No, I would not like a tuk tuk...

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sawatdee from Bangkok!

I'm writing this blog entry from an Internet cafe on the infamous Koh San Road. Just to illustrate how different Thailand is - we're paying the equivalent of around 25p an hour for Internet here, as opposed to 4 POUNDS an hour in South Africa.

But before I continue to wax lyrical about the amazing value for money to be had here in Thailand, I'll skip back to our journey from Malaysia. The journey from Penang to to Bangkok was a 21 hour train ride so we decided to splash out and pay 20 pounds each for sleeper seats. When we went to buy the tickets the lady was very excited to hear that we were English and quickly asked if we knew Mr Bean. When we said yes she called out to her friend in the office, "They're English! They know Mr Bean!" She proceeded to tell us how much they loved the show and then bizarrely said how sad they were to hear that he had died!

I got a taste of how it must feel to be a doctor or surgeon telling a relative that I had saved the life of a loved one when I told her that Mr Bean was in fact alive and well. Her face lit up and the first thing she said.. "Will he be making any more shows?!"

After that slightly surreal encounter we set off for Thailand.

We were a little shocked to see that our train was only two carriages long. My first thought being - there's supposed to be a buffet carriage! We settled down in our very comfy seats with a good level of air-con going but it only took a minute's recon to confirm that there was no buffet carriage. It was around 2pm as we set off and we hadn't eaten since a rice breakfast at 9am, I was already hungry and facing the prospect of having nothing to eat for 20 hours - and it didn't help when a French girl opposite us got a big pack-up lunch out and started munching away!

Four hours later, as we reached the Thai border where we had to disembark and go through customs, I was starting to get a bit desperate. Thankfully a business-minded local was waiting on the train platform with a stall selling crisps and egg fried rice so Mark and I spent the last of our Malaysian currency on carbs and headed back to the train happy! Somewhat typically, immediately upon pulling away from the station a man came round with a menu for food to be served on the train!

After the food fiasco, many card games and a few hours of "guess the tune" on my ipod, a guy came round to turn our seats into beds. He folded down a top bunk from above our heads and joined the two seats on the bottom to make a lower bunk. It was pretty snazzy and super comfy! We also got to witness one of the most amazing sunsets we've seen since Africa - the entire sky glowed a luminous pink which gradually turned into a deep orange with palm trees and paddy fields silhouetted in the foreground.

In the morning the man came back round to turn our beds into seats and a few hours later we arrived in Bangkok! We had booked accommodation for 3 nights so we got a taxi from the station to take us to our new home. In the words of Julia Roberts - BIG MISTAKE.

The taxi man quoted us a flat rate the equivalent of around 3 pounds to go around 4km to our new place. We were standing outside the tourist information desk at the time and they said this was a good price so we went with him. He was cheeky enough to leave his normal rates up in the back where we calculated it should actually have cost us about 60p!

This was only the first of many scam attempts to come, but luckily the only one we fell for. A popular scam involves a well dressed man normally in a suit coming up and asking where you're from. Cue long conversation about England, where we are going etc. It then turns out where ever you just said you where going is closed for a special holiday, etc, so you should go to this other place instead. You then get pushed towards a tuk tuk for a 'special price'.

One guy tried this with us near the national museum. He said it was closed until 2pm so we should get a tuk tuk to some temple in the mean time then he'll bring us back. We said we wanted to eat first (and had to physically extract ourselves from him to leave) so he sat at the same restaurant as us! He sat about 5 meters away - as if we couldn't see - then as we got up to leave he came over and was all "Fancy seeing you here - you want that tuk tuk now?" We said no, walked the 200 or so meters to the museum to find that it was, and had been, open all day. Surprise surprise! We had another guy telling us the whole of central Bangkok was closed for a ceremony so we couldn't get the train there, and another one who said we couldn't see the temple where we were because it was closed as the king was coming that afternoon!

It sounds comical but it does get really annoying, these guys are PERSISTENT and they even grab your arm so you cant walk away. The tuk tuk drivers also shout at you as you walk along urgently going, "HEY, you're going the wrong way!" Not that they know where you're going, they just want to take you somewhere else (normally to a bogus gem sale - or so we've heard). It's so bad I'm convinced that Mark and I must have "Taxi" and "Tuk Tuk" tattooed on our foreheads as this is all we hear shouted at us when we step onto the street. It gets a little ridiculous when you walk past a line of them with the dialogue:

"Tuk tuk?"
"No thank you."
"Tuk tuk?"
"No thank you."
"Tuk tuk?"
"... Tuk tuk?"
"Yes. You know I really didn't want one before but now that YOU have asked, I've changed my mind. I know you heard me say no to every other driver but you... I can see there's something different and special about you! YES!"

Ok so that last bit might not have happened - but I'm pretty sure it's what they expect!

Aside from the verbal pollution from tuk tuk and taxi drivers, Bangkok has been a very nice place to visit! We haven't done all the touristy stuff yet as we'll be coming back here again before we leave Thailand, but have managed to get a good feel of the place.

The best and cheapest way to get around has been the river taxi which is awesome, as you get a really nice breeze! It's been so hot here it's insane and most nights there are big thunder and lightning storms. The food is also really cheap and tasty; a big plate of Pad Thai is about 50p which you can watch being made as you wait.

During the day we normally go to 7/11 for food on the go as sandwiches are about 20p each! It also helps that 7/11's are LITERALLY everywhere in Bangkok. It's not unusual to have 2 stores facing each other on a street. Apparently there are half the number of store's just in Bangkok as in the whole of the USA!

As for excursions, as I said we have left a lot for the touristy stuff for when we come back after traveling around a bit but we have visited a lot of the local temples and a few museums. One especially gory outing was a visit to the little-known forensic and parasite museum within the hospital. For a mere 80p entrance fee we were permitted entrance to view a veritable smorgasbord of human remains, pickled corpses, mummified murderers, bloody artifacts from crime-scenes and graphic photos of suicides, murders and horrendous accidents.

Once you got past the shock of seeing actual body parts of dead people, it was actually quite interesting, but not for anyone with a weak constitution. It explained in depth (with photos) how they managed to identify so many dead people after the tsunami and how they determine cause of death in autopsies.

We also visited the almost-but-not-quite as graphic national corrections museum which had wax-work models of various capital punishments as well as photos of them being carried out.

It's not all been gore though - we visited Lumphini park which is a little haven in the busy city centre and we also decided to treat ourselves to watching Inception at the Imax theatre which was awesome! The cinema's here are insanely posh so it's a real experience. They also play the national anthem before each film during which everyone stands silently, along with a montage of pro-Thai images on the screen.

We also had to stop once on a train platform at 6pm in the style of a minutes silence (I'm not sure how often during the day they do this) while they played the national anthem through the speakers. I can't imagine the underground in London stopping in rush hour like that!

Anyway we're off north as of tomorrow so it's goodbye to Bangkok for now, I'm sure all those tuk tuk drivers will be waiting for us when we come back!
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Lisa on

Flaming tuk tuks, I can relate to everything you've said, takes me back actually! The heat can be quiet bad alright! But it's defo the tuk tuks that are the worst! That place is full of scams!!

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