Uncertainty in Bangkok

I only spent one day in Bangkok; a day and a half if you include travel time and my ferocious nap on day one.  Why did I only schedule one day in the world’s most visited city? 

First, the protests, especially those of late.  I was in Phnom Penh at the time of many, many protests and the garment worker strike in which four people were killed (and hundreds were injured) after police started spraying bullets into the crowd to disperse strikers.  Thus, I know that it’s possible to stay in a city and be completely safe, despite local unrest.  However, I knew Phnom Penh.  I knew where the protests were, I knew where I would be safe and I knew where there might be trouble.  In Bangkok, I wouldn’t know anything.

To add to this point, a couple days after I arrived in Chiang Mai, I got word that there had been a lot of fighting and killing in Bangkok, including some in tourist areas.  I decided to play it safe.

Second, I had no idea how I would feel about it.  After talking to many people who had visited Bangkok before me, it seemed that people either loved it or hated it–nothing in between.  Given that I loved Phnom Penh but not HCMC, it was really up in the air how I would react.

Spoiler alert!!  I loved it and I wish I had had more time in this amazing city!  Unfortunately, because of my time constraints, I wasn’t able to do or see much (including seeing a planetarium show in English, which only happens on Tuesdays–boo!!) but I did ride a surprising amount of public transport and I found it quite interesting to note the similarities and differences in their systems compared to North America’s.

After arriving on the night train around 7:00AM, catching a moto to my hostel (really fun ride with my backpack, by the way!) and waiting a couple hours for a bed to be ready, I got to have a nap.  And I don’t usually nap.  Once I was semi-conscious again, I got to look around at the cute set up this hostel had going on and all the cute cat accessories!  I knew I had chosen a good place.

I ventured downstairs and got a run down of good places to shop, museums and where to avoid going because there had been fighting the previous night from the hostel owner.  I remembered that I read about a planetarium in Bangkok so I asked for directions.  I mean, who doesn’t want to go to a planetarium?!  However, going to the planetarium meant that I’d need to ride the bus and BTS line, another thing that I was quite uncertain about doing but, I’ve been in sketchier modes of transport so I did it anyway.  And, somehow, I made it.  Unfortunately, by the time I made it there, they were about to close and I found out that the only English version of the planetarium show happens on Tuesdays and I would already be deep into India by that point.

Instead, I took in a market and made my way back to my amazingly cute hostel to get a good night’s rest so I could get up early to go see some more of Bangkok before I had to leave to catch my flight to Delhi.

For my final half day in Bangkok, I walked to the river and grabbed a ferry to the more touristy part of town in hopes of seeing a museum.  I was impressed at how fast the ferry was and I started drifting around, trying to figure out where I was going.  I happened upon an art gallery that I was interested in but it was 200 baht to get in (around $7) and, being the cheapskate that I am (it’s not my fault that I’m an unfortunate mix of Menno and Ukrainian!), I decided to skip it in favour of just walking. 

In my wandering, I stumbled across Khao San Road, which I’d planned to avoid at all costs.  From what I’d read and heard, it was everything I hate about tourist areas in one small stretch of road: crappy clothes; expensive restaurants serving approximations of whatever “Western food” is; tons of tuk tuks and motos constantly trying to pick you up; a man yelling “Fortune teller!”; tattoo places claiming to be the best and cleanest in the land; silver stores and hoards upon hoards of people.  Out of curiosity, I decided it would be worth seeing how terrible it really was.

It was pretty bad, although I did find a couple shirts that I really liked (I wish I’d bought more!) and had the best Thai food I’d had in Thailand.  Pro tip: the best food is at the iffy-looking holes in the wall.  I ate like a queen for a mere 70 baht, which is still kind of expensive but it was a tourist area…and quite a bit of curry.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and, soon, I had to be on my way back to my hostel to head to the airport.  Once I got there, somehow everything was really hurried; I found myself pounding back the coffee I’d just made and running to my cab that had magically appeared about a minute after I’d asked the hostel owner to call one for me.  As we were driving away, I realized that I still had my room key in my pocket and I’d forgotten my water, which wouldn’t normally be a big deal but I didn’t want to leave my bottle holder from Elephant Nature Park behind! 

I convinced my cab driver to stop on the other side of the road, pulled a Frogger and made my way through six lanes of Bangkok traffic to my hostel.  They were surprised to see me again, we all laughed and I Frogger’d my way back to my taxi, where he told me that I’d almost been hit numerous times.  Whatever, I still made it!

After a perilous start to my journey to the airport, the rest of the trip was very tame, including when I was stuck in an elevator with a bunch of Thais who don’t seem to understand the meaning of “capacity”.

To sum up, I managed to take five modes of public (and semi-public) transport in Bangkok in 24 hours.  The taxi-meter (what we know as regular cabs) was about the same as in North America, only I didn’t feel like I was going to die in this one.  The moto ride I had was about as good as I’d had in Cambodia.  The BTS was fully automated, air-conditioned and extremely efficient like the Sky Train in Vancouver.  The ferry was also very fast and convenient, although I have nothing to compare it to since I’ve never had to use the water taxis in The Peg.

Buses were quite a different story.

To start with, there are air conditioned and non-air conditioned buses that (usually) cost around 15 baht and 8 baht, respectively.  Then, the protocol with which to ride the bus is totally flipped from what I’m used to doing.  What is meant to happen is that you walk onto the bus, sit down and someone holding a giant change tube asks you where you’re going because they charge fare based on how far you’re travelling.  I had no idea about this when I first took the bus so I must’ve looked like a total moron waiting at the front of the bus to pay my fare and not understanding the fare guy.

Anyway, figuring out your fare isn’t even the hardest part.  The tough part is getting off.  You see, they don’t really mark their stops very clearly and they don’t announce them or anything.  You just have to be able to recognize where you want to stop and press a button when you know so the driver stops eventually.  As you can imagine, it’s kind of difficult when it’s your first time in a city.  By some stroke of luck, I guessed right both times I took the bus!  Hooray for having a good memory for landmarks!

All in all, I’ve already decided that I need to come back to Bangkok to experience it fully…and to see that planetarium show!  Despite all the unrest in this city, I didn’t see any of it and it strikes me as a city that really has it’s shit together.  Oh, parental discretion and stuff.

Laa kon, fair Internets,
Meggo

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