One night in Bangkok was almost too much
Culture / January 24, 2011
By Matthew Bossons [travel bureau chief]
My initial dislike of Bangkok started quickly after my flight from Seoul, South Korea. I had just arrived in Thailand for my first time, and was obviously very excited. I had the luck of running into a couple of other Canadians, both from Calgary, on my flight. We all cleared customs together, found our bags and exited the airport looking for a taxi to the downtown area.
It was very crowded infront of the airport as about six planes landed at the same time, meaning there was a substantial back-log of people trying to find a ride–and the taxi drivers were charging accordingly.
After trying to find a reasonably priced ride with no success, the three of us decided to sit in the pub outside the airport and wait an hour for the rush to calm down. We agreed that beer was good, since we were all wide awake at 12:30 a.m..
On our way to the bar we were ambushed by a small, skinny Thai man. He promised us a reasonably priced ride to Khao San Road, and a beer on the way into town. We initially turned down his offer, something didn’t seem right about this character; but after a few minutes of persuasion, we reluctantly found ourselves crammed into a small taxi headed for downtown Bangkok.
In retrospect it was a terrible idea to get into that cab, but what can you do? Every decision appears simpler and more obvious in retrospect.
The cabbie dropped my Calgarian friends off at their accommodation, which was roughly a block from Khao San Road, and proceeded to drive me half-way across the city to an expensive and remote hotel.
I had never been to Bangkok before, and I had no idea where I was going, and was taken advantage of by a shameless, skinny cab driver. The whole drive he assured me I was going to the nicest, cheapest and cleanest guest house on Khao San Road, but little did I know was going to be pressured into staying at a mediocre hotel for a ridiculous price over a half hour drive from Khao San.
What really got to me was the fact that I was supposed to meet my friends at a bar on Khao San for drinks, but the half-hour drive to them was unrealistic, and I knew I couldn’t make it back before the bars closed.
So instead I laid in bed, furious at the cab driver and his misleading pitch to take me to a cheap guesthouse nearby. I drank a few beers from the mini-fridge in my room and chain smoked a half-pack of cigarettes before I finally fell asleep, vowing to leave Bangkok come sunrise. And I did.
The next morning I left Bangkok and travelled south, then north, then further north, and then, as my trip was drawing to a close, I realized I would have to head back to Bangkok to catch my flight home.
I decided to head back to Bangkok a few days before my flight, just in case something happened and my bus trip from Chiang Rai took longer than predicted. This meant I would be spending two days in a city I absolutely despised, I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Upon arrival, I checked into a cheap, three story guesthouse on Khao San Road. It was decent looking from the street and had a bar and internet cafe on the ground floor, so I figured it would be okay for my short stay. Unfortunately, like all my other experiences in Bangkok, this simple decision lead to another unwanted experience: bed bugs.
Now I realize bed bugs are prevalent all over Asia, as well as countless other regions of the world, but it was simply the icing on the cake to a troubling list of bad experiences in Bangkok. Surprisingly this was also my first run-in with bedbugs during my trip, something that amazed other travellers.
That all said, I will admit Bangkok can be a fun place to burn a day or two if you have the right attitude, which I didn’t at first. There are lots of Buddhist temples to check out and explore. For example, the Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok, is home to a 46-metre long Buddha.
The city is also home to MBK, an 8-story shopping centre popular with both tourists and locals alike. The mall is a good place to pick up a knock-off Rolex or a pair of fake Nike running shoes for a reasonable price. If you find the mall to expensive there is an endless supply of street markets all over the city, even one floating on water, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. There you’ll find a variety of fake goods, cheap souvenirs, art work, and food at shoestring prices.
On top of fantastic temples, malls and markets, Bangkok has lots of great establishments to grab a beer on a hot and humid day. If you find yourself on Khao San Road I highly recommend checking out Mulligans, an Irish Pub, with fantastic staff and great happy hour specials. I also met tons of other nice and interesting travellers at Mulligans, which leads me to recommend it as a great place to meet other backpackers.
The pub is also a stone’s throw away from a large concentration of street vendors selling cheap, tasty, Thai cuisine.
If you can get past the rampant prostitution, pushy street vendors, strange smells, lack of garbage bins and persistent suit tailors – you may actually find something enjoyable about the hub of Southeast Asia, it took a little patience but I know I did.