Service with a smile

Trip Start Jun 06, 2006
Trip End Dec 01, 2006

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, September 15, 2006

We arrived into Bangkok and wondered why every guide book and tourist review called it a horrible smelly city where you get conned. Coming out of the airport, after obtaining a visa upon arrival was very easy and painless, if a bit sweaty. There is a pre paid, government authorised taxi stand just outside the main exit from where you can get an air conditioned taxi cab to wherever you are going. Learning from our previous mistakes, Stan had booked an affordable hotel in Bangkok but it turned out be miles away from the city. It was the Ban Sabai International Hostel, which is clean, very reasonably priced, brilliantly serviced, huge room with A/C for 15 USD per night with attached bathroom and private balcony. The only problem being, it is miles away from where the action is. So, if you don't mind travelling for about three hours getting in and out of the city every day then it's a great place to stay or else go to where all the other backpackers go. Khao San Road!

It can be a bit much as it is quite overwhelming. It is most definitely gringo land, just like Paharganj in Delhi. But it has character and life and everything else that you could ask for or dream of. Bangkok has reminded me a lot of Delhi. It is a huge, sprawling, bustling city with chaotic mad traffic minus the aggression. Maybe that is why we let our defenses down.

Taxi ride from the airport to hotel was good, no problem, driver very helpful. Next day we went into the city on the sky train and the taxi driver who dropped us there was honest and helpful as well. Metered taxis are air conditioned and very affordable even for the budget traveller. Better than the renowned tuk tuks as they charge according to distance and there is no negotiation involved. Tuk tuks are better only because they get around faster by being cheeky and breaking every traffic rule possible.

On our way to the Vietnam embassy a man tried to con us by telling us that it is a public holiday and that we should apply for a visa from a travel agent rather than going to the embassy ourselves. Stan needed a Vietnam visa and I thought I needed a Cambodian one. Politely refused his kind assistance and walked to the Vietnam embassy, which was closed for lunch. So we decided to walk all the way to the Cambodian embassy as well. That was closed for the day as it only works from 9 to 12 in the morning. Had some great street food and went back to the Vietnam embassy. Stan had broken a tooth on the plane (not because of the food but because he just has rotten teeth) so needed dental treatment. Walked into a dental clinic in the embassy area where he got a free consultation and was only charged 100 baht for an x- ray (1 USD = 37 Baht). The bad news was that he needs a root canal and a permanent crown, which would cost him a whopping 30000 baht. And very conveniently the dentist knew how the travel insurance system worked and told Stan that he could claim all the money back. Stan thankfully was not convinced and told the dentist he would think about it and call him. So off we went to the Vietnam embassy, applied for the express visa which only costs 200 bahts more than the normal visa and there was no line or hassle.

Went to Khao San road next and that is where all our troubles began.

We were just walking into KS road with the guide book open peering into a map, when a tuk tuk driver came up to us and asked us where we wanted to go. So we said the TAT office which is the Tourism of Thailand office, which provides you with impartial and reliable information about where to go in Thailand. It was about 2:45 and he convinced us that the office was going to close at 3:30 and that it was too far away to walk to. He even had a uniform and said that he worked for the TAT and we believed him. In retrospect, however I think that it is the cheap price that actually gets you. No backpacker, no matter how experienced he/she is can claim to not be tempted by a bargain. He was only asking for 10 baht for a round trip. So off we went with him to the TAT office and he was smiling and talking to us throughout in English and being very nice. And we fell for it. We walked into what we thought was the TAT office and someone started talking to us immediately and no time was wasted.
We were ushered to an officer who told us about the best possible deal for travelling within Thailand. All the while saying that it was good that we came to the TAT instead of going to a travel agency as they all charge a commission and try and cheat people. And there was a full moon party on the 7th in Ko Pha Ngan which obviously no ferang would want to miss. On the black wall behind his desk, the words Tourism Authority of Thailand were emblazoned in gold. Not for a second did we doubt that we were not sitting in the TAT office. Officer "Kai" came up with a brilliant package for us, suitable for our needs and was very helpful and charming. He wasn't even worried when he realised that we had no cash and that our credit card didn't work. He sold us a 7 night package for Koh Samui for 15600 baht which semed reasonable at the time as it was booked very close to the date. As we didn't have any other means of payment we left him a deposit of 100 USD with a promise to return the next day, with a workable credit card or cash.

On the way back, the tuk tuk driver convinced us to stop into a fashion warehouse where we did not have to buy anything but it would mean a lot to him and also get him free petrol. Me being the developing country sucker that I am fell for it again. And we went to this clothes emporium that obviously deals in wholesale rather than in retail. So we enacted a scene for the shop attendant and he played along and off we went after ten minutes. Thanked the tuk tuk driver, paid him double of what he had asked for and went for a beer.

