Beware of Wily Strangers: Bangkok

This sign greeted me as I walked along the perimeter wall around the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok yesterday. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Monday night, I set out for Southeast Asia. First stop, Bangkok, arriving Wednesday morning since I got to cross the international date line!

I was flying Etihad Airlines, the official airline of the UAE, and had no idea what to expect since online reviews were so split. I found the flight from Washington, DC to Abu Dhabi to have exceptional service. (The flight attendants actually kept the coach bathroom clean and with the end of the roll of toilet paper folded into a little triangle, if you can believe it!) Best yet was the fact that the back of the plane was empty – a woman I started chatting with while boarding gave me the heads-up that I should try to move to the back, and I am very grateful for the advice. I ended up sitting by myself in a middle three-seater row, which meant that I could lie down and actually…sleep! It’s amazing what sleeping on a plane will do for preventing jet lag. The flight from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok was more crowded, so not as comfortable. Oh well, I got to catch up on the latest Star Trek movie, which I had been wanting to see for a while, so all was not lost!

Bangkok’s airport is fairly confusing, with multiple immigration entry points. Inexplicably we got herded to number 4, although our baggage was coming in on a carousel closer to a different immigration line. I went through pretty quickly, picked up my bags, and headed out to the taxi line. The same lady who had given me such good advice on moving to the back of the plane recommended that I take a taxi instead of the Airport Express train, since a cab wouldn’t cost much more and with the train I’d need to change multiple times and go up and down stairs. Well, people can’t always be right! I rather regret not taking the train in, despite the stairs, since I have a backpack to make stairs easy. (I’ve noticed in the couple of days I’ve been here in Bangkok that it doesn’t seem very accessible – the BTS Skytrain is very convenient, but I haven’t seen any elevators.) The nice lady was wrong about a taxi being cheap, perhaps because she inexplicably didn’t account for the traffic jams that Bangkok is notorious for. My cab from the airport cost almost $40, pretty steep in a country where so much is so very cheap.

I must admit that when I got into the cab, I was pretty sure I was getting scammed. My driver insisted on taking the paper ticket that they had given me when they assigned me a cab, and I thought that was the one piece of paper that was the rider’s proof of destination in order to prevent a scam. I sat there worried – and then philosophical – that I was going to be scammed, but I think I overreacted. I don’t know whether my driver took the most direct route or not, but I rather think he did. He pointed out where the airport train went. He told me to take it going back, because it would be much faster and cheaper. And he didn’t charge me the full, official airport charge of 50 baht, either. He seemed very surprised and grateful when I then gave him a 100 baht tip (about 10%).

I’m staying at the Courtyard Marriott since I have some Marriott points left (surprisingly, after using them all over the world this year!). I know it’s not the most atmospheric Thai hotel, but it’s very nice and just what I need to get over any jet lag and get acclimatized. It’s actually rather amusing being at breakfast and seeing the business-type folks in the business lounge, and knowing that I don’t have to work. And fresh guava juice at breakfast is a definite plus!

The hotel let me check in very early, so I spent a little time researching what I wanted to do on Wednesday (nothing too strenuous!) and then headed out. Since I’m only a few blocks from the Erawan Shrine, I headed there first. It’s a shrine on the street corner by the (extremely) high class Erawan Shopping Center. The shrine was built to reverse bad karma at the Erawan Hotel (and it’s apparently worked). A lot of people come to pray at the Hindu shrine, and there are Thai dancers there who are hired by the devout who have had a prayer answered. I sat for a little while, taking in the incense, the dancers and the devout, before moving on.

The devout in front of the Erawan Shrine, Bangkok

The devout in front of the Erawan Shrine, Bangkok

Incense at the Erawan Shrine

Incense at the Erawan Shrine

Next up was a search for an ATM, which I found in a mall. I checked the Erawan Mall first. It’s the first time I’ve seen as exclusive as Givenchy in a mall! However, no luck on an ATM, so I moved on to the one across the street, where I had better success.

I then went to the Jim Thompson House Museum. Jim Thompson was an American who first came to Thailand in WWII in his position with the OSS. He loved it so much that he moved here after the war, becoming fascinated in Thai handmade silk. He founded a business to bring Thai silks to the West – Jim Thompson Silk is now one of the best known names in the industry. As I learned during the tour of his house, his silks were used for the costumes in The King and I. I guess once Hollywood knows you, the rest of the world does, too!

Tours leave every 20 minutes or so, so I wandered around the garden for a little while and then sat on a bench to wait. The heat and, more importantly, the humidity, are taking some getting used to! The museum consists of his house (seven traditional Thai houses knocked together to form one big, semi-traditional house) along with a couple of smaller houses and his garden. Mr. Thompson collected beautiful Thai antiques, so I got to see numerous Buddha statues, some beautiful porcelain, and the houses themselves, made of beautiful dark wood. Thai houses are traditionally on stilts to avoid flooding and bases are wider than the tops of the houses to give better structural support.

After Jim Thompson’s House Museum, I was ready to head back to the air conditioning of the hotel. I was planning to pack in a full tourist day on Thursday, heading out to the Grand Palace (and being told to beware of wily strangers). And now that you’re hooked, I’ll tell you more tomorrow. See, I can be wily, too.

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