We spent our last few days in Thailand in the capital, Bangkok, seeing the main sights. The most impressive was probably the Grand Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards.
Getting in turned out to be tricky, as the dress-code was pretty strict: no sandals, no sleeveless shirts, no shorts, no skirts above the knee (even with tights), no fisherman pants, nothing above the ankles etc. This was strictly enforced by less-than-nice guards at the entrance. I thought I could simply put a shawl over my shoulders like in most temples but I was summoned out and had to borrow a blouse.
The Grand Palace had a pretty spectacular architecture and the colors were dazzling. It was packed though and making our way through was difficult, even more so under the hot sun.
After that, we got ready to go back to Singapore, to rest a bit before the final leg of the trip.
So, did I fall in love with Thailand? I can’t say I did, for a few reasons. I must stress it’s partially my fault: I don’t speak the language (I only picked up a few words) and don’t know much about the culture. We wandered there like tourists and it was the first time neither of us could read or speak the language. While most people spoke basic English, it was obviously harder to communicate properly.
But Thailand disappointed me a little bit. First, it is said to be a backpacker’s paradise. But Thailand is cheap, but not as cheap as we expected. In popular places like Phuket, Phi Phi or Bangkok, accommodation can be expensive unless you want to live in a box with a fan. Food can be a challenge too: in Bangkok for instance, I personally wouldn’t eat street food in most places as it was very dirty—and trust me, I’m not being picky here, I ate hawkers food in Singapore, Malaysia, China… but I draw the line at seafood that has been sitting under the sun and in the dust for a few hours! Simple local restaurants could be hard to find, it’s either street food either “restaurants for foreigners” where prices are basically U.S prices. Finally, transportation is mostly private. There is almost no way to get from point A to point B on your own. For instance, to go from Railay to Phuket we had to take a taxi from the hotel to the bus station (there are no public buses and it’s way too far to walk). We took a public bus there to Phuket Town, the terminal. From the terminal, we had to take a taxi to another terminal to get to Patong Beach. And once in Patong Beach, we walked one kilometer to the hotel rather than taking another taxi! It adds up pretty quickly.
Thailand was also less welcoming than I thought it would be, especially considering tourism is such a strong industry here. For instance, travelers are now only granted a 15-day stay when arriving by land. This is the shortest time we have ever been granted in over 30 countries we’ve been to.
Thailand is also the country where I’ve seen the most scams. It’s crazy! In countries where there is such a big gap between standards of living, I don’t expect to pay the “local price”. In Argentina, for instance, foreigners were charged more than locals when visiting National Parks. On the other side, I don’t enjoy being overcharged constantly. In Bangkok, even though it’s the law, all the taxis we took plainly refused to use the meter and we had to bargain hard to get an acceptable price. In restaurants in Ko Lanta, we had to check bills twice because we were frequently overcharged. In Phuket, the price quoted for a tuk-tuk was so ridiculously high we didn’t take any and walked everywhere instead. In one instance, even though we told the taxi driver where we wanted to go, he brought us to a totally different hotel where he was getting a commission. People will also tell you whatever popular attraction is closed and bring you to a gem store or a tailor store (they get a commission, you get ripped off), touts try to get you into private bus by saying government buses are sold out etc. The list is endless and we personally witnessed quite a few of these scams. While I don’t want to generalize, it certainly reflects badly on Thailand.
We enjoyed the scenery. The islands in the South, close to Malaysia, were great and people were really nice and helpful. It only got worse close to touristic places and I must admit some tourists behave pretty badly in Thailand where they seem to do things they would never do at home.
I’m glad we visited Thailand, it was a great experience. It is my dream place? Probably not. You live, you learn I guess.
You can see the complete set of pictures taken in Thailand on Flickr.