20th - 24th April: Bangkok

Accommodation:  Tara Place  -  £29 per night, double room

Bangkok

The unlikeliest thing happened at the airport when, while heading towards boarding, I bumped into old schoolmate Debbie Hurst (and hubby), who I’d only seen once since leaving school in 1976! The flight gave us the chance to catch up but, as they were en-route home, we went our separate ways on arrival in Bangkok.

UK passport holders qualify for 'visa exemption' in Thailand, meaning you get 30 days (airport) or 15 days (land border) if you're visiting as a tourist, you may be asked to produce documents to confirm your onward travel plans. Once through immigration first stop is an ATM, unfortunately there's a 150 or 180 Baht fee on all transactions so be sure to take the maximum withdrawal, usually 20,000 Baht, to keep fees to a minimum, doing this represents a fee of less than 1%.

Having decided to take a taxi to the hotel I made my way to Level 1, where you have to give your destination details at the Taxi Counter to get a receipt to pass on to your driver, a great system as it cuts out any translation issues. Although the advice is to insist on using the meter, the driver offered a reasonable set price of 500 Baht (£9) for the 45 minute journey so I went for that.

When I arrived the reception was pretty rowdy with an exciteable group of lads, I prayed they weren’t on the same floor as me! As it happened, after I’d quickly dropped off my bags, I got chatting with them & they turned out to be 12 ex-uni mates from Amsterdam who get together every four or five years for a two week holiday, the coolest thing for me is that only the organiser knows where they’re going! We headed out together for a first taste of the legendary Khao San Road, a magnet for all backpackers. After enjoying a few beers & roasted scorpions (not bad!) the Dutch lads then went on to a reservation at a sky bar leaving me to peruse the area further before ending up back at the same bar as it was now showing Premiership rugby, though I never got to watch much of it as I soon got chatting with Cairns couple, Ash & Lesley. We were later joined by a German girl travelling alone & a couple of lads from London, which ramped up the atmosphere & pace. After a few hours plans were being made to hit the clubs which was my cue to head for my bed, a good session & a cracking evening!

Next morning my aim was to get the train tickets for the next leg of my journey so set out with the intention of taking a bus to the station. These plans changed however when I saw the prison-like state of the buses and the pained expressions of all on board. I then decided to walk instead, not normally a problem except I hadn’t done my usual preps so needed a bit of map time to work out the route. In any other city in the world this wouldn’t be a problem either but not here! Up walks a thoroughly pleasant, well-presented local speaking excellent English and, seemingly, genuine. Now I fancy myself as being pretty switched on when it comes to travelling yet I still managed to let myself get scammed, what grates even more is that I knew the scam!!! Rather than go into the specifics, THIS ARTICLE details the most frequently used scams. The upshot for me is that I got suckered into taking the tuk-tuk which (conveniently) arrived to meet all my transport needs for the day for the princely sum of 40 Baht (80p). My foolishness meant I ended up paying about £25 over the top for my train tickets at an ‘official’ agency, not worth getting bent out of shape about, especially as it was still a heck of a lot cheaper than trains back home, but what really upset me is the feeling that you can’t trust any of the locals, something I hadn’t previously felt anywhere on this trip.

As I’d well & truly melted, I cut short my ‘tour’ to get back to the hotel for another shower before heading out to do laundry, get brunch and explore further on my own. The remainder of my time in Bangkok followed a similar routine of getting into sessions with travellers of various nationalities, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My attempts to do the main tourist attractions proved frustrating as there always seemed to be obstacles getting in the way and an abundance of 'helpful locals' looking to rip you off. I was surprised to discover that it's impossible to do a riverside walk and, even if you're prepared to join the masses visiting The Grand Palace, you need to be aware of the strict dress code (my fault entirely, I hasten to add!) Some of my 'wrong turns' proved amusing as I was to find myself in a Thai boxing gym and then a fish market where, judging by the bemused expressions, they don't get many westerners.

Not so funny is the after-effects of a tuk-tuk ride, mercifully there was a massage parlour next to my hotel so I was able to get my chakra's realigned for a fiver, brutal but very effective! Taxi's are definitely the way to go and they're just as cheap as the tuk-tuks, 150 Baht (£3) for the 20 minute journey to the station.