Bangkok: The biggest Kok we know

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Right to left: Pete… some people…
Sarah… David… some girl… top of
Rachael’s head… some other girl…
Leah (in pink).
Last we left you we’d just come back from Samui sans laptop and camera accessories and the wind had finally picked up for kiteboarding, when we heard that Colin’s cousin Pete would be in the area, as it were, in just a few days. We wouldn’t have suggested Bangkok as the best place to spend four days in Thailand – from all accounts it was to be avoided – but it was already booked and besides, Bangkok might have such civilized things as stores that sell portable computers. Imagine that!

So Pete was travelling on business – sort of. He and his s.o Leah, her folks, her bro and his s.o were stopping by the Big Kok for a few days on their way to a wedding; clients or partners or such of the family business. Not just some old wedding though: a five day multimilliondollar Indian wedding , with thousands of guests, a host of events in two cities and tailored clothing. And probably choreographed dance routines they’ll have to learn.

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La grande Coq (river view)
So in preparation for the decadence to come, la famille was going to do Bangkok in style, too. They stayed at the beautiful Shangri-la hotel (we were down the street at the still fancy-lala but cheaper Bossotel – no ‘H’). They had guided tours and dinner reservations all lined up and were incredibly generous and kind to take us along on their adventures.

The adventures, in short:

Shangri-la: great breakfast buffet; ridiculous beer prices. Bossotel: nice bathrooms; bad free coffee. Golden Buddha: shiny. Reclining Buddha: nice feet. Emerald Buddha: not actually made of emerald. Grand Palace: glitzy. Ayuthaya Ruins: brick-ey.

Bangkok Grand Palace stupa
They build ’em shiny in Thailand
As you can tell they weren’t really my cup of tea but Colin had a blast and a half and took a lot of pictures with his new camera lenses (yes he got them!). The guides were actually pretty cool and informative, and didn’t mind our sometimes uncomfortable questions regarding Thai politics. I almost choked when Colin asked our first guide, Tee, “Can you tell us how the last King of Thailand died?”.

But it wasn’t all fun-and-Buddhas; we got out to the busy Chatuchak market, shopped at a sweet huge tech mall (Panthip Plaza), and took a few walks on the street when we couldn’t stand the fresh air of the hotels and aircon malls anymore. I thought I had come down with a cold after the first day and kept blowing mysterious chunks of black gunk out of my nose, but it was just the air there. No kidding the tuk-tuk drivers wear face masks.

Panthip Plaza
Panthip Plaza: five
floors of sweet sweet tech
Bangkok has a for-serious transportation problem. Between four and seven every evening traffic stops dead in most of the city. Taxis flat-out refuse to take you where you want to go, or will charge five times the usual fare. The city is crisscrossed with raised toll expressways; designed with three lanes and a narrow shoulder but used as four lanes (seven, if you count motorbikes who drive between lanes). There is a skytrain system half the size (in terms of both coverage and actual size) of Vancouver’s that begs to be expanded. And so many SUVs – crazy Bankokians!

So, not a Sarah-friendly city to say the least. I had to look up “carless cities” as soon as we got home to regain a little hope for the future.

I haven’t gotten to the worst part yet – and no it wasn’t the girly bars, we avoided those with good taste. It was the goddamn taxis. Every single time we got into a taxi or a tuk-tuk, we were taken for a ride. Err, in the way that also means “fucked up the arse”. They had us in every possible way:

Tuk-tuk taxi in Bangkok
Taxi: bane of our existance

  1. “Metered” taxis who refused to go by the meter (not surprising, but they’re supposedly only licenced to go by the meter in BK)
  2. Being driven into an alley away from the main streets then told the fare just doubled because the driver wasn’t clear about where we were going (twice)
  3. Being taken to “a friend’s shop” for “just five minutes, then I take you to train station” (they tried this almost every time; we gave in once out of curiosity/exhaustion)
  4. Being “accidentally” taken to the completely wrong restaurant five km in the wrong direction during rush hour (a common occurance; the driver would have gotten a commission there and actually had the nerve to offer to drive us back for the same rate; we were an hour and a half late meeting Leah’s parents when we finally arrived in a different cab)
  5. Driver who covered his taxi licence with a picture of the king so we couldn’t report him (the Shangri-la gave out receipts with the taxi driver’s licence number when you got in, but we didn’t get one this time and guess what? we got fucked again)
  6. Friendly dude who “worked at the embassy” and “knew just where we should go, we like seafood right?” and got us a convieninetly low tuk-tuk fare, then directed us to the most godawful expensive restaurant in the entire city
  7. Taxis who refused to take us from our hotel to the train station because it was after 2pm on a Saturday

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Colin giddy over the
new wide-angle lens
In the end, we gave up and started paying double to avoid the hassle. We’d say – Train station, 100 baht. They’d say – Yes, 100 baht, get in. We’d say – 100 baht, train station, no stops. They’d say – Okay, 200 baht.

We did get there eventually, and after an enlightening bus ride to Surat Thani (we do NOT recommend the overnight bus – sleeper trains are worth the extra ten bucks) we made our way back to our happy quiet little island.

But this time we accomplished all of our missions: we had a great time with Pete and the gang (all wonderful folks); we saw some really old buildings and really enormous buddhas; we aquired both a laptop and a crapload of camera accessories; we visited the exeedingly huge weekend market where you can reportedly buy anything (we bought t-shirts); and we experienced enough of the “there’s a farang – get his money!” culture to be able to say what everyone has been telling us about Bangkok:

Visit once to say you’ve been there, then get the hell out and don’t look back.


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