Had a great evening and headed off home. Got ripped off by the tuk tuk driver who was supposed to drop us to the BST (Bangkok Sky Train) station and felt quite rotten about it. Woke up the next morning feeling that there was something quite wrong or expensive about the deal we had cut with the TAT. Took out the receipt and looked at it. Stan's famous last words were "unless it's all an elaborate scam" and they came true. It was a very elaborate scam and they had us hook line and sinker.

So we spent the entire day running around from pillar to post trying to get our money back and report the travel agents who had conned us. Suphanaphumi Travel Co. Ltd located in the Yukhon Road. Don't ever go to them for anything as they are cheats and are just out trying to make a fast buck from as many firangs as they can. We had to check out and leave our bags in luggage storage at the D and D Inn as we didn't want to stay so far away anymore and we had no idea what we would be doing for the next few days. Our main priority was to report the con artists and of course get our money back. In the very long and expensive taxi ride to the city, Stan and I hatched many schemes to scam the scammer but none of them seemed too convincing. We were going to go to the proper TAT office first anyway to obtain their advice on the matter. Decided to walk there this time. They had had similar complaints against this travel agency before, but couldn't really do much as it is the tourist police that handles such matters. And their office had shifted to a place miles away. So off we went again, found the place, went to make a report. The person dealing with our problem after much faffing about convinced a junior officer to call the travel agent. It was quite simple as the agency agreed to return our money on the phone.

I couldn't believe it, sounded too easy and simple to be true. But there was nothing else the police could do for us. So off we went again back to the agency. It was getting to the time when Stan had to go and pick up his visa from the Vietnam embassy so he left to do that and I went to the travel agency. Found the place again after much difficulty.

Walked in and I was ushered straight into the main office and the door was closed so that no one else could hear the conversation that was taking place inside. Obviously the money would not be returned that easily. I was questioned about why I went to the police and what the problem was. They pretended that we had not been conned at all, that they had not pretended to be TAT at all. After polite discourse for five minutes I demanded my money back and was told that I could have the train tickets that they had booked and 500 Bahts back. Got the tickets, checked the price and was ready to take the deal as it was worth 100 USD. Then the owner came in, threatened me, shouted at me, abused me and told me that I had to pay him extra as he had already booked the room for us in the resorts. He was quite angry about the fact that we had gone to the police. But he had no idea who he was up against. I don't take being abused lying down and you can imagine the shouting match that took place in that room. I left with the train tickets, determined to go back to the tourist police to lodge a formal complaint against the agency for misconduct, fraud and inappropriate behaviour.

But that will have to wait as we had tickets to go to Koh Samui in the evening and Stan was at the train station buying some more tickets as we had decided to go ahead with our initial plan without the travel agents. Managed to call him but could not reach him in time. He had already bought the train tickets, so now we had two sets of train tickets for the same day. We managed to cancel one set but only got half the price back for it. You can cancel train tickets up to one hour after the train departs. The train ticket for second class, which is Airconditioned and a sleeper cost us 793 Baht per person. The joint ticket for the bus from the train station to the pier in Surat Thani and then the ferry from there to Koh Samui costs 200 Baht per person.

The trains in Thailand are nicer than Indian trains. The births are wider, the toilets are cleaner, they have dustbins near every berth, but the food isn't that great. They are quite similar with vendors walking through all the time selling you stuff, but there are no beggars and consumption of alcohol is permitted, even encouraged. Was extremely tired on the ferry as I didn't sleep at all on the train so decided to splurge and sit in the VIP cabin in the ferry which costs 30 Baht extra. Enjoyed every minute of it till they put some silly American teeny bop movie on. The ferry rides takes about three hours and then the taxi ride from the Nu Than pier to the hotel is about another hour. We got a pre paid shared taxi that cost us 200 Baht. Wise move as the yellow taxis try to rip you off as much money as they can get away with.

We were staying at Noi Bungalows which is not really on Hat Lamai beach but on the southern tip of it past the headland. As a result it is very quiet with its own private beach which is very stony and you have to walk quite a fair bit before you can attempt to swim. An A/C double room costs 890 Baht and it was clean, well maintained and very quiet. We were the only guests there I think. The owners and all his staff are incredibly friendly, especially the cook. Slept during the day while Stan went for a wander and then went off for the full moon party at night. The taxi from the hotel to Big Buddha pier, after much negotiation cost us 300 Baht. The speed boat ride to Koh Phanang cost us 300 per person for a return ticket. When I got there, I was apalled to say the least.

Had Rin is naturally a very beautiful beach. You can not begin to imagine what human beings have done to it and what it looks like on a full moon party night. Imagine a small beach with lots of different bars all lit up, playing different music, which is blaring, so you can not listen to one particular kind of music but just noise from everywhere. Along with bars, there are stages set up on the beach and lots of people dancing around in the sand or pretending to anyway. There is even a supermarket right on the beach and of course the ubiquitous chicken corner. The best part is the passed out punters who have been brought to the safe area for a lie down, which is bang in the middle of the beach. There is a medical volunteer keeping an eye on them so that they don't die or get robbed or raped. Pretty organised I thought. Puts you off from even drinking a beer. It is the most hedonistic, gross and depressing event I have ever been to.

