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Published: August 14th 2009
After almost six months of hard work in South Korea, first semester and a month of English camps/English conversation classes, we had finally earned our 10 days of vacation. Sadly though, because of swine flu, we had to be back in South Korea 7-10 days before the start of school or else we could not go to school which = bad in the eyes of our schools. Actually, when we first heard about this we thought that it only applied to foreign teachers, and needless to say we were quite irate. But later we discovered that this is true for all teachers and social workers in Korea and even true for students. If the person is not back in the country 7 days before the start of school they are not allowed to go until 7 days has passed. This is because it can take up to 7 days for the symptoms of swine flu to show. So, by the time I finished conversation classes at my school (Aug 7) and given that we had to be back 7 days before school (Aug 13), we didn't have a whole lot of time to work with.
We flew out on the
8th and got into Bangkok just after midnight. We literally traveled all day. We left the apartment at 8am and took the city bus to the subway station, took the subway to the cross country bus station, got on an express bus and rode it for just under four hours to Incheon Int'l Airport. We actually arrived at the airport earlier than we expected so we got lunch to kill time before check-in started. We were supposed to fly out at 5:30 (with a layover in Taipei) but because of the typhoon that in Taiwan and the Philippines they changed our flight to a direct flight that left at 9pm. Needless to say, we had a lot of time to kill in the airport. We spent some time walking around aimlessly and also some time surfing the web at the free internet stations (yeah, free internet!). Naver has finally redeemed itself! (Naver is the big search engine in Korea and it sponsored the free wi-fi stations). Then we used the free dinner coupon that they gave us to offset the inconvenience of our flight delay to grab some dinner. After eating, it was finally time to fly to Thailand!!
We got off the plane and easily found the meeting spot for our hotel's pick-up service. Since we knew we were going to be arriving late and since we had never been to Thailand before, we thought it would be best if we stayed somewhere close to the airport, and even better if they would pick us up. We were able to find a place online that charged us about $15 a person per night including the pick up. I suppose that is a little expensive for Thailand but the place was decent and the airport pick-up was a definite plus.
The hotel staff showed us our way to the hotel van along with a Japanese couple. I knew before we left hat they drove on the left hand side of the road in Thailand but I completely forgot about that. And apparently, so did Mike. The hotel man motioned for Mike to get into the left hand side of the car. Mike was really surprised by this, "you want me to drive? uhh..." After he opened the door though, he discovered, much to his relief I'm sure, that there was no steering wheel on his side.
van driver was a young man and super friendly. When we got to the hotel check-in was easy enough and by this point we had already experienced way more English in Thailand than we could ever dream of experiencing in our everyday lives in Daegu, Korea. The next morning we ate our complimentary breakfast at the hotel and then decided to make our way to the infamous Khao San Road.
Getting in the taxi was only the beginning of us learning why one should stick to public transport when in Thailand. I had heard before of evil taxi drivers who refuse to turn on the meter, and unfortunately for us, our first taxi driver was one such man. He claimed that you don't turn on the meter outside of Bangkok because of the tolls. Untrue. We discovered later that passengers do indeed pay the tolls, but the toll itself was only 25 baht (around 80 cents). The taxi driver tried to be really sly about it too. Before we got to the toll gate he pulled some bills out of his pocket and laid them on his lap. Then he put the change in his hand so that you
Our friendly neighborhood tuk-tuk driver... Notice how small and low to the ground it is.
couldn't see it and discreetly handed it to the teller. After talking to some other people we discovered that the driver charged us about double what it should have cost if he had used the meter. Jerk.
The total cost of the ride was 500 baht (about $15), by Western standards this isn't too bad considering it did take us a little over an hour to get from our hotel to Khao San Road. However, after a series of such incidents, the whole vacation looked like it would end up costing us more than we had anticipated. A Spanish woman that I met once told me about her trip to Cuba and what she said about Cuba rang true for us in Thailand, "Locals assume that if you are foreign and you're visiting Cuba you have a lot of money. Not quite, I'm visiting Cuba because I don't have a lot of money..."
Khao San Road is a road that is very well known amongst backpackers. Tons of places to eat, loud music, lots of drivers, shops, and lots of places to stay. Here we saw a variety of different kinds of people that hadn't seen in a
really, really long time. If I liked nothing else about Khoa San Road it was that.
When we got to Khao San Road we were so amazed by the fact that we actually got where we wanted to go that we checked into the first place we found. A word of advice, don't do that. The place that we stayed in was uber cheap we paid about $4 a piece for the room. I think if we had looked at some other places we would have been able to get a nicer room for just not too much more. The place that we did stay was very minimally furnished and there was no A/C, only a fan, a very, very rickety fan. The toilets didn't flush either. In fact, to '"flush" the toilet you take about 3 bowls of water out of this squared off area filled with water and dump it into the toilet until everything disappears. We also discovered in the morning that this place was not equipped with hot water. Fortunately though, I guess you could say, was that the outside air temperature was hot enough that it kind of felt good to take a cold
By the time we checked in and dropped our bags in the room, it was about noon and we were ready to go do some exploring. Before I begin this part of the story, I feel that I should note that I did research our location. However, I did not come across any information warning me against the following...
We walked out onto the street and started to look for a place to eat. It was then that we were immediately jumped by one of the tuk tuk drivers (people who drive people around in these little tiny carts attached to motorcycles). He was offering to take us to a variety of tourist sights for 40 baht (about maybe $1.30). We said okay but first we need to get something to eat. The tuk tuk driver (aka Mr. K) quickly pointed us to the closest restaurant and said, "very good food." We decided instead to scope out our eating options for ourselves but afterward ended up eating at the place he recommended anyway. Although we were hoping that maybe he would find another victim, we could see him hanging out outside while we ate. And sure enough,
the very minute we finished our meal and paid our check he was ready to go.
