We left on the only bus that travels direct from Siem Reap to Bangkok, the Nattakan Co. Ltd. The ticket office is located about five doors up from the only KFC in town. Ask the tuk tuk driver to take you to the Colonel and he’ll know where to go.
The tickets cost us $US28 each, and while you can get to Bangkok cheaper, there is very little hassle taking this direct bus. There’s no bargaining with tuk tuk drivers at the Thai border to take you into town to get a cheaper bus, or haggling with the minivans to take you the rest of the way. The bus leaves at 8am, they drop you off at the Cambodian border departure point at roughly 10.30am, then wait for you to make your way through. Afterwards you take all of your gear off the bus and head for the Thai border arrival checkpoint. It’s quite a walk, about 200 metres past a few horrible casinos, and when you’ve got a bit of luggage and a two year old with you it makes life a bit tough. Jack was tired so was crying and causing a scene at both checkpoints, and for once it came in handy. We were ushered to the front of the line by officers at both the Cambodian and Thai checkpoints, and for the first time in my life I was delighted Jack was creating a stir in public.
Border crossing advice
I’ve read and heard all about the scams travellers face at the Thai border when coming from the other direction. There’s plenty of advice out there to avoid getting scammed, but the truth is you don’t need to pay anyone at the Thai border to help get your Cambodian visa, and they won’t make you wait any longer than anyone else to get your visa or catch a bus to Siem Reap. It’s all just a ploy to scare you. Strongly refuse any offers of ‘help’ and make your own way through the Thai border to the Cambodian border to get your visa. Then sit back and relax while they try and guilt trip you into believing the bus will now be two hours late because of you, then rejoice as the bus ‘miraculously’ appears a few minutes later.
Once through into Thailand our bus was waiting right there to take us to Bangkok. However we didn’t leave straight away, despite all of the original passengers being on the bus. The driver was filling empty seats with new passengers, making himself a nice little earner on the side!
Don’t let the taxi drivers rip you off in Bangkok
We got into Bangkok’s huge bus station at Mo Chit in the north of the city at around 5.15pm, a little later than expected. We hadn’t taken two steps off the bus when we were surrounded by taxi drivers all wanting to take us wherever we were going. But we were ready for them, we’d done our research. These guys don’t have a meter in their car, and negotiate with you prior to getting in. But they always tell you your destination is miles away and the fare will be huge. The reality is no matter where you’re going in Bangkok, it shouldn’t cost you much. So we made our way through the crowd of lying drivers to the meter taxis to the right of the station. We told the driver where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there (that’s where Google Maps comes in handy). We set off and made sure he turned his meter on. We’d also heard rumours these guys sometimes ‘forget’ to turn their meter on and at the end charges you a grossly inflated price. We travelled from the north of the city to Baan Silom in the south for $AU5.00 (150THB), and that included a $AU1.66 (50THB) fee to use the freeway.
We had no Thai Baht on us, and the taxi’s aren’t fitted with credit card swipers like at home in Australia, so we were praying for a money exchange place on the way. We had about $US125.00 on us, so a money exchange outlet was vital otherwise we may have been washing and cleaning his car as payment. Sure we could simply withdraw money from an ATM, but I don’t like paying the extra fees, and I had no idea where the nearest Citibank ATM was. Luckily for us there was a money exchange place right outside our hotel, which was a huge relief given we hadn’t seen another one the whole way there!
Arriving at our hotel
Sarah chose our hotel for the first time on the trip, and I was expecting big things considering she’d spent 3-4 hours the previous day researching the best areas to stay in Bangkok, and the best hotels within our price range. So here we were outside The Heritage Baan Silom Hotel, and it looked wonderful. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride with Sarah’s choice, she seemed to have done well. Once inside the staff were friendly and the foyer was first class. We were shown to our room and at first glance I couldn’t believe we’d only paid about $AU30 a night for this room. Then the cracks started to appear. The internet was worse than anything we’d encountered so far, and that included Cambodia! There was virtually no hot water from the shower, and Sarah was shocked to discover there were no complimentary tea bags despite the promises to the contrary.
The random people you bump into!
The following morning we decided to go for a huge walk, and headed towards Sukhumvit Road to check out the street market and feed off the energy Bangkok radiates. As we were walking along one of the strangest things happened. About 20 metres down the footpath I spotted two good friends coming towards us, but my mind couldn’t quite believe it, so even though I was pointing at them, my brain wouldn’t tell my mouth to tell Sarah that Tony and Jen were standing right in front of us. What are the chances of that happening? Of all the cities in the world, and all the seconds and minutes and hours where we could have been anywhere, at that exact moment we were standing opposite two good friends in Bangkok. It would have been strange randomly bumping into them when we all lived in Melbourne, but this takes randomness to a whole new level. They were on their way back home to Ireland after spending 12 months in Australia, and it was so great to see them again. We chatted for a while then made plans to catch up the next day to explore Bangkok. Our catch up only last about 15 minutes, I think we all needed to go away and process what had just happened.
