From Carrie Fisher to David Bowie, 2016 took the lives of prominent figures in the world, including the beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Ever since that tragic lost, Bangkok has been full moaners – and well there are mourners too. That makes visiting the Grand Palace, a top tourist attraction in Bangkok, that much harder.
Thailand is a relatively safe place to travel, but you couldn’t tell it by the endless warnings you read online. From diseases to scams, robbery and accidents, there are endless warnings that will surely work their way into the minds of paranoid travellers.
But have you ever read the warning label of every product you buy? I get that they were sued once, but is it really necessary for an umbrella to warn you it is not tornado proof? I mean, how stupid can you be? Or for the blow dryer to warn you to avoid contact with water? So now I’ll just dry my hair while I wash it because Kylie Jenner said that is how she attained that perfect glow. No, she has a bunch of hairdressers walking around like Egyptians around the pyramid of her bed.
I guess this nanny state wasn’t born out of protectiveness of its citizens. It was born out of lawsuits. People will sue for anything. Only that could explain that a baby stroller’s label advises you to “remove child before folding” or that the can of pepper spray warns you that it “may irritate eyes.” DUH! I wonder if anyone has ever held the wrong end of a chainsaw or used a rotary tool as a dental drill to justify such warning labels. My advise is that if you go to a Japanese restaurant, please stay away from grills, unless you are as rich as Tori Spelling and can afford to sue the hell out of them.
My point is that despite you knowing that rat poison can kill you too, there is a label that tells you to avoid ingesting it. Just like the warning there is on the bleach because I’ve decided to cleanse my soul and the way to do it is by ingesting a shot of it.
Despite there being countless warnings about Thailand, a little common sense will get you through the day without getting injured, poisoned, scammed or robbed… unless you are… well, you know… ME.
Loyal to my paranoid nature, I read most of the warnings about Thailand. Don’t ride on buses, don’t drink water from the tap, don’t accept drinks from strangers, don’t carry anybody’s belongings at the airport, don’t leave a bunch of money on the streets unattended… I bet you did too. You’ve probably heard all those creepy stories because that is what people like most. Humans, we are sick bastards.
I heard it first hand how an Aussie stayed one night in Manila, went out to party with some local girls and they stole $400 from him. I put on a show of sympathy but I was actually thinking he had it coming. In his head, he was probably picturing himself in a fifthsome just because he was inviting these girls to drinks. The joke is on you, playboy!
So after my display of common sense, paranoia and self-awareness, you might wonder how I got scammed in Thailand.
It’s not a big deal to be honest. I didn’t lose much money at all. What I lost was my opportunity to see the Grand Palace which was my number one priority in Bangkok. A simple route became a true maze. Even Homer leaned out of the clouds from Olympus, pointed at me and said “sucker!”
I guess the odds weren’t in our favour.
We started our adventure in the buzzing, chaotic city of Bangkok. The first site we headed to was The Grand Palace. We actually made it there. Can you believe it? But that doesn’t mean we were getting any closer. It was raining like there was no tomorrow and there were mourners – not moaners – all over the place. Thais – and other Asians – dressed in black were walking up and down the streets in direction of the Grand Palace. The number of mourners was such that for a minute we weren’t sure if anyone apart from the mourners – yes, I love that word – were allowed in the Grand Palace, so we continued our way down the street while avoiding the crowd and the rain, then entered Wat Pho instead. There we spent a considerable amount of time and then we headed to Chinatown. Don’t ask me why. We were five minutes from the Grand Palace. Five minutes!
The next day our main priority was the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew (they are both in the same complex). These main tourist sites are along the river in Chinatown. Our plan seemed rational. We would start at the north of the river and then walk down along the waterfront visiting each site (you can read more about it on “Thai Travel agent: All you Westerners Want is Sex, Sex, Sex”. Since there was no visible path and we met a Thai angel – yes, angel – we got sidetracked again on our second day.
The next morning we headed to Kanchanaburi for a day-getaway. There my friend saw a notice stating the Grand Palace is closed due to the King’s death. Apparently, that would last a year. Crestfallen and frustrated, we gave up on our plan to visit the Grand Palace on our last afternoon.
We continued on travelling around Thailand, but we made a last minute change. Instead of spending the last three days of our trip in Ayutthaya, we would stay in Bangkok… again. The main reason was to party our last night away in Khao San road, Bangkok.
Since my friend was sick and had to stay at the hotel room, Wat Phra Kaew – the temple that houses the Emerald Buddha – went back to the top of my priorities. I walked out the hotel on my own with every intention of ordering an Uber when a Tuk Tuk driver stopped me – irony – and asked me where I was going. When I told him I was going to Wat Phra Kaew, he told me that it was part of the Grand Palace complex and because of the King’s death, it was closed for a year. Although I wasn’t convinced because Google told me it was meant to be open and Google is always right, he wouldn’t stop explaining the whole issue to me in a strong Thai accent while pointing at the map and not really understanding what I was asking. Frustrated at our failed attempt at communication, I decided go on the Tuk Tuk to Siam Square.
