Bangkok – Aug 22 2015
Main areas visited: Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho
Sept 2, 2015 4:35PM JST
Edited Sept 3, 2015 11:13AM JST
I arrived at Bangkok (BKK) at 4:55AM on Aug 22 2015. I promised to meet someone from Couchsurfing (CS) for a guided tour and companionship during my approximately 9-12 hour stay in Bangkok before taking the bus and ferry to my destination Koh Tao. Our meeting time was 8AM but changed to 9AM due to her family situation. I slept next to the two sleeping girls hoping that no one would bother me. At around 6:30AM, I woke up to the increasing volume of voices around me. I was surprised that there was a huge number of South Asians. Apparently they were part of the tour and was waiting for rest of the tour members and getting read to depart. It took me awhile but eventually I went back to sleep.
I woke up at around 8AM. The two girls woke up too and left. I was about to take the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) skytrain en route to Prik Thai, which is the last station with a transfer in-between. I did not realize that it took about an hour to get to Khao San Road (Lomprayah Railway Office where I catch the bus and ferry to Koh Tao) so I was about 30 min late, also due to delayed train and waiting for the public bus (most tourists pick taxi or tuktuk), which I had to catch the tax instead since the bus was delayed for more than 30 mins according to a fellow local who has waited for 20 mins before I arrived. I ended up getting there around 9:45AM. The Couchsurfer (CSer) PP said she will be there for 20 mins but she ended up being there aorund 10:15AM. Nothing surprising. It was a Sunday. Lots of traffic and buses would be horrible. However, according to the locals, it is common in BKK for the bus for delay for 30 min to 1 hour.
One unfortunate incident that was horrible during this event was the taxi that I took. I had no knowledge on how much it costs for the taxi and how they treat people. The BKK taxi drivers and tuktuk drivers are the worst, believe me. If you do not know how to deal with it, then go with it. If you know the actual price that the locals pay, then you will be disappointed just like me. There is a ‘meter’ that the taxi driver sets for how much is to be paid for certain distance. However, as a tourist where you do not speak their language, you can be charged 2-2.5 times! For instance, I got charged 200 baht (bht) just for getting from Prik Thai station to Khao San Road, which is only 3.7km. For a local, this is something like 70-80 bht. Even worse, I am the unfortunate one, perhaps, but then it is probably because I am a solo traveller. Other travellers told me that they spent 200 bht getting from the airport to Khao San Road (about 10km), but he was not alone. Travellers that I know of hassle and negotiate price with the taxi drivers frequently.
Sept 3, 2015
I have finally met PP whom I have be in touch on CS for perhaps like a month ago. I have asked people in BKK if they have time and guide me. PP is one of the two who has replied and said she can help me out. The other is a man. I picked her over the other because I felt safer to be alone with a girl in a foreign country that I have never visited. This is something I should recommend to a female traveller if she is travelling solo especially in a unfamiliar country that is prone to theft (many Southeast (SE) Asian countries are like this).
I dropped off my bright orange backpack under a net (it prevents people to steal backpacks and other items) outside Lomprayah office. We ventured to the Grand Palace which was about 15 min away. We were walking very slowly. Within 5-10 min, I was sweating. The weather was very hot, maybe like 31 degree Celsius. According to PP, this day was not one of the hottest days.
I was surprised at how immense the Grand Palace was – 218,400 sq m^2! I paid 500 bht to get into the Grand Palace because I am a foreigner. It is free for Thai. 500 bht was also a bit too much compared to other cultural structures/temples that I will mention later, in which some of there were free and others were 50-100 bht. There was a vast number of tourists waiting to get in and touring the Palace. Majority of the tourists were Asian, I would say. Caucasians were mostly from Europe.
PP visited the Palace every month with her family or friends. July was the peak season according to her, whereas the end of August was nothing compared to July. The Grand Palace was huge with many structures with authentic Thai cultural and historical design. I thought it was one of the amazing places I have ever visited when I first reached the gate.
It was great. I took loads of photos and asked to be taken many times as I am a very picky photo person. So many people just could not take the right photos and I do get frustrated. I am used to it but I cannot resist it. So I insist others to take the picture at the right posture. However, since the weather was too hot for me and I do not like hot, we rested quite often at rest areas. She was hot too but she could resist it. I absolutely could not. Therefore, due to hotness and ‘too many’ similar buildings in such large area, I practically got impatient and hoped to tour the Palace as quickly as possible and get out and go to a cooler place. However, I had to go to bathroom very badly. PP thought there was no bathroom inside the Palace; it was outside the Palace. We later found out that there was, in fact, bathroom inside. I ran to the bathroom. I later learned that there were very few public bathrooms in BKK. One has to go to temples or go to public buildings such as hospitals and university campuses for bathroom. Unlike most countries, there were no bathrooms in convenience stores like Seven Eleven or even fast food places/coffee shops like MacDonald’s and Starbucks!