Negotiating with our tuk tuk driver
For the next few days we discovered as much of the city as we could, but not as much as we would have liked thanks to those crazy Yellow Shirt protestors. We hired a tuk tuk driver to drive us around to see the sights of Bangkok, or at least that was the idea. We hired Lulu for four hours for the grand sum of 400THB (approx. $AU13) which I though was fair enough after his original offer of 900THB ($AU30). We got chatting to LouLou about his job and he was quite a fascinating man. His wife and children live in Chiang Mai while he lives in Bangkok driving a tuk tuk to support them. He gets home for one week a month, hands over all his money, then heads back to Bangkok to continue working. He pays 3,000THB per month ($AU100) for a small room in Bangkok, and works about nine hours per day. He pays 400THB ($AU13) per day just to hire his tuk tuk, then another 200THB ($AU7) per day on average for fuel. It sounds like a hard slog to me, but he says he makes a decent living and supports his family quite comfortably.
Here’s what we got up to during our stay:
Temple of the Reclining Buddha
LouLou took us to Wat Pho (100THB or $AU3.30 entry fee), home to the incredibly impressive Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This particular golden Buddha is 15m high and 43m long, lying on his side with his right elbow on the ground, his hand supporting his head as though he was watching TV. The grounds are equally as impressive, and we spent about an hour here while LouLou waited patiently outside.
The Grand Palace
We drove past The Grand Palace, adjacent to Wat Pho, but the government had closed it to the public for some strange reason. Lulu told us it would be shut, but I didn’t believe him, one of many times he would prove me wrong. I got out and asked the guards why it was closed, but they weren’t forthcoming with too much information. Given they were carrying machine guns I didn’t want to push the point too much so we moved on.
We went to the Golden Mount for brilliant 360 degree views of the city (20THB or $AU0.65 entry fee). By this time Jack was asleep in his pram in the tuk tuk, so I went up first. It’s quite a climb to the top, but the views are fantastic. When I got back to the tuk tuk Sarah had decided she didn’t need to make the climb, so we pushed on.
We tried to get to a number of other places, like Vimanmek Palace, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and Chitralada Palace, but the Yellow Shirt protestors weren’t being very cooperative. Despite Lulu telling me so, I couldn’t believe so many roads would be blocked that we wouldn’t be able to reach these destinations. Once again I was wrong and we headed back to the hotel early and disappointed. On the way back to the hotel Lulu asked if we wouldn’t mind spending 10 minutes at a tailor and jeweller. Tuk tuk drivers are given petrol vouchers every time they bring tourists to these places, saving them the additional personal costs. In fact, we had tuk tuk drivers offer us free rides in return for 10 minutes at a tailor or jeweller. We liked Lulu so we agreed, but we did renegotiate the 400THB fee to 200THB given we were going back two hours early!
Forming an orderly line at the Sky Rail
The following day we bought a couple of Sky Rail day passes (130 THB or $AU4.30 each) to get a look at the city from above. These city trains are incredibly clean, modern, air-conditioned and you get to see the city from a whole new perspective. We simply stayed on them, travelled back and forth on a couple of the lines and got a great idea of the layout and features of the city. We also made our way to the northern most point on the rail line, Mo Chit, where the huge Chatuchak Market is. But after being given some dodgy information, we found out on arrival the market is only on the weekend, so there were no stalls operating.
We got off the Sky Rail at the Victory Monument and made our way by foot to the places we wanted to go with Lulu the day before but couldn’t because of the road closures and protests. A very bizarre thing happened while here, and then again about 45 minutes later while walking towards the Chitralada Palace. We were eating lunch when all of a sudden I noticed there wasn’t a single car navigating the massive roundabout at the Victory Monument. Then I noticed everyone had stopped what they were doing and were watching the road. It was like a scene out of some sci-fi TV show where everyone’s brain had been take-over by aliens! I asked tongue in cheek whether the king was about to make an appearance, not expecting the answer to be yes. I couldn’t believe it, but the next thing a procession of cars drove by led by the blaring sirens of the security cars, followed by what were obviously the cars of the royal family, then some more security cars. A minute after they’d left the scene the aliens released everyone’s brain and the people went about their day as though nothing had happened. Very strange indeed. A little later the exact same thing happened right in front of us again at a busy intersection. It was like the king had decided he wanted to do blockies so rounded up his security detail and jumped in his Rolls-Royce Phantom. I tried to film the Royal fly-by but a local Thai man sternly told me to put my camera away. What a killjoy!
We finally made it to our destinations
We eventually made it to Vimanmek Palace, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and Chitralada Palace. They were really lovely buildings and I’m glad we made the effort. From here we grabbed a tuk tuk and made our way to Khao San Road, a mecca for cheap shopping and Aussie expats. We had a quick look but didn’t stay for long because it was early and there weren’t many people around, and we had a train to catch to Chiang Mai.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Bangkok, despite the Yellow Shirts making our lives difficult when trying to get from one site to the next. The energy the city creates is quite addictive, and it’s probably the only city I’ve been to so far on this adventure where we could actually live for a while. It may be a city in South-East Asia, but it’s trying very hard to be a western city with its huge shopping malls and every chain of western stores lining the streets of the major shopping districts.
Check out our photo gallery below to see what we saw while exploring Bangkok…