They say you haven’t really been to Bangkok if you haven’t been ripped off by a tuk-tuk driver.
If that is so, then I can really say I have been there!
I was warned about this many times before I visited Bangkok for a business trip. But no, I didn’t listen. It was the farthest thing from my mind when I casually spoke with a Bangkok resident while waiting to cross a street. He immediately rattled off some recommended sites to visit and flagged down a tuk-tuk driver to take me to the sites. At that time, I didn’t think they knew each other, but now I think I was mistaken.
Off course I was at first happy to be riding a very Thailand-style vehicle and seeing the city. That is until he pulled over at a deserted sidestreet after about a 30-minute ride and requested that I visit a series of shops and stay 10 minutes in each one, for which the shop owners would give him a gas coupon.
Perhaps I was lucky that the driver I had spoken to did not seem to be the mugger kind. When I protested long and loud, he said he would waive the payment for the ride as long as I helped him get his gas coupon.
So that’s what I did, I visited some old, dusty, empty souvenir shops for 10 minutes each. The guy got his gas coupon, and still brought me to the places on the original itinerary so I still saw a lot of the city.
This was not my first trip to Thailand, but my previous trips were always about going to race tracks, this is the only time I actually saw other places in Bangkok. Some places to see:
Golden Mount (wat saket rajavaramahavihara)– This is located right smack in the middle of an outdoor “tiangge” market. You have to go up a stairway of about a hundred or so steps (you can ring a long line of ancient bells while at it, supposedly for luck) and when arriving at the rooftop, you get to appreciate the view, get blessings from a monk, write a prayer on some golden slips of paper which are hung up on altars, burn incense and pray even more.
Wat Pho – This a tourist magnet where you can get your fill of pointy tip structures, meditating monks and buddha statues. I had a jolting realization there that not all the statues there were ancient when I witnessed the arrival of new statues still wrapped in plastic and being put in newly built shrines, thus having a more commercial/ manufactured feel. But it’s still worth a visit here if only for its most famous resident — the giant golden reclining Buddha statue that was discovered centuries ago.
Baiyoke Sky Tower – Supposedly the tallest tower in Bangkok, a trip to the revolving view deck is a good experience and gives the best view of the city. Be prepared for the long lines of people though (it’s a bit of a crowd in the single elevator that brings people up to the deck).
Some other things to keep in mind if you’re going to Bangkok:
Stay at the Pullman Bangkok Hotel, it’s an ultra-modern hotel with lots of playful touches (like the rubber octopus toy in the bathtub). It’s right across a Duty Free center, too!
If you want the real Thai dining experience, just go out to the back of your hotel and walk the streets to try the hawker stands and small restaurants. Watch out though, it’s quite normal for almost all Thai food to be very, very spicy!
I dropped by the local McDonald’s and was surprised to see the Ronald McDonald statue at the door doing a prayer pose instead of his usual wave. Instant photo op!Go to the King’s Palace first thing in the day — I learned this the hard way when I arrived there and the gates were already closed in the early afternoon!
I didn’t get to see the famous Chatuchak market but you can actually do your shopping in just about every corner of Thailand. Everything is cheap!Oh, and of course be careful when dealing with tuk-tuk drivers!