Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bangkok - the good, the bad and the ugly

Let me just start by saying that Bangkok is a whirlwind of a city. It has as many taxis as Manhattan, but only a small fraction of the traffic lights. The streets are filled with what seems like thousands of food vendors. You can eat well and cheap for weeks without ever having to set foot in a restaurant. Also, no matter what you're in the market for, you can get it in Bangkok, and pretty much at any time. You can find anything from souvenir t-shirts to fake college degrees, iPod chargers to Valium. In many ways, it is a backpackers delight, and amidst all the chaos, there is history and culture to be honored and explored in many of the beautiful sights. However, there is an unfortunate side of Bangkok I feel compelled to write about, so that if you visit (and you should), you can be prepared. I have traveled many cities across the globe and have never encountered the scams I have encountered here...unfortunately almost everyone around (not just you) is trying to get the most out of your stay. So if traveling in Bangkok, keep your wits about you, and if people are offering you unsolicited advice about any of the sights or "promotions" that Bangkok has to offer, do not listen to them. Fortunately, we are New Yorkers, so being slightly rude comes almost naturally to us with people who are trying to rip us off. What can I say? It's a gift. Let me explain why this is necessary....

Scam #1 - "So sad, but your sight is closed." Not true!

Often times when you take a tuk tuk to a sight, like the Grand Palace, the driver will drop you off at one of the many doorways, but there is only 1 true entrance to the sight. Not so bad, you just have to walk to it, but standing on the perimeters of the sights are lots (and yes I mean lots) of English speaking Thai men who are just waiting to approach tourists. In the nicest way possible, they tell you they work there and that the sight you want to visit is sadly, temporarily closed due to a Buddhist holiday. Then they usually ask to see your map and try to convince you to visit a different sight via a nearby tuk tuk and then return. If you decide to go, it seems like their tuk tuk ends up taking you to a mall or clothing shop somewhere in the middle of Bangkok, where they will earn a commission if you shop. This scam seems more like a waste of time than money since they are trying to get you in a tuk tuk for around 30B (which is only a dollar). Still though, very annoying! Yesterday, when we visited the Grand Palace, we were approached at least 3 times with the same story while walking around the gates, and it got old very fast.

Scam #2 - "Today is the last day for foreigners to enjoy the Thai promotion for buying Thai stones, gems and jewelry." Not true!

In our two days in Bangkok, we were also approached dozens of times by seemingly nice English speaking Thai men who tried to convince us to go to some place where we could buy inexpensive Thai stones and gems. They claimed it was the last day of the promotion for tourists to be able to do so. It appears that the stones and gems they sell are not worth the value they claim, and that many tourists get ripped off. Even your tuk tuk driver may tell you this tale, and you have to firmly decline and insist on NOT going. Also a waste a time, and could be a waste of substantial money. Again, disheartening.

Scam #3 - "10 Baht and we make 1 stop." True, but don't do it!

When you are negotiating a tuk tuk ride, you will find that the fares they ask for range from very cheap to very expensive. If the fare is too cheap (say around 10B), it is their agenda to take you someplace else before they bring you to your real destination (if they even bring you there at all). Again, I think this is related to the shopping thing where they make a commission if you shop in one of their stores. Here is what helped us: As soon as we arrived at our hotel, we asked the front desk what types of fares were fair for a tuk tuk, and knowing that information greatly improved our negotiating skills. Also, whenever we got in a tuk tuk, we were sure to say, "No stops!" so they knew right away we weren't interested in doing any shopping.

Luckily, we had read about all of these scams before arriving in Bangkok, so we were prepared, but the high frequency in which we and other travelers encountered them is what we found most alarming. Not to mention, I'm sure there are even more things to be wary of in Bangkok, but these are just the ones we and fellow travelers encountered in our short stay.

With all of this said, Bangkok is not a city to be avoided, and is definitely worth a short stay. Even though the city proved to have some undesirable traits, it was exactly as we expected, and within all the chaos we were still able to appreciate much of the beauty it has to offer. We spent our 2nd day there visiting the famous Grand Palace and Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha) before taking the sleeper train up north to Chiang Mai. Both sights were absolutely amazing, and each managed to bring some much needed peace and tranquility to the mayhem that is Bangkok.

First stop, Wat Pho - Temple of the Reclining Buddha:

Our visit to the Grand Palace:

Words cannot express how soothing the sight of a monk can be. I get crazy excited every time I see one. I am always mesmerized by their vibrantly colored safron robes and peaceful nature. These next few shots I just couldn't resist...

Location: Bangkok


Anonymous said...

Love your commentary and pictures. Really good hints that are useful for any city. Feel like we had the same issues in Rome. Your pictures did show how peaceful the temple was. Keep it up great blog

naturally nina said...

Wow I am so jealous. Your pictures are amazing.

Debby W. said...

I never take tuk tuks. They seem to be entirely for tourists at this point, so you're pretty much asking to be scammed (or attempted scammed).