This is my third trip to Bangkok, and I continue to discover more each time I visit. Few other places offer the energy and wide range of things to see and do than this city, which, aside from the fact that my friend Bill lives there, is why we’ll probably spend a total of about a week there.
After landing at Bangkok’s modern new airport, we headed straight for our guesthouse which was about a five minute walk from the famous Khao San Road. Khao San is Bangkok’s large backpacker haven, a street lined with guesthouses, bars, restaurants, internet cafes, travel agents, and even fake ID stands where you can buy anything from a California driver’s license to a press pass. Aside from the employees at these establishments and the touts trying to sell you “Armani” suits and túk-túk rides, the population is predominantly faràng (foreigners like us). While many travelers claim that Khao San Road is not “the real Bangkok” since it is not representative of the rest of the city, it’s a spectacle in its own right, and a comfortable part of town to stay, as long as you’re not on the main road.
More on túk-túks… a túk-túk is a three-wheeled vehicle – basically a motorcycle on the front with a carriage on the back, used as a taxi primarily for taking tourists around. They’re a lot of fun to ride and can outmaneuver taxis on the crowded streets, sometimes getting you to your destination faster than a standard taxi. However, the túk-túks in the touristy areas have a reputation for being a little shady. Given that the cars are unmetered and that tourists can be naive, it’s often necessary to bargain down from a ridiculously high price. Also, túk-túk drivers are given kick-back for taking faràng to shifty markets, creating a strong incentive for them to take you somewhere other than your agreed-upon destination. In some cases, they’ll tell you that your destination is closed in order to get you to go to a market first. In our case, the Grand Palace was “closed” until the afternoon, but fortunately we knew the scam and didn’t take the ride. Despite the shady tendencies, we both still love túk-túks and think they’re the most fun way to get around.
Another option for getting around is by boat. Bangkok has a wide river going through its center with public boats running up and down stopping at well-designated stops. The boats operate much as they do in Venice, except that they are far more efficient, stopping at each dock just long enough for passengers to jump on and off.
While we were in town, we saw many of the usual sights: Chatuchak Weekend Market, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and countless other things. We also spent a lot of time doing things related to the election. On Monday, we visited the American Consulate, where we cast our ballots for the presidential election (which turned out to be a surprisingly difficult process). Then on Wednesday morning at 6:30am (6:30pm Tuesday EST), we met up with my friend Bill and some other Americans to watch the results come in. The bar we went to was packed with people and turned into a roaring party by the time that Obama was declared the victor. It was a great time, especially considering how pleased Abby and I were with the outcome.