I don’t really know what I expected of Bangkok, it is the biggest city in SE Asia and is mixture between a modern megatropolis filled with skyscrapers and shanty towns surrounding well kept gardens and temples.
Modern Bangkok is easy to define, there is a sky train which is very easy to use and cheap, combined with a Metro which again is ultra modern and similar to what is in Beijing. It is modern, clean and ridiculously efficient. Malls are everywhere and they are filled with designer stores all charging prices somewhat lower than the UK. Restaurants range from McDonalds, to KFC to my 2nd favourite steakhouse in the USA – Outback Steakhouse, which might try and be some Australian affair but it is distinctly American. Bangkok literally does pull off the ‘international city’ look really well, so well in fact it is very easy to get comfortable and realise that you actually could quite easily live there. Every Thai we dealt with in Bangkok (except one and the police which will become clear in a later post) were friendly, softly spoken and willing to help wherever they could.
Like everywhere in SE Asia Bangkok has another side to it. And it is one that sadly tarnishes the city, or at least tarnished it for me.
Firstly, Tuk Tuk drivers. I try not to generalise when writing, but let me tell you every single one of them in Bangkok is dodgy. What happens is you ask for a price and you get given a stupid one, usually 4 times what the normal price. You laugh and suddenly you get a more realistic price. Get in the Tuk Tuk and away you go. This is what happens next and it is almost script like it is exactly the same in whatever Tuk Tuk you get – (T = Tuk Tuk)(Y = You)
T – Let me stop somewhere en route
Y – No please go straight to my destination
T – Ok ill take off 50% if you let me stop once
Y – No thank you
T – Please ill charge you only 20 baht, just one stop
Y- No, please go direct to my destination
T – Ok
(Driver then stops at somewhere which is not your destination)
The conversation should end, get out of the Tuk Tuk and walk away. I did this and he actually chased me down and tried charging me, I refused and told him that he hadn’t actually taken me where I wanted to go. He persisted and so I got my phone out to take down his number and he soon disappeared.
Taxis are ok in Bangkok and if you insist they will use the meter, the problem is that Bangkok is essentially a traffic jam and so you get nowhere fast whilst the meter keeps going up and up.
Another problem with Bangkok is the Metro (for all its good), for some bizarre reason it covers only half of the city. The buses have nothing written in English and from my experience seem an absolute nightmare to use unless you have the time to suss them out.
Then there was the Lumpini Muay Thai boxing. The kids and I had really looked forward to watching a couple of Thais knock ten bells out of each other. There are fights every night of the week and Tuesday night is at Lumpini arena. It is run by the Thai Military and there are 8 fights on each card. We turned up at 1830 and went for tickets. There were two queues and so we queued with the locals. Once at the front we were moved to another queue and told the prices were (in Baht)1000/1500/2000 (In GBP 20/30/40) I asked a Thai what his prices were and he told me (in Baht) 100/250/300 (In GBP 2/5/6) So I asked to sit where the Thai people sit, get this, they are the same seats. So basically I was being asked to pay a total of £120 to sit next to a Thai who would have paid £15. I whinged, believe me I did but it was impossible. This government sponsored racket happens daily and it seemed is supported by foreigners, I saw many paying the price and getting in. I refused, I have paid less to stay in the Hilton in Manchester and watch Ricky Hatton! (and that was an awesome night by the way) Muay Thai boxing was off the agenda.
Sadly there has been an incident today which means we are getting out of Bangkok and has tarnished the memory for us. I will update tomorrow what has happened. In the meantime I don’t really have anything else to say about Bangkok other than that it looks like it could be an amazing city, sadly or us it was spoiled and Phuket can’t come soon enough.
The photo is of a little girl still in government issued school uniform begging. Such a sad sight; Right in the centre of modern Bangkok.