Before the Food Trip: Going around Bangkok

Love is sweeter the second time around, as it is often heard. But what about the third time?

I am not referring to my love life, but to my latest trip to Bangkok, which happens to be my third.  On this third trip, I joined my mom for a four-day holiday.

Unlike previous trips that centered on going to Thailand’s cultural attractions, our trip focused more on shopping.  By now also, I can give travel tips to Bangkok with greater confidence and accuracy.

Thousands of blogs have written about Bangkok.  Let me share tips I discovered from experience.  Let me start this series with how to go around Thailand’s capital.

The iconic tuktuk: no farting! Hahaha! Yikes!

Going around Bangkok: Taxi/Cab, Train, or Tuktuk

I believe the main concern of people who come to Bangkok is going around.  You can always rent a car, but surely, the price can be very high.  Which leaves you with riding a cab, tuktuk, or the train/MTR.

Getting A Cab.  Yes, just like in Manila, there are quite a number of dishonest drivers.  The rule of thumb is for you to get a taxi yourself, instead of accepting the invitation of drivers — or other individuals — who lurk outside the hotel.  They really would charge you a fixed fee, rather than according to the meter, which is the legal way to go.

Police in brown uniform are actually on standby and the best practice is to ask assistance for a cab. They are ready to assist you and they make a log of your taxi and its destination.  Such practice, I observe, has served as a deterrent from any illegal activities from drivers.

These men-in-brown are usually just in front of hotels.  If you go to the upscale mall, Siam Paragon, you will also find them at the official taxi stand. It is best to get a cab from the stand, rather than at just any exit.

Getting your cab the right way will also ensure you don’t get victimized by scam artists.  Run away — I say run — from men who offer a cheap fare.  Last year, a man offered to bring me and my girlfriend to Chatuchak from our hotel for just 50 Baht (roughly  US$1.50).  We caught the bait and were taken to a van. I knew something was weird.  True enough, the driver said we’d have to treat him to (expensive) tea first — and then, he would bring us to Chatuchak.

Modus operandi 2. Some drivers would ask that he bring you go to a jewelry store or some (expensive) local shop first. Yes, that’s another tourist trap.  I hear that you will not be required to make a purchase.  Fine.  But it’s a total waste of time. So if you get this offer, politely say no.  Or in our case, we said we have been to the store already.

Correct me if I’m wrong on this one. Thai regulation does require taxi operators to bring tourists to local merchants to support the local industry.  This is also the case when you join those booked tours.  The problem is the quota given to drivers and tour operators — which are now a let-down to tourists.  I wish that the tourism authority would review this practice.

I wouldn’t advise riding the tuktuk, unless you are willing to pay 100 Baht (roughly US$3.00).

A safe, cost effective option: Bangkok’s MTR — also referred to as the BTS. It’s not as intimidating as it seems. If you’ve tried the MTR in Hong Kong, you won’t have any problem. Just make sure you study the map even before the trip. And find out beforehand which station is closest to your destination.

The only disadvantage of taking the train is the extra walk in a very humid city.  But hey, a little sweat can be good for your health.  And while walking, you may discover some great shopping finds.  We did.

The MTR also has a link bringing you straight to the airport.

Other tips

– It always helps to smile and build rapport with a simple “sawasdee ka”

– Thai drivers speak very little English. If you are not going to a very prominent place, it is best to have the address written on paper.  For me, this came in very handy when I went to mass at the Assumption Cathedral, one of the few places with Catholic masses in Bangkok.  Apparently, drivers don’t know the place. And it was a good thing I had the address on my iPad –both in English letters and Thai characters. Thank goodness for Google’s translator tools.  I even showed a map to the place, which proved helpful.

– I realize that when people start raising their voices (whether you are in Bangkok or elswhere), it’s not because they are being disrespectful.  Oftentimes, not understanding each other’s communication is frustrating.  So, just relax and stay calm to avoid stress or conflict.

– Have small bills for fare and tip.  From experience, Thai drivers are appreciative of any tip you give them. I would give 10 to 20 Baht, which is something like 60 US cents.

– Consider everything as part of a (learning) adventure.  And of course, enjoy the trip and the good food!

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