A Day in Bangkok

Sunday was an important Buddhist holiday in Thailand. For the previous seven days there has been a big event at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. If you don’t know, this is the big field alongside the Grand Palace. As I wanted to go into Bangkok anyway to buy a new digital camera I thought I would spend the night in the city. Monday was a public holiday anyway. I will talk about the digital camera another time but I thought I would share with you today my experiences with transport and shopping. I didn’t take my car with me so I was relegated to true “tourist” mode.

The sky train doesn’t go as far as Samut Prakan. They have been talking about it for years but no sign of it starting. It is a shame because I don’t often get a chance to go into Bangkok. The traffic is so bad I don’t usually bother. However, if there was a sky train all the way then I probably would go more often.

So, on Sunday morning, I had to take a taxi to the nearest Sky Train station at On Nut. (By the way, this isn’t pronounced the English way of “nut” but more like a short sounding “noot”.) There is no point in telling your taxi driver to go to the sky train station as they more often than not don’t know that word. However, they do know the name of the company that runs it: BTS! So, use that word instead.

I find all taxi drivers to be very chatty. They are very complimentary too. You only have to speak a few words in Thai and they immediately say “geng maak” meaning you are very clever. If you look at the registration in the window, you will see that most of them come from northeastern Thailand. This one was also listening to folk music on the radio.

At the first traffic lights, he stopped to buy a jasmine garland for his Buddhist shrine. This cost him 20 baht. He made a wai first and then uttered some words before placing it over the rearview mirror. Immediately his attitude changed. Before he was a careful driver. Now, all of a sudden, it was like riding a rollercoaster. He tailgated everyone and changed lanes often. About half a dozen times he had near misses. But he kept going. Originally I was going to ask him to go all the way into Bangkok, but I am glad I had told him to take me to the sky train station. When I got out my legs were wobbly and I felt seasick. I never understand how they can put so much faith into the little shrines in their cars.

The sky train was a relief. It is clean, cool and fast. I have a card that I just re-charge with more money when it runs out. So, I don’t normally have to line up to buy a ticket. Actually, at the BTS stations, you have to line up twice. At the ticket window, all they do is give you the right change. Then you go to the automated ticket machines to get your ticket. If you think you will use the BTS a lot, you can buy 1-3 day passes which will save you money. I was staying at the Asia Hotel and it only took me 20 minutes to get there. It is one stop after Siam Square. The best thing about this hotel is that you can walk straight in from the station platform without going down to street level.

After checking in and taking my bags up to the room, I decided I would first go to Pantip Plaza in order to buy my camera. It probably would have taken 20-30 minutes to walk. I have done this before but I decided to go by taxi. Out of interest, I decided to ask the tuk tuk first. He said 80 baht and I said you must be crazy. He just shrugged his shoulders. So, I just got into an air-conditioned taxi instead. These start at 35 baht on the meter. Unfortunately he had to go the long way because you couldn’t turn right at the intersection. I didn’t ask why he was going the opposite way but he told me anyway. Lots of tourists complain about this but really there isn’t much they can do. Sometimes you really have to go the opposite way. Anyway, the trip only cost 47 baht.

I won’t talk much about the digital camera at this stage. However, I will say that it is worth shopping around first because shops even next to each other will have different prices. The first shop and the last shop had a 4000 baht price difference! For those people who don’t know, Pantip Plaza is heaven for the computer geek. There are about four floors of nothing but computer shops and related electronics. You can get just about anything to do with the computer including software and DVD movies. However, I did find it a bit annoying that these strange men lurking in dark corners kept coming out to ask if I wanted “sexy movie”. I kept thinking of Steve’s blog when he worked for the undercover cops. You are busted!

From Pantip Plaza I took a taxi back to the hotel. Getting lazy I suppose. The taxi driver was going on about how hot it was today and that it would rain in the evening for sure. I disagreed as it was a lovely blue sky despite the fact the rainy season had already started. Then he went on about how bad the traffic was even though it was a Sunday. He asked me if I had gone to the Buddhist festival at Sanam Luang. I told him not yet. He said that there were a lot of people there. I said I would go later in the afternoon after it had cooled down a bit.

I went back to the hotel as I wanted to charge the batteries for my new camera. I was keen to test it out as soon as I could. The booklet said I should charge it for 90 minutes so I decided I would leave it to charge while I went to eat at the local MBK Shopping Mall. This time I went by sky train. I went one stop to Siam Square and then changed lines to go one stop to the National Stadium station. From here I could easily walk straight into MBK without going down to street level.

While I was at the station at Siam Square I was surprised to see how quickly the new gigantic shopping mall had grown since the last time I was here. It is called the Siam Paragon and will be the largest shopping experience in Thailand. Siam Square is already a haven for shoppers and this will complement it nicely. I will write again about this place once it has opened.

I think MBK is one of my favourite shopping malls. It has a lot all under one roof. I think just about anything can be bought here. For example, handicrafts, cameras, mobile phones, DVDs, computer software, electronics, computer games, fashion accessories and a lot more. You could easily spend all day there as there are many restaurants and also a multiplex cinema. In fact, there is a hotel there too so you can spend the night if you wanted to!

After MBK, I took the sky train back to the hotel to pick up my camera and then took a taxi to Sanam Luang. For the record, a taxi from Siam Square to Grand Palace would cost about 60 baht which is about $1.50. I asked him to drop me off at the northern end and then I walked around taking pictures and testing out my new camera. There were certainly a lot of people there. Quite a few events had been organized on the subject of Buddhism. I was going to stay for the candlelit procession in the evening but as I had been walking around for several hours I decided to go back. I was really tired. Anyway, the Bangkok Governor was going to be there and I wouldn’t have seen much. Too much security.

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