Thailand - Bangkok Revisited
My relationship with Bangkok has been a fairly long but fleeting one. I first visited the Thai capital in 1987 and stayed for around four days. Since then I have been back many times but have never stayed for very long.
In July 2004 I spent a week in Bangkok to catch up with some friends. I think it was the longest continuous period of time I had ever been there and came at a time when Bangkok was experiencing enormous change.
Bangkok street market
This page is just a few of my ramblings with some photos thrown in. I have to warn you though that even before I start to write I can sense that what I have to say about Bangkok will not be very positive. A lot of what I saw really saddened me. It's not just the construction and development going on - that's a small part - it is how the people are changing.
This particular visit came after living in southern Thailand for a while. The Thailand I saw in Bangkok bore no resemblance to the Thailand I had seen in other parts of the country. It reminded me of the Thatcher/Reagan era of the 80's where greed was good. Twenty years later Asia finally caught up and now Gordon Gecko is alive and well, and living in Bangkok.
On the Skytrain in the evenings I saw the same expressions on people's faces that were familiar to me from working in London and travelling to many other large cities. They were not happy faces and I had to keep reminding myself I was in Thailand. Yuppies are now part of the Bangkok scene. I saw many young Bangkokians who have embraced the corporate life and now, after a long day at the office playing the games that people need to play in order to climb the ladder, they read books by American management gurus telling them how to succeed in corporate life and make their first million.
It's a lifestyle I was caught up in but decided to leave as it made me so unhappy. I predict that in 15 or 20 years there will be a lot of unhappy Thais. Once they have accumulated all the material things they want they will realise that they are just too tired to enjoy life and whenever they get some free time they will just want to sleep.
The material goods they accumulate will also create attachment, something else that causes pain and is totally against what they learn in Buddhism. This is progress though. Wealth is what Mr Thaksin has, and for his family business to continue being wealthy it is in his interest to create more wealth. There is a price to pay in human suffering though. Greed will also have a detrimental effect on the environment as natural habitats are destroyed to create wealth but who cares so long as someone is making money?
Farangs, Farangs Everywhere
I couldn't believe the number of farangs I saw in Bangkok. Living out in the provinces, the TAT's estimate for the number of foreign visitors to Thailand seemed high but now I know where they all are. Everywhere I went there were farangs, even places that I thought were off the beaten path.
One of the few green spaces in Bangkok
And not only tourists. A lot were plainly in Bangkok to do business many single males I noticed in their 20's and 30's were so obviously English teachers. I wonder how much fun it is being a teacher in Bangkok? An average teacher's salary can't go very far in the Big Mango.
Quality Of Life
I can't see how anyone can claim to have a good quality of life in Bangkok. Down at the street level it is hot, dirty, noisy and polluted. The rich can shield themselves by living in fancy, high-rise apartments or riding around in expensive, air-conditioned cars but is this an escape or are they just prisoners in their own city?
For a large city there are few parks or open spaces. Other major cities have lots of green areas sometimes referred to as the 'lungs' of the city and these are essential. Development is going on all around as speculators try to make profits with no regard for the environment or quality of life. The skyline is a sea of cranes.
The ongoing construction in Bangkok makes the city seem like a permanent, huge building site
As development continues the division in wealth between rich and poor gets larger and larger. The development is all high-end property with large price tags though. This is the path that Thailand has chosen to tread but it is a greedy one and doesn't serve the needs of the majority of Thais.
It's a case of what can be built in order to get as much money into the country as soon as possible. The money won't benefit the average Thai. The property developers are in bed with the finance companies who are in bed with the politicians. Already rich people will get a lot richer and no-one else will see a thing.
Slum accommodation in Bangkok; a lot of the corrugated shanties I have seen were cleaner than this place
I took some time walking around massive tower block complexes where locals live and these buildings were slums. Nothing is being done to improve living conditions for these people though. Where is the profit in that?
When it suits, Thailand will claim to be on its way to becoming a developed nation but only if it helps the rich become richer. When you start looking at the real issues of Thailand as a developing country it is clear that nothing is being done in important areas such as housing and welfare.
In Thailand, Bangkok is where the streets are paved with gold and everyone is rich. Well, this is how some Thais from elsewhere in the country think. After all, there are millions of stupid farangs in the city who just give money away (actually this is quite correct in many cases).
