Getting to Thailand and the Great Grand Palace Tuk Tuk Scam!

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March 12th 2012
Published: March 12th 2012
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So it was finally here, March 10th! Didn't exactly get off to the best start, what with waking up in the wrong house, waking the Burton's neighbours up with the alarm and having a cracking hangover! Made it home though, collected the bags and got a lift into Leeds with James. Soon made it over to Victoria for a few beers with the uni gang, great to see everyone before I left, especially with all the kids in tow. A few drinks saw the hangover off and I felt much better as I headed to the tube. First transport issue came before I even left the country as had to go to Paddington to get the Heathrow Express as the Picadilly line was down. Still on time though and got checked in, even turned down a bulkhead seat as was worried about screaming babies. A few whiskys and wines on the flight meant I actually got some sleep and the flight wasnt nearly as bad as could have been.

Was quite strange arriving in Bangkok and not being met at arrivals by Jess, it was then that it really hit me that I wont be spending the next 6 months with her. Was presented with a variety of options to get into town and realised I didnt actually know where my hotel was as I hadnt written down the address. Decided the skytrain would do the job and at 90BHT I couldnt complain. Quick air conditioned train soon whisked me into the city and the skyline I remembered from 10 years ago loomed into view. Last time, Simon and I were on a bus that took an age but now I was in the city centre in 20 minutes.

The no address point became an issue when the driver of the cab i jumped in didnt have a clue where the Park Plaza was but "Handsome Nick," as he called himself, took off anyway. He asked me if I liked racing driving.....I should have realised what was coming as, when I replied in the affirmative he decided to turn the journey into some kind of audition for Mclaren F1 and there were times I genuinely feared I wasn't going to make it through the first day of the trip and I found myself unconsciously trying to remember how much hospital cover my insurance gave me.

Fortunately we made it in one piece and I was so relieved to be there that I paid the outrageous fare and did a runner into the sanctity of the hotel. The relief was shortlived though as it soon became apparent that there were 2 Park Plaza's in the city and I had been dropped at the wrong one. Luckily, the other was only a 5 minute walk and after a long day I was overjoyed to here the words "we are going to upgrade you to a deluxe room sir" when I checked in.

The room was excellent, enormous bed, well needed air con, not so much needed free standing bath tub and a huge walk in shower. After letting everyone know I had arrived safe, I set off for a wander to try and get my bearings and find some tea.

Walking up to the main road, the familiar smells and sounds of Asia came back to me, stirring memories of the Koh Sahn Road and how wide eyed I was on my first night away with Simon. As usual in Thailand, there was no short supply of middle aged western men walking along with dubiously aged Thai women/girls. The street vendors were hawking everything from framed tarantulas and scorpions through to dildos, sex pills and replica designer gear. After walking around for a while along Sukhimvit Road I found a spot to eat and tucked into pork in ginger with noodles for just 100BHT.....this is one of the bits of Thailand I love, sampling all the great food that costs next to nothing.

I was soon feeling tired though so headed back to the hotel to try and get my head down. Unfortunately, my body clock was a total mess and I was wide awake at 3:30am. The golf on the tele got me through and I snoozed till 6:30 before getting up and heading to the hotel's rooftop pool for a refreshing morning swim. No complaints about the buffet breakfast with eggs cooked to order, pancakes, bacon, loads of fresh fruit and coffee that would have had Jack Reacher nodding in approval.

Feeling like this was the real start of things, I packed a bag and headed out into the morning sunshine intent on making my way across the city to the train station to get a ticket for Tuesday night's journey to Chiang Mai and then to try and find the Royal Palace and Wat Po, two supposed must sees that I had neglected on my first visit as I think I just sat and drank Sang Som for 3 days and talked to the Thai waitresses in the bar we frequented.

After a short trip on the skytrain, i walked for about 45 minutes, passed the National Stadium and the Muay Thai centre and eventually found myself at the train station. No queue and for £18 i acquired myself a ticket for a lower birth on the overnight sleeper train in an air conditioned carriage.....slightly better value than East Coast Mainline!

