Never underestimate jetlag and its affect on you on your first days in a new locale. Our first day was a bit frustrating. On our second day we decided to head back to the river to take a boat ride. We had been there the previous day but had experienced a series of misadventures. So, that evening, we had done some research about various options for touring.
On our first day we had seen some signs for tours when we got off the HOHO boat and were considering taking one of them. There are smaller canals that are connected to the Chao Praya River and along those canals are some potentially interesting sites: a crocodile farm, a snake farm, a floating market, an orchid farm, etc. We had also found the correct ferry service that we had looked for the previous day, the Chao Praya Express. It only cost 15 Baht to ride the ferry; the route takes you a very long way down the river (over an hour ride each way). There was also the HOHO boat that we had ridden the previous day. I believe you could buy an all-day pass for 180 Baht. And, there were long-tailed boats that could be hired as well. We weren’t sure which we would choose because we were not sure where to catch the ferry or HOHO boat, nor were we sure how much the canal tour would cost.
We were easily able to ride the BTS to the correct stop (Saphan Taksin). From there, you simply exit the BTS station and walk to Sathorn Pier. Pretty quickly, I figured out what we had done wrong the day before. I can partially blame the Tourist Information person we asked for directions – he said that when we exited the BTS station we needed to go to the right to catch the ferry. If you look at the sign below, you can see where we went wrong:
Here is what we should have been told:
- There are 3 places to catch a boat that will take you along the river
- If you want to ride the tourist boat (HOHO), go to the far left
- If you want to ride the ferry, go to the middle (ignore the hotel shuttle boat sign)
- If you want an expensive but faster ride, go to the right (long-tailed boat)
I must confess that I did not really look at the sign carefully; I knew that we didn’t want the tourist boat so went to the right (as we had been told). I thought there were only two choices, not three.
Anyhow, we did find a private tour of the canals so stopped to inquire what the cost would be. We were quoted 3600 Baht for a 3-hour tour. This would be over $100 which is a ridiculous price compared to our other choices. We walked away; he then wanted to know how much we were willing to pay. We have quickly discovered that when we ask anyone here how much something costs, we will be quoted a, “you’ve got to be kidding me!” (aka “farang”) price first, and then they will want to haggle. Never, ever accept the first price given. Even so, we had no desire to spend even half that amount when we could ride the ferry for 30 Baht round-trip (less than $1). We wouldn’t get to see the crocodiles, snakes, orchids or floating market, but that’s ok. We will be visiting a floating market in Vietnam and I can live without seeing snakes!
We purchased our tickets for the orange line of the Chao Praya Express Ferry. Just to the left of the ticket desk was the HOHO boat ticket office. Oddly enough, this was not the dock the where we were let off yesterday.
One thing I will say is that the first day in any new city is always about making mistakes and getting lost. You don’t have any sense of how a city is laid out until you’ve explored it which means making wrong turns, back-tracking, etc. until you start to recognize landmarks and develop a feel for the location of things. By the end of our second day we were quite confident getting around the city using public transportation, including the Chao Praya Express Ferry.
The ferry ride was quite pleasant; not nearly as bumpy as the long-tailed boat ride we had taken the day before. There are multiple stops so it is not a quick way to get to the sites but it is certainly economical. There are quite a few local people that use the ferry as well as quite a few tourists. It is the easiest way to reach most of the popular sites. We were glad that we had embarked at one of the first stops on the line; we were able to get seats. By the third or fourth stop, it was standing room only. At each stop whistles would be shrilly blown to communicate with the worker on the dock. Passengers were hustled off the boat with a reminder, “Quick, Quick!” and then the new set of passengers were let on. It was amazing how fast each stop was. No wasting time allowed!
As we rode, I took numerous pictures of the sites we passed. There are beautiful temples and shrines visible along the way. There are also very run-down looking buildings that people live in. Like many places we have visited, Bangkok is a city of contrasts.
When we reached the end of the line we had to disembark. We were hoping to be able to pay another 15 Baht and just stay on the same boat, but that was definitely not allowed. We walked to the right of the dock where we were let off toward a building. We were able to pay another 15 Baht and board another ferry immediately. Unfortunately, all of the seats were taken so we had the opportunity to stand for the majority of the journey back to Sathorn Pier. I had hoped to get pictures of sites on the other side of the river on the trip back but it was impossible to do so without have a seat.
By now we were feeling like experts riding the BTS. We found our way back to Terminal 21 easily. It was lunch time so we headed to the food court. There are many excellent choices of places to eat there and the prices are quite reasonable. I know that we could save even more money by eating street food but are a little leery of getting sick. Yes, I know that many, many people eat street food with no problems but we would rather be safe than sorry, especially so early in our trip.
Next up? Massages! We had researched on-line and found a place that was walking distance from Terminal 21 that had pretty good reviews, massage@Le. We decided to have the 1-hour foot massage/head-neck-shoulder massage combo for 290 Baht (less than $10!). What can I say other than it was an hour of pure bliss! There are many massage places in Bangkok. My only suggestion is to read the reviews to make sure you end up at the right type of massage parlor…
We called the hotel to send the tuk-tuk to pick us up and spent a relaxing afternoon by the pool. After dinner we headed back to the Sukhumvit area to wander the streets at night. Let’s just say that is was very educational. There were many people selling items along the streets. Not only were there tables of viagra, cialis, and other little blue pills, there were also all manner of sex toys. But, there were also people selling food, clothing, watches and many other items. Terminal 21 is a short distance from the Nana area of Bangkok which is a red-light district so not too surprising that we saw such a diversity of items for sale!
The next day we put the Grand Palace as the first thing on our agenda. And, we decided to splurge and take a cab. At the front desk of our hotel we told them we wanted to go to the Grand Palace and to get a cab for us. One of the workers told us that we had to have our passports with us, which seemed odd but we went back to the room to fetch them just in case. The cab driver spoke little English but wanted us to know that the king had died last year. We knew that because it happened just before we were supposed to visit Bangkok. He then said he could not drive us to the Grand Palace; that he would drive us to the ferry dock and drop us off. This was a little disappointing because we were wanting to avoid the ferry today and could have taken the BTS instead of taking a cab, but at this point there wasn’t much we could do about it. The drive was interesting, at least; we were able to see much more of the city from the cab than from the Skytrain. And, it was an inexpensive ride (100 Baht); almost the same cost as riding the BTS.
Unfortunately, he did not drop us off at the Chao Praya Ferry dock; he dropped us off at a pier that was lined with guys trying to see long-tailed boat tours. We told the guy we were talking to that we only wanted to go to the Grand Palace and had no need for a tour. He offered us a tour for 1400 Baht (one hour on the boat). We reiterated that we only wanted to go to the Grand Palace; we had no need for a tour. Eventually he got up and walked away from us because it was obvious we did not want what he was selling. The downside? We had no idea where we were and were not sure now to get to the Chao Praya Ferry. Fortunately our driver was out having a cigarette so we were able to tell him that he had taken us to the wrong spot. “Oh, you wanted the BIG boat,” was his response. We think he intentionally took us to the wrong spot to hook us up with one of his buddies selling tours since we did see cabs near the Grand Palace. He took us to the correct dock for no additional cost and we were finally on our way.
Our plan to get there early by taking a cab didn’t exactly work out. By the time we finally arrived, it was an hour past opening time and the place was a zoo. There were so many groups of tourists that it was difficult to walk around and enjoy the surroundings. I will say that it is spectacular and absolutely worth a visit but I would definitely recommend getting there early to avoid some of the crowds. Also, we did not need our passport for entry. However, to rent an audio guide you must have your passport.
Our next stop was the Forensic Museum (Medical Museum). Now that we had the ferry system worked out it was extremely easy to get to. We hopped on the ferry and got off at the next stop, walked half a block and turned into the Siriraj Hospital grounds. Along the wall there are signs pointing to the path to follow to get to the museum. The museum is free but you will be asked to sign a ledger on your way in. It is located on the third floor of a non-air conditioned building. I was having a really tough time with the heat so climbing three flights of stairs was a bit rough. The museum itself is filled with all sorts of oddities; it’s definitely not for everyone. There are preserved body parts, slides of cross-sections of bodies, a whole wall dedicated to conjoined twins, and so on. After taking a bunch of pictures, I saw the sign saying no photography allowed. Oops!
The heat in Bangkok continued to be an issue for me; this Seattleite is not used to temperatures in the 90’s with high humidity. We had planned on visiting Chinatown but instead opted to head back to our hotel to relax. We stopped by Terminal 21 for lunch and found that they were having a Supermodel contest. We watched the young hopeful models parade themselves down the catwalk. They all looked so serious! I guess models don’t smile when they pose, but I think most of them would look more attractive if they did.
That night we headed out again to experience the nightlife a bit more. There is a street called Soi Cowboy that was within walking distance from Terminal 21 so we headed there. It was all you would expect: lots of beautiful young women out to entice men in to the clubs that lined the streets. We saw a few of the infamous Bangkok “lady boys” as well. I felt a bit awkward sightseeing there; I really didn’t want to stare at those “working” but then, it was hard not to!
Our final day was devoted to visiting Chinatown. It is quite the enormous Chinatown (we have been to many). Definitely worth a visit if you are in Bangkok.
After our Chinatown visit we decided to get massages again. We headed back to Massage@Le and once again had excellent massages (even better than the first time!). And, one final lunch at Terminal 21. Today they had an international food festival going on. One last tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel and an afternoon spent catching up on my blogging as well as packing. Tomorrow we catch a flight to Siem Reap.
Would we return to Bangkok? Absolutely! We took things slow and easy for our first visit here so there are many places that we did not get to. We loved our hotel (U Sukhumvit Bangkok) and highly recommend it. Our room was wonderful; breakfast was fantastic; dinners were delicious as well. Though it is not located on a main road (it’s a half-mile away) there is a free tuk-tuk service that drops you off by the BTS station. From there it is easy to get almost anywhere in the city. The people that work here were unfailingly helpful and cheerful. It was definitely “our kind of place”.