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The Long Way Home: Bangkok, Thailand - jamiechancetravels
Well, this is it. Our last stop in ten months of travel. We’ve lived in Melbourne and #vanlifed around Australia before flying to Bali, Singapore, Phuket and Chiang Mai. In a week, we will be back in England with not a clue on where we go from here. The only way to end this was with seven nights in the City of Angels; Bangkok. This city really causes a divide between people; some people absolutely love it whilst others hate it. We booked six nights at the Akara Hotel, which is close to the shopping district, before our final night at the Tower Club at Lebua, the hotel from the Hangover 2. If you’ve read my blog regularly, you’ll know that we don’t stay at hostels. Both Emma and I would rather splurge on a decent hotel and have less money for ‘essentials.’ It’s not a problem in Thailand anyway because the food is so cheap! Arriving in Bangkok I mentioned last time that I was a bit nervous for our internal Thai flights. The first, from Phuket to Chiang Mai, was absolutely fine. However, we were flying this time with VietJet Air; an airline I’d never heard of. Anyway, the flight was great and we touched down in Bangkok in around an hour. The only issue (a recurring theme in Asia) is that there’s next to no legroom on these flights! So uncomfortable. Whenever we arrive somewhere new, we like to test out the public transport links from the airport to our accommodation. It’s like a little puzzle. This time was no different and, thankfully, Bangkok’s train system was very easy to navigate. To get to our hotel it took forty minutes on the train (for about 40p!) followed by a quick stroll along Bangkok’s backstreets. The hotel made a great first impression with it’s peaceful interior compared to the craziness of Bangkok; yep in that five minute or so walk you could tell how manic it was here. We’d arrived at about 10am and were able to check in immediately. Our room had a circular bath next to the floor to ceiling window and we’d booked on the basis of a great city view. Unfortunately, we were only on the eighth floor so all we could see was (very) grubby buildings and the elevated train line. Ah well, it meant I could wave to the commuters from the bath! Day One With lessons learnt from both Singapore and Chiang Mai, we promised that this time we wouldn’t wear ourselves out on day one. With that in mind we spent most of the day chilling in the hotel room. The free Wi-Fi/comfy bed combination is few and far between when travelling so we had to take advantage of it! We emerged from our hotel room by mid-afternoon to take a walk down to the huge shopping malls Bangkok is famous for. The streets were full of stand-still traffic chucking huge amounts of exhaust fumes into the air. Couple that with extreme humidity levels, we longed to be back in our hotel room. The airconned malls were a Godsend, especially when the monsoon rains hit, and the food wasn’t half bad either. I still think that the best red curry I’ve ever had was from a restaurant in Central World. With our promise of having an easy day still lingering, we made our way back to the hotel for an early night. Day Two Day Two was all about delving deep into Bangkok’s old city. This is where the major temples lie as well as the backpacking mecca of Khao San Road. Situated next to the murky Chao Phraya River, the Old City is a public transport nightmare. None of the Skytrains stop close enough to simply walk to it and taxis/tuk-tuks are notorious for ripping tourists off. The best way we thought was to get a metered taxi from our hotel to the Golden Mount Temple and then walk towards the river. It was around mid-morning by the time we left the hotel so the roads were actually a lot calmer than normal. However, the ten minute taxi ride basically turned into a glorified sales pitch with the taxi driver constantly reaching round to give us booklet after booklet. He’d created them all himself and were full of places he could take us. He seemed as though he wanted to take us there immediately. Despite the obvious language barrier, we got across that we weren’t interested and just wanted to go to the Golden Mount. The temple itself was impressive and, once you climbed its many stairs, the views across Bangkok were great. This really helped towards getting our bearings. Well as much as you can in a sprawling metropolis like Bangkok. The phrase “Bangkok has him now” would be completely accurate if you took even one wrong turn. The Scam From the Golden Mount, we headed north-east towards Wat Pho; home of the extremely large Reclining Buddha. We were getting a bit stressed whilst walking as each road seemed to take us in a completely different direction. If you know me, I’m normally pretty good at directions but this was something else. The heat probably didn’t help either. Hopefully I’ve set the scene well enough. You’ve got the picture, I was stressed and didn’t quite know where I was. And yes, I’d read up on all of the typical tourist scams in Bangkok. I thought I wouldn’t be the one to be caught out so here goes… I FELL FOR A SCAM IN BANGKOK. Now that I’ve written it down I guess I have to explain myself. We had just crossed a road feeling proud of ourselves when all of a sudden a young man started speaking to us. I simply thought he’d been walking in front of us and happened to turn around. Well he just