Poor housing in the foreground and the Baiyoke Skytower in the background
There are thousands of Thais on the streets of Bangkok making a living just from conning tourists. Some are tuk-tuk drivers and some have no obvious form of employment, they just hang around in tourist areas looking out for tourists. On my very first trip I was taken for some money so I understand how people get into these situations. Bangkok is an overwhelming place in many senses and an apparently friendly local trying to 'help' is sometimes appreciated.
What tourists should realise is that normal Thais do not approach tourists with unsolicited offers of assistance. It just doesn't happen. Anyone who approaches you in the street is trying to scam you out of some money.
Many people in Bangkok will try to cheat you but just say no
I got really fed up every time I was in a tourist area or when I opened up my map in the street to have seedy Thais come up to me offering Bt20 tuk-tuk sightseeing tours or just asking if they could help. A hard stare and a few words of Thai was enough in most cases to get rid of them.
The other really annoying place was Panthip Plaza where dozens of Thais tried to sell me porno material. Despite being Thai they apparently don't understand the Thai phrase for "I don't want any" and even though they have just seen you say no to six of their colleagues they still persist in trying to sell you the same thing.
Don't accept help from anyone. The one-hour, Bt20 sightseeing tour might seem like a great idea for little money but the driver will go straight to a shop where they will use hard-sell tactics to try to make you buy something you don't want. The driver will get a commission of course. If you manage to get out of the shop without parting with any money he will just take you to another place.
I know that when visiting other countries, people want to be friendly to the locals and that is fine but be friendly to these low-life pieces of trash in Bangkok and you will lose money.
Prices, of course, are all relative. For many years I travelled to Thailand in my vacation time and returned to the UK. Compared to the UK, and many other developed countries, Thailand is cheap. It was cheap when the exchange rate was Bt40 to the pound, even cheaper after the Asian economic crisis of 1997 when a pound was worth Bt60 and now it is near Bt75 (July 2004).
The BTS Bangkok Skytrain
As a tourist, you might just convert to your own currency and think things are cheap compared to home. This isn't home though, this is Thailand. It is a developing country and many people earn around Bt6,000 per month. I would guess that the majority of visitors to Thailand probably earn at least 20 times this amount and that many earn significantly more.
Releasing a caged bird in order to make merit
To make a price comparison therefore, convert the price to your own currency and then multiply by 20. Does it still seem cheap? On this trip I had become very familiar with Songkhla Province prices and the prices in Bangkok horrified me. My room for a week cost me the same as my room in Songkhla for a month. Thai food on the street that I would normally get for Bt20 was at least double and in restaurants where some English was spoken or where there was a menu in English the prices were 4 times more, or higher.
The damage has been done by tourists over the years. Too many stupid people pay too much and now the Thais have got used to it. Even when I argued about prices they would not budge. They knew that if I didn't want to pay then there would be another stupid farang along soon who would so they weren't bothered about me.
Dancing the tango at Lumphini park on a Sunday morning
Tipping in America isn't like tipping anywhere else in the world. The 15% extra Americans leave as a 'tip' isn't optional. Therefore Americans tend to be generous when they leave a tip but this has caused problems in Thailand because some Thais have begun to expect this level of generosity from everyone.
Germans are at the other end of the spectrum as they are notoriously stingy. I've noticed this over the years myself, and Thais who have worked in places like Pattaya and Patong where there are lots of Germans tell me the same thing - 'kee niaow'.
In the deep southern Thai resorts, Malaysians and Singaporeans are also notoriously stingy, but I prefer it that way.
Of the 24 million cars in Thailand, 19 million are in the greater Bangkok area. I was told this statistic by a Filipino/American resident in Bangkok and have no reason to doubt it. Thaksin's plan to turn Thailand into the 'Detroit of the East' is gathering pace and although many cars made in Thailand will be exported a large percentage are aimed at the domestic market. The benefits of newer cars creating less pollution will be offset by the increased volume of vehicles on the road.
A sleeping Bangkok motorcycle taxi driver trying to protect his lungs from the city's polluted air
After only about three days in Bangkok I began to develop cold-like symptoms. My throat got sore and then became quite painful and my nose started streaming. It wasn't a cold, just the effects of breathing in polluted air for a few days.
