After Vietnam and Cambodia, it was time to go to Thailand, specifically Bangkok, the world’s most visited city and famous for different ways. I’d spend my last 5 days in SE Asia there and return to Taiwan. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations since I just never was really interested by Bangkok. Yet I ended up being disappointed.
From the start, I experienced a series of problems and I had a negative vibe about the place. Bangkok’s modernity made it seem like a shabbier Taipei or Hong Kong, and not as charming or interesting as Vietnam’s cities, which had a more traditional and bustling feel to them. There was a striking contrast with Bangkok’s gleaming modern façade, such as its grand Suvarnabhumi airport, and its on-the-ground reality. Perhaps the fact I’d already been on holiday for over 2 weeks in a region I’d come to for the first time also added to my irritation. Perhaps if I’d have gone to other places in the country besides Bangkok, I’d have had a better time too.
Interestingly, I wasn’t the only person who disliked Bangkok. Weeks earlier, when I was in Halong Bay, I met an Italian and her Indian boyfriend who were expats in Shanghai, and when she heard I was going on to Bangkok, she’d said she hated Bangkok. Of course, I know many people love Bangkok and the city does have some good aspects.
I left Siem Reap in the morning, taking a tuktuk for the half-hour drive to the airport driven by the same man who’d taken me to Angkor on my second day. At my hotel, while waiting for him, I saw a small noisy gathering down the street, a political convoy of supporters of the ruling party ready to hit the road. Election season was in full sway and the ruling party would go on to win, though not without some controversy. Another driver had come in to pick up another guest, one who I’d hired to go to Angkor on my third day. I asked him about the ruling party and he scowled, shaking his head to express his disapproval. At the same time, the manager of the hotel or villa saw me off, a nice Vietnamese lady who was kind enough to exchange my remaining Vietnamese dong for US dollars.
My driver eventually came and off we went. The Siem Reap airport was a small modern attractive airport, reflecting the tourism boomtown Siem Reap was. I don’t even think the terminal was two stories. My check-in went smoothly and before long I was on my way to Bangkok via Cambodia Air. At the airport, I saw a girl who was among the Chinese staying at my friends’ hostel (those guys were also going to Bangkok on the same day but by bus) and she had a distraught look. I went up to her and learnt she’d mistaken her flight date so she was heading back to Siem Reap from the airport. I guess you’ll see those guys again before they leave, I said. No way, I’m going to another hotel, she said. I don’t want to see those guys, it’d be too embarrassing!
Another mildly amusing exchange happened in the waiting area when I went to a shop to buy a newspaper as a souvenir (it’s strange but I do like to read and compare newspapers from different places). However, not only did the store not have that day’s paper, it didn’t have the previous day’s. The newspaper on display was from 2 days ago. And I bought it, since I was so desperate for a local newspaper.
I flew Cambodia Angkor Air, as it was the cheapest available option, not that there were many from Siem Reap to Bangkok. The plane was a small, single-aisle turboprop jet and the service was decent, and the flight attendants elegantly dressed. As with the Mekong Express long-distance bus service, I had another pleasant experience on a Cambodian transit company.
After the short one-hour flight, I arrived in Bangkok’s fancy airport and took the airport train to a station. I mulled transferring to the subway to get to my hotel, but I decided to take a taxi instead. It was convenient as there was a counter, manned by station and not taxi company people, who helped you get a taxi at a special platform where taxis lined up, as if it was the airport.
However, this is where things started to go somewhat downhill for me in Bangkok. I’d arrived before noon and unfortunately the traffic was horrible. On Googlemap, the station was very close to my hotel but it took over an hour. The traffic literally crawled at times and Bangkok’s modernity, which was in contrast to Phnom Penh and Hanoi, seemed to be a negative.
Also my driver was a gruff middle-aged guy who hardly responded when I greeted him and told him my destination. He seemed unfriendly and ignored me when I asked something about the city. Halfway though, this all changed.
I decided to ask him about Thai kickboxing or muay thai at Bangkok’s fabled Lumpini Stadium. As soon as he heard me, his whole demeanor changed and he responded enthusiastically to my questions, even calling somebody to check the times for the event.
His English wasn’t so good and there was a lot of partial and broken English phrases from him, but it was alright. At one point, he burst out giggling in fits when he mistakenly said “four hundred” instead of “forty” ($1.30) when telling me the price of a motortaxi to take me from the nearby subway station to Lumpini. Four hundred? I asked in disbelief since he’d said it was only a ten minute walk. “Sorry, sorry… forty, not four hundred, hehehe!”
The driver didn’t turn out to be so bad and that’s the kind of welcome surprise one wants when traveling. However while the driver was cool, other frustrations would loom.
I ended up falling asleep and the driver had to wake me up when he arrived at my hotel, which was actually a block of serviced apartments nestled inside an upper-middle-class neighborhood. I was really tired for some reason and slept the afternoon away, before going to said Lumpini Stadium in the evening to watch kickboxing.
Before I went to watch the muay thai, I had a really frustrating experience when my camera’s charger couldn’t go into my room’s power sockets. I went down to ask the receptionist and she just couldn’t understand my problem with the power socket. Worried that I couldn’t plug my camera and phone into anything, I went to a nearby 7-11 store to check if they sold adapters. I couldn’t see any so I asked the clerk if they sold it or if there were nearby stores. The guy and his colleague also couldn’t understand what I said, which left me annoyed. Granted there is a language barrier, but I thought English was more widely spoken, especially given Bangkok’s status as one of the world’s top tourist hotspots. I was especially disappointed at my hotel receptionist since she could speak enough English to handle my checkin, and also because my Vietnamese hotel receptionists’ English were quite decent. Eventually the power socket problem was resolved when I pushed extra hard on them with my device power plugs and they went in.
The bad noon traffic and the lack of adequate English weren’t terrible problems by themselves, but together these issues, along with others that would happen later, really aggravated me.
On the airport bus about to reach the Angkor Air turboprop to Bangkok
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport
Some funny stuff happened with the publishing date when I originally posted this so I posted it again.