Sunday, 11 June 2017

Thailand Diaries - 25th May - Quite the tour of Bangkok


When visiting Bangkok, be careful, and do your research. Today's post is a big one, I'm afraid! Maybe put the kettle on.





After staring across the river at the Wat Arun temple all morning, we decided to spend the day sightseeing! Thailand's predominant religion is Buddhism, and there are countless temples around Bangkok, as well as the Grand Palace. We know that their king has recently died, and that the country is in a year of mourning. You can't drive down a street for 2 minutes without seeing a large, ornate framed photograph of him! With this in mind, I've had a mare deciding what to wear to the temples, as it needs to be completely respectable. In the end, Jack went with a black shirt and trousers, and I with long navy trousers and a white T-shirt. Not the best, at all, but in an effort to avoid heat stroke I didn't pack any long sleeved tops.

10AM

Breakfast. My little Thailand book notes that the Thais have fully taken up croissants, and they do seem to be everywhere. I'm always interested to see what's served for breakfast in different countries - here the local option is pork and rice or chicken and rice - which surprises me because that sounds like lunch, too.

The Arun hotel is so scenic. Overlooking the river while nibbling on scrambled eggs, watching the lizard stroll around in the sun on the decking, we feel extremely tranquil and fancy. 

11:30

After a quick google, we found that the Grand Palace and Wat Pho Temple (of the reclining Buddha) were only a 10 minute walk down the road! I passed it off to Jack that I knew all this and that my hotel planning was expert. 

Once on the street, we were immediately hit with the hustle and bustle of old town Bangkok. Street food carts lining the pavement, shops selling everything from scarfs, to bottled water, to herbs and mangos. We picked up two water bottles, already thirsty, and a scarf to cover my arms and shoulders.

Trying to withstand the temptation to use our mobile data (£4.99 a day!) we looked around for signs to the Grand Palace entrance - bizarrely, there didn't seem to be any. I've only really been to European countries before, who more often than not have English translations under most important signage, but this wasn't something I expected in Thailand, the over side of the world. That being said, it's probably the biggest tourist attraction there is and there didn't seem to be any indication of how to get in.

Probably seeing us staring at a big wall, a local asked us where we were from and where we were going. He got out a map and pointed directions to how to get in, but advised that we go after lunch as Thai mourners have priority in the morning. He asked us where else we planned to visit, and we reeled off a number of places and he suggested a few more, asking the nearest tuk tuk driver to take us there and got us a thai price - 80B.


First stop - 'Black Buddha'. There are hundreds of little temples dotted around the city, and I knew this one wasn't anything special (compared), but we were killing time, and it was a pretty place. Jack asked why the statue wasn't black, and the uniformed guard at the entrance said the monks had painted it gold. 

Two english tourists walked in, taking photos. We got talking and asked them what else they were doing. They said they were leaving for Chiang Mai later today to visit the elephant sanctuary - and we said we were interested in doing that too. The guard suggested we go to a travel agents who would be able to give us advice. Jack and the guard got talking, and after the usual "you look like James Bond" complements (which his ego really doesn't need more of! Gosh.) Jack said he also wanted to find a tailors to have some suits made, as he's so tall most clothes are baggy or short. So the travel agents and tailors were added to the top of the list and off we went in the tuk tuk.


We arrived at a nicely air conditioned tailor shop and spent over an hour deciding on fabrics and cuts. Jack's friend had been to Vietnam and managed to get some nice quality tailored suits for under £100 each, but these guys were trying to get him to pay very much UK prices. By this point we knew, as English tourists, we had to work really hard to get anything for the correct price, but he did a bloody good job and more than halved what they first asked, and ordered two 3 pieces, 3 shirts and two ties, with a fitting tomorrow.


Next stop: Travel Agents. We arrived and were greeted by a very friendly and knowledgable lady, who discussed our plans for the holiday. Jack and I had a general idea of the route we wanted as I'd been talking to a lot of people who had travelled through the country. We planned out how much we could do in two weeks, deciding to spend 4 days in Bangkok, leave on the 27th, 3 days in Chiang Mai, 3 days in Ko Samui (Phuket would be very stormy) and then back to Bangkok for a day before our flight. Then we moved on to discussing what to do in each location and where to stay.

We booked a 2nd class overnight train to Chiang Mai (as I had been advised), a temple tour for the 28th, a day trip to see elephants (where riding was definitely not supported) and then our tickets to Ko Samui island and back, where we could make our own plans.

Amazingly, our package accounted for all travel, including a taxi from train stations/airports to our hotels. Every ticket and leaflet had been organised into 5 envelopes, for each leg of the journey. EVERYTHING had been planned and taken care of, so we could lead a non stressful holiday from now on. 

As my travel card STILL hadn't activated I had to use my debit card - which annoyed me, as the whole point of the travel card was safety and not having to do this.

4PM

By this point, we had taken up a lot of the tuk tuk's time, and felt bad about it. The Grand Palace had closed by now and The Golden Mount would in an hour, so we asked to be taken to Wat Pho which closed at 6PM. 