Bangkok's polluted air can be quite deceptive. At street level it doesn't seem too bad but when looking down from a plane or a tall building, or even one of the elevated expressways, a foggy haze can be seen enveloping the city. Many locals who spend their working days out on the streets wear surgical masks to filter the air they breathe in. At the end of the day these masks are black with soot which otherwise would have gone straight into the lungs.
June 2006 Update
It's been a while since I wrote anything about Bangkok and in that time I have been back to the capital three or four times so here is an update.
The construction of magnificent steel and glass buildings continues in Bangkok but the slums and shanties remain
Living in provincial Thailand, it is impossible to ignore Bangkok. It is the huge commercial and cultural hub around which everything in Thailand revolves. All of the recent TV images from the King's 60th jubilee celebrations came from Bangkok, it's where my Bachelor's degree students want to do their Master's degrees, and farangs I talk to are forever banging on about the wonderful things that are happening there.
At times I wonder whether I should be living there instead of in a fairly quiet and unexciting southern provincial town. My most recent trip answered that question and the answer was an unequivocal no.
Bangkok changes incredibly quickly but is that change for the better? Some tourists and farangs living there say yes because the changes have given them more of what they are used to in their home countries, such as better shopping and western food. My response to this is that if these things are so important, what's the point of living in Thailand? A quick glance at the sad creatures though is enough to understand why they live in Thailand.
Bangkok - like Thailand in general - is full of contrasts and contradictions
The changes have been accelerated during the last five years by the greed of the Thaksin government. Raping and pillaging Thailand alone is insufficient to line the politicians' pockets so money from abroad is also required. Hence Bangkok's transformation in recent years to compete with Singapore and Hong Kong for some of that cash from rich tourists.
The economy now relies heavily on tourism and investment, completely contradicting the wise counselling of HM the King for a sufficiency economy. Of course, Thailand's CEO is always right and always knows better than anyone else.
The result of this avarice and greed is a city of ever increasing contrasts with a constantly growing wealth gap. The filth and poverty in Bangkok has to be the worst in the country but amidst the corrugated iron slums are steel and glass palaces celebrating greed and consumerism.
Siam Paragon; Bangkok's latest 'lifestyle' shopping mall
Siam Paragon is the latest incarnation and opened with a huge fanfare. I took a look but my visit lasted about 30 minutes. With a billion people on the planet not having access to one of the essentials of life - clean water - gloating over Ferraris, Maseratis and ultra-expensive hi-fi equipment just seems a bit sick. It seems especially sick in Bangkok when such squalid living conditions exist within a stone's throw.
Is Bangkok expensive? The answer to that question is both yes and no because of the huge divide that now exists. The new Bangkok that has been built for foreigners and rich Thais is very expensive. My coffee and cookies at Starbucks cost about the same as a day's wages for the Isaan construction workers who are building the new structures.
In addition to international prices, the Thais have cottoned on to the fact that you can add on another 10% - describing it as a service charge - and stupid farangs will just pay up without making a fuss. A 10% service charge was included at nearly everywhere I ate. It's almost unknown in provincial Thailand (away from the big tourist resorts, that is) apart from at restaurants in five star hotels.
What's the deal with this? Surely, if a restaurant opens for business, a standard part of that business is serving the customers their food. How can they justify adding another 10% for what is a normal part of their business?
Tourists beware, but the same concerns about cleanliness do not apply outside the tourist areas
On the other hand, Thai street food in Bangkok is cheaper than where I live. The only problem is that the small food stalls look filthy and eating on the streets in such a heavily polluted environment is not appealing.
The infamous Bangkok traffic jams and the resultant pollution just get worse. One redeeming feature these days are the elevated expressways which remain unclogged and are good for when you need to get to the airport quickly. However, down at street level is it a different matter.
It doesn't seem to matter what day or time of day it is; there are always traffic jams. Driving isn't fun but neither is being a pedestrian. The way in which Thais turn left at red traffic lights with completely no regard for pedestrians makes some roads virtually impossible to cross because there is never a break in the traffic.
It did not surprise me earlier this year hearing of a young British girl who was knocked down and killed while trying to cross a Bangkok road. The speed at which they drive in Bangkok is also scary considering how many pedestrians there are and how close they are to the traffic.
