Day 1 – Sunday, December 22, 16:00 hours – touch-down… hooray! Finally, after 24 painful hours flying halfway across the world and feeling like cattle, I am here, in paradise. The airport looks much better than I expected… much more modern than the little airport in my home town back in Norway. However, I am surprised that notwithstanding all the jet-ways at this huge airport, our plane stops in the middle of no-where and I have to walk down a flight of stairs, cutting through the thick blanket of heat and humidity and the strange smells of spicy jet fuel, diesel exhaust and stale cigarette smoke. As we enter the airport, I see that the building is actually still unfinished, with bare concrete and no ceiling panels. Beautiful on the outside but unfinished in the middle!
At immigration, I wait patiently in line. I am amazed at how many people have arrived at the same time as me. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw so many people in one place. There are many immigration counters, and most have officers in them, but still this is a slow crawl. Even more interesting is there is an immigration officer here who takes her job a little too seriously. A couple of Russian guys try to cut in at the front of the line and she just about chops their heads off. When it is finally my turn at the immigration counter, I smile at the officer and this is my first chance to practice my Thai skills that I got from my guidebook. I proudly say “Sawatdii Khrap”, but I must have mispronounced it because the immigration officer just grunted at me and almost threw my passport back at me.
Getting transport seems really convenient. Just after customs, there are a lot of kiosks where you can book transport and hotels. However, I can’t find the place for normal taxis and it is really confusing as to whether I turn left or right after the customs area as I see people with name cards at both ends. Given Thailand is supposed to be cheap, I ask how much for a limousine and the response is 6,000 baht. That is more than a taxi in Norway, so seems too expensive for me. Instead I wander around a bit and finally notice a kiosk for taxi but there are many people already in line waiting to book a taxi. As I am waiting, a nice Thai man wearing some kind of uniform who speaks good English tells me he has a taxi ready to go now, and that I can just skip the queue and pay the driver directly. Maybe not fair for the others already in line, but I decide its my lucky day and I am tired from a long flight after all. I follow him and he leads me into a taxi.
The taxi is an older Nissan but it has the taxi sign and looks legitimate. There is even a photo of the driver and his name and details on the passenger side. However, I guess I should have been on alert when I noticed the driver didn’t look like the guy in the photo. Anyway, my worries were all gone as I gave my hotel name and the driver said “no problem” and we were flying along a massive road. After about 20 minutes drive, the taxi pulls over to the side of the road and the taxi driver turns to me and says “you pay now, okay?” I asked him why and he mumbled something that I didn’t understand, and just repeated the question. Anyway, I handed him 1,000 baht, expecting change and instead he just turned back and started driving. I tried asking him about change a couple of times, but he just ignored me. At least he got me to my hotel.
The hotel itself is fantastic. Its the Landmark on Sukhumvit Road. I am not yet fully up to speed on Bangkok geography, but this seems to be a very central location and there are tourists everywhere around here (I am seeing almost as many foreigners as Thai people on the street here). I guess I like this because I kind of feel like there is safety in numbers and Asia is a strange place to me. Even better though is the hotel is quite luxurious, with all sorts of facilities and yet it only costs me a quarter of what a similar hotel would cost in Norway.
After such a long trip, I press the “do not disturb” button, have a luxurious shower and then order some room service. As exciting as everything looks outside my window, I am just too tired and I think it is better for me to take it easy this first night and have an early night. It is about 19.00 hours now.
Day 2 – I am glad I included the breakfast option when I booked my hotel. I have never seen such a fantastic display of food before. Norway is famous for its “smorgasbords” but really, breakfast here is something else entirely, and the extra cost for the breakfast option was so low I don’t know how they make money.
After freshening up, I decide to start the day’s exploration. I take my back-pack, hiking shoes, and some of the hotel’s free water and then step outside, ready to hike around the city on foot. However, just out the front door are several taxi men sitting in these half-motorbike style taxis called “Tuk Tuk”s. One taxi man says he can drive me around town on tour. Half day for only 300 baht, so I agree.
The ride on the tuk tuk is a real adventure and I highly recommend it to everyone who comes to Bangkok. The vehicle is open to the environment so I can experience everything full on. Also, when the traffic opens, the vehicle likes to move very quickly through the streets, and sometimes going over bridges and bumps, I think we actually launched up in the air, with no wheels touching the road. I definitely need to hang on as there are no seat belts and no doors, but I still manage to take some very interesting photos.
