Bhat-less in Bangkok

Thailand – July 2012

Thailand is the fourth and final leg of our summer travels this year. A turboprop plane takes us the hour from Siem Reap to Bangkok and then it’s little more than an hour’s drive to our hotel thanks to traffic. After a bit of a rest, we’re off to change some money and have dinner at a recommended restaurant.

The best rate for money exchange is banks, but it’s Friday evening and all of the banks are closed and there’s not an open money exchange to be found. The ATMs are attached to the banks and access to them seems to be closed as well. We’re getting hungry, so we make our way to the recommended restaurant only to find that they are cash only. We try the restaurant next door but they’re not sure if they take Mastercard. We continue to keep our eyes out for somewhere to eat (and take a Mastercard) when it begins to rain. Fortunately, we spot a bistro that takes the card, so we pop in.

Four flights of stairs later, our three attempts at ordering a Coke and a Sprite result in a bottle of water and my wife’s soft-shell crab in curry sauce comes out as fish and chips, which we kindly return. The food, when it arrives correctly, is good but we’re still without money and the morning proves to be just as difficult to find an exchange. I finally use an ATM after accepting their 150 Bhat ($5) service fee, not including the 3% fee my bank will charge for a foreign transaction. Who knew it would be this hard to get Thai currency?

Ten days later we return to Bangkok, which continues to be troublesome. We take a taxi to Loha Prasat, a multi-tiered structure with 37 metal spires, signifying the 37 virtues toward enlightenment. It is one of only three such temples in existence, modelled after earlier ones in India and Sri Lanka. Only the taxi driver doesn’t drop us off here but instead Wat Suthat, a royal temple of the first grade, one of ten such temples in Bangkok (23 in Thailand). So we explore this temple then walk to the nearby Loha Prasat.

Afterward we try to hail a cab back to our hotel, but all four attempts reach the same result: after showing each driver our hotel’s business card, we’re told “traffic” and then watch the cab drive away. First we can’t change money, and now we can’t get a cab. Rejected, we decided to catch a tuk tuk to the nearest subway station, go two stops, and then walk to our hotel. Bangkok, you’re making it difficult to warm up to you.

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