The MR Kukrit house is a little oasis of calm in a crazy city
A highlight of recent trips was finally purchasing the Nancy Chandler map after knowing of its existence for many years. The format is great, making it very easy to work out where things are and there are some good tips.
The backpackers still carry around their Lonely Planet books with an almost religious fervour but Lonely Planet is about 25 years out of date regarding Thailand (as are the backpackers who read it). There is a certain type of backpacker tourist that regards a Lonely Planet guide as part of the standard backpacker uniform; the other parts being a pair of rubber flip-flops, a pair of baggy fisherman pants, a bandana and a cloth shoulder bag. All that is missing is a shirt with the word, "Wanker," written on the back; not that it's entirely necessary.
If you want to see an authentic Thai teak house in Bangkok you will end up at Jim Thompson's house with a million other tourists if you read LP but there is a chance that you might actually make it to M.R. Kukrit's house, which is much better, if you have the Nancy Chandler map.
Bangkok is a massive sprawling city and despite the millions of ignorant tourists that visit each year to shop and have sex with prostitutes, there is still a lot of 'real' Thailand there. What this means though is being a little adventurous and getting away from the tourist ghettos.
Buddha images and items depicting Thai culture on sale at Jatujak market
I noticed that the profile of tourists in Bangkok also seems to be changing. In my hotel I was the only farang guest, the others being from India, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, etc. The economic development that we have all been hearing about in India and China has resulted in more people from those countries having disposable income and visiting Thailand is one of the things they are doing with that extra cash.
For many years, I got a big buzz arriving at Bangkok airport. When I used to come to Thailand for vacations it was the first place I saw and it holds a lot of fond memories for me. Last year was the first time I arrived in Bangkok by road, having come from Kanchanaburi and Ayuthaya, and my impressions were very different.
After spending a week in beautiful central Thailand, the approach to Bangkok by road was an ugly sight. As we travelled further into the city it just got more ugly. On my most recent trip I cut my visit short. I was suffering from a chest cold and the polluted air of Bangkok just made things 10 times worse.
Fossilised dinosaur excrement; Bangkok never ceases to fascinate visitors
So, will I go back? Of course I will. While living in Thailand, occasional trips to the capital are unavoidable at times but even beyond that there are still lots of things I enjoy about Bangkok. However, these aren't the things seen by the majority of tourists. For example, discovering a tiny shop which sells stamps but also has a collection of fossilised dinosaur poo is far more interesting to me than wandering around a huge mall full of bland people and bland 'designer' products.
I have never been a person who goes shopping for the sake of going shopping but the fact of the matter is that in Thailand certain items (specialised camera gear, etc) are only available in Bangkok. I love books too and sadly the choice of English language books in the provinces is not good so that is another positive point about the capital.
I eat mainly Thai food in Thailand and don't need a constant supply of pizzas and burgers to survive but Bangkok is the best place in Thailand to find good western food and occasionally some good ahaan farang is welcome. As an example, I can buy pizza where I live but there is no comparison between a Pizza Hut pizza and an authentic Italian style pizza from Pomodoro in Sukhumvit.
Yes, I will be visiting again but only temporarily and only staying for a maximum of about four days which is just about all I can take at any one time. Unless I suddenly come into a vast fortune and can afford a luxury condo way up high above the noise and traffic fumes, I certainly have no plans to move to Bangkok on any kind of permanent basis.
July 2006 Update
My experience in Bangkok a few weeks ago was tainted because of a sore throat which made the polluted Bangkok air seem unbearable. On this trip to collect my new passport from the British Embassy I had recovered and was ready to give the Big Mango another chance.
This stuff is almost as disgusting as chewing tobacco but its use is dying out
Not having a bad throat made the Bangkok air seem OK but actually it was just the same. This is quite dangerous because not being very aware of the pollution means that we don't take precautions against it.
My new passport was ready and I have to say that the whole experience dealing with the British Embassy was very positive. This was contrary to a few reports I had read online but most of what I read on the Internet related to Thailand has been written by bitter and twisted farangs.
