The Thailand Trip – Day 7: Done

I’m too tired to do anything. Woke up at 3 am and didn’t fall back asleep until 5. Up again at 0630. 

Today I’m burned out (literally and figuratively). Had a really slow breakfast (not very hungry, last night or today) and a ton of juice. 

It’s 0845 and I’m back in my room doing nothing. And I’m actually enjoying it

Around 1100 I decide to take a bath. It’s nice but the novelty has worn off now. The shower still has no hot water. 

By 1130 I head out for a walk. My arms are so burned, that 2 minutes in the sun and I’m in pain. My immediate priority is to buy a long sleeve shirt even though it’s 95F. Now I know why so many Thai people wear full body clothes. 

At the first shop I come across selling clothes, I buy a large for 200 (negotiated from 280) baht and walk down the street putting it on. It’s way too small so I head back and the woman swaps it out for me to an XL. The torso fits but the sleeves don’t cover my wrists. 

As I reach the main drag I see a pharmacy and hope to get some lidocaine but it’s closed. I remember seeing a small temple nearby from the motorbike and decide that’s my destination. Along the way there is a 7-11 and I stop for a 7 baht cold bottle of water. 

Further up the street is another pharmacy that’s open this time. I ask for lidocaine and the woman shows me some sort of nasal spray. I decide to just get some aloe instead. 

(Later, I realize this stuff is mostly crap with aloe as the last ingredient.)

I see a large tin covered structure with a sign that reads fresh food and take a walk through as I am getting hungry. At the entrance is a bunch of food stalls and through the isles are indeed fresh food: seafood, vegetables, peppers, while pig head, and whole chicken. I snapped a few pics but had little appetite. There was also street food but unlike most street food I’ve had, this food was already cooked and either bagged already or in the open air with a ton of flies. 

   

 

I decide to try my luck elsewhere and continue on. Up the road is the temple which is kind of a big disappointment. I snap a single photo and move on my way. 

  

I passed a few more food stands but nothing excites me. It’s really hot and my hand is on fire from my sunburn. So I walk to the next ally back to the beach/hotel. 

I sit down at the outdoor (but covered) bar and order a sprite. While sitting there I open up my “aloe” to discover it’s a clear and not very viscous. Huh I thought but apply it anyway. As I read the package I notice that aloe is the last ingredient in this bottle but opt to keep going anyway cause my arm hurt so much. I ordered some lunch and just chilled out. 

  

At 1410 just saw a man carrying a monkey walk down the beach. I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough. I pay my tab and head back to the room.

It’s 1500 hours and I realize that if I want it to be dry for tomorrow I better start my laundry. I get out my soap sheets (like breath strips) and wash my clothes in the tub. I don’t know how effective these strips are but the water turns a really gross color after washing my clothes so something happened. 

Around 1600, I fell asleep in room. An hour later, my alarm goes off but I’m so tired I set it for another hour. 

I chill out in my room, as I might be FaceTiming with the kids (we never confirmed) but as 7pm comes, I realize I wasn’t going to be FaceTiming today and head to the bar for a beer and some dinner. 

I had more interesting conversation with my new friend the bartender, talking about music and life. We exchange Facebook info to stay in touch. 

After 2 beers I’m tired and sign my check. My friend and I say goodbye, bow and shake hands and I’m off again. 

At 2300 I start to freak out that my quick drying clothes are still wet. I’m leaving at 8am for Chiang Mai. 

I do some writing and head to bed, tomorrow I have to pack and get ready to fly out. 

The Thailand Trip – Day 6: Motobike

This morning after breakfast, I decide I want to explore the island. I take a quick out-door bath (the shower has no hot water) and set out for an adventure. 

  

On my way out of the hotel, I ask where I can rent a Motobike and lucky for me, I can do it there. No deposit. No giving up my passport. Sweet. 

About 15 minutes later I am on the road, with a map, and no specific destination. 

After leaving the beach area and driving a bit, I pull over at a 7-11 for a bottle of water and to examine the map and my phone. I find a mountain wat on Google maps and start driving. 

I forgot to bring my headphones so I don’t have any kind of nav, not that it would matter since the roads on maps are written in thai for the most part and the map the hotel gave me is lacking many road names. 

After getting lost a few times, I find the turn off the main drag and start cruising the hills, regularly stopping to look at my phone. At one juncture, there is a sign that says private road that Google lists. I should have honored the sign and given up but I kept going. 

I come to a turn that’s a full 180 turn to head uphill, slowly coming to a full stop to be extra safe. As I start going again, I hit the throttle too hard, lose control, and crash into some rocks, hurting the bike, my forearm, and my leg. 