The tour itself was not really what I had hoped for. The taxi man never mentioned to me that he would not stop at the different destinations so I would explore them. Instead, he first drove me straight up the main street from Landmark. Eventually he pointed to a shopping centre and grunted “MBK”, then he waved to some tuk tuk friends, then he pointed to a sports stadium and said “National Stadium” and indicated it was where they watch football. After that, we drove through many small side streets and small bridges over smelly black canals. He then points to some old buildings and says “China Town”. However, he was speeding so much then that I couldn’t take a clear photo.
Next on the tour was Democracy Monument, which was a big traffic circle with lots of traffic. I noticed that traffic circles in Thailand operate differently to Norway. Cars seem to have right of way to enter the circle but have to wait patiently to exit the circle. I am not sure if this is the official rule, but this is what I observed when we were stuck in the circle. The monument itself was difficult to appreciate from inside the tuk tuk.
After that, we saw the Big Swing, the Grand Palace, the reclining Buddha, the Gold Buddha and the main train station. In most cases, we went past too quickly for me to see much, and sometimes all I could see was a big white wall, and maybe some gold roofs poking out above. Anyway, at least now I now which ones I want to go back and explore later.
However, after the train station, the ride gets interesting. First, the taxi man asks me if I want massage. I say no. Then he asks if I want woman. I say not interested. He then says he needs to stop quickly at his friend’s shop then he will take me back to my hotel. So we drive to this large new building with big roman columns outside and some expensive cars, including a Lamborghini, parked in the front. I see many other tuk tuks parked there too. We stop at the front entrance and two Thai girls dressed in traditional Thai silk outfits greet me and show me in the door like I am some famous person. Okay, now I have no idea what is going on, and I think maybe they have made a mistake and think I am somebody else. I decide to just play along and see what happens.
Inside, it is like a mix between a museum and luxury shopping centre. The ladies take me on a tour and give me free drinks. First I see where jewellers make designs for jewellery. Then I see the precious stone section, where they grade, cut and polish different gem stones. Finally they show me the show-room, which is large and has many different sections for different types of gems, from ruby to sapphire. They try to get me to buy, using a lot of pressure, and when I tell them I will think about it and come back another day, they tell me that the special price is for today only, as it is a special government holiday discount. They also show me some reports about how I can make money, buying the gems in Thailand, and then mailing them back to Norway for resale at a big profit.
Finally, I buy one silver necklace with a small sapphire pendant for my girlfriend back home. It was one of the cheapest options they had, at only 6,000 baht, but they assure me the stone is worth three times that much back in Norway, so it is a good investment.
When I finally step outside the front doors, I realise I had been in the gem store for almost two hours. The tuk tuk driver is waiting for me and quickly shoots through many side streets before he gets me back to my hotel. The side streets are so confusing I could never remember the way he took. I pay him the 300 baht plus 100 baht tip and he seems very happy.
By now it is mid afternoon and I have not yet even had lunch. My guidebook told me there is a good Thai food-hall just across from the Landmark hotel in Foodland Supermarket. I cross the bridge over the scary road and enter Foodland. I find the food hall, which is called “Took La Dee” and notice they have not just Thai food but very cheap Western food too. I am still a little scared of spicy, so I get the pizza instead for only 100 baht, plus beer for only 60 baht. I cannot believe these places can make money selling so cheap, and the pizza is actually really good. Back in Norway, the pizza and beer would cost almost ten times more.
My next plan is to get ready for the evening and check-out the night spots near my hotel. My guidebook tells me there is something called “Nana Plaza” just around the corner from the hotel, which is one of the biggest red light plazas in the world. I don’t know what this means, but I look forward to checking it out.
To be continued…
This travel diary is a work of fiction. It is told from the perspective of a first time traveller to Thailand and is intended to provide a list of do’s and don’ts and highlight the consequences of various actions that tourists might be conned into. Although there are many scams in Thailand, sometimes it is interesting to actually go along with the scam for a while just to see what happens, and this diary is intended to highlight that (I think it is more interesting to describe the consequence of the scam rather than simply to warn you about it). Besides, falling for some scams are almost a right of passage for Thailand travellers.