Bathhouse brothel in Bangkok
I had a deja vu moment when I arrived at the Embassy. Waiting outside again were the same types of people I had seen last time and these can divided into two groups. The first group consists of retirement visa expats living in Pattaya. These guys always travel in pairs or with their Isaan partners. I think that solo travel is beyond their mental capacity.
You can spot them a mile off by their replica England football jerseys, training shoes and faded tattoos. They stand there chain-smoking and when you get within earshot it's like being in a working dockyard. Their lives in Thailand are all about drinking, smoking and bar girls but, at the same time, they are fully-fledged experts on the Isaan prostitutes they love to associate with.
As I waited for the Embassy doors to open, their conversation began along the lines of, "These f*ck*ng girls that work in the bars ... blah blah blah." Sexpat 1 was telling sexpat 2 about sexpat 3 who had bar fined a girl for Bt600 and kept her for four days, paying her Bt1,000 a day."
A rare sight in Bangkok: flowing traffic
After she left he saw her in the bar and as she bent down (apparently), a chain she had stolen from him fell from her bosom where she had hidden it.
A couple of proverbs ran through my mind. "Like attracts like," and "Birds of a feather flock together." Much of Thailand is quite heavenly but Pattaya represents a hell on earth to me and, apart from a weird sense of curiosity, I have no desire to ever return there.
It was a pleasant kind of place in 1987 but even by 1992, on my second and last visit, it had started to go into terminal decline and I vowed then never to return. The fact that now it is home to a significant number of farang criminals who have fled their home countries to escape the law just intensifies my resolve never to go there again.
The other farang stereotype to be seen waiting outside the British Embassy every day are gormless backpackers who have lost their passports - probably from having left them unattended in insecure beach bungalows while getting high at full moon parties.
On this occasion there were three young girls whose main concern was writing up their journals in day-glo pink pens describing their wonderful experiences on Koh Samui.
Bangkok river taxi
The gormless morons normally turn up at the Embassy with nothing. What do they expect? Do they think the staff at the Embassy have replacement passports ready that can just be handed over? The least they can do is find out what documents are required and make an effort to get the necessary paperwork ready. Unfortunately, simple, analytical thinking seems quite beyond them even though most have probably just finished degree courses.
There are numerous occasions when I feel completely ashamed to be a British citizen in Thailand because there is so much British scum in the country. The Swiss Embassy in Bangkok is opposite the British Embassy and you don't see lines of shaven-headed, tattooed, sexpat thugs wearing replica football jerseys and training shoes waiting outside every morning. What is it about the British that makes them such lowlifes?
After getting my passport I was ready to get into tourist mode and I knew exactly where I was going. I took the BTS to Saphan Taksin and got on a boat heading up the river. There were some museums that I wanted to visit .....
The Museums of Siriraj Hospital
I had known of these museums for many years but had never got around to visiting. On this trip, having plenty of time and having seen most of the other well-known Bangkok tourist attractions, there was no excuse. I got off the boat at Pier 10 (Wang Lang Pier - although a better transliteration would be Wung Lung) where it was only a short walk to the hospital which is on the Thonburi side of the river.
The museum is associated with Madidol University as well as the Siriraj hospital and both institutions have major royal connections. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but was expecting to find a museum of acupuncture somewhere that I didn't actually find. The various individual museums are the most morbid and macabre I have ever visited but intensely fascinating.
The first museum I arrived at was the Congdon Anatomical Museum where entrance is free. After first seeing several skeletons I then noticed lots of foetuses in formaldehyde, including lots of conjoined twins. The old term 'Siamese twins' is used although this term has fallen into disuse.
There are two complete but partially dissected adult human bodies on display as well as children with extremely large heads as a result of hydrocephalus conditions. The whole place smells of death. I have become less squeamish with age but the whole experience put me off my lunch.
In the same building is the Sood Sangvichien Prehistoric Museum and Laboratory which is also free. As I arrived, the door had to be unlocked for me by two researchers working in the lab. They were very nice, very interesting people who I chatted to for a long time in English. One had discovered the oldest human remains in Thailand - a species of giant hominid almost seven feet tall.
I left this building to go to another building just around the corner housing more museums. The entrance fee is Bt40 and the first museum was the Ellis Pathological Museum. It started off the same way as the Congdon Anatomical Museum and seemed fairly tame at first but worse was to come. There is a fairly new exhibit about the December 24th 2004 tsunami which has some quite graphic waxwork figures and photos.
