About 2 months ago at a bar in Knoxville, we were talking to our friend, Sarah, about our upcoming trip to Southeast Asia when she did the unexpected. After some awkwardness, she spit out, “So, this might be a totally weird thing to ask but…do you mind if I tag along?” I was certain she didn’t exactly understand where we were going. Maybe she didn’t know Thailand was on the other side of the planet. Maybe she thought the tickets would be a few hundred dollars. Maybe she had had one too many beers. An email days later confirmed that no, it wasn’t the booze talking and yes, she was still in!
After almost 24 hours of travel from Cincinnati, the 3 of us arrived in Bangkok, Thailand amidst the tremendous floods taking over the city. We were skeptical on whether or not we would have to take a boat to our hotel. The drive from the airport showed us the threat was still very real as we passed car after car parked on the shoulder of the freeway in order to stay out of harms way. Arrival at our hotel was further confirmation as we saw sandbags lining the entranceway. Luckily, there was no water in sight, yet.
Unfortunately, much of the temples and sights were closed as they were under water. Determined to see something, we set out on foot to get a feel for the city. Before long, a tuk tuk pulled up next to us, the driver offering a tour of the city for just 100 Baht for 1.5 hours. Cool! How could I forget my own advice? On the first day in a new city, get some sort of taxi/bus/motorized vehicle tour so you get a feel for your surroundings. This time, for just over $3, we could see the above water areas of Bangkok. Maybe even some of the flooding!
Not so fast. We should have known what we were in for at our first stop. We were told we wouldn’t have to buy anything at the tailor shop, but if we indulged the sales people for just 5 minutes, our driver could get 5 liters of free gas. Fine, we thought. Even though we thoroughly dislike shopping, we’ll make him happy and then move on to some sights.
The next stop was encouraging as we visited the “Lucky Buddha”, which is all we know of this temple. Since there are 100’s of temples (wats) in every Southeast Asian city, who knows if it was special aside from it’s name. We did meet a happy little Thai man who told Dusty that he needed to take care of both Sarah and I since he was the only man to us two women. The Thai man was also very pleased when we told him we were from the U.S. “Ahhhh, Amerrrricccaaa!” That’s where we are from here. America, not the United States.
Next, he offered to take us to the “government tourist information building”. What we thought he said, anyway, in his best English. Didn’t sound too exciting but maybe they could tell us some more info about the flooding…perhaps in English. Turned out to be a travel agency. We did need flights to our next destination after all, so we went in. After deciding we’d think about the flight info they gave us, we hopped back into the tuk tuk. Our driver told us that he could take us to his friend for better prices. Despite our protests, he took us there anyway proclaiming, “You happy, I happy!” with a giant smile.
This time, we did get a flight to Phuket, so it wasn’t a total bust. The travel agent also told us that the flood waters were just 3 km away! Armed with this information and ready to finally see SOMETHING, we told our driver this news to which he replied, “We go see friend. I get 5 liters gasoline!”
Dusty was furious, as were Sarah and I. "NOOOOOO! No more “friends”! We want to see some sights! We haven’t seen anything yet!" Ok, he says, “I happy, you happy! We go to market.” Ok. He explained that we couldn’t go to the floods because the tuk tuk couldn’t make it through. It wasn’t worth the effort to explain that we didn’t want to go IN the flood, just TO it.
Suddenly, he pulled the tuk tuk over and pointed up the street. “I no go down there. You see market. You go this building, see city. I go home.” Our tour of Bangkok consisted of a clothing shop, a tiny temple and two travel agencies. Dusty refused to pay him the full 100 Baht, giving him just 40. While this is only slightly over $1, and the original price of $3 was well within our means, it is not right to encourage him to do this to other tourists. He didn’t flinch. He took the money and ran.
At this point we’ve just spent a good part of our day seeing just about nothing. Frustrated, we reluctantly entered the hotel where our driver had dropped us off. While we thought the $10 fee to go to the top was expensive for just taking a look at the city, we gave it a try since it might be the only bit of Bangkok we’d see that day. Man we’re glad we did! The 84th floor of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, the 48th highest building in the world, has a rotating observation deck that allows you to take in the whole city.
Along with the trip to the top, we also received a “complimentary” drink on the 77th floor. That Singha beer was delicious after the day we had! Day turned to night and we couldn’t pull ourselves away from that bar. Thai beers and watching the Bangkok sky light up was a nice way to end a rough first day in Asia.