Bangkok was an interesting experience. Not my most favorite city, but still very interesting. It’s a massive place, and I spent half my time walking around and waiting at bus stops for buses that never came. I made a point of never using tuk tuks and rarely using mototaxis since they all tried to rip me off. Haggling resulted in either a token reduction of 10 baht or the driver giving me the stink eye and roaring off. So I decided to walk. I usually love to walk when exploring new cities, but Bangkok is not built for the pedestrian. Besides the sheer distance between sights, one must contend with lack of sidewalks, epic traffic and aggressive con men (more on this later). Throw some awful humidity and belching exhaust and the occasional surprise rainstorm into the mix and you’ve got the recipe for a fun day on foot.
I still had a good time though. Some photos:
Thais love their monarchy, and King Bhumipol is everywhere in Bangkok. Here’s an arch depicting the king doing normal everyday things like wearing suits, taking photographs of flowers and being happy.
Wat Pho. Bangkok’s temples & pagodas are very cool.
Chinese-style guardian statue at Wat Pho.
Many Buddhas at Wat Pho.
A word on scams. Bangkok has a problem with tourist scams. In fact, it’s a big enough problem that there’s a website devoted to them. Most are quite obvious and all guidebooks warn about them, yet it must be a lucrative career since con men are everywhere around Bangkok’s tourist attractions. They hang around outside these tourist hotspots and tell unsuspecting victims that whatever they want to see (Grand Palace, Wat Prah Kaew, Wat Pho etc) is closed for repairs or monks praying or Buddhist holiday or whatever. For these guys every day is a Buddhist holiday. However, they just happen to know some great temples that most tourists don’t go to, and they’d be happy to arrange a tuk tuk tour for just 20 baht. What luck! The tour consists of one or two of these temples and then a visit to a gem shop or tailor where the tourist is scammed into making purchases at grossly inflated prices. The tuk tuk driver gets a cut for bringing in warm bodies to the shop regardless of whether they make a purchase. There are variations on this scam, but they all begin with the friendly stranger.
I was walking towards the Golden Mount in blatant tourist garb (shorts & t-shirt, camera etc) and decided to sit on a bench to orient myself. I was poring over my map when a middle aged man sat down next to me and struck up a conversation (Thais don’t normally do this, an obvious sign the scam was on). I decided to play along for a bit.
Hello, where are you from?
Ah, United States. And where are you going?
I’m not sure. Just walking.
And how long have you been in Bangkok?
It’s my first day (never a good idea to tell these guys you’re new in town).
Ah. Very good day to be in Bangkok. Very lucky.
No kidding. Why’s that?
Today is Lucky Buddha Day. Buddhist holiday. May I see your map? Do you have pen?
I handed him the map and he proceeds circle various wats and temples, scrawling illegibly all over it and occasionally poking holes in it with the pen tip.
I am a student at the university (he looked a bit old to be a student, but I didn’t press him further). I know Bangkok very well.
He then tried to decipher his scribblings for me.
First you go to Standing Buddha Temple. Very nice. Then you go to Marble Temple and then you go to Lucky Buddha Temple because it is Lucky Buddha Day (lucky me). And here is the government garment factory. Very special deals here, only one day.
So this was the tailor variant of the tuk tuk tour scam. Off to my left was a tuk tuk where a driver watched our conversation with keen interest.
Government tuk tuk, only 20 baht today. Special deal for Buddhist holiday.
Quickly I folded up my map and stood up.
Looks very interesting. Thank you!
And I quickly walked away. He gave a startled grunt but didn’t follow. The driver scrambled to start his tuk tuk and pulled up next to me, pleading for me to get in, only 20 baht! But it was time to move on.
The tricksters were out in full force outside the Grand Palace. One guy strolled up and asked where I was going. When I told him Grand Palace he shook his head and sadly informed me that it was closed until 1 o’clock. I replied that the Grand Palace was always open and asked why he was lying to me. I think this caught him a little off guard because he gave me a “have it your way” look and walked away. There were at least four others working their way through various stages of the scam. I changed to the telephoto lens and took a few covert photos.
Sorry Grand Palace not open today…
I wasn’t covert enough. One of them confronted me and stuck a fat finger in my face.
Why do you take pictures?
Why do I take pictures? Because I have a camera. I’m a tourist. That’s what tourists do. Take pictures.
What you do you take pictures of?
That market over there.
Why don’t do go over there and take pictures?
Because I was already over there. Now I’m over here.
He gave me an icy Thai smile that suggested I’d better move on. Not wanting a smashed camera or worse I decided to see if the Grand Palace was open. And it was!
Obligatory statuesque guard photo.
Guards marching around.
I stayed at a the remarkably peaceful Shambara Guest House near the Khao San Road backpacker ghetto. The room was a glorified closet with a bed, but it was clean and quiet and the price was right.
Khao San Road by day…
…and at night.
Phra Sumeru Fortress.
Rama VIII Bridge.
Chinatown photos next.