After a 28 hr flight, 10 movies between the two of us, 4 hrs of sleep, 12 time zones, flying over the international date line and essentially losing 12 hrs of our lives that we will recoup only when we fly home, we landed at Sumvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand at 10 pm. We were exhausted and both dreading the immigration process. It turned out to be a piece of cake. We did not have to pay or apply for a visa because Thailand gives a visa exemption to several countries that allows you to stay for thirty days. We waited in a five minute line, got our passport stamped, picked up our luggage and walked out into what we thought would be Taxi chaos. Several years ago I took a trip to India and as soon as we stepped out of the airport it was madness, taxi drivers coming at you from every direction hoping to scam some money from the fresh off the plane tourists. I expected that Thailand might be much the same, but nope, there was a very organized line for taxis and we told a girl sitting at a booth where we wanted to go and she gave us a driver. The driver had an awe inspiring mohawk/mullet, a modest collection of Hindu gods lining the dashboard that were easily outnumbered by the huge collection of retro Elvis sunglasses hanging from his visors. He showed us a few sites on the way into the city, describing them in broken english. Despite our pleasant first cab ride experience, we managed to rip the guy off. They are metered taxis so the price is very clear, but as we paid he mentioned something about a 50 baht airport fee (baht is the Thai currency). We didn't completely understand what he was saying and I assumed he was adding a make believe “tourist fee”. Bad memories of Indian scams and the Thailand guidebook's paragraphs about taxi rip-offs came to mind. We blew him off, gave him the flat fee and a tip, and he did not persist. As he drove off, we gave ourselves a pat on the back for not paying. Later we found that the airport fee does exist. This was followed by a few hours of guilt; little did we know that Thailand's transportation system would exact its revenge.
We decided to stay in the Bamglamphu neighborhood which houses the infamous Khao San Rd., a backpackers enclave. We chose a quiet side street and got a room with air-con, a t.v. and a private bathroom for 26 bucks, a little out of our budget, but we thought we would splurge on our first night in Thailand. We would later down size to a 10 dollar a night room with a fan and shared bath. The first hour was spent stumbling around in silent amazement taking in our new surroundings. I must say that this area does not give you an authentic experience of Thailand. The dreadlocked tourists way out number the Thais, the food has been somewhat westernized and there are stalls selling tourist souvenirs. Regardless it was like stepping into another world. The smell in the air was a cross between incense, cooking spices, barbecued meats, animal excrement, and diesel fuel which combined together is rather appealing and what I would call the aroma of eastern travel. We bought some pad thai from a food stall for 30 baht the equivalent of one US dollar and then sat at a side table for a few drinks.
Despite our delirium we could not go to sleep until 5:30 am, which for us would have been 5:30 pm if we had still been in the US.
The next day we had the intention of walking several miles to a western area of Bangkok. It is the shopping district and contains a large shopping mall called MBK. We were hopping to buy a cell phone that would allow us to keep in touch with our families back home. On our walk we had been approached by several touts (a person who tells you that your destination is closed that day and will redirect you to a hotel, a tailor, or a gem store They get paid a commission if you buy something. We had done our research, knew of these scams and had ignored these guys thus far. On the way we noticed a Wat (the Thai word for temple) and decided to check it out. We must have looked a bit lost and had our guidebook out because a man stopped to show us where we were on our map. He was very helpful and struck up a conversation. He told us that later that day there would be dancing and music at that temple because it was National Buddha Day. He told us that there was a Wat that contained the Lucky Buddha and it was only open that one day of the year. He said the government was running a special and that all tuk tuks (a small three wheeled cab) would take you to several Wats and a clothing factory for 20 baht. He told us to only take the tuk tuks with the yellow tags because they were run by the government and the others would rip you off. He wrote directions in our guidebook, didn't try to sell us anything, shook our hands and was on his way. After he left, I said to Pete, “I need to be more trustworthy, not everyone is trying to rip us off”. We continued on our way and ran into another guy who told us the exact same thing, he also told us that MBK was closed for National Buddha Day. He said he would take advantage of the 20 baht tuk tuk, flagged one down for us, translated and we were on our way. Two travel agencies, two tailor shops, four Wats and five hours later we were back at our hotel. It was so well orchestrated that the touts could have been awarded Oscars for their acting skills. We weren't even certain we were scammed until the next day when we asked if yesterday really was Buddha Day........it wasn't. We had to laugh about it and on the bright side we got to see all the Wats we wanted to visit for twenty baht.
Later came a fantastic 3 dollar lunch and then we finally made it to MBK, which very closely resembles any upscale department store at home, until you reach the cell phone floor. It really is a whole floor reserved only for cell phones. We purchased our prepaid cell phone and we can interchange the sim card in all the countries we plan to visit. Next stop was to buy a new computer charger, which led us to Pantip Plaza. A 5 story building dedicated to electronics.
There are outdoor markets everywhere in Bangkok. We visited the largest, Chatuchack Market. You could walk around this all day and still not see all of it......we tried and got lost. It was our first introduction to meat on a stick
On our last night we stumbled upon the Bangkok Theatre Festival and a shadow puppet show.
Even though we have only just met we are intensely infatuated with SE Asia. Not sure how we are going to tell our friends and family that we may never return.