From here on, things took a bit of a dive. I walked for another 90 minutes, repeatedly risking my health by dashing across busy roads with seemingly never ending traffic, heading in the general direction of the Palace. Eventually I gave up and hailed a cab. Turns out I was almost there but, as I was sweating like you wouldnt believe and fancied a bit of air con I wasnt too bothered. Paid the cab and tried to make my way into the Palace complex, only to fail at the first hurdle when a rather official looking man with a badge came over and informed me that the Palace would not be issuing any more tickets until 2pm. I was confused at this as there seemed to be a number of people heading through the gate but, in my less than wide awake state I failed to realise I was being had and soon found myself beng whisked away from the place I had just spent 3 hours getting to.

I was soon at 'The Big Buddha' which, to be fair, was pretty big. However, the next stop on this mini tour was a travel agency which I didnt want to use but was shepherded into by an insistent tuk tuk driver. A very pleasant woman gave me lots of spiel about how it was the Flower Festival in Chiang Mai at the moment, there are no rooms free, must book in advance. Busy season in Laos and Vietnam too so should book next 10 days, boats, taxis, planes and guesthouses. The total price of £450 seemed reasonable until I started breaking it all down and realised that when you took the transport out I would be paying around £12/14 a night for the guesthouses, which was ludicrous, I knew I could get them for a few pounds a night.

Having made my excuses and left, the nice tuk tuk driver then led me to a tailors where he wanted me to go inside so he got free gas. At this point an argument commenced and after I threatended to walk off and get a cab, he relented and took me back to the Palace. At least the whole scam had only cost me 20BHT and an hour of time.

I realised that these official looking people were stopping as many westerners as they could find and trying the scam on so I spent the next 20 minutes walking up and down the road explaining what was going on to various unsuspecting couples as they were about to be led off to tuk tuks in the same confused state as I was. Having got several angry looks and a few choice words thrown my way by the scammers I realised I couldnt be a good samaritan all day, the charms of the palace required my inspection after all.

Having parted with 500BHT for a ticket, I made my way around the collection of very impressive buildings and temples, including the Grand Palace, the Temple Room of the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha, which, at 47m long, was definitely the longest reclining Buddha I had ever seen.

Plenty of Japanese looking (!) people were cheekily standing outside the emerald buddha temple using big lenses to zoom inside the temple where cameras were forbidden. I thought about following suit but decided that, despite the attempted scamming of just an hour earlier, I would respect the wishes of the locals and refrain from taking a picture of the statue.

After finishing the walk round the grounds I was bathed in sweat and my shirt, which had been a pristine new white that morning, had taken on the appearance of a Bruce Willis vest from the set of Die Hard so I decided to fork out for a tuk tuk to get me back to the railway station. Unfortunately the all day train pass I had bought did not work on the underground, only the sky train, so I dished out for a new ticket and dived into the refreshing bliss of the air conditioned subway but not before a green chicken curry had replenished my low energy levels.

The evening was spent enjoying an ice cold shower and finding a back street cafe where shrimp soup and fish fried rice for a total of £2 made me feel much better. Some time on the internet revealed that the Great Grand Palace Tuk Tuk Scam is in fact a widely known phenomenon and plenty of advice is given to those who actually read up on these things.......lesson learned! Further research revealed that the Chiang Mai flower festival was in early Feb and that I could indeed get a nice guest house there for £5 a night, so I booked one.

Such a shame that the government allow this kind of thing to go at one of their prized tourist spots. All they are succeeding in doing is ruining peoples' day and clouding their view of the city, which is so annoying as the vast majority of local people are very kind, friendly and willing to help out if they can.

Having spent my first few hours in the city thinking how it was great to have all the hustle and bustle and smells and sounds, I now find myself very much looking forward to boarding the train tomorrow and getting out of the cloying, congested, scam fillled city. Hopefully, to put it in COD speak, I wont be such a newb after learning my lesson today!

Next stop Chiang Mai!

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