It seemed easy enough getting out and about in Bangkok to visit the temples. Armed with a map and a lot of enthusiasm I decided to do the Bangkok Temple Run on my own and not rely on a planned tour: after all, I am an adventure (read stubborn) traveler and I live for the excitement of the unknown (read stingy and cannot afford a packaged tour!).
Honestly, it’s not that difficult to get around Bangkok. They have one of the best transportation systems in Asia. The MTR, BTS Skytrain and the ferries are comfortable, reliable and safe. The cabs and tuktuks (local three-wheeled public utility vehicle) are a bit more challenging as they sometimes negotiate a rate that is higher than what you would normally pay…but then again it is a developing country, making it somewhat forgivable. But one thing is for sure, it is a safe place for tourists and I never felt threatened at all.
While getting around is very easy, language is still a barrier. There are signs in English but communicating with the locals, even just to order food, is at times frustrating and you can see how frustrated they get as well, knowing that you do not understand them perfectly.
There are traps though and being tourists means that we are easy prey, at times. But this shouldn’t discourage anyone from doing his or her own temple run. Here are 5 tips that could help one plan a do-it-yourself Bangkok Temple Run…I learned this the hard way!
1. Plan your temple trip at least one day before. While popular temples like Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), and Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha) are situated quite close to each other, it takes almost the whole day just to appreciate one.
We only managed to see Wat Pho, although we planned to see the Wat Phra Kaew inside the Grand Palace as well. We were diverted for reasons explained in tip #3.
2. Ask the receptionists from your hotel for the best route to take to get to the temples. They are usually very helpful and speak good English. Some hotels even have a tours desk and are more than happy to help, even if you decide not to get their tour packages. Word of warning though, Thai people are very persuasive and they do it in a very calm and sweet way…not that it’s a bad thing, but if you are looking for a DIY tour then this will defeat the purpose!
The receptionists at the hotel we stayed in, Imm Fusion in Sukhumvit, were very helpful. We told them which temples we were visiting and they carefully gave us directions using the city map as a guide. Their directions were complete with options of taking the Skytrain, MTR and the ferry, which stations to change trains at, and the costs of the fares.
3. No matter what the locals tell you, the temples are always open during their published opening hours! Believe me someone will tell you that the temples are closed and I was, embarrassingly, a victim.
We were on our way to the Grand Palace to see Wat Phra Kaew when we encountered a tourist police. No, I was innocent (this time I was…yeah right). We just got off from the ferry and were walking towards the direction of the palace; decided to light a cigarette (yeah nasty habit); the tourist police saw us and motioned us towards the designated smoking area; and he started talking to us. He asked us where we were headed and we told him. He was very calm and told us that the temple was closed that day because of some Buddhist celebration that the monks were preparing for. He said that only one chamber was open and they were still charging the full fee.
He suggested a different temple to visit; supposedly a very ancient one and another place where we could buy cheap items that even designer stores go to buy their stock. He was very assuring and even hailed us a couple of tuktuks, bargained with them on the price of the ride (50 baht for both), and told them where to take us. We got hooked!
The temple we saw was small but still interesting. It had various figures of Buddha and still being used by monks to hold their daily routine…but it still wasn’t Wat Phra Kaew!
We lit incense and said our prayers then off we went to our next destination, excited that we were going to get bargain items…leading me to tip #4.
4. Negotiate calmly and with a smile. The locals are making a living and they do not mean to rip you off, most of the time!
The tuktuk drivers took us to our next destination, which was a jewelry store, and this is when it dawned on us that we were trapped in the temple run! I had read so much about this but my realization came late.
The jewelry, however, was authentic and beautiful with lots of interesting designs, and quite cheap. However, we were not prepared to buy anything and the feeling of being duped made us hang on even more tightly to our cash.
After going through the store our drivers told us that they are taking us to another store. We refused and asked them to just drop us off the nearest Skytrain station. They explained, with much difficulty, that they get paid petrol money for every guest they take to these stores, even if the guests do not buy anything. Were we being duped again? Perhaps, but it seemed plausible, so we said yes.
It was a worthwhile trip though. This other store had more stock and even a souvenir shop where we bought some Thai silk scarves. The saleslady was very charismatic and helped us get discounts for our purchases…even told us her life story in 45 minutes.
Once again, our drivers told us that there is another store where we could get nice suits. This time we really put our foot down and declined the offer, very politely. They did not argue anymore, smiled and took us to the nearest Skytrain station. We paid our fare as negotiated and off we went.
5. Be flexible with your plans. There will always be something that will challenge your plans and once it goes off track just ride the wave…traveling is an experience not a destination.
Yes, it’s a good idea to plan your trip itinerary but do not stress yourself out if it doesn’t go as planned. You are on vacation and supposed to be de-stressing not distressing!
We got to visit Wat Pho the following day, saw the huge Reclining Buddha and got to explore the temple grounds. It is amazing how these structures were built at a time when technology was not as advanced. So much hard work was put into its conceptualization and construction that I often wonder, what were they thinking? But the end product is marvelous and I am still in awe every time I see the photos I took.