Scams, Temples and Monks, Oh My…
I will never be a happy camper when I wake up at 4 a.m. I’m never really even all that happy when I wake up at 6 a.m., but somehow our second day in Bangkok was so fresh and exciting, I was able to forgive the bird that woke me. Deciding that four o’clock might be considered an obnoxious time to show up for breakfast in a sleepy little town, we waited until 7 a.m. before wandering the streets of Banglamphu on a food-finding mission. We found a cute bungalow boasting a “Trip Advisor Rated” menu where we swallowed our pride and ordered the aptly named “American.”
Our plan for the day was to check out the Grand Palace, apply for our visas to Vietnam, and explore downtown Bangkok. Before we could even hail a cab, we were approached by a sweet little Thai man. He was “oh-so-helpful” and explained that the Grand Palace didn’t open until later that afternoon, but he was happy to show us several other locations on the map that we just couldn’t miss. Some of you are thinking, “how sweet!” and so was I. The rest of you are thinking, “Don’t fall for it, Mindy! It’s a scam!” and you are right. Suddenly a tuk-tuk driver materialized out of nowhere and offered to take us to all of the spots our new friend had circled on the map, for 30 baht (about $1.10). As soon as we crawled into the back of the tuk-tuk I had a flashback of one of those little orange warning boxes in the tour book. “Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering tours that are too good to be true.” Too late…
Immediately I whispered, “He’s going to try to take us to one of those gem shops they warn you about and pressure us into buying something so he makes a commission.” I was only about half right. The first spot on our new map was Wat Intharawihan, a golden Buddha that sit 45-meters high. He took us there, chatting causally about his home town, Chiang Mai, which happened to be the city we were headed to several days later. We must not have looked like the gem buying kind, because our next stop was a no-named temple with an overly-friendly grounds manager. It took the manager less than a minute to approach Brian, boasting the excellence of the Thai custom-suit industry. He explained the fitting process, the shipping and payment policies, and the unparalleled quality of the materials with such detail it was immediately clear that he too was part of the scam. They weren’t trying to sell us gems, they wanted us to buy suits. Upon returning to the tuk-tuk, we quickly told our driver that we were not interested in custom clothing, as we were backpacking and had little need. When he realized we weren’t the suit buying type either, he became very insistent that we visit his favorite travel agent for good deals on rooms and trekking in Chiang Mai. At this point, we realized that we had taken the ride as far as we could for our discounted price, and asked him to let us out at Wat Ratchanadda. After a very literal temper tantrum, that did nothing to entice us back into the tuk-tuk, we handed him 40 baht and he puttered away cursing us for wasting his time. All-in-all it was a perfect way for us to cover some distance and take in the sights of Bangkok for less than $2.
Conveniently, as we were trying to figure out the best way to the embassy, we ran into a Welsh guy who was headed to a small river boat that would drop us off about a mile away. I feel like we spent the entire day exploring every type of transportation that Bangkok has to offer while still managing to walk about 4 miles through the downtown streets. We took monorails, subways, trains, tuk-tuks and water taxis, as we made our way to the Vietnam Embassy to secure our visas for later this month and the train station, Hua Lamphong, to get our overnight tickets to Chiang Mai.
When we got back to our side of town around dinner time we had some of the best pad thai I have ever tasted for about $2 USD. Later that night we explored Khao San Road, where we were approached by every gadget-hawking, sex show-promoting, scorpion-wielding street vendor imaginable. Check out the video Brian shot to get the full Khao San Road experience here.
With four hours of sleep under our belt and 20 hours of high-energy exploring, I was sure I would be in for a good night’s sleep. Three hours later when I woke up in the middle of the night, again, I had to accept that my body doesn’t bounce back from jet lag the way I remember it… 3 a.m. still feels like 3 p.m., which makes it ironic that I can’t sleep past then… because usually 3 p.m. is right around the time I long for a life that allows for naps.