady services can be such bullshit.

The room itself was nice, but as with most online reservations, was overvalued. We settled in and I got online to check in with a couple of friends who were staying in Bangkok. We made plans to meet later at a blues bar.

As it turns out, we walked for kilometers in the completely wrong direction, and ended up way down in Chinatown. We hadn’t eaten so we found some street food, then headed back to our hotel – which of course, didn’t come without a hard haggle with an overcharging tuk-tuk driver.

We got back to the hotel and I got on the phone with my friend. We were two hours late, so he spoke with the hotel clerk who’d written down directions in Thai for a taxi driver. Then she called and got an honest driver for us, who picked us up and took us right there for about 60 Baht. It really had been just around the corner, in the opposite direction we’d gone. One friend who had been waiting for us had already gone home. Sorry Eoin. :/

That night we drank, ate frog’s legs at a roadside restaurant, then drank some more. We ended up in a packed club with live music, and Maria had noticed a few people giving me strange looks because of my t-shirt. I was wearing a Superman: Red Son shirt, but without realizing that Thai’s don’t take kindly to Socialist symbolism. No serious trouble came of it though, and a good night was had by all.


Trashed.

The second day, we visited the weekend market outside of the city centre, which turned out to be one of the best markets I have ever seen. You could find just about anything you might be looking for, and many items were originals, designed by local artisans. There were lots of vintage items too. We walked around for hours and only wished that we could visit this place more frequently.

Cold tea made with condensed milk. Highly recommended.

Ice cream with young coconut








We’d hoped to visit the Grand Palace, but as we arrived later in the day, found it had closed and wasn’t open the next day. We were leaving the morning after that, so we had lost the chance to see it. Later we’d decide to return to Bangkok a couple of days before our departure, to give us more time.

Tuesday morning we made it to the train station with just a few minutes to spare. We were off to 6 hour ride to Phitsanoluk, where we would have to transfer to a bus to go onto Sukhothai.

Various shots from around Bangkok:



The Golden Buddha







The Reclining Buddha

In the back of a taxi


Next: Thailand / Laos Part XI.b: Bangkok (last time around)

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Life Abroad

 

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