Determined to find this damn wat, I keep going only to come to a dead end with nothing there. 

Great. I wasted all this time, hurt myself, and will have to pay God knows what to make the rental company happy. 

I come down the hill, now pretty damn scared of this hunk of plastic and metal, until I find the main road. I drive just far enough to find a parking place and tend to the scrape on my arm. 

  

It’s been less than an hour, I’ve crashed this thing and hurt myself. Determined to actually get my money’s worth I continue on. 

The main road essentially circles the entire island so as long as I just keep going, stopping at a few places, I’ll get home in no time. 

I see a wat on my map and try for it. It’s easy enough to drive to (minus the lack of easy to see street signs), but it’s a disappointment. There is no one here and for good reason, there’s no much to see. 

  

Next on my agenda is a waterfall. 

The roads are wide, wide enough for Motobikes and cars in many places, which is good because the cars don’t want to respect the speed limit at all (or even close). 

Riding the bike is entirely stressful at this point. 50kmh feels fast. I’m on the left side of the road. The sun is beating down on me. There are steep hills.

Bad. 

I ride for forever until I see a sign pointing out the watefall. Woot. No more map. 

The waterfall was more like a stream on a mountain, falling inches in places but was cool none the less. I walked on the rocks, higher and higher for about 30 minutes, stopping for photos, sometimes laying on a large rock to get a steady photo. 

  

There were a couple of pools that people were swimming in, but I didn’t stop. 

  

Dripping in sweat and exhausted, I hike back down. The sun is so hot on my skin and now my seat is too. 

Back on the bike, I come to the main road, make a left and keep going. There are signs for more waterfalls and a few wats but I’m ready to go home. 

The roads aren’t well marked and I miss my turn but remember a second entrance to the beach road and take it. Before I know it I am back at the hotel. 

A bit stressed out about the damage to the bike I go inside to the reception desk, tell them I’m done and hand them the key. 

The kid says, “you get to tomorrow.”

“No, I’m good. All done.”

“Okay,” he says. 

I ask, “Uh, do I get a reciept or anything?”

“No,” he says with hesitation. So weird. I guess I got away with it. 

I head to the bar for a beer and then back to my room to rest and before long the phone rings about the bike, asking me to come to the front desk. 

The owner of the bike shows up a few minutes later and I try to explain what happened. I’m ready to pay him 3,000 baht ($100) for the cosmetic damage when he asks for 2,000. Woot.

I try not to show my hand saying, “that’s a lot,” while looking at the damage.

He tries to point of a few minor scratches to convince me when I agree, “okay, 2,000 baht,” and shake his hand. 

I don’t carry that much on me, so I ask him to wait while I go to the room. On my way back through the lobby I ask the kid at the desk to come watch as a witness, pay the man, and move on with my life. 

Wednesday night is “Thai Night” at the restaurant, which apparently means a prefix menu, live Thai music, and traditional Thai dancing. 

  

Pretty cool. Afterwards, beat, I go to bed. 

The Thailand Trip – Day 5: Koh Samui

Sunday, March 22nd, Bangkok

I woke up early today at 0530, which is fortunate because Arizona was playing and I only missed the first half. Unfortunately, neither the wifi at the hotel or my 4G are working well enough to stream the game but I was able to listen on a radio stream.

The game ended just in time for me to FaceTime with my kids, which, despite them being crazy was a real blessing.

By 0730, my bag was packed save for those damn silk prints I bought (and am now fully regretting). Some how I managed to fit all the crap in with the rest of my stuff in my 40L ruck. I decided I would try the hotel breakfast buffet and was quickly happy that I didn’t pay for a room with “free” breakfast included.

On my way out I asked the concierge to help me get a decent rate on a taxi. He told me the hotel car could take me for 500 baht or a metered cab could get me there for 400 and so he called me a taxi. Its customary here for the taxi drivers to just not use their meter. As soon as we took off I noticed he didn’t turn his on and reminded him that I wanted a metered taxi. He grumbled about the toll road and not wanting to get out and start over I offered him 500 baht for the ride but after he haggled with me, settled on 550. I wasn’t planning on tipping and a $1.50 was just not worth the fight after waking up so early.

He wanted to become friends on facebook and pick me back up on my way through Bangkok, but after he failed to do the one thing that was agreed upon (the meter) I played dumb about facebook not working.