Sept 9, 2015 11:29AM JST
Fortunately, the entrance to the bathroom had air conditioner so I had little time cooling off. PP was outside waiting for me and we hurried off getting through the Palace and exited. PP, however, had to say goodbye because of her Mother at hospital (she was on the phone frequently while I was touring and she was waiting).
After we said goodbye, I went to the marketplace outside the Pier (the view of Pier was blocked and could not be seen due to the overwhelming market stalls) which PP had introduced me to. Fortunately, the pier was only about 5 minutes away – by walking across not-so-busy tourist flowing street from the Palace.
As I needed break from the hot at a table, I was met by a young Chinese fellow traveller. We started talking and I was surprised to hear that he is born and grown up in South Africa. I did not know that there were even Chinese or Asians from South Africa – I realistically thought there were no Asians in South Africa. It was probably just a biased perspection I had on South Africa. When we talked about our journey, I mentioned about going to Koh Tao for scuba diving. He said he had PADI Open Water certification and showed me Driving License (I do not remember why he showed me). I noted that his last name was English ‘Kingston’ and I secretly thought that was crazy – I have never hard of a pure Chinese person having absolute English surname. He mentioned that he was travelling with a fellow Chinese friend from Hong Kong but went to University of Cape Town whom Kingston has met in South Africa. They were university buddies.
After we departed, I went to the pier through the stalls. There were so many different colorful exotic fruits and food that I wanted to try and eat all of them! I determined that I should try them once I have finished business with the pier tour.
I spent 1300 baht on 2-hour boat tour that includes 2 30-min stops at Fisherman Marketplace and Wat Arun (both of these places can be visited by land). There was a 900 baht 1-hour boat tour with no stops. Oh well, I have thought, I live only once and who knows when I will come back again, so I chose the most expensive and longest tour. 1300 baht ($36 USD) is considered expensive in the Bangkok/Thailand standard. At that time, it was nothing to me. I had to see as many places as I can while I am travelling.
Sept 9, 2015 16:35 JST…jotting with lots of gap in-between
The boat tour was going out of the tier and around by boating via Fisherman Marketplace and Wat Arun. The traditional looking boat itself was manually engine powered. I hid my DSLR into my bag despite that the boat driver said it was safe to use the DSLR and I saw another European traveller using DSLR on the boat. I used my waterproof camera instead. I took lots of photos especially on Thai traditional houses with protection from high water rise and smaller not-so-touristy temples/religious sites.
As seen above, Wat Arun, unfortunately, was under construction. Wat Arun is a wonderful site to see during the night when all the lights are lit up according to many websites. I did not go to BKK to sightsee, rather I had to catch the bus to my true destination. So, this time, I did not have the opportunity to view Wat Pho during night time. Wat Arun, on the other hand, is not very close to my bus station.
Although Wat Arun was under construction, nonetheless, I have paid a small fee and ventured into the site. (Strangely enough, I had to pay extra for boat taxi parking myself.) The tall structures themselves had very elaborated complex design. Without the construction materials and ‘Do Not Pass’ signs, there is no doubt that the visitor can fulfill complete enjoyment.
After the tour at around 4:30 pm, again, I relaxed at the same table before the tour started. I bought dragonfruit juice for 20 baht at one of the stalls. I have accidentally spilled the juice but managed to save some. I was not sure if it was natural or not, but it was very purple. The taste was not bad; I really liked it. I saw a seller squeezing pomegranate by using a ‘real’ squeezer with lever. I did not buy the pomegranate juice but it was 50 baht.
After finishing the dragonfruit juice and stayed there while, some Chinese woman spilled her orange juice in front of me and some of it has gotten onto my camera bag. She saw it and just walked off! Fortunately, my camera was in my bag and the juice did not reach into my bag and onto my clothes although a little did touch my jacket. I was not in a mood of being angry but I did finally realize that true Chinese people from China can be nasty. I did not feel quite the same way in Canada where I have lived with many Chinese people but that is probably because the Chinese in Canada are already quite westernized.
I walked around and around without knowing where to go. I looked for Chinatown on the map. It was far away, at least 10km. I walked towards the direction since I saw a couple of Caucasians coming from that way. I assumed there was something in that direction. For about 15 mins, I reached a park where I could see Wat Arun from the other side. I took some pictures and moved on. I learned that Wat Pho, another tourist attraction, was right across me. It was around 5:30pm when I got there and I thought it was too late. I overheard two Japanese people talking about going to Wat Pho last minute. I followed them and discovered that I still had an hour left to explore before the gate closes at 6:30pm. For the first time since I have spent time at the Grand Palace, I was happy that I actually had something to do until the time I had to be at my bus station at 7:30pm.
The fee was not as expensive as the Grand Palace. The cost was, in fact, only 100 baht, which was 5 times the Palace. I learned that the Grand Palace was not the place to go again when I am in Bangkok as the Palace was ultimately the most pricey place to go. I even thought that Wat Pho was more beautiful than the Palace in the sense that Wat Pho had more diversity and there were more objects than structures only. Wat Pho even had a huge ‘relaxing’ golden ‘Goddess Buddha’.