Stan and I had a couple of beers, watched loads of people behave like complete twats and then left on the first boat home at 2 a.m. The taxi back was obviously more expensive and cost us 500 baht. Stan and I were quite happy to get to bed early as we wanted to spend the next day figuring out where we would go next. Spent most of the day in Bill resort, which is quite affordable for a resort and is located on the southern corner of the main Lamai beach. It's not a bad beach but it was just too big for us. We wanted somewhere quieter and less developed so we decided to go to a beach called Thong Nai Pan Noi on Koh Phanang.

The next day we caught a ferry to Thong Sala in Koh Phanang that cost us 150 per person one way and then had to wait a while for a taxi (200 Baht per person) to take us to Thong Nai Pan. It is double bay located on the North Eastern corner off the island and is a bit difficult to access as the roads are very steep and not entirely built. We went for the smaller beach, Thong Nai Pan Noi, as it is more Bohemian in nature, apparently. It was a very wise decision as we ended up spending an entire week here and didn't even venture to the next beach. It was a our little paradise, with an AC bungalow right on the beach and a hot shower for good measure. Cost us 1200 Baht per night at Star Huts, which we thought was reasonable for the comfort it provided. The previous night we had stayed in Ban Panburi, which is the main player on this beach. They only have two A/C bungalows and they were only available for one night. Cost 100 baht more than Star huts but I liked the details they had taken care of.

I have no idea where the week went, but it went beautifully. TNPN is a small beach with not too much development, just enough to keep you entertained and it is absolutely beautiful to swim in as its a cove. There are various activities that are offered here, jet skiing, diving, snorkelling, jungle treks, sea kayaking, beach volleyball etc. We did none of them. Swam, ate great Thai food, drank, hammocked, got Thai massages and generally had a very chilled out time. Thai massages are great for sore backs, which you tend to get after sleeping in the pretty hard beds that all the guest houses seem to have. Getting it on the beach is great because of the setting but the ones in the village are cheaper and better. I even got an oil massage which is like a Thai massage but just with some oil thrown in. There is absolutely no oil used in Thai massages and I found it ti be quite yogic as they twist and turn you a lot. My spine feels absolutely rejuvenated.

Stan liked the food so much at Rasta baby's that he ended up doing a Thai cooking course there. Learnt how to make Thai green curry and Chicken Pad Thai noodles. The food generally every where has been great except Ban Panburi. Again and Again cafe does great coffee and is a good place for breakfast. The Flip Flop bar does a mean chicken crispy noodles in yellow sauce along with some pretty funky Burmese dishes and it is a great place to hang out at night. On Sunday's there is even a pool competition, which Stan was quite disappointed to have missed. The beach is small and safe enough so you can leave your stuff lying around all day and just start talking to anyone. There are no people on the beach trying to sell you stuff or stare at you. We met some really nice people, Matt the English miner who chats with anyone and everyone, Alan the Australian dude, Dixie and Misan, the English-Swedish couple, who have been coming here for the past nine years, Tim who is not Simon and Billy, who held my hand while I got my tattoo. Yes, I got a tattoo and so do did Stan. Hurt like hell but it was well worth it. I just hope that my parents don't disown me!

It was a fairly impulsive decision based on the tattoo that we saw on Dixie's arm. It was a beautiful piece of art and we were sold. Four of us, (Billy, Tim, Stan and I) had recently bought similar pendants from Guy (the Israeli jewellery maker who has been living in the jungle for the past seven years) and were feeling like a gang. So we all decided to have a handsome sandwich (best burgers in town) and wander down to the Big Magic Tattoo shop. Mr. Big is a local tattoo artist quite famous for his handmade tattoos, done with a bamboo stick. Stan and I made an appointment for noon next day.

Woke up, had our last swim and massage and headed to the tattoo place. I was quite scared as I really don't like pain very much and if you think about it then the idea of someone poking you with a bamboo stick with a needle attached to the end of it, isn't a very appealing thought. For some strange reason, (probably to save face in front of my support group, Billy, Tim and Alan) I went through with it. The drawing of the outline with a pen is painless but then the torture begins. The first few minutes are theworst, then your body and brain just get used to it and know what to expect. It did hurt quite a bit for me but Stan was quite calm after the few initial pokes. Probably the effect of the whisky that he was drinking. Took Mr. Big five hours to do both of us and it cost us 7500 Baht total but it was a fantastic job. Both, Stan and I are very happy with our tattoos. Let's hope our mothers are too!
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snsgowest on

Re: Big Magic !
Inspired by You! Can you post a picture of your tattoo on our blog?

snsgowest on

Re: Big Magic !
No anaesthetic, only beer. and that I didn't drink either as I didn't want to have to get up in the middle to go pee. So bore it all with some sort of a grin.

Stan however stuck to his favourite cure for everything. Jameson whisky!

stu on

hey i been there before years ago. i got tatts by big, and was wondering how to contact him for accomodation, can you help

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