Bangkok has a lot of hype at the moment as being THE city for cheap fun but there’s more to it than that. My first step out of the train station saw me roadside at 11pm, trying to hail a taxi while being bombarded with “tuk tuk, tuk tuk!” “where you go?!” and “lady, I take you, tuk tuk!” by tens of drivers from all different angles. As taxi’s were few and far between we tried to barter a reasonable price for a tuk tuk ride to the hostel. After a bit of to and fro, the driver finally agreed to 30 baht (which is a fair price) so we got in. No sooner had we pulled away he stopped and tried it again. “ok, ok, I take you to hostel. 200 baht!” Knowing this was a ridiculous rip off, we opted to get out and finally hailed a taxi. Total fare = 50 baht on the meter. We stayed at ‘The Chilli’ hostel, near Chinatown, for $14/night. It was pretty modern and stylish but the rooms were microscopic! Just big enough to squeeze in a double bed which touched the walls on three sides and the shower room on the fourth.
By the time we arrived it was already midnight and although we hadn’t eaten for several hours, I just couldn’t face going out there again until morning so we called it a night. In the daylight everything seemed clearer but the relentlessness of Bangkok was ever present and hard pressing. We didn’t have much of a plan but instead decided just to wander until something took our fancy. We ended up treating ourselves to an hour long Thai massage at Lek House for just $5!
This was a hilarious experience for many reasons. Primarily because Rich’s masseuse was definitely a ladyboy and also because of the ridiculous baby pink PJ’s we had to wear. The massage was amazing, if a bit painful and involved lots of joint and spine cracking, being walked on, being swung around and pummeled. I’m pretty flexible so I was ok but I felt sorry for Rich while his arms were being pulled behind his back and crossed over. haha.
After our ‘workout’ we scored some street snacks including barbecued chicken heart, livers, rice and some fresh cut pineapple and papaya to top it off. All served in multiple plastic bags of course. Other meals scored in Bangkok include a super hot Thai chicken curry with rice ($1.50), grilled ginger fish with rice ($2) and egg something made mostly of chillis ($2).
Th Khao San – Th Khao San (Khao San Road) is hyped as a huge backpacker hub and was named a ‘heaven on earth’ for backpackers in ‘The Beach’. Of course, we had to see what all the fuss was about but to be honest, I’m not so sure. Yes it had bars, market stalls, street food, tattoo shops, and outdoor massage places everywhere but it was all so…. holiday town. Every market stall sold exactly the same things (mostly souvenirs) at vastly inflated prices, every food vendor only sold ‘pad thai’ and there were even a couple selling scorpions and dried crickets on sticks. Not because any locals would ever go there and might fancy a crispy scorpion, but solely for sunburned, vest wearing, Westerners to spend silly money on make a scene then go home and say “Look what I did in Thailand! It was some craaaaaaazy shit man!” It was all so contrived. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have a good time there, you definitely could, if that’s what you’re looking for. We enjoyed our trip to Khao San but after an hour or so of wading through drunk groups of English ‘men’ shouting “I’M ON FOUCKIN’ ‘OLIDAAY!” in heavy northern accents, we were WAY over it.
Taxis, boats, BTS, MRT and tuk tuks – There are SO many different ways to get around bangkok, each useful in it’s own right. The sky train (BTS) is amazingly efficient. It’s super modern, easy to navigate and pretty cheap at just $.70 (20baht) or so per ticket. The MRT is also good, another train line, somewhat like the London underground…… only modern and cheap. Taxis are winners too. Some try to get you to name a price for your journey in an attempt to rip you off but as long as you insist they start the meter it’s alllll good. Fares start at 35 baht ($1.10ish) and you’d struggle to go over $4, especially if you share the fare with a friend. My favourite way to travel though was by the river ferry. More like a souped up long boat, these ferries so have seats but you have to jump on and off. The best part is they only cost 15 baht a ride! Great for the Grand Palace, Wat Pho or Wat Arun. Again, be wary as there are also ‘tour’ boats that look the same, charge four times as much for the same journey and don’t give you any information. We got on one of these by accident but managed to skip through without a ticket, purely by accident. From what I could gather, Tuk tuks in Bangkok are just a massive rip off. Again, tourists love them for the novelty factor but they always charge way more than a taxi and they know that if you aren’t willing to pay, someone else will. There are also several notorious tuk tuk scams. Some just grossly rip you off, others agree on your destination then drop you off at overpriced tailors, gift shops or hotels where they receive commission for doing so. In just two days, we saw at least five different people/couples/groups that had falled right into this trap. Don’t people read?!
Bangkok is a stark mix of old and new. On it’s surface, it’s designer shopping malls, sky trains, flash cars and business men but unavoidably woven throughout are the dark, dirty, smelly streets of old. One minute we were dodging crowds of tourists outside a ten story Westfield type shopping plaza and next thing we were walking past a hundred year old printing press rolling out the daily news. Men and women slave, sweating over vintage Singer sewing machines while stray dogs, cockroaches and dirt spiral around their feet. Toddlers chase feral cats in and out of their parents workshops at after midnight while amputees beg on the streets. Then you turn the corner and you’re faced with a pristine clinique counter or fashion house. Bangkok is a lot of things but for me, enjoyable isn’t necessarily one of them. This could also be down to having just spent 4 months living in total farm land isolation then hopping straight to Sydney then into the pits of Bangkok. I just couldn’t wait to get back to the countryside. Maybe round two will change my mind.