Thursday, March 01, 2007

One Week in Bangkok

Day 3: Tuk-Tuks and Tourist Traps

Tuesday: I spent the first part of the day giving the book proposal for my upcoming cocktail book a little TLC. After a few hours, I decided to take a tan-break and sit by the gorgeous 'infinity' swimming pool for 15 minutes, do a quick sauna, cool shower
and head out, with the goal of getting silk shirts made, and exploring Chinatown.

The ferry shuttled me across the river where I walked up a busy little alley lined with stalls selling food and random car parts,
tuk-tuks and mopeds whizzing by. Ten minutes along, a man stopped me and pointed down another alley, saying "buddha." I let Destiny take over, turned down the alley and entered a red, painted gate.

There, was a courtyard, surrounded by one hundred magnificent, life-sized golden Buddhas all along the interior of the walled area. In the center were two medium sized buildings and in front of one, a giant Buddha serenely stood guard. Before it, a tiny, old monk, in orange robes sat on a wooden chair and smiled at me, beckoning me over. Shyly, with camera in hand, I climbed the stairs, excited inside that a monk was smiling at me. He invited me through the temple doors, and I gasped when I saw at least a dozen varying large Buddhas, all clumped together inside a simple room, incense offerings spiraling smoke, from the floor.

The monk motioned for me to take a photo. And, wouldn't you know that my battery went dead just at that moment! He seemed disappointed that I didn't take a photo, so I made a monetary offering to the buddhas and he didn’t seem particularly pleased with that. I tried to express my appreciation by pressing my hands together in the prayer position, and ducked out, not sure if I had somehow "put my foot in my mouth,” without saying a word!

At the exit, the man who had pointed me down the alley told me that it was Buddha Day in Bangkok, and that I could visit a couple of the special temples for free. He suggested I take a tuk-tuk and that it should cost 60 baht ($2) to do the tour. He warned me that the driver would likely ask for 100 or more, but I should only pay 60, and say, “Pang pai,” or “too much” if someone tried to overcharge.

I thank him and continued on to the street where, sure enough, the tuk-tuk driver asked for 200 baht. The nice man (
who I call 'Sam the Good Samaritan') came over and negotiated the ‘local price’ for me. Yo, the driver, seemed ok with that but he also told me that he worked from 7 am – midnight, and had to pay 400 baht ($12) to rent the tuk-tuk, each day, as he didn't own one yet. This made me feel a little guilty, so I decided I’d tip him at the end, at least. I waved good-bye to Sam as the tuk-tuk tore off into heavy traffic.

I must say, despite the “romance” of trying something local, I hated riding in the tuk-tuk. They are low to the ground so other vehicles’ exhaust comes right into your face. Plus, being so low, it is difficult to see anything. I bounced around while Yo weaved through heavy traffic. Soon, the bumpiness and fumes made me nauseas.

Yo took me to a few places he knew of to have silk shirts made. However, I found them very expensive (better prices in downtown LA) and the vendors were quite rude when they realized I wasn’t going to be pressured into purchasing their overpriced goods. I soon realized that if I had bought something there, Yo would get a kick-back. I'm assuming those commissions are built into the prices.

I told Yo that I’d changed my mind about having a shirt made and wanted to stick to the temples. Sam had told me about the Royal Temple, the oldest temple in Bangkok. I pointed in out on the map, and Yo took me there. It was very simple and small but eminated history. By now, I had picked up batteries at 7-11 and was poised to take a photo of the Buddha collection insides, when a man appeared from nowhere and stopped me, saying it was not lucky to take photos in this sacred temple. Confused (the Monk had no problem with it), I refrained out of respect, and went back out to the tuk-tuk. There, Yo launched into his "schpeal" that if he took me to the jewelry shop, he would get a fuel coupon, as long I stayed inside at least 15 minutes. Guilted into it, I went along, knowing I’d regret it.

Once captive in the jewelry “outlet” (which paraded tourists past workers in a cramped area churning out rings and necklaces) the salesperson shoved piece after piece of jewelry in my face. “Try this, Madame. This one is beautiful, Madame. What you like, Madame?” Aaugh! Not fun. And, it was all very expensive, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. I stayed double the 15 minutes. Yo got his petrol coupon but I was
over the tuk-tuk, and being hassled. I cut my temple tour short. After a 45-minute drive back to Chinatown, I bid Yo adieu, feeling like I had just wasted a precious sight-seeing afternoon.

Now 5 pm, I bought a couple of skewers of dumplings from a street vendor which tasted like motor oil. It might have been because of breathing exhaust on the tuk-tuk all afternoon, but I couldn't eat them. I sat in a sidewalk restaurant hoping for something more appetizing. Got a beer and a plate of veggies for 120 baht, or $4 dollars. I had also ordered squid in chili sauce but they forgot to bring it.

I left with a sour feeling and got another dreaded tuk-tuk back to the pier. Luckily, a lady in a shop told me it shouldn't cost more than 40 or 50 baht, because, as expected, the driver tried to charge me 150. I got him down to 50, and held on for dear life as we swerved and sputtered our way back to the pier where I paid 2.5 bat (3/4 of a penny) to take a local shuttle to the other side of the river where my beloved clean and pollution-free Hilton stood like a shimmering beacon of comfort. (I know, I hate myself for sounding like a spoiled American, even as I write this - but I was relieved to be back!)

Walking up the pier, I saw Thai dancing and heard lovely music in the hotel's courtyard. It was a private event - one Jason was attending as part of his conference. I looked and felt like crap-o-la after my afternoon, so I just headed up to the room for a shower. Then, up to the Executive Lounge for free booze, apps and internet access. I also caught an amazing fireworks display over the river, exploding right in front of the lounge window on the 31st floor.

Jason and I met in the lobby at 9 pm for a drink but, frankly, we gave it a miss. After a long day, nothing sounded better than that nice, clean, fluffy, luxurious bed!

Traveler Tip: Do a short Tuk-Tuk ride for the fun of it but be aware of being "taken for a ride..."

1 comment:

Miss Bangkok Hotels said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's very informative. I love to read it and do hope to read your next story.