“You’ll want to get out of Bangkok as soon as possible.” That was the constant refrain we heard before leaving Melbourne for two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia. “One, maybe two days tops, and then you’ll want to go somewhere nicer.” Nicer meaning Chiang Mai up north of the islands down south, Phuket, Kho Samui, or Ko Pha Ngan. We were told the same thing again and again. You tend to trust the advice of friends when heading to a place like Thailand for the first time, so I took the advice on board and kept it in the back of my mind as I headed off to Asia for the first time.
Lesson learned? Take all advice with a grain of salt.
Bangkok was every bit as hectic, loud, dirty, and crazy as expected, and I loved it for that. Never before had I been somewhere so completey different from all that I had known before and it was absolutely exhilarating.
One bit of advice that I’m glad to have kept in mind – beware the tuk-tuk/taxi driver who insists the Grand Palace is closed this morning. It’s not, and neither are the rest of the temples.
I’m not as dumb as I look.
Grand Palace visit done we take to the streets, attempting to navigate the chaos and find Wat Pho and the immense Reclining Buddha. We obviously look confused and out of place, a white couple studying a map on a Bangkok street corner, so when a nice man stops and asks if we would like some help we gratefully accept it. “What a nice man”, I think to myself.
The nice man circles all of the top attractions on the map and gives us some tips and directions. He also warns us against unscrupulous tuk-tuk drivers, explaining that different licence plate colours indicate the difference. Well that’s a handy tip! He wishes us well and we set off with our newly gleaned local knowledge.
While we debate walking or flagging down a ride, as if by magic a tuk-tuk pulls up alongside us and it just happens to be of the type recommended by our new friend. How convenient! The Thai gods must be smiling down on us today.
Coincidence? I think not……
For the next two hours or so we are driven through the manic streets of Bangkok, stopping everywhere we want – as well as everywhere the driver wants. “Please, if you go in and look they will give me a voucher for gas” he implores. True or not, we are too polite to refuse.
At some point during our whirlwind tour he stops and beckons that we follow him. We don’t know where we are and he seems to want to lead us through some rather grungy looking alleyways. With a sense of trepidation we follow, trusting a man with whom we cannot communicate and who we already know has tried to scam us.
Surely this is where we get mugged, I conclude.
We eventually emerge from the dank alleys and grimy passageways on the banks of the Chao Phraya, the aquatic artery that pulsates through the Thai capital. We walk onto a wooden dock and are handed what looks like a small dish of cat food (for a small fee, of course). With a smile on his face, and excitement in his eyes our driver friend indicates that we should throw some food into the water. I do so and the murky water comes alive.
Hundreds of fish clamor over each other in pursuit of the food in a natural spectacle unlike anything I had seen before, or since.
We head back to the tuk-tuk, thankful that we didn’t let our scepticism get the better of us, and take to the streets again.
Our driver had been quite friendly and helpful all day, but seems to have become bored with the emphatic insistence that no, we do not want to visit your friend’s jewellery shop, and our acquaintance ends rather abruptly at the same spot it began.
These tuk-tuk scams are rampant in Bangkok and we were pretty lucky to not be abandoned at some point along the way or persuaded to buy over-priced merchandise we didn’t want. Not everyone is so lucky, read the nightmare story of The Globe Trotter Girls for just one example.
The total cost for our trip around the city, taking in every sight we had wanted, as well as some we would never have found on our own? Less than $2 AUD, which included a tip for his time, a North American convention that I find hard to shake. A pretty good deal in our eyes.
Bangkok is indeed filled with chaos, scams and grime, it’s true – but it’s also filled with beauty, friendly smiles, and amazing sights. Keep your wits about you and don’t be lured in by deals that seem too good to be true. Those are two bits of advice that I would recommend every traveller remembers no matter where they are travelling. Remember this and you will escape Bangkok unscathed and hopefully loving it just as much as I did.
Have you been scammed while travelling?