“If you don’t trust me, you can’t trust anybody in the world,” said the Thai saleslady to me, as me and my friends were searching for the cheapest tour to Maya Bay and Ko Phi Phi in Phuket. Then and there I realized how I’ve been unjustly sceptical of the Thais, despite the many kindness these people have shown to us for 5 days now. I’ll be defensive though in saying you can’t blame us. I’d researched about the place and always encountered warnings of scams, overpricing, etc. Admittedly, we were not safe of them, but that’s a facet of traveling. You go outside your country, your home, your comfort zone and anywhere is unsafe. You have to take risks. In the end if it’s not scary, it’s not worth it.
When I lived in Taiwan for four months, some of the few people I got along with are Thais (you can read about my Taiwan experience here). They are very friendly that sometimes it borders to a little bit awkward. And the facial similarity with them and us is hilarious that one can’t tell which one is Thai and which one is a Filipino! It is from these friends that the idea of visiting Thailand budded in my mind. It took me three years though to materialize the idea.
In this post, I’ll be sharing our do-it-yourself Bangkok-Phuket-Ayutthaya itinerary, the costs we’ve incurred, the locals we met, the cuisines we delved, the Thai culture we’ve witnessed and of course, our overall experience.
Getting into the heart of the Metropolis
Our first concern when we landed in Suvarnabhumi International Airport was how to get to our hotel with an address we know nothing about. Thankfully, Thailand railway system is A-class it made our journey a lot easier. There is an MRT station right underneath the airport (called the airport link) that connects to other Bangkok MRT lines and to the superb Bangkok BTS Skytrain (transfer in Phaya Thai Station). Thailand, much like Taiwan’s, railway system to me are first class in terms of their convenience, efficiency and cleanliness that I hope someday Philippines will have a mass transport as awesome as this.
Fare from the airport to the Phaya Thai Station (to transfer to BTS) costs 15 baht while BTS Skytrain fare ranges from 30-50 baht, depending on your destination.
We found our way to McDonald’s in Tesco Mall near On Nut BTS Station where our AirBnb host is going to meet us. Our problem now is: Where is our host? We only contact her through Facebook Messenger and since arriving in Bangkok, we forgot to buy a tourist sim for Internet because our minds were still scrambling to understand everything. We were there for an hour making every possible way of procuring the needed sim (my friend even went to the extent of asking passers-by where we can buy the sim, but Thai people hardly understand our English). Frustrated, we let few minutes pass by as we sat down. There we noticed two people (a guy and a girl) who looked very much like Filipinos, but we were still hesitant in approaching them since Thais deceptively look like us. We were trying to listen to them but they were not near enough. And then the miracle happened: we saw the guy was wearing a shirt with a Vigan print. Vigan is a Philippine city! What we saw triggered us to approach them, and indeed they were Filipinos! It’s always heartwarming to find Filipinos out of the blue in a foreign land. Going back, we asked favour from them if they could call our host.
That’s how we met Bell.
Bell was just sitting behind us all along, and had been contacting us. We learned she waited 2 hours for us and we can’t help but feel guilty. “Never mind,” in thick Thai accent was her constant replies to our sorry. She fetched us with her car to her home which was very clean and comfortable as well. But what really amazed us is how she treated us like we were her friends and not just her guests. Bell made us feel the Thai brand of hospitality. Her home was “rakhome” she said, which means “love home”. In her home, we were “her family.” Bell was our first real encounter with Thai and we felt very welcomed. She said she owes this sense of hospitality and kindness from her experience in Japan, where she was adopted by a lady for a night while she was locating her lost wallet. She had none but when her wallet was returned to hers, not even a single cent was lost. “Paying it forward,” she would tell us, an attitude we hope to apply to tourists in our land. Most importantly, Bell is also a very pretty person.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
First point of our itinerary was the Chatuchak Market, also called as Jatujak Market or JJ Market, the largest market in Thailand. To get to Chatuchak, take the BTS Skytrain to Mo Chit BTS Station or alternatively, take the MRT to Chatuchak Park Station.
Chatuchak, with over thousands of stalls, offers everything of Thailand that you need: clothes, souvenirs, Thai foods, Thai massage. Getting your way along the market could be really tough though since the lanes are narrow and the crowd is unbelievable (mostly are Western and Chinese tourists).
Fare to Mo Chit BTS Station is 42 baht and 1,000 baht budget could give you a lot in the market. In our case, we spent 150 baht for massage, 270 baht for a plate of Pad Thai and a bowl of spicy Tom Yum soup, and a couple more baht for souvenirs.
Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace
Our second day was a wonderful tour around Bangkok City. Thankfully, we had a local to guide us – my Thai friend Tarn. Tarn is a close friend I met in Taiwan. She told me when I come to her country she would tour me and my friends around Bangkok and she did!
We went first to Wat Arun, one of two famous Buddhist temples in Bangkok (the other being Wat Pho). To get to Wat Arun, we crossed the massive Chao Phraya River from Saphan Taksin BTS Station. Ferry costs 14 baht. Just as always, I’m always in awe of the detailed architecture and ornate design of Buddhist temples. Entrance fee for foreigners in Wat Arun is 50 baht.
The next temple was Wat Pho, a boat ride away from Wat Arun (costs 3.50 baht). Wat Pho is the home of the famous giant reclining Buddha who at first sight I found domineering and intimidating. It is here in Wat Pho that we witnessed a speck of the religious culture of Thai people. Always remember to take off your shoes before entering the temple and be silent. Inside the praying room, we kneeled in front of the Buddhist altar and bowed three times – trying to get a vibe of Buddhism. It was the closest encounter to a non-Christian religion I had. Entrance fee for foreigners in Wat Pho is 100 baht.
Just around the corner from Wat Pho is the spectacular Grand Palace, previously home for the Thai monarchs. We weren’t able to go inside the Grand Palace because some VIPs came and the Palace has to be closed early. Nonetheless, the Grand Palace is still a spectacle of a view even from the outside. Entrance fee for foreigners is 500 baht.
While we were on our way to the Grand Palace, we notice a long queue of people in black just outside the gate of the palace. When I asked Tarn what they are queuing for, she said they are Thai people wanting to get a last glance of their King who passed away not more than a year ago. Thais love their King so much and everywhere, we saw memorials of him as proof of their gratitude.
Thailand as well is a haven for shopping enthusiasts and avid mall goers. If you’re coming from Grand Palace you can return to the Saphan Taksin Station and take a bus to Central World (which was the route we took; costs 20 baht) or you can take the BTS again and get off at Siam Station where series of malls connected by bridgeways will greet you with their day and night vibrance. First of these parade of malls is the enormous Bangkok Central World. I and my friends treated ourselves a refreshing Thai milk tea here after long day’s walk within the busy urban.
Next would be the Siam Discovery (the first of the three Siam Malls in Bangkok). If you could indulge a little more baht, buying few designer clothe would be fun. We were traveling on a tight budget so we settled for window shopping.
Right next to Siam Discovery is Siam Paragon which boasts a beautiful transparent façade. When we came here, Siam Paragon was having a fruit fest and we were able to buy longan (a type of lychee, I think) for just 40 baht/ kilo. If you want more feast of the stomach, Siam Paragon’s lower ground has the gourmet market offering myriad choices of Thai and other international foods.
Finally, beside Siam Paragon is Siam Center. Here we found an intimidating but amusing life-size wax figure of George Clooney in a Madam Tussaud museum. I didn’t expect to find a branch of the famous museum in Bangkok which is why it was really a plus to this city tour.
Bright City Lights in the Lively Khao San Road
It’s getting darker and Bangkok’s lights are turning on one by one. Perhaps, never in the city are the lights more colourful and the atmosphere inviting than the Khao San Road. The road very much resembles Taiwanese night markets: array of cheap but flavourful Thai streetfood stalls, souvenir shops, etc.
From Siam Paragon, we commissioned a tuk-tuk to drive us to Khao San Road for 140 baht. By the way, when you are in Thailand don’t miss out the chance to ride a tuk-tuk at least once because it’s so famous here it’s becoming a national symbol (remember the national costume of the Thai candidate for Miss Universe 2015?). It’s fun when the city wind blows your face as you speed by through the twists and turns of the metropolis. Just always remember to haggle down the price because tuk-tuk drivers tend to overprice rides for foreigners (ours was originally 150 baht).
Khao San Road is one of Bangkok’s oldest cities, and now a major backpacker hub. We saw several tourists (mostly Westerners and Chinese) traverse the short road, pausing every now and then to eat pad Thai, have their hairs in dreadlocks, drink beer and chill in a bar, or eat durian, absurdly huge cockroaches, scorpions and other exotics.
We got ourselves henna tattoos, ate mango sticky rice, drink a bottle of beer and to be more adventurous bought a stick of scorpion for 100 baht to eat! It wasn’t really a nice taste, though. Along the road, we met two drunken German guys who challenged themselves with the durian. With just one bite they threw off the fruit, which we found absurd because we love durian (the fruit being native to us)!
It was getting late, but the street lights were not getting any dimmer nor the noise fainter. Yet, we really have to go back to our hotel to pack up things. We have an early flight to the next major Thailand place we’re visiting – Phuket.