This was a new hotel but I was aware that our new location was close to Siam Square. I’m not one to haggle – it’s a pity as that’s a fun thing of being in Thailand – and I paid more money than I should have considering the distance from one place to the other. Of course, I didn’t know this beforehand.
Once I arrived in Siam Square, I realised there’s nothing to do there but shopping. Seriously people, I don’t get what the fuss is all about. If you want to go shopping, go to a freaking night market.
After walking around, I ordered an Uber in the direction of The Giant Swing. I was so lucky, the driver was the nicest driver you could ever meet – the driver of our dreams. He was a tour guide back in the day and gave me more information than anyone else would. After talking for a while, I explained to him that I was disappointed I didn’t get to see The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. When he head me saying that it was closed during the mournings, he was quick to tell me that the complex was still open to visitors, but it only closes some days of the week. My raging thoughts went to that Tuk Tuk driver that had not only misled me but also overcharged me.
After visiting the Giant Swing and the temples around it, I headed to the Grand Palace complex which was nearby. I switched on Google maps and followed the route until I noticed on the screen that the Grand Palace closes at 3.30pm. It was 3.20. How in the world didn’t I notice this before you ask? I have reflected on it time and time and I’m glad to announce there’s a perfect rational explanation: the Universe was conspiring against me.
Once I got there, I saw hordes of people leaving the entrance. I made it there and asked the someone there. They confirmed that the complex was open to visitors but I was too late. So it was true. It was open to visitors. I wondered how there could be such a reigning confusion about two of the main attractions in Bangkok. How?
Although I was going on a day trip to Ayutthaya the next day, I saved my last day in Thailand for the Grand Palace. Sarah was feeling better then and we both headed to the touristic site. Once again we saw mourners going up and down the streets.
Before going through the security check, some Thai wearing a uniform – not the guards’ – told us that the complex was closed and offered us to take us somewhere else. I wanted to make sure so I asked him if we couldn’t see Wat Phra Kaew – the Emerald Buddha – and he said no.
Considering the amount of people there were inside, I turned to Sarah and said: “We’ve come this far. Perhaps we can double check inside.” And she agreed. While they were registering our belongings, I asked one guard and he said that Wat Phra Kaew was open to visitors… I KNOW, right!
When we made it to the entrance, they informed us that we needed clothes to cover our legs all the way. Avoiding mourners like in a zombie apocalypse video game, we made to a store opposite the complex and bought wraparound skirts. Same process back, sweaty but eager we attempted to enter the complex but then they told us we couldn’t at the moment because there was a parade headed this way. They told us not take photos of the guards nor the marching band, but as soon as they turned around, all us naughty tourists took our phones out at the same time. We, photographers, had the discipline of an army. But instead of saying “ready, aim, fire” it was “ready, focus, shoot”. After risking upsetting the Thai government, we headed inside the Grand Palace complex.
Although the royal palace was closed, we were able to visit Wat Phra Kaew – house to the Emerald Buddha – which is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. We were also able to look around the temple as there was more to see in the complex.
There is nothing I can say that could do this temple justice. It’s exquisitely beautiful! The attention to detail is impressive. The decoration is intricate, mysterious and enthralling. I would describe but this post is already too long.
The temple houses the Emerald Buddha, which is a main attraction, and you’ll find people from far and wide praying there. We took a seat in front of the Emerald Buddha. Sarah prayed while I watched people pray. Don’t judge. Right in front of me, there was a woman who burst out crying while praying. What was most surprising, however, is that a guard approached her to console her. WHAT! So nice of him. We don’t know why she was crying, but Sarah guessed she was mourning the King. Personally, I don’t think their world revolves around the late King, but then again my MacBook is my closest friend.
So what’s the moral of this story you ask. Simple, you shouldn’t trust anyone when you travel. No, wait, that sounds wrong. Let me rephrase that: you should never trust one source of information, but instead you must compare and contrast different sources. That applies to everything people. This is the best advice I could ever give, particularly these days when people believe the fake stories published on Facebook to be true.
Before going to Thailand, I had read that some people would tell you that an attraction site was closed just so they would take you somewhere else that would be more expensive and not worth it just so they can make some money. What I wasn’t aware of is how subtle this scam can be. You don’t see it coming because it usually comes from people that don’t look like they are going to pull off a scam. So instead of believing anyone at first, test their information by asking someone else, or looking it up online. Dr Google is always there for you. You can also ask me or Tom. Given our extensive misadventures and unfortunate events, we might be able to save you some grief.