Ok so if you've read some of my previous travel posts, you know that I'm always rushing, more often than not plans don't work out and that something weird/funny/stupid usually happens. This most recent trip is no exception but by far the least planned and most rushed ever! In fact, I don't think it can get any worse than this. Curious? Read on, my friends...
Long story short, my daughter's final year course work includes an optional 5 months overseas internship program. She got an offer from a company in Bangkok but at the last minute things fell through. Even more last minute was the school being able to find 3 alternatives. By the time the dust settled (interviews and choosing which company to go to), my kid would start work in 8 days. So being the
busy body concerned parent that I am, I booked a flight, a room and packed. I was in the air within 12 hours. The premise was I would go check out the office and the vicinity as well as start apartment hunting. The school had a rule that students must stay in the same apartment complex/building but at that moment nobody had picked a place yet so I was flying blind with only the office address to go by.
While waiting at the airport, I found some info that taxi fares are about 400-700 from the airport to where I was going, Ekkamai. What I didn't know was that the taxi's from the airport are metered. You line up to get a ticket on which a number is printed and you go to that berth where a car will be waiting. So thinking it was like Chiang Mai, I asked how much before I even let the driver take one of my bags (I was packing my kid's stuff too). He said $500 Baht including highway toll and since it was within the range I read about, I agreed. So off we went. Not much traffic, it was night time and I arrived at my hotel in around 40 minutes. The other choices at the airport are limo taxi's which start at $1000 Baht depending on distance and vehicle you choose to ride in. Another choice would be a VIP service type deal which you have to arrange in advance and that starts at $700 Baht. You can also take the train (cost dependent upon destination).
What about sim chips? Well I bought my sim chip at the airport (after getting my bags and clearing customs) at a cost of $599 Baht (upgrade able to a 3 months plan at the end of 15 days for around $1200 Baht (check the photo below for the specs). If you need one for longer, the 3 months plan that I bought for my kid was $1400 Baht. It may be a bit more than some of the other plans but apparently DTAC's wifi is more consistent as some of my kid's colleagues have switched from Tru (?sp). We can both tether/hotspot our laptops to our phone and access the internet without any issues. My Nintendo Switch acted squeamishly though but maybe because my laptop was tethered too. Oh, the phone numbers with a zero in the front, that's part of your number so people calling you will have to "dial" the zero as part of your phone number. Making calls will cost $1 Baht so use internet calling (Whatsapp or Line for example) to get around that. I used AIS the last time I was in Thailand and it was just as good as DTAC but I didn't see one at the airport that's why I got DTAC.
After settling in, I went out to grab a bite to eat, it was around 8pm and I was super tired and super hungry. Some eateries were already winding down for the day so I just went to a shop that looked open, looked willing to let me order and order the special which was a platter of sausages which included a chili dog. I love chilli dogs and was really looking forward to it. Well, it wasn't a hotdog with chilli on it, it was a hotdog with chili peppers in it. It was so spicy I could only eat half, ya that sucked! Anyways, while eating i realized that I didn't notice having to stop to pay a toll on the way from the airport and figured it was an automatic thing like they have in Singapore. While entering the meal receipt into my expense tracker, I noticed that it my meal wasn't cheaper than a meal in Singapore of the same standard. Oh well. Back at the hotel I asked how much a taxi ride from the airport would be and the lady said around $500 baht, so I felt relieved but I still had a bad feeling for some reason. So fast forward a few days...I had to take a taxi two more times to and from the airport. Once in the afternoon, metered, at a cost of $300 Baht including highway toll and once in the evening via Grab taxi at a cost of $383 Baht. The toll booths are manned so they're not automatic and the driver asked me for the cash to pay the toll on my afternoon, metered fare trip from the airport. I was guessing no toll at night since both times I failed to notice having to stop and pay the toll. However, after Google'ing, I found that there is a way to get to and from the airport without using the highway and thereby bypassing the toll, so that's more likely what happened on my rides in any event, I don't mind paying the toll if it means getting to where I need to go, faster. Word of caution, the traffic gets pretty bad around 6-8 pm and Grab drivers are more prone to cancelling or accepting from far away. My return flight was at 9 pm, I started to booking Grab taxi's at 6 pm, got into one at 6:30 pm and arrived at the airport at 8 pm.
Ok enough of that, continuing on now, I spent the next 3 days going back and forth between Ekkamai, Thong Lo and On Nut BTS stations because that's the general area of where the office where my kid was going to intern at and the recommended housing areas. I did a lot of walking and waiting in the heat and rain, being orchestrated by my kid in Singapore and rental agents in Bangkok, not fun. The most frustrating part was finding some place suitable but having to wait for confirmation from the school to see if there were any students currently in the building. Yup, that sucked too! I also did a lot of window shopping and eating. I really thought Bangkok was going to be similar to Chiang Mai in terms of cost of living but Bangkok is more expensive. The restaurants (fast food/chain type) are roughly the same price as I would find in Singapore. The same cafe chain (Black Canyon) I ate at in Chiang Mai, although different items, seemed more expensive. I'm basing this solely on how the bill made me feel. The bill in Bangkok made me think "wow, same as Singapore" and not "wow, that was inexpensive for good food" (as was my reaction in Chiang Mai). Eating at food courts in a mall is generally cheaper but many require you to get a proprietary meal card which you deposit money into and funds are deducted at each food stall you purchase from. Make sure you spend all the money you put on the card because most are 1 day only cards meaning after the day you buy it, whatever amount is left, it'ss gone. Happened to me at MBK's food court I lost about $100 Baht, I think.
