May 11, 2019… I had quit my job only a couple of weeks prior, a job that I had been at for three years. That may not sound like very much time to some, but it was the longest job I’d ever had, and I had quit to travel. My parents had recently watched the movie Hostel, and even though they encouraged my trips, they were worried. Having been the first one of my family to travel outside of the United States, and only done so a few months prior with a local, I was nervous. However, my excitement far outweighed my worry. (Plus I didn’t have any hostel rooms booked for this trip.)
After a total of 26 hours traveling, my friend Holly and I landed in Bangkok. After some confusion with our airport-to-hotel transportation, we had made it. The next day was our first full day in Bangkok, and it was a full day. We walked miles and miles throughout the city tasting local cuisine and visiting various shops. Taking it all in, we lost track of time. We had travelled in May which is during the transition of the dry season to the wet season, so even though it was getting later in the day, we were okay with it because it had been so hot.
Next up on our list of things was visit some local Wats, or temple grounds, specifically the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Unfortunately, our go-with-the-flow personalities had caused a lapse of forethought, and we hadn’t looked up when the grounds closed. It looked as though we’d only be able to visit maybe one Wat, and even then we’d have to jog to make it in time.
We were pretty bummed out. As we were discussing this outloud on a street corner, a Thai man approached us. He gave us a brochure and offered a unique tour. Remembering my parents’ worrying about that movie, alarms went off in my head, 'STRANGER DANGER, STRANGER DANGER!' Scenes from the movie Taken ran through my mind. We were wary at first, and gave each other unsure looks. He said we’d get to see multiple religious sites but that they were closing soon, so we would have to be fast, and he would take us to the beginning in his tuk tuk. It seemed crazy to trust a man who we didn’t know, who had approached us, while we were so far away from anything we knew. But with our excitement outweighing our fear, we climbed into his tuk tuk, and were on our way.
Neither of us had been in a tuk tuk before, and we were really excited to ride in one so soon after arriving! After a hectic, but thrilling, ride we arrived in between two buildings by a river. Our driver got out and spoke to another man a few feet away. As we waited, I had thoughts in the back of my mind of what devious role the river might play in their plan for us. We were then led down to a dock where a long boat waited. The second man’s wife and a few of his kids were sitting at the back of the boat, and their relaxed demeanour put me at ease.
Holly and I were the only passengers on the boat, and it was the best! The boat’s motor was quickly background noise as we floated along the water. It was peaceful, water splashed up at the bow every now and then, and it was just the thing we needed on that hot Thai day.
He took us in a big, wonderful loop. We started near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha on the Chao Phraya River, but entered quickly into the Khlong Mon tributary. Right away was our first Wat, Khrua Wan Worawihan. It seemed to tower even over the sky, and it’s white and gold exterior was like a beacon for miles around. Holly and I jumped from boat, to dock, to Wat, and back again; each stop lasting not more than ten minutes. Wats were a large highlight, but not the only thing we were able to experience.
On the first part of the excursion down the Khlong Mon, we saw expensive resorts, construction vehicles floating on rafts as they worked along the river, schools and universities, and rows of small houses in disarray where people lived. It was a ride of emotions to be able to see all these sides of Thailand so close together. We were able to experience a more personal market on this tour as well. With only a few other boats around us, each with their own items to offer, we were able to get a taste of the local artisans without having so many options that we didn’t know what to do. We chose a few trinkets for our family members and were on our way.
We turned off the Khlong Mon onto the Bangkok Yai. It seemed as though we had been taken into a Wat parade. Around us were so many Wats, we were stunned; Pradu Chimphli, Intharam Worawiharn, Werurachin, Arun Ratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan, and Kalayanamit Woramahawihan. Some we weren’t able to get out and see since they were closed, but seeing them from the river was truly magical.
This river tour was definitely exciting and one of the highlights for me! Seeing locals on boats or playing in the water along the canals, seeing other tourists and waving to them on their own boat tours, and seeing some of the nature around the city, too, was well worth the few US dollars we spent. Plus, if we had heard about it earlier and started sooner, we would have been able to thoroughly enjoy the Wats. I’ll definitely be putting it on my list for the next time I visit!
After spending time with Thai people for twelve days, well, our fear of them has subsided a lot. I didn’t know until long after we’d returned home that Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, and I can definitely attest to that. Everyone was very kind. I didn’t hear anyone raise their voice the entire time I was there, and they were happy to share knowledge of their culture with us from their language to their religion. You hear a lot of sad things coming from Thailand, like scams, slavery, and poverty; but there are so many great things, and great people there, too.
The whole situation seemed very sketchy at first, but I wouldn’t have planned that day any differently, because if we hadn’t gotten so absorbed in the city of Bangkok all day, we wouldn’t have been going to the Wats so late. If we hadn’t been there so late, we wouldn’t have experienced this spontaneous trust exercise with a random Thai man that led to such wonderful memories.
This experience has taught me a lot about people when it comes to traveling. Traveling requires you to put your life in the hands of those in that country, and you must remember that every country has people with good and bad intentions. Not everyone is out to get you, and if you’re worried that they are, just make sure their vehicle doesn’t have doors so you can jump out if needed; like a tuk tuk.
Thank you so much Hailey for sharing this great story with us. Too many times we have heard stories of scams in these kind of situations but it is nice to hear about this amazing experience! People need to learn to trust when they travel but obviously within reason. If you want to check out more of Hailey's travel content then follow her on her instagram @straywithhay_ .
If you do like to hear stories about scams we do have plenty of those on our podcast. www.travelstorysociety.com/podcast