Getting around Bangkok is very easy and mostly inexpensive if you know where you are going, how much it should cost, and what your options are in terms of the public transport routes. Once again, the staff at Sam Sen Sam Place have been wonderfully helpful with this kind of info, and for our first couple of days sightseeing we managed to get to our destinations with no hassles and no unexpected deviations or cost hikes. The river ferries are a scenic way of getting to some of the big temples that line the lively Chao Phraya River, which bisects the capital, and the busses are cheap, efficient and regular.
So after a few days we were starting to feel rather confident in our ability to stave off persistent tuk-tuk drivers and get where we were going quickly and cheaply. And then it happened… On the morning we had planned to walk to the nearby ferry pier and take a quick boat trip down to nearby Wat Arun – a royal temple on the banks of the river – a friendly pedestrian caught up with us halfway and struck up a lively conversation about Joff’s hat. What started off as some friendly chit-chat quickly escalated into an almost incomprehensible barrage of tourist info and advice about what we still ‘had to see’ before we left Bangkok, during which she hijacked our map and started plotting what seemed to be an ‘essential Buddha tour ’ that covered the four corners of the city. In the midst of this, she also managed to hail a passing tuk-tuk for us, and shrilly haggled the driver down to a reasonable price of 40baht for all the stops she had so excitedly pointed out on the map, including a convenient stop at a nearby TAT office so we could book our onward bus to Phuket. In a matter of minutes we were speeding through Bangkok’s side streets (in precisely the opposite direction of Wat Arun), a bit shell-shocked, with absolutely no idea of what exactly had just happened. Of course, it all just seemed a little too coincidental, and a bit too good to be true, but despite our concerns and better judgement, we couldn’t really identify what the problem was with the whole deal.
We booked our bus to Phuket at the TAT office, then quickly sped off to see the ‘Lucky’ Buddha who apparently bestows travelling mercies. Whenever a tuk-tuk driver tells you he is going to make ‘one stop’ it means he will take you to either a tailor or a jewellery store, where some very convincing sales people will try to persuade you that you will miss the deal of a lifetime if you do not place an order in their shop. The tuk-tuk drivers receive petrol coupons for bringing customers here, hence the decreased cost of your journey. We weren’t really surprised to learn that we were making ‘one stop.’
After we escaped the tailor, we were swiftly ferried (no moving vehicle with open sides should ever take corners that fast) to The Golden Mountain, which turned out to be a great place to take in some panoramic views of the city. But when we came out, our tuk-tuk had disappeared (without us even paying the 40baht fee) and so our only option was to take another tuk-tuk and make another ‘one-stop’. It seems to be the case that if you simply humour the salesperson for about 10 minutes, then explain politely why you cannot buy now, and leave (you will have to be quite insistent), both driver and passengers get a good deal (he gets his coupons, we get a very cheap/free journey). If you have some time on your hands and a strict budget, this isn’t the worst way to get around Bangkok – especially if it’s a sweltering day – just know your story/reason for not being able to buy something and stick to it firmly. It turns out that even though we escaped buying the three-piece cashmere suits, we were still scammed, if only slightly, as the friendly pedestrian turned out to be an accomplished tout for the particular (unofficial) TAT office that we were taken to first (our friends at Sam Sen Sam enlightened us).
We did, eventually, get to Wat Arun that day, and it was well worth it. The towering grey-ish facade is easily recognisable against the colourful rooftops that surround it. However, upon closer inspection, what first looks a bit like a ruin from an Indiana Jones film, turns out to be an exquisitely detailed mosaic temple.
Walking around the outside, it is hard to fathom the amount time, skill and patience that must have gone into its making and upkeep. In addition,if you have the energy, the guts and steady feet, you can climb some very skinny, ridiculously steep stairs, and take in a view of the Chao Phraya and its bustling banks that is second to none.