Next was the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum which is the most fascinating of all. They have the preserved bodies of murderers and rapists, including the infamous Chinese cannibal Si Uwe who killed and ate the internal organs of Thai children in (I think) the 1940's.
There are the remains of traffic accident victims who lost limbs and, in one case, a head, and also lots of nasty photos. One photo is of a guy crushed by a machine, another is of a light aircraft crash victim and there is even a photo of someone who was blown to pieces by a hand grenade. (By this time my appetite had completely disappeared).
Other exhibits show people who have been murdered in horrible ways, such as skulls with bullet holes and axe gouges in them. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted. Also on display are the actual medical instruments used for King Rama 8's post-mortem examination. The museum explains his death as an assassination whereas normally in Thailand his death is described as 'happening in unusual circumstances'.
There are murder instruments on display and even a display case of venomous snakes preserved in formaldehyde.
The tamest museum in the hospital is the Ouay Ketusingh Museum of History of Thai Medicine which has no gory exhibits.
Next up is the parasitology museum which I also found quite unpleasant. A disease I find particularly disturbing is Filariasis (or Elephantiasis). On display are waxwork figures of sufferers, photos of sufferers and an enormous preserved scrotum taken from someone affected by the disease.
Filariasis is carried by mosquitoes and is still a problem along the border with Burma and also in the south in swampy places. Other parasitic diseases are covered including malaria and the museum confirms that anti-prophylactics are not recommended in Thailand so leave your malaria tablets at home.
I have visited a lot of museums around the world but never anything like this. It is quite unique but not for those with weak stomachs.
My Terrifying Illegal Taxi Experience
If you were to ask me what I considered to be my most successful achievement since moving to Thailand, the answer may surprise you. It isn't having integrated well into Thai society or having learnt to speak, read and write to an elementary level.
My greatest achievement in Thailand thus far is having avoided being killed or seriously injured in a road accident. I'm not kidding. However, that very nearly changed in Bangkok on 15th July 2006 thanks to a complete imbecile I encountered who was driving a Bangkok taxi.
On that fateful day I had met a friend who lives in Bangkok Noi and we had a nice morning out in her car visiting a temple in Samut Sakhon. She offered to drive me back to my hotel but it wasn't fair on her so I told her I would take a taxi. We walked to the main road and hailed a passing cab.
The guy was from Isaan and didn't speak a word of English. Most taxi drivers I had encountered on my visit to Bangkok were from Isaan and by then I was getting used to it but this one, unfortunately, had donated his brain to medical science and it was sitting in a bowl of formaldehyde in the Siriraj hospital.
He didn't know my hotel but neither did the other taxi drivers so I was getting used to giving them directions. What was somewhat surprising though was he didn't even know the road and it is a major artery in Bangkok.
A few minutes after setting off he went straight through a red light. I mentioned this to him in Thai but he was completely oblivious to the fact. Next, as we approached Dusit zoo and the royal palace, he went up a street with a 'No Entry' sign but maybe taxis were allowed through so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
As we approached Victory Monument he asked me which way to go. How the f*ck do I know? You're supposed to be the taxi driver. I got my map out and decided it was straight on, which was correct. However, we needed to go right after the big roundabout and there was a 'No Right Turn' sign. He wanted to turn but I told him he couldn't.
Cars travel extremely quickly in Bangkok but he slowed to a snail's pace because he didn't know where he was going. Other cars blared their horns at him and it was even more frightening going very slowly on a fast Bangkok road as it is going very quickly.
He kept looking for a right turn but there wasn't one. The next thing I knew we were on the busy expressway heading towards the airport. This was not good. He wanted to do a U-Turn and instinctively moved over to the right lane but he couldn't U-Turn because there was a big concrete barrier in the middle of the expressway.
Having moved to the right, we were then in the two lanes that filter off to go through the tolls and on to the elevated expressway. At this point all I wanted to do was get out and get into another cab but I couldn't. It seemed that we were on our way to the airport. Never mind.
His next move beggared belief. He started to slow down. This was a very fast road and horns start blaring behind us again. I looked round to see a huge truck right on our tail. I told him just to keep going and by this time I was getting genuinely concerned about my own safety.