I have met a girl around my same age travelling from Laos and two travelling German men talking to two monks covered with orange clothes at the centre of Wat Pho. They have met at the club the day prior. They have beent travelling together on this day. We talked a bit and took some pictures together. The girl was friendly and outgoing – she took photos with other strangers too. One of the German men was fixing English of the monks and the other was listening. The Laos girl eventually found a local to talk to and we, together, took Tuktuk to a very nice Thai restaurant Simply Delicious – I think that was it was called (according to the new person) in the direction of my bus station. Apparently, the languages Lao and Thai were very similar and they could understand each other.
Unfortunately, the time was very limited and it was about 6:45pm when we got to the prestigious restaurant area. I wandered and saw how the place looked like. The place was located next to the river. I took some photos and I took the Tuktuk with the woman. She was very friendly. She even paid the Tuktuk fee for me! She took me to the bus station and had to say goodbye…
Sept 11, 2015
When I got to the Lomprayah Railway Station at around 7:30pm which was barely on time of which the office people told me to get there by, there were many young travellers waiting to obtain the tickets. Most of them Caucasians with very little from Asia (I overheard Chinese and Japanese among them) and they were probably around my time and even younger, mostly under 30. I was not very surprised to see so many but somewhat surprised at some time. There were many more backpacks stored along with my backpack (There were only two or three backpacks before me when I put my backpack there). I lined up in the line that was long but it only seemed that way, but in reality, the wait to get the ticket was not so bad. I had my printed out ticket in the backpack in the mass of other backpacks so I ended up using my online ticket. That worked fine. They gave me the ticket and destination and bus seat stickers (I was Koh Tao blue #7) to be sticked on my shirt and told me to go to the place where people ride the bus and wait there until 9pm, which was the official time when the buses set out.
I got confused a little at bus waiting location. Fortunately, there were guides who led us to the open area which was in the middle of the traffic. I had to cross the busy traffic with caution. While finding a spot to sit and wait, I got sick due to the ‘exotic’ smell. It was central area for tourists and food. I had to cross the street again and went to street with less people and had to stay there until I felt better (I already threw up small amount before going there). I felt nausea and felt that I wanted to vomit but I did not. It was something that felt like dehydration. Once I got my pulse at the bus station which I asked the closest traveller to look after (whom I trust since they are not locals), I ran to the Seven Eleven, which was right across the waiting spot. I quickly bought one 500mL water bottle and two 1L water bottle (they only had 1L as the maximum, not 2L ones) and some snacks (Japanese since I did not trust Thailand food so much)…and ran back to my belongings. Because the place where I had to stay where I was sick was visible from my belongings, closest people know I was not feeling well. They asked if I were okay – they and other travellers were very friendly.
I talked to couple of fellow travellers while we were all waiting for the bus. I did not talk to many since I still had to cool down. I noticed that there were four different colours for the stickers on people’s shirts. They were blue (me), yellow, red, and green, which meant that there were four buses going to the same destination, Chumphon, to set off for the ferries. Majority of them were destined for Koh Tao just like me, while others included Koh Phangyan, Koh Samui, and others. Most of them, again, just like me, were going to the islands for scuba diving purposes, while others went for snorkeling.
While waiting with other fellow travellers and it was round 8:20pm I believe, there were several youngsters with motorbikes and one had skateboard coming into our gathering. They minded their own business. One of them went to the fruit man-shop near our place and bought some fruits. We minded our businesses. I was little afraid that they might be thieves. So I have tucked along with my gatherings and I was very cautious.
At around 8:45pm, people with certain colour were called off to board the bus. I (blue) was the third and last along with another colour (I don’t remember which). Right before passing my backpack to the driver to store under the bus, I panicked that I might have lost my waterproof camera’s lens cover. I told the driver and I ran off to the original waiting spot. I looked all around and there was none. I thought I probably lost it and gave up. I ended being called upon by one of the youngsters with the bike. He said he has found the Lomprayah ticket and asked if it was mine. I did not know but I took it anyway. I later realized my ticket was in my pocket so that ticket was someone else’s. I also found out that the camera lens was in fact safely stored in my camera bag.
The bus left around 9:15pm. My seat was at the top of the two-storey bus beside a fellow Japanese vacationer. I talked in English first asking where the bathroom on the bus was but he said his English was not good (I mean…it was a very simple question…)…anyway, I switched back to Japanese and we talked in Japanese for little until we were tired and went to sleep. He said that he was going to Koh Tao for scuba diving and it was not his first time. He was booked with a dive shop with Japanese diving instructor. Like me, he did not have many days off work, I think he said he was only there for four days…
Sept 15, 2015 11:22AM JST
I was very tired indeed, from touring the whole day in Bangkok under hot weather to not sleeping too well at the airport. Like everyone else on the bus, I quickly fell asleep.
I felt very happy about leaving Bangkok and I was very excited to go scuba diving as scuba diving was one of my dreams. If I do not go scuba diving when I am young, it may be too late.