I began to feel a bit uneasy at this point. We started this journey at 11:30, aiming to be back by 1PM, and we hadn't yet seen any real sights on our sightseeing day. Just a tiny backstreet temple that I knew was a wind up, and two shops where we'd paid over a grand between us. Right.

The driver, pulling into a dock said he was hungry and we could get a longboat to Wat Pho because it would be quicker. I was annoyed by this as it was quite abrupt, but paid and tipped him for taking us around for much longer than we had agreed on.

The longboat owners, ushering a group of Chinese tourists into a boat, were trying to speed us along too, but I was reluctant to pay as I was suspicious and worried. Jack was saying we were killing two birds with one stone, having a trip on the river and getting to the temple, and the lady was getting angry saying the boat was about to leave. Before I knew it, £60 worth of Bhat was out of my hands and we were walking down the pier towards the boats for a one hour trip.

We were given a separate boat, on our own, and off we sailed. I was not happy about this at all, it felt scary. There's safety in numbers and the day's events were racing through my mind. I tell Jack what I'm thinking. He starts laughing incredulously. "Oh shit"


So, here we are on this random fucking boat, heading I don't know where. I'm trying not to breathe too fast incase I do actually have a panic attack. I can't call my bank over the noise of the engine, so we're going to have to wait it out. What if they take us somewhere else?! I literally think we're going to be mugged. Would they extra mug us? I can't believe we've been so stupid. 

Jack is holding my hand and pointing at the view, saying we may as well enjoy the boat trip now we're here. He is the perfect counter balance to my neurotic self, but it's not really working this time. As we approach a bridge, the driver goes "oh no". Now what? "The gate is closed, I'll take you another route for half an hour then come back". I turn around and quite clearly say that we want to get off, and for him to take us back, but he suddenly appears not to understand English. Great. Breathe, breathe, breeeeathe..

10 minutes later, or so, he drops us at the Wat Arun (opposite our hotel) - the opposite side that we wanted, and speeds off, saying there is a ferry to take us across. Seriously?! More money?! At least we're off. 

We go over to the dock and it's only 20B each to cross, thank goodness. Jack is still very calm, but I feel as though I have aged into my mother. We park up right next to the hotel and get inside.

5PM

I call my bank the second we're inside the room, but to no avail. They say that as the transaction is already pending, I need to contact the receiver and ask them to cancel it. I wonder whether I should have lied and said my card was stolen, or whether that's too illegal.

Just looked and 'travel or accommodation not booked within the UK' is the first thing listed as uncovered in our travel insurance. Great.

Neither the phone number on the back of the travel envelope works, nor Jack's contact for the tailor's. The email addresses are @hotmail so I'm pretty sure that's a dead end. Oh NO.

I start opening the envelopes, googling the companies we're booked with. When the website listed for the elephant sanctuary doesn't exist, I shove everything in my suitcase and moan. 



8PM

We have decided to be calm. We don't know it's scam - it just looks a lot like one. We don't know how to locate the travel agents as their name differs across documents, but the tailor card Jack has does include a map, which hopefully HOPEFULLY directs the next driver to the same place. But that is tomorrow's problem. We can't let this experience ruin the trip. I came with a budget I was happy to spend. Today we may or may not have blown 1/3 of it, but Thailand can be a very cheap place if you stick to Trip Advisor. We might have spent 1/3 on being scammed. It's an experience. Right?


11PM

As there was nothing we could do until tomorrow, we set off for the backpacker must see that is Koh San road. It was pretty crazy, packed with tourists dancing on the street outside clubs, food carts selling scorpions on a stick, and shifty men shoving signs saying "happy gas" "pussy" and "monkey blowjob" in Jack's face... Bloody hell.

Jack had been eager to get a scorpion on a stick, but after seeing them, I'm pretty relieved he decided against it! :')

12AM

I've found the Facebook page of the travel agent, and they have 17 reviews, one in English, so I stalked her page. I'm very paranoid at this point, so I'm looking for every sign that she's a fake account, but things seem to be in order. I message her, asking her if she can verify her review and tell me a little bit about her experience. She's Australian, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow for her to reply, if she does. 


We're glad this happened on the first day. Either it wasn't a scam and we have the rest of our holiday planned out, or it was a scam and we'll have learned a valuable lesson from the experience, not to be caught out again. We'll know by tomorrow...


Hi, it's Polly from the future! So, after this I bloody hope you have your wits about you if you decide to visit Bangkok! Believe it or not, I read a lot about scams in Thailand before the holiday, and still got roped into this fiasco. We were too trusting. Really, what kind of local happens to have a photocopy of a map of the area with him?! Most Thai people don't even speak much English - but the scammers are very fluent! After getting back to the hotel that day we read all about this, and how many variations of the "The temple is closed today" scam there are. Don't listen. Make your own way, and do your own backup research before accepting.
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3 comments

  1. it looks like you are having an amazing time!! the photos look amazing xx

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  3. This country has a rich culture and its history is something that you need to know first before you move there to spend your holiday.
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