The options for travel to Bangkok from Siem Reap were many. We looked at planes, trains, buses and cars. Funny enough, the best solution for a family of five was flying. It took away some headaches of multiple transfers and it got us to our destination the fastest.
Travelling from a hotel to the airport is a big deal when you are a big family. For example, in Ottawa, to ask for a cab to the airport for five requires an extra $15 which is absurd. We avoid it every chance we get so imagine our chagrin in Siem Reap at the Le Meridien when they slipped in a $19USD car to the airport. Ooh it burns, when we should have crossed the street and tried to find a guy with a private car. There is always a guy with a private car in South-east Asia. We waited in the lounge at the airport and had to buy lunch. We knew we would pay airport prices. Burger King was a request by someone who likes burgers. Not only was it pricey, the burgers were definitely not the same size that we get in North America. Burn number 2.
We arrived in Bangkok without incident. Read about immigration and the crazy taxi rules (here).
Bangkok by day and by night
We stayed our first couple of nights in the Holiday Inn Express Siam. The Hotel is clean, with friendly staff, on site laundry services and includes breakfast. What more do you need?
The first morning I went for a run and noticed the monks walking the streets gathering food from the locals in exchange for prayers. I think this is a great way to connect religion to the people. We’ll be heading to Rome in a few weeks and the opulence of the Roman Catholics will be a stark contrast. It was a great run as I think I finally aclimatized to the hot weather, dodging crap on the sidewalk and holding my nose at the right time.
As a result of all the running and walking I had to replace my running shoes. I tossed the mud (and brown stuff) encrusted old shoes. My shiny new shoes are from the Bata shoe store (which was once headquartered in Toronto). My shoes, designed in CANADA, are made in China.
The King is Dead. Long Live the King.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away in October 2016 after a 70-year reign. After mourning for a year he will be cremated in a elaborate ceremony. As a result the Palace was closed to foreigners for the month as work crews built elaborate funeral pyres for the cremation.
We decided for our second day that we would take the skytrain to the palace. How hard can it be? We walked to the skytrain, got some semi-okay help from the ticket guy and boarded the train. It turns out the map only shows major stops so we needed to be patient and listen attentively to the names being read as we prepared to get out. Our plan, based on the ticket guy, was to get out at Sathorn/Saphan Taksin and take a water taxi to the Palace. We knew the palace was closed to visitors so we would just walk around the outside.
The Tuk-tuk Scam
As soon as we were on the street a nice man stopped us as we looked, well we looked like tourists. He made small talk, “I have a cousin in Toronto. Canada is cold. You should visit the south of Thailand where I am from. Oh! You should see these sites. I have pictures because I am showing my friend around next week.” He then said, you know it’s not very far you should take a tuk-tuk. Today, being Saturday, the ones with a yellow plate have a special fare set by the Government. They will tour you around for 30baht ($1.14CAD). Colleen was skeptical but we agreed. He was taking us to a Wat that was not well known and had a reclining buddha. We weren’t sure if this was The Reclining Buddha or what. We arrived. Paid the Tuk-tuk driver his 30baht and he said, no I wait for you and you pay me later. No thanks. We’ll walk. The Wat was empty accept for a couple of people. We went into the building with the reclining buddha. It was impressive but not. Colleen and the kids didn’t stay long because the incense was a bit strong.
Is this a scam or not?
A couple of guys who look Indian were taking pictures and I thought they were hamming it up. But one stayed behind and he became very serious and prayed to the Buddha and said a prayer. A guy, presumably the caretaker, asked me where I was from. Canada. Oh. I’ve been to Vancouver. My cousin is a monk in Alaska. hhmmm.. I know monks can be anywhere but a Thai in Alaska? He was very friendly and gave me some advice – you should get the tuk-tuk driver to take you to the silk shop. It is only open one day and this is it. He seemed sincere, although he was on his cell phone at the same time. I lied to him that we would consider it knowing that we were going to be walking. Our former tuk-tuk driver pulled up as we left the temple.’You wanna ride?’,’How much?’,’20baht’,’No thanks, we’ll walk’. The scam is twofold: add baht to each leg of the ride and bring you to a place to buy something like silk using high pressure tactics. We avoided both scenarios.
If you do want to go to a quiet temple in Bangkok and see a reclining buddha it is according to Eric Lim, “Wat Mahapruettharam (ma-ha-pruet-tha-ram) which is an old temple and there are no records as to when it was actually built.”
Ben and the Monk
We carried on walking through China Town and we visited the Holy Rosary Church, an old Catholic Church on the water. We ended up at a temple, Wat Pathum Khongkha Ratchaworawihan. It doubles as a parking lot on the outside which made us a little wary. Upon entering the temple walls were lined with Buddhas sitting on top of the cupboards which were urn vaults for cremated remains. A wizened old monk came out and smiled. He took a shine to Ben, rubbed his belly, and wanted us to see the inner sanctuary with all the Buddhas. We didn’t feel right taking a photo in this sacred place. We left after a period of reflection and the monk wanted a photo with Ben. Ben had properly taken his hat off in the temple and the monk put it on his head so it is a bit askew.
Leaving the temples behind we walked to China town and had lunch in a stall. A lady from another table helped us with the ordering. The food was awesome and only 195Baht ($7.65CAD) for all of us.
Changing Hotels and new perspectives
We moved to a new hotel for the benefits of maximizing weekend points. The Aloft Hotel is a chic urbanite hotel on Sukhumvit 11. It is a great place, with a pool, and an awesome breakfast buffet spread. The street was full of hotels so we saw more westerners in our time here than all of our travels in Asia. Mainly men with Thai girlfriends, hey what the..? It was also close to the canal so we could take a water taxi to the downtown area as Skytrain was a bit pricey (65Baht instead of 200Baht for all of us). The ride is great although you have to make sure the plastic is up at the right place or you might get splashed.
The scam continues
Once we got off the boat a man, who saw us as tourists, gave helpful information on directions, and then began to press the use of the yellow Tuk-tuk. It all sounded reasonable but we were walking. The same approach happened two more times, all very slick. They operate in two or three person teams. The guy (or gal) who speaks English and has opening words that includes something about our home country. Followed by the driver (or another person who confirms the first guy and then the driver).
The second last person was pretty elaborate and drew on my map and gave a list of places to go in Thai. The second place just happens to be a textile shop which isn’t what he told me verbally. He also told me the Happy Buddha is only open today and you need to see it. There is no Happy Buddha!
We went to the Standing Buddha which was free to visit. People were paying money to put gold leaf squares on the Buddha and also on statues in the sanctuary area. We just took pictures.
The Marble Temple
Off to see the Palace that is not open
Many people will tell you the palace and Wat Pho (the Temple with the famous Reclining Buddha) is not open. They are partially correct, but they are trying to divert you to use a Tuk-tuk or visit a store that will sell you something. The palace is closed but the Wat is open and only through sheer willpower did we make it there and it was worth it!
Dinner at the Deck
We finished with Wat Pho and met a couple of Americans from Texas who were visiting a friend in Hanoi. We asked for dinner ideas and the guy who was living in Hanoi looked a bit sheepish and said in a low voice, I think we are going to place that isn’t suitable for kids, “cabbages and condoms“. Good call we went to the Deck. It was close with a great view of the River and also the Temple of the Dawn. The food was good but pricey.
We stayed at the Aloft until we hired a private car to take us to Ayutthaya. Look for an upcoming post by Ben on hamburgers including why we stayed close to the Aloft on our return to Bangkok ….