Transportation wise, if you're going to use the BTS a lot (mass transit train) I would suggest you get a "Rabbit Card" it's a card that lets you store a balance and you use that to tap in and out of the gantries. It is a lot more convenient than lining up every time to buy a one ride ticket, as the lines can get pretty long some times. Whilst the lines to top up your Rabbit card do get long, you won't have to do it as often and you can choose the time to do it. As far as I can tell, the cost per ride on the BTS is about $15-20 Baht per station and going in and immediately from the same station still incurs a $15 Baht charge (I did it twice unfortunately). The initial cost of the Rabbit card is $200 Baht of which $100 Baht is the deposit on your card and "top ups" must be in multiples of $100 Baht. I found that out the "hard" way as well as not being able to "top up" from within the station. You have to exit the gantry first. I don't know if you get a refund for the card as I still have mine. If you're a student, you can get a student's Rabbit card (show your student ID or student visa) and that card has concessions on fares.
OH! the Rabbit card can be used at some places like 7-11 but cannot be used for the train to the airport from Phaya Thai station, you have to buy a token for that ride ($45 Baht). Meaning when you're on the BTS line that has the stations Ekkamai, Siam etc. you have to change trains at Phaya Thai and that other train line does not accept the Rabbit card for payment.
Please note: if you're trying to get on the train between 8 and 10 am it'll be an experience (an uncomfortable one if you're a girl). While people are more civilized when it comes to lining up for the train they are a less so when it comes to getting on so don't be surprised if you really get wedged in, think of a can of anchovies, seriously. Almost every morning I had to skip at least one train and I've witnessed my fair share of pained/uncomfortable looks on peoples faces the times that I do make it on. Lucky I'm a dude and wear a waist pack in the front when I travel!
Housing wise, it seems that Airbnb's are illegal in Thailand. There are signage in some condo lobbies saying they'll turn you in if they find out, referring to both guest and host. Anyways, for the most part, the agents I spoke to were unwilling to rent for durations of less than a year (I need one for 5 months) without "consulting with the owners" then coming back with an inflated price. It also seemed to me that they only want to show you one as in they'd say they have more but when you ask to see them they just start talking about the first one they recommended. I had to ask several times to see the others and of those times only twice did I get to see the other units.The other times the answers ranged from "I'll have to ask the owners", the "duration isn't long enough" and or "it's out of your price range." The price ranges I've come across from studios to single bedroom apartments were between $11000-$16000 Baht a month for 1 year contracts. Terms are first month rent and a security deposit equal to the first and last months rent upon getting the key. A small amount will be withheld from your deposit when the contract expires since you would have left before the bill arrives. All the places I checked out had a "pool" but a few of them were so small that if you were to jump in, you'd hit the other side. Most were ok, just don't expect to be doing any "laps".
Unanimously, the water and power bill are sent to your mailbox and you pay the water bill to the property management at the office/front desk and the power bill to the gov't at a 7-11 or bank so you won't have to set anything up yourself.
Final notes, there is a lot of traffic in Bangkok and a lot of it is comprised of motorcycle/mopeds. If you see a seemingly random line of people on the sidewalk, they are lining up for the motorcycle "taxi's". From what I've been told, the driver's wearing the reflective safety vest are the more "legit" ones and there's usually a sign board indicating the prices (at the head of the line), I couldn't read it but the numbers looked significantly cheaper than a taxi/or tuk tuk. I've seen girls riding side ways because they're wearing skirts so that's an option if you're so inclined. I was told helmets were mandatory in Thailand too but I don't recall ever seeing a passenger of one of these "taxi bikes" wearing a helmet. My kid tried it and reported they didn't even offer her one. Being a pedestrian crossing the street isn't much better and can be just as scary. Just keep in mind that yielding to pedestrians isn't at the top of a driver's list, seemingly even on a cross walk so so be extra careful especially at an intersection when a car has already stopped for you. Some drivers in the outer lanes will be reluctant to stop or may even take advantage of the stopped car to change lanes, yup almost got my feet rolled over, twice! Same intersection different days, lol.
After all the prep, shopping, route finding, transport timing and stuff were done, I found one day for my self to check out Bangkok, obviously not enough time, so I Googled "must do's in Bangkok" and found some interesting places to check out. I'll be posting this adventure soon, stay tuned...
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