Taken For A Ride In Bangkok
Posted on January 12, 2012
As I began writing this post, two phrases that I have heard my entire life immediately came to mind: “you get what you pay for” and “nothing in life is free.”
With streets bursting with endless hotels, massage parlors and nail spas, Bangkok seems like the perfect place for a traveller to regroup and recoup. However, I found that this place is actually a pretty easy place to get frustrated and frazzled. I had read and been told to watch out in Bangkok for “gem scams” but it really isn’t until it is happening to you that you realize you’ve been duped.
Nat arrived in the morning after taking an overnight bus from the south. We caught up on each other’s last week and then off to explore Bangkok. After we got our standard morning coffees, we found ourselves at a crossroads (literally) trying to figure out which direction to go to reach the canal ferry to the north part of the city. We were immediately “helped” by a little old man (lookout) strategically planted at that place to “assist” unsuspecting tourist into a “cheap” 10 baht tuk-tuk waiting for them to take them to their destinations as well as all around the city to gem shops and boat charters in order to get gas coupons from the vendors. We figured this out on our first stop at a private long boat charter for way more baht that we were willing to pay. A headache and a tank of gas. Lesson learned.
We finally found the ferry and took a relaxing ride up one of the dirtiest rivers I have ever seen (Mae Nam Chao Phraya) to Ko Ratanakosin (an island created by the river and many man made canals to protect it from invasion in the old days). Here we planned to walk around the old city, eat and take in a few monuments.
Fresh off the boat and I’m sure we looked it, we were met by another “helpful” tuk-tuk driver willing to take us to 3 sites (Big Buddha, Black Buddha and Ko San road) in trade for one stop at a gem shop so he can get his gas coupon. We agreed and were off.
Big Buddha was stunning and indeed big. The Black Buddha which is actually gold and is also known as the good luck Buddha. While visiting this one, we met a man from Belgium who gave us many helpful tips on Thailand and for Nat all of Southest Asia. He also showed us how to read your fortunes with what I called Thai pickup sticks. We commiserated over the consistent absence of toilets and trashcans as well as delighted in the stunning beauty apparent at seemingly every stop in this entire region.
Now on to our drivers promised gem stop for a gas coupon. These places were strange to say the least. We walked into a nondescript building and the door shut behind us. I thought, is this how woman are sold into the sex trade? Gut instinct was no, these are fine. As soon as I saw a few families and other tourists, I knew we were going to be ok. Heckled endlessly to buy fake gemstones, but ok.
Once this was over we proceeded to Ko San road which is so ridiculously touristy that it looks like a movie set. When leaving the tuk-tuk, Nat asked if he would wait here for us to grab a quick bite of street food and on to the Grand Palace. We had given him an additional gas stop so we figured it made since to tie on one more stop as well. Well this did not go over so well. He immediately lost it and began pounding the stirring wheel. We said ok and exited promptly. He drove off before we paid him. So I guess some things are free, but you still get what you pay for.
We ended the day on top of the Banyan Tree hotel with a breathtaking 360 panoramic view of the entire city. It was as billed – stunning. We were up there for several hours enjoying the ambiance. Like a sleeping baby, Bangkok looked almost peaceful from this view. Unable to hear the constant roar of this machine, the stress of the day was gone. Tomorrow the exodus to the countryside…(content sigh)