The first and only time I visited Thailand was in 2000, with my husband. Thailand was still the "Land of Smiles" and it was a place where cheap deals were aplenty. The latter was a big plus point as we had only joined the workforce for a couple of years and were low on cash.
We scoured the local tour agencies for the cheapest package tour to Thailand and found one at around S$500 per pax - most of the meals in package. It was a 5 days/ 4 nights tour package which would offer us the opportunity to visit Bangkok and Pattaya. It was a good deal considering that budget airlines were a non-existence then and we took a full-fledged airline - Thai Airways. Thai Airways was then celebrating its 40th anniversary and I still vividly remembered the beautiful and graceful air stewardess who dished out the collar-pin to commemorate the special occasion.
The Gem Scam
One very important lesson which I learnt was never to buy jewellery in a foreign land. We heard about the abundance of precious and semi-precious stones and metals, the relative low cost of labour and plenty of skillful craftsmen and designers. But there are also unscrupulous con men. The jewellery scams in Thailand were well-publicised. Stranger will come up to you with promises to take you to 'a good place for gems' and a too-good-to-be-true deal. The same applies to taxi or tuk-tuk drivers with similar promises. They are usually collecting commission and the gems that you pay with your hard-earned cash are worth only a fraction as they are of inferior quality.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
One would not have visited Bangkok if he had not gone to the famous Chatuchak Market. It covered an enormous 35 arces of land with over 15,000 stalls. More than 200,000 visitors thronged the place every Saturday and Sunday in search of good buys.
You can virtually find anything under the sun hawking in this market, ranging from clothing and fashion items, household goods, crafts, pets, art and collectables, plants, food and etc. Yes, virtually anything, you name it, you have it. The only challenge here is how to to find them. The stallholders seem to have a mind of themselves in deciding where to peddle their wares.
As we had just bought our matrimonial home, we took the opportunity to buy fake fruits that looked like the real McCoy. They looked so real that we almost could not believe our eyes. The biggest giveaway was in their touch and feel. They were much lighter than real fruits and lacked the lustre feel of real fruits. But they had adorned our dining table for a good eight years before we finally decided to dispose them when we did a major renovation to our home.
The Floating Market
The floating market was colourful, noisy and very touristy. The transactions were more concerned with tourists than locals. However, it was a good experience. The bulk of the little souvenirs which we bought back were from the floating market. It was really chaotic place where the small 'klongs' or canals were filled with small flat boats jolting for position, expertly paddled by mature ladies ready to stop and bargain at a moment's notice.
Then there was the glitzy nightlife. We visited the famous Tiffany Cabaret Show in Pattaya. The bevy of professional transvestite entertainers were very talented with their artistic impersonalationns through songs and tales of love and adventure. The experience was further heightened by the fantastic sound and light show.
Amusement Park, Zoo and Shopping
Also in our itinerary was a visit to the amusement park which looked pretty flimsy. My husband took the spin of his life, suffered a nasty stomach churn and avoided similar ride henceforth. We also visited the zoo with domesticated tigers as their key attraction, that was before the tiger mauling in Thailand. And of course, more shopping.
I never visited Thailand again after that trip. My inability to speak Thai is a great giveaway that I am a foreigner in a foreign land. Though things are cheap, somehow, I find Thailand to be too touristy for my preference. Perhaps being a Singaporean makes me feel awkward to engage in bargaining. And I feel as if I will always end up with the shorter end of the stick when I am engaged in bargaining.