Three words I never expected to hear from myself: I'm in Bangkok. I'm both relieved and a little disappointed to see both my bags arrive intact. I guess I'll have to do the ride after all.
I get some bhat from the cash machine and head outside. It's hot and humid and just past midnight. I've been warned that people offering taxi service are really offering overpriced limo service, and I push toward the metered taxis.
One guy, leaning against his car, jumps up. "Taxi?" We pile my bags in and start the drive. My backpack is in the trunk, but my wheel only fits in the back seat, so I get to sit up front. I explain where I'm going, and he says "1500 bhat". Huh? I was told it should cost between 200 and 300 bhat. "Where's the meter?" I ask. "Boss owns this car. Start business. 1500 bhat."
The car has a taxi paint job and a big sign on the roof that says "Metered Taxi", but this is just camouflage for luring in tourists. Welcome to Thailand. I offer 300 bhat, but he's not interested. We drive around the loop, back to where we started. I get out, take my bags, and see that just past the fleet of limos in taxi clothing, there's a more official looking taxi stand. I get in line, tell the woman in the booth where I'm going, there's some paperwork whose purpose I can't fathom, and I get in a real taxi. The meter starts running.
"Toll road?" the driver asks. When you're in a new place and you know that some people are going to try to take advantage of your ignorance, it's hard to know who to trust and when you're being cheated. But Jason, the tour organizer, had told us how much the ride should cost, that there would be a 50B fee for taking a taxi from the airport, and that if we wanted to take the express highway we would have to pay the 60B in tolls. At 40B to the US$, that's $1.50. "Yes. Toll road."
Twenty minutes later, I'm somehow still alive. Driving is different here. Lanes are followed when convenient, but even driving on the left side of the street is low priority compared to the primary goal of driving, which is to pass as many other vehicles as possible.
Rounding up, the fare is 300B. Score one for the informed tourist. Unfortunately, the cash machine only gave me 1000B notes and the driver doesn't have change, which strikes me as odd. The driver talks to someone official looking, who takes my 1000B note and goes inside the hotel. I force myself to relax and trust the world for just a couple minutes. He returns with change, counts out 700B for me and 300B for the driver.
I check in and head to my room. I watch as the bellhop turns on every light in the room and the TV, demonstrating the electrical prowess of this hotel, I turn off the TV, shoo him out, and am finally alone. Then it hits me. I'm in Thailand. Thailand! That's halfway around the world, but that's where I am right now! I stand in shock, revelling in the insane amount of freedom and luxury that allows me to be here. Then I take a quick shower and get some sleep.