  

At the airport, security was, well, something else. The signs tell you one thing (cameras out) but the attendants tell you something entirely different. I finally confirm what is wanted and head through the metal detector. In the states, if you happen to be in a security line that still doesn’t have a rapiscan, you wait for them to tell you to walk and they pay close attention to the metal detector. Not here, no one told me to go through and no one paid attention to the result.

The man running the baggage xray machine was trying much harder to do his job. He was sure there was something wrong with my bag but couldn’t tell what it was, so I got to do another bag check. I thought for sure it was because I forgot to take the liquids out and the woman looking at my bag was sure it was because my camera was still in my bag. So out go the liquids and camera and the bag goes back through.

This time, they see my padlock but can’t identify it and insist the woman look deeper. So back to the table we go. Again, in the states, when you get a bag check, they have a tv with an image saved from the xray machine. Here they go on guestimation.

She pulls just about everything out of my carefully packed bag and decides the place she needs to look is my first aid kit. Of course, if she were paying attention prior to taking everything out, she would have noted it was no where near my padlock. Inside of my kit were some medical scissors that were no more dangerous than kid scissors (rounded points etc). She decides this is the problem and that they must be thrown out. 

“Fine,” I said and started repacking my bag. I guess its good she didn’t find my TSA approved leatherman with pointy tipped scissors.

When I arrived at my terminal, I noticed downward stairs again, noting I was about to get on a bus and sure enough, this terminal was just a bus stop. The first seats available were marked by icons for monks, pregnant women, and old people. I found my way to the other seats. Of course that didn’t prevent the upcoming (obviously american) couple from sitting there. 

Unlike Beijing and even though our plane was far smaller, they used two buses to transport us, which was very welcome. When choosing my seats I thought I was so clever getting row 2 only to discover when we got there that you board from the back. Doh.

  

I don’t really know how I feel about flying a giant prop plane over the ocean but wimping out wouldn’t make for such a great adventure; off I go. My bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment of this tiny plane but did fit under the seat next to me. 

Before I know it I am asleep before we even taxi onto the runway.

I am woken up by the flight crew who are trying to serve me a meal; some sort of chicken loaf with rice and fruit on the side. It is served with what they call orange juice but I am sure this is just Koolaid or Tang. The food is surprisingly good for being a chicken loaf with weird orange splotches (cheese?) and it doesn’t take me long to eat it all. Its funny, this flight wasn’t expensive and was only 75 minutes and yet here they serve you a hot meal. Back home, you could fly for 5 hour for far more money and you would be lucky if they gave you peanuts.

Next to me, I met a nice woman from North Carolina who teaches in Kazakstan. She is divorced with 3 kids, 2 in college, and one in high school. She told me she has been living abroad for 6 years which surprised me that she would choose to be so far away from her family.

   

 

Not much later, we arrive in Koh Samui around 1115 and I think I am lucky that I did not check any bags. I quickly scuttle down to the rental car area to find everyone here is on island time. Go figure. The only stand that shows mopeds, the woman walks off with the customers. I ask the girl in the next stall if they have mopeds and she tells me they have “motobikes” and shows me a picture with prices. I say okay and she escorts me to the taxi area of the airport. A man drives up on a bike and she signals me to get on.

We drive not longer than 30 seconds before pulling up to a laundry service. “Uhm,” I thought, as they ask for my passport and hand me a form. The form is in english but I can barely read it. It has suffered being a photocopy of a photocopy far too many times. While I am filling it out the man and a woman are watching me as they fold laundry.

After filling the form out the man and woman come over and ask for 5,000 baht deposit in cash and 250 a day, except their english is so bad they have to call someone to translate for me. I decide this is way too weird and that I am going to be leaving. I ask for my passport back and walk to the airport.

I stood around the airport hoping a taxing would come for about 20 minutes before inquiring at a stand. “Private taxi service,” it reads on the counter. They quote me 600 baht and won’t budge, so I accept. I don’t know how big this island is nor how far from the airport I have to go, but I do know this is 50 more baht than 20 minute ride I paid for in Bangkok.

Some of the streets here are insane and if I were paying by meter I would be sure I am being taken in circles to drive up the rate. There are a ton of little shops, a lot of places to rent motobikes, and a million places to eat.

We finally arrive at the hotel at 1230 and I check into my room. The young kid checking me in took some time to review all the amenities with me, stopping at a flyer for a romantic dinner on the beach saying, “you not need this.” Okay…

 

  

  

  

I eagerly drop my bag in my room and take a quick tour of the resort. Strangely, I am hungry again and order some chicken and noodles from the restaurant. 

 

  

   

After eