It was a pleasantly unexpected promo from a local low cost airline that brought my wife and I to this hastily planned trip, to the capital of the Kingdom of Siam…otherwise known as Thailand. We decided to make it a short weekend jaunt, to make the hole in our pockets as small as possible (and to save on leave credits from work).
We landed at Bangkok’s swanky new airport a few minutes past midnight, and headed straight for passport control. Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi International is one of the newest major airports, and I was quite excited to see it. I found it not quite as bombastic as that other brand new Asian airport, Hong-Kong’s Chek Lap Kok, but it’s still very modern and quite large, as evidenced by the amount of time it took us to get from the gate to the immigration lobby, riding from one travelator to the next.
We got through immigration pretty quickly, and since we were traveling light and didn’t have checked in luggage, we headed straight out to the arrival lobby, where the adventure started.
QUEUEING FOR A CAB
We first approached a limo taxi service booth (their version of Manila’s coupon taxi, I guess), and told them the name of our hotel. We were then told, with a trademark Thai smile, that they would charge 1200 Baht to take us there. That’s around 1,800 Philippine Pesos, just to take us from the Airport to the hotel in the downtown area! Needless to say, there was no way we were going to take it.
We walked around a bit more and saw a sign to the public taxi waiting area, but our problem was how to tell the taxi driver where we wanted to go. We knew most of them could not read English alphabet, and they probably would not understand the way we pronounce the name of the hotel. Fortunately the airport has tourist information booths that are manned round-the-clock, and so we approached one and requested them to spell out the name of the hotel in Thai, in a piece of paper that we could show to the driver. Problem solved.
We queued up on the waiting area, got our taxi, and showed the driver our precious little piece of paper. The driver then told us he’ll charge us 400 Baht flat. Hmm…sounds like home, we thought. We insisted on the driver to “use meter”, and after a while he reluctantly obliged. We’re Filipinos, and taxi drivers are worse than that back where we came from!
The airport is by no means close to the city center. We arrived in the wee hours of the morning so traffic was very light, but even then it took us almost an hour to get to the hotel. We booked a couple of nights at the Four Seasons International House, a small hotel tucked away at the corner of one “soi” in the downtown area, a few blocks away from Siam Square. The hotel’s rooms are showing its age, but it’s reasonably clean and the receptionists are polite and helpful. It’s also inexpensive. There probably are newer, better located budget hotels around, but I wouldn’t mind staying there again.
After a three hour flight on budget airline seats that won’t recline properly, we were eager to plop down to sleep, so after the brief check-in, we headed straight for the sack, to regain energy for the morning jump-off.
Morning was welcomed by buffet breakfast at the hotel’s cafeteria. It wasn’t anything special. Steamed and fried rice, eggs, sausages, dried fish, noodle soup, congee, milk, tea, juice and cereals…par for the course. Typical Filipinos aren’t picky on breakfast.
We started the day by heading, on foot, to the nearest Skytrain station. It was a bit of a walk, but I didn’t mind. What better way to get acquainted with the locality than to take to the sidewalks and witness whatever it is that locals do in a typical morning.
Bangkok does have a reputation for luring tourists into scams. We found out so while researching on the internet. On our way to the Skytrain station, not a few Tuk-tuk drivers offered to take us to various places for 20 Baht. MBK, Jatujak, a so called “weekend market”, and so on. 20 Baht is only 30 Pesos, and I knew Jatujak was nowhere close to where we were. There was no way they’ll settle for 20 Baht to take two people to Jatujak, unless they had something devious in mind, I thought. And so we just ignored them. These people are persistent though, so we just walked fast without making eye contact. The general rule while walking in places like the Quiapo district of Manila applies here as well – Act as if you’re a bit familiar with the place.
The Skytrain is one of the city’s public rail transport systems, the other being the Metro. The Skytrain runs overhead, similar to Manila’s LRT and MRT lines, but with a bit larger trains, while the Metro runs undergound, like a subway.
Our destination was Jatujak, the world-famous, sprawling market on the suburbs of the city, and it sits close to the northern terminus of the Skytrain’s Sukhumvit line. We chose the overhead rail line as our mode of transport to get there, mostly because I wanted to make sure I get to ride whatever is that the locals ride on in their daily lives.
We boarded the train at Ratchathewi, and got off at Mo Chit. The fare was 30 Baht each (45 Pesos), which means it’s much more expensive than Manila’s LRT and MRT for similar distances. Their stations are a tad better maintained, and their trains a bit larger, but at thrice the price…us folks in Manila have something to be thankful for after all.
Directly beside the Mo Chit station is Jatujak Park, a large, reasonably well maintained public park that features a man made lake (or is it?). We spent some time taking pictures of the park before walking to the market on the southern end.
The sourthern exit of the park leads straight to the northern end of Jatujak Market. From wide open spaces, you are suddenly thrust into a tight maze of stalls and narrow alleys. Depending on what you’re in Bangkok for, it could be heaven or it could be hell. It’s chaotic, claustrophobic and not really clean, yet it also offers everything that a serious shopper would look for, short of gadgets and gizmos. The place is large (that’s an understatement), and there’s an endless number of shops selling anything and everything. The place does feel like a true to life version of the mazes found on the games section of weekend magazines – it is easy to get lost.
Those willing to play with (or dreaming of) product photography won’t get bored here too, and the vendors don’t mind people taking snaps of their wares.
We bought quite a few items on Jatujak, mostly souvenirs, before retreating back to the downtown area for lunch. We went out the same way we went in, through Skytrain, and as we got down from the Ratchathewi station, we traced back our steps earlier in the morning.
Along the way, we stopped for lunch at McDonalds. This has been one “tradition” that I have maintained in my journeys…I’ve had McDonalds in every country I’ve been to. Well, I haven’t been to that many actually…only 5 countries so far, but if I’ll be blessed with more travels, I’ll keep this tradition until I step on a country that has no McDonalds at all. That would be quite hard to find…Ronald’s everywhere.
I was surprised to find that the size of their servings approximate the sizes found on U.S. outlets. I upsized the fries and drinks, thinking they would be the same sizes as those found in Manila. Instead, we ended up with loads of fries and buckets of Coke.
We walked casually back to the hotel, observing the things being sold on the sidewalk, and taking some pictures. This was already high noon, and the sidewalks were busier and tighter as more people poured out into the streets.
We reached the hotel drenched in sweat due to the heat and the long walk, and that ended the first half of our first day.
*this trip was taken August, 2010. All photos were taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6.