My stay in Bangkok could only be called magical. On the 18th floor overlooking the golden Chayo Praya River, I shall never, ever forget arising and opening the exquisite silk drapes to reveal the breathtaking floor to ceiling, 180 degrees cityscape. Everything shimmered in the golden morning light and far below the longboats tooted their welcome to me. I literally whooped myself fully awake with cries of “This is incredible!”
A solo journey to the Land of Smiles
I had decided to take this trip to mark the end of my first half century, but with no particular enthusiasm from my husband to share my adventure, I booked myself for three weeks in the ‘East’ in a fit of middle-aged defiance. This time there would be no looking at every dollar spent – or the stubborn announcements of “We’re not doing that”. I made sure I had more than enough funds to cover any reasonable extravagance and set off on my ‘trip of a lifetime’… and it truly was.
I read every web journal, travel page and book I could lay my hands on. No getting ripped off or mugged, nor getting ill for me. Some things they don’t tell you in books, though. Not that I had any real problems…. not really.
On my second night, I decided to visit a traditional Thai restaurant. It sounded so quaint. I certainly didn’t care whether it was a performance especially for Western tourists or not. After all, it was Thai people putting the experience together for me — a promise of a garden with fishponds, a carved teak house, low tables with floor cushions to sit on, Thai theatre, dancers and musicians performing, topped off with a seven course banquet. Superb! I wanted to have a ball and I did. The only thing was, I almost didn’t get there.
At first I was miffed, then mystified. There were always at least a dozen taxis and tuk-tuks hovering at my hotel entrance but when I approached one, I was immediately told by the driver that he couldn’t take me to the restaurant. This happened again and again, until there was not a single driver who hadn’t already turned me down. What was wrong with me? BO? (I’m telling you – NOTHING smells as bad as dried fish on the streets in Bangkok’s Chinatown). Finally I went back to the hotel and asked for a cab to be called. In a genie’s blink, the gorgeous young doorman in his draped violet pantaloons, scarlet waistcoat and golden slippers, vanished out the door. Just like that, the world was fine. The first driver smiled sweetly at me and off we went.
Knockout Bangkok Heat!
The next day I found out what I should have learned that night. It was such a beautiful day, I decided to stroll to the main shopping district. It looked such a little distance on the map. Armed with my waterbottle
(I had never even drunk out of a bottle before, but slurped a good eight bottles a day in Thailand), I set off. Wary about getting lost, I stopped to ask for directions several times at each of the numerous 7/11 stores I encountered. However, without fail, the response was the same…“Too far. Too far.” (It’s so easy to ask for help — almost everyone speaks English here).
Bit by bit, I lost track of time. I walked at a leisurely pace with Thai life zooming past – different fascinating, mezmerizing Then suddenly, from my almost trancelike state, I awoke. Intolerable traffic, noise, smells, people… heat. Yes, they had almost been right. Not “Too far”, but definitely “Too hot.” I realised I was truly, utterly pooped! Blow the shopping. My head was spinning and my feet were like balloons! All I wanted to do was to fall into a cool bath with a gin and tonic
This was not to be.
I must be a slow learner not to have noticed earlier. The tuk-tuk/taxi saga was about to begin all over again. I hailed taxis. I paced tuk-tuk stands. Again and again I asked for a ride to the hotel. “No, too far, too far”. Well at least now I had a reason. But is four kilometres really so far? In desperation, I headed for the nearest hotel to ask for help… but once more it was not to be.
“ No driver will take you all that way. Too far. In Bangkok the drivers receive about ninety percent of their fare on flagfall. Each extra kilometre is worth a matter of only a few cents but might take half an hour to cover. And that is why. You want taxi? Break trip into laps. Get out, swap vehicles after each kilometre.”
OK, lesson learnt. But who needs taxis anyway? All over Bangkok there are tourist information booths and wonderfully helpful, friendly people. Before I knew it, I was off those hot crowed, noisy, exciting streets, sitting comfortably in a spotless, near-empty, but incredibly inexpensive, air-conditioned bus. Beam me back Scotty!
I love Bangkok!