started asking us questions and explained that he was a student. “Engineering” after I asked what he was studying. Good English too but I didn’t even bat an eye-lid. Writing this down now it’s so easy to spot all the warning signs I’d read about. The young man came out with the classic line that the temple we wanted to visit would be shut for prayers from 2pm. It was 11:30am so we thought there wouldn’t be a problem; we were heading there right now. He started showing us on our map where would be a better choice to go. 3 temples and a Thai Silk Factory which would be closing down soon. We were sucked in but simply thought we could add those to our list of places to visit. He then started talking about Tuk-Tuks. He warned us about flagging down any that had a white number plate as those would be ‘dodgy’. The best would be to get one that had a yellow number plate as there were all linked back to the government. He explained that if we wanted to go to the places he mentioned, a good price would be 200THB (about AUD$8 or £5). Not bad. As luck would have it though, out of nowhere comes a tuk-tuk with a yellow number plate. “Like that one?” I gestured and over pulls the tuk-tuk. The two men acted as though they didn’t know each other, negotiated a price to take us on this ‘tour’ ( easily agreed at 200THB) which would begin immediately. Looking back I thought I declined because we were heading to Wat Pho and were looking for somewhere for breakfast. I remember he said the driver can just take you to 7/11 (like Tesco Express). For some reason, we both simply climbed in the tuk-tuk and off we went on our merry way. The first temple we were going to was further past the Golden Mount back towards the hotel. That half an hour walk was completely wasted. Within a minute of setting off, once my brain had chance to process what just happened, I realised we’d fallen for the classic Bangkok scam. We’d be taken to various temples for a fee and then to a factory outlet where the driver and the guy on the street would earn a commission. Emma wasn’t so fussed as we didn’t have to buy anything (despite me telling stories of people being locked in shops until they bought something) and we wanted to have a ride on a tuk-tuk anyway. Also, it was only £5. So, we went to the first temple which was tiny and our driver got us various things to offer to the Gods. The next stop was the Silk Factory although we made it very clear we did not want to go there and simply wanted taking back. He pulled over eventually on some dodgy looking back-street and, after some back and forth, he agreed to take us back. That wasn’t without him basically pleading for us to go inside as he had “a voucher for him to pick something up.” The Temple of the Reclining Buddha We did get back to our intended destination Wat Pho about an hour after being picked up. Whilst it wasn’t the end of the day, who knows what could have happened and therefore you always have to keep your guard up. There are some horror stories out there. Oh and if, like me, you think that it’ll never happen to you, it definitely will. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. So anyway, we did make it inside Wat Pho which is one of the highest grades of Royal Temple in Thailand. Honestly, I was taken aback once I saw the Reclining Buddha. It was HUGE, lying at 15m high and 46m long. This isn’t the biggest though. The Chinese are building a stone Reclining Buddha which will be 416m long! After wandering the grounds of the temple, we still needed something to eat so settled for the nearby Starbucks for something quick and easy. It also had air-conditioning which we really needed. Attempted Scam #2 Back on the main road and immediately some guy gets right up in my face saying “Why you go that way? Nothing down there.” Firstly, wrong, we’d just come from that way Wat Pho and the Grand Palace are just there. “Grand Palace is through that alleyway.” Course it is. After I kept saying no, another guy comes the other side of me saying “Why not go down that alleyway? Grand Palace.” Honestly, Bangkok’s tourist centre is not for the faint-hearted. There was no way I was getting robbed so we walked as far away as possible. Khao San Road To finish off the afternoon, we headed the few kilometres to Khao San Road. This infamous strip is known around the world as the centre of the backpacking universe. Full of bars, hostels, massage parlours and tailors, this is where you come if you want to drink cheap spirits out of a bucket. If you also want to eat not-sure-when-it’s-been-cooked-cockroaches, this is the place for you. We only walked up and down the strip but it was easy to see why young backpackers fresh from their mum’s home love it here. It’s cheap and you can drink yourself stupid until the sun comes up; isn’t that what travelling’s all about? I honestly thought that the whole place was a bit gross and it’s no surprise that the whole area has a reputation for bed bugs etc. Back to the Hotel We were both done for today so tried to hail a cab to take us back to the hotel. Unfortunately, being a tourist area, not one of the taxis would put the meter on and all tried to charge ridiculous rates. We decided to walk a bit closer towards the hotel (which was 7km away). Did I mention Bangkok is massive? We walked further and further towards the hotel but, with that heat and a lack of water, we did not feel well. We should have just paid what a...