The first place we stopped was a temple with a humongous 32-meter gold Buddha (Wat Intharawihan). There were several places where you could light incense or put flowers at Buddha's feet. You had to take off your shoes to go up onto the platform. If you aren't wearing socks, you just got barefoot. Then in order to go into the actual temple, you had to be appropriately dressed. There was a sign that said if you were wearing shorts or mini skirts you weren't allowed to enter. Wearing a short skirt was a bad choice. Later when we wanted to visit Wat Prakaeo/the Grand Palace we ran into the same dress code problem (plus, it was after hours by the time we arrived at the Palace so we wouldn't have been able to go in anyway).
Next stop on the list was another temple (Wat Bowonniwet). We went inside there and it was carpeted!! Ohh it felt so nice to walk on carpet. I seriously think that might have been the first carpeting I've seen since we arrived in South Korea. We
sat down in the back and there was a small group of girls in school uniforms sitting on the floor singing/chanting. A man greeted us who introduced himself as the principal of the school next door. He told us that the students came to the temple to pray for their health and well-being during their summer vacation. He also told us that in the morning there had been many, many students visiting the temple. He was a nice guy and introduced us to an other American couple that was visiting the temple. They are English teachers in Japan and had been to Bangkok once before. They gave us some tips on bug spray and haggling.
After the temple visits we made a stop at the TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand). Inside we asked for a map of Bangkok. We found out the next day that if you buy tickets from them they will give the tuk tuk driver a gas card.
Our next stop was Golden Mount. It is another temple that is built on a hill in Bangkok. There were so many bells to ring all the way up to the top of the hill. I was
surpised when we reached the top to find that in addition to the section where you can worship, there is also an area where you could buy souvenirs or food.
Apparently, we were not dressed well enough for our tuk tuk driver. He evidently decided that we were in need of some new clothes. Next he dropped us off at the first of two suit shops that we were to visit. We humored the man who greeted us after we walked inside by flipping through the catalogs before we handed them back to him and exited. This guy did not seem terribly upset when we handed his catalog back to him and left, however, at the second shop judging by the looks on their faces when we left I was waiting for the mafia to unload on us. Fortunately for us, we did not miss our last opportunities to buy suits. That night walking up and down Khao San Road there would be men asking Mike if he wanted to buy a suit. Since when do backpackers buy suits?
In addition to the suit shops we were also taken to a jewelry store. As with the tourism office,
it appears that if you buy something from them, they will give the driver a gas card. Unfortunately for our driver, there were no gas cards to be had. I would read later in a Thailand guidebook that I found in another place we stayed at, that tuk-tuk drivers tend to be con artists who will take tourist to suit shops/jewelry shops just as ours did and that often the goods that they try to sell you are fake. It was not difficult to see that this was the case in the suit shops as all of the catalog pictures were of designer suits and the place said they could finish the job in a days time.
Our final stop was the floating market. Although, by the late afternoon it wasn't so much a market as two old women in their boats selling things to us. In order to get there, we went to a place where a bunch of people were watching boxing and a very heavy set middle aged woman was wearing pants and an apron, that's right, her top = apron. :O Anyway, we paid for our tickets and got in this pretty sizable boat made
to seat at least 20 people. However, it was only me, Mike and our driver. We rode past the houses of people who live along the river. It amazes me that the houses stand up there as well as they do. Then we came to the floating market (basically, we stayed in our boat and a woman in another boat came up beside us and tried to sell us things). We tried this strange prickly fruit that you snap the shell in half and then eat the inside and bought a pen elephant (that was her name for it.. basically it is a small decorative elephant that has been decorated with ink). Then we continued along the river until just after we passed the Grand Palace. At that point we got off of the boat alone and then used our navigational skills to get back to Khao San Road.
I tell you what, first I thought that driving in inner city Korea was pretty ridiculous (10 lane highways, taxi drivers that drive 80mph through the city, scooters on the sidewalk, scooters on the street, scooters that don't obey a single traffic law, road worthy vehicles that don't obey traffic
laws, cars parked on sideways, cars driving on sidewalks, etc. Then we got to Bangkok. The taxi ride was ridiculous enough but the tuk tuk and scooter drivers are INSANE. They constantly switch lanes, cut people off, drive in the middle of two lanes (while there is a car in each lane already), it was truly unreal. I told Mike, "if we didn't already live in a bustling Asian metropolis this would be really overwhelming."
We got dinner at one of the restaurants on Khoa San Road. We sat way too close to the sidewalk because people kept walking up to our table and asking us if we wanted to buy things. Bracelets, laser pointers, glow in the dark lights, these wooden frogs that came with a stick that you could rub over its back to make a croaking sound (oh sure, it sounds cute enough.. until the women that are selling them walk around making the croaking sound all evening... :P ) After dinner we took a walk where we were accosted on the street by more people selling things, people asking Mike if he needs a suit (I'm actually surprised he didn't deck someone...), and people asking
Mike if he is interested in ping pong (after being asked this several times we realized that ping pong is simply a code word for... a special kind of show....) We were exhausted by about 9pm and when we went to bed it was to the sounds of whatever music it was that was blaring from the bars. This didn't stop until about 2am. I woke up around 6am and couldn't go back to sleep for the life of me. By the time we were both awake and ready to roll it was about 9am at which time the music started back up again.
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