Wheels down at the Bangkok International Airport brought a bit of nervous trepidation. I had done my research about the visa requirements for Canadians entering Thailand for less than 30 days but my confidence was ebbing. I do what so many of us do, I over researched it and started doubting myself.
Canadians are one of 60 countries that can enter Thailand without a visa if you stay for less than 30 days.You must have a booked onward ticket and can show that you have $500 US in cash as you enter. If planning on staying longer than 30 days you need to go through the standard "Visa on Arrival process". Fill out the application, provide 2 passport sized photos and pay the visa fee. I started mixing up both processes like the knuckle head I can be.
I thought "whatever lets just see what happens" and off I went to immigration. Most stories of foreigners languishing in a Thai prison cell usually start with "whatever, let's just see what happens" . I left the plane, went through immigration, got stamped, picked up my pack and met my driver in less than 30 minutes. I was not asked for anything at immigration and was greeted with a bored "Welcome to Thailand" from the young girl at immigration. I scurried through like a mouse, quiet and fast.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is sleek, modern, efficient and a long way from the city centre so naturally I arranged an airport pickup. It was only 800 Baht but twice the price of a regular taxi. A simple luxury I can afford. I was in Bangkok for 3 days and planned to walk around, see the major sites and get a feel for the place. I actually wanted to be approached by all the schemers and touts that I have read about. Bangkok is the belly of the beast when it comes to these motherfu**ers. Click here to read about the top 10 scams in Bangkok. Click here to read about the top 20 scams in Thailand. I honestly wound myself up reading about it as I did when I went to Varanasi India. I needed to walk the streets and relax. There was Pad Thai to discover.
In my opinion The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the winner for the most beautiful National Palace of any place I have visited. Massive, historic, ornate, colorful and crowed with the most intense group of people I have ever been massed with.
Here's the rub. You can not enter the temple with your shoulders or legs showing. No singlets, skirts or shorts. However you can buy the required pants or scarves inside a shop conveniently located just before you purchase your tickets. At one time you could receive pants and scarves for free and hand them back at the end but I get it the revenue grab. The pants are 300 Baht, about $12 and are complete low end market garbage, even for Thailand. However, outside the walls along the main road there is a group of shops dedicated to selling...wait for it...cheap Thai pants for 100 Baht. OK, 100 Baht it is. They lasted about 15 minutes before they started coming apart at the seams. By the time I left the Palace the crotch was split down each leg to the ankle.
Once inside it was a mad house, and this is the off season. There is no need to describe the situation in detail because it would be worse than you are imagining. I think the initial "wow factor" gets everyone once they enter. After you start wandering through the palace the crowds thin and people regain their composure for the most part. I get it. I managed to spend a couple of hours wandering the grounds, going through various temples and stupas and taking enough photos without being extreme. I am trying to learn and become better with my DSLR but I am finding I put it away quick and just enjoy where I am and what I am doing. The whole "be in the moment thing".
The debaucherous Khao San road was a 20 minute walk from the Palace. As it is Bangkok if you get bored walking here you are brain dead. I found myself at a huge traffic circle, them being all the rage in Asia, but nobody was moving. There was a line of cars heading to my right that was stopped and being held by what I thought was a very serious traffic cop. I was also told not to cross the street so I played statues. I did notice there were quite a few police and heavily armed soldiers along the road and there was no traffic at all. The roads into the traffic circle were clear of any traffic. Then as if on cue a motorcade lead by police vans with lights blazing, followed by a military truck of some type but armed to the teeth. Then came the large Suburbans and finally 4 cream colored limos, each with lightly tinted windows. I could see a shadow inside sitting opposite of the driver in the back. All 4 limos all set up the same. OK, I get it, some high level official spending Thai tax dollars on security for a trip to the market.
A few hours later after being served lunch by a lady boy at a busy restaurant on Khao San Road I figured I would walk back to my room near Hua Lamphong (Train Station) and Chinatown, about an hour. I had my trusty map and started back down various new side streets. I stumbled across a street of dudes repairing electronics, various food markets and working temples. The monks having the brightest orange robes I have seen to date. Everything was busy, the smells were incredible and I was just enjoying the sunshine.
Then I turned a corner and the streets was a ghost town. I walked about 2 blocks lined with military and police standing about 15 meters apart on both sides. Nobody was walking, except your truly but that came to a screeching halt when I crossed my third intersection. I heard a loud STOP behind me as well as the soldier to my right put his hand up. Need trick for him to send his voice behind me like that. I turned and there was the boss. He told me quite firmly to stop walking and get off the sidewalk. So that is exactly what I did. I smiled and said thank you (I have no idea why) and asked why? He quickly relaxed and said "the queen will be coming soon". Ahhhh, its the Thai Queen causing all the commotion. He looked at my camera which I was carrying and without malice said "NO". I snapped off a quick one as I was putting it away. He knew.
Some procession as before. Police cars, army vehicle, dark scary suburbans and 4 cream colored limos. The soldiers stiffened and everyone stopped and looked. My only takeaway from the moment was nobody was waving, everyone just stood looking bored of it all. I quietly asked the lady next to me "the queen" to break the silence. She quickly responded just a quietly "wastes all our tax money". I immediately understood the security requirements.
I had my spidey senses on high alert when I hit the streets of Bangkok and took about 5 minutes for them to disappear. It goes back to a point I have made a few times of over researching a new location. It's achieves the same result as when you use Google to self diagnose an ache or pain you have. Suddenly you have (fill in the deadly disease here).
My neighborhood was filled with cheap delicious coffee shops, incredible street food carts and of course a huge 7-11. I think there must be a law in Thailand that 7-11 have to be on every corner. I did not take a taxi or tuk tuk so I have that to look forward to when I return. I read later that the police did a sweep around the Palace clearing out over 400 touts and scammers the previous week. Nobody hassled me which was shitty because I was ready for it and wanted to play along. I guess I should better be careful for what I wish for.
People were kind, accommodating and honest. That is all we can really ask for. I will have 4 more days on my way back from the North so I am going to dive right into this city. I do keep my senses on high alert when I talk to any female here. Lady boys are not just in strip clubs and message parlors and I have to tell you, some of these gals are eye catching and deceiving. I will probably just hang with the Monks while I am here. It's safer. It's not like they are Catholic priests.