Unbelievably, the cab came to a stop on the fast lane of the expressway. He started looking over his shoulder trying to move over to the left to avoid the toll lanes. Cars were coming past us at 140 kph and faster and it was terrifying. I yelled at him in Thai just to keep going and he told me, "Mai pen rai." At this point I was ready to kill him but I was even more scared that I was just about to be killed myself in a huge traffic accident.
Somehow he managed to pull across but all this had been observed by a policeman who flagged him down. We were still not out of danger because the cop stopped him on the fast lane. With traffic coming up very fast behind, all it needed was for one driver not to be paying attention and we would have been rear ended severely.
The cop asked to see his license but he didn't have one. The cop then reprimanded him but he seemed to be quite jovial and punched the guy on the arm in a jestful manner while laughing. Apparently, the worst thing about this whole incident was that the passenger was a farang. I guess it's not good for the lucrative tourist industry if farangs get killed in Bangkok taxis.
Trying to keep the traffic flowing in Bangkok
I was shaking and told the cop in Thai that I was very scared. He beckoned me out of the car and I had to walk along the motorway with traffic screaming past. The cop flagged down another taxi for me which took me back to my hotel. I'm not sure what happened to the driver but he made sure he got Bt100 from me before the cop took him away.
It begs the question of how many illegal taxi drivers there are working in Bangkok. On my visit, most of the drivers I spoke to were from Isaan and none knew the city very well but at least they weren't dangerous like this guy.
What if there are murderers and rapists working illegally as taxi drivers preying on unsuspecting single females that get into their cars? The taxis all look the same so people won't know if the driver is genuine or a serial rapist.
I realised afterwards that the familiar license that sits on the dashboard in front of the passenger wasn't present with this guy so that should have been a sign. However, on subsequent taxi rides, I noticed that often the photo in the license wasn't the same as the driver.
I don't just mean that the photo was taken 30 years ago; I mean it was a completely different person. It's yet another piece of craziness that exists in Thailand which could be fixed easily enough if anyone was bothered but no one is really bothered.
The new taxi driver was great. It was a very nice vehicle, he was a local Bangkokian who knew the city inside out and everything was above board. The fare came to about Bt60 but I gave him Bt100.
What shook me up was how easily it had been to unwittingly get into a very dangerous situation where I had genuine fears for my life. I do all I can in Thailand to avoid danger on the roads because the Thais are lunatics when driving but what should have been a very quickly and straightforward taxi ride got me into a life-threatening situation.
I am not exaggerating the seriousness of the situation and hardly slept a wink that night. Not funny. I have said it time and time again on this web site but will say it again. The number one danger to life and limb in Thailand is on the roads. Many Thais drivers drive in a wild and reckless manner with completely no regard for their own or anyone else's safety.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel
What a wonderful institution this is and I pray that it never changes. With sterile, boring, soulless American-style shopping malls springing up everywhere in Bangkok, Thailand's capital is being ruined by greed and commercialism but the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok is a little oasis of all that is good about the City of Angels.
Singapore has ruined its flagship colonial-style hotel, Raffles, by turning it into a tacky tourist attraction selling mass-produced, overpriced Singapore gin-sling cocktails. Thankfully, the owners of the Oriental haven't sold out to greed, and standards remain high.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok - one of my very favourite places in the city
A dress code is in place so I always remember to pack appropriate clothes for my trips to Bangkok. This one simple measure keeps most of the riff-raff out who turn up in flip-flops and baggy Chinese fisherman pants.
I have never stayed as a guest but I really enjoy lunch in the Verandah restaurant sitting outside. The food isn't cheap by Thai standards but by international standards it is an absolute bargain. Where on the planet can you sit in such ambience in one of the world's Top 10 hotels eating fantastic food and receiving exceptional service for the price of a pint of beer and a sausage roll in a London pub?
As you enter the hotel you automatically leave the noise and chaos of Bangkok outside and step into a world of tranquility and calm. I always find that eating lunch here is a very special experience and it makes me feel content and privileged.
The wonderful thing about the hotel is that you don't have to be a millionaire to dine there. As long as you are dressed appropriately you can eat for a very modest amount. I love the place.
