Saturday, November 08, 2008

SE Asia Day 1: Soi Rambutri, Bangkok, Thailand

I arrived in Bangkok late after a full day of travel.  A direct flight would have only been about six hours, but I was traveling on a free reward ticket for redeeming my miles with Northwest, so I had a long layover in Tokyo.  The whole travel time was about 15 hours from first take-off until final touch-down.

Customs was easy since I just had my rucksack.  I had upon arrival plan:  I exchanged some dollars for baht, and walked toward the bus area.  I even knew the bus I was going to take.  The only problem was that the bus service had shut down for the night.  The left me vulnerable to the predatory taxi drivers that swarmed around me as I headed toward the departure door.

There was this cartel of taxi drivers with laminated cards laying out their rates.  They offered vehicles ranging from a standard car, to a luxury car, all the way up to an minibus.  They standard car rate started at 890 baht, which is over $25.  I had done my research and new this to be well over twice the normal meter price.  So, I brushed the guys off, until one guy approached me and offered a ride for 400 baht.  I took the offer.

Now, this could have ended bad.  I got to his car and realized that he wasn’t a licensed cab driver—just some guy with a car.  He didn’t have meter or anything in his car.  There is a multitude of scams these drivers run.  Most of them have deals with guesthouses, strip clubs, or other places and get money for dropping you off at these businesses.

I got lucky.  The guy turned out to be a nice guy.  We chatted a bit on the way.  One of the more alarming things I saw on the way was the make-shift shrine built to the woman killed in the recent demonstrations against the government.  Down the block were a couple dozen riot police in full gear in case anything flared up.  The driver merely commented, “Politics.”

I already knew I was going to skip Khao San Road (aka backpacker central).  Khao San Road was made really famous by the movie The Beach.  The main character stays in a run-down guest house and is a little jaded by the whole backpacker scene.  I actually didn’t read the book until I was on my way out of Thailand and to the States, but already shared a similar sentiment after my backpack trips to China and Bali.

I opted for the quieter and nearby Soi Rambutri.  The whole area on the map below (based on is full of guesthouses, shops, and restaurants catering to backpackers.  Don’t spend too much time here!  There’s an entire country to see!  Use this area as a base to plan, regroup, etc, but this is not the destination.

There are a lot of travel companies operating in the area.  So if you are basing yourself in Bangkok, you could easily buy a seat on the many day trips offered and get out of town for the day.

I stayed in the Rambuttri Village Inn on my first night (#4 on the map).  They were okay.  They didn’t have any of their cheap rooms so I had to get one of their “superior rooms” which has TV and air con.  The place is okay.  The rooms are really bland and would be fine for just crashing for the night.  They also have a pool, but I didn’t stick around long enough to use it.

Unlike the main character in The Beach, my first night wasn’t nice and quiet.


Tomorrow’s Post:  “Day 2: Bangkok Bicycle”

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