Even staying in one of the best hotels in the world isn't that expensive compared to may other countries. Contrary to some foreigners' beliefs not everything in Thailand is cheap, but hotels are one of the countries biggest bargains.
The Reno Hotel
Fans of David Smyth's Thai language books (as I am) will already be very familiar with the Reno Hotel even if they have never set foot in Bangkok. Peter, Malee and Peter's wife, Sue - the main protagonists - have spent many a happy hour getting the attention of waitresses at the hotel restaurant and giving tuk-tuk drivers directions how to get to the hotel.
Apart from featuring highly in Mr Smyth's books, it is a decent place to stay in Bangkok. The hotel is quite old and goes back to the time when the United States was engaged in a war against Communism in Southeast Asia and American GIs went to Bangkok for R&R breaks. Because mainly American GIs were catered for at that time it was common to name hotels after American places.
The Reno hotel, Bangkok
The rooms remind me of rooms at the Atlanta Hotel, another classic Bangkok hotel. They are old-fashioned with loads of character which makes up for the fact they are rather spartan. Despite their age, all the rooms look to be immaculately clean including the bathrooms. There are tens of thousands of hotel rooms in Bangkok, but most are basically the same design and a little boring. I love these old hotels with a lot more character.
A very nice feature (as in the Atlanta) is that all rooms have personal safes. I wish that every hotel would provide these but sadly they don't. Room rates are Bt1,080 and Bt1,280 and there are 58 rooms. The reception has been refurbished in recent years and looks very plush and modern. The location of the hotel is excellent, being close to National Stadium BTS station and MBK but the actual Soi it sits in is quiet and relatively free of traffic noise.
Reno Hotel and Café
40 Soi Kasemson 1 Rama 1 Road
Opposite National Stadium Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0)2 215 0026-7, +66 (0)2 612 3096-7
Fax: +66 (0)2 215 3430
Website: Reno Hotel Email: email@example.com Book this hotel:
I have made many visits to Bangkok since 1987 and still visit the capital at least once a year. At different stages of my life different aspects of Bangkok have appealed to me.
Nowadays, I find the crowds and congestion congestion too much and generally keep my trips to a minimum. I stay in Bangkok only as long as I need to.
Harmonique restaurant in Bangkok is a really nice place and highly recommended
Probably the thing that appeals to me most these days is the food. After living in provincial Thailand for well over a decade I am completely bored with the local food options and there are very few foreign food options where I live. Even when there are foreign food options, they are often Thai approximations and not the real thing.
Not so Bangkok.
Many foreigners have moved to Bangkok and quite a few have started restaurant businesses serving authentic food from their home countries. The best foreign food I've eaten in Thailand has been in Bangkok - authentic Italian pizza, authentic Indian curry, authentic shawarma sandwiches from the Middle East. Whatever you want is available in the capital.
If you aren't sick of Thai food, as I am, there are also some great Thai restaurants. Not only is the food good, but so is the ambience.
I 'discovered' a wonderful restaurant near the river close to the Oriental hotel called Harmonique. I stumbled across it purely by chance and it is exactly the kind of place I love. The restaurant is like an old house and is full of charm and atmosphere.
Bangkok For Kids
For a long time I always travelled to Bangkok alone. In the last few years that has changed and now on my trips I am accompanied by my wife and children.
Dream World Lizard, Bangkok, Thailand
What do you do with young children in Bangkok? A lot of the things that appeal to adults in the Thai capital are inappropriate or boring for children. When you have young children it makes you start looking for other options.
Even though I generally dislike them, some of the big, sterile shopping malls have play areas for children and these can keep bored children amused for a while.
On my January 2015 trip to Bangkok we had a free day and went to Dream World. It's outside of the city and a taxi ride costs about Bt300. The entrance fee is reasonable, the park is well maintained, and there are rides that will appeal to young children and adults alike.
The children thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife, and we will go again when the opportunity arises.
Safari World, Bangkok, Thailand
On another trip we visited Safari World and in the future we will visit the Ancient City and Future Park. These are also theme parks located outside of the city. Nonetheless, they are easy to get to and it's not expensive because of the low taxi fares in Bangkok.
Thailand for Tourists
Living In Thailand
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I tend to use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. I generally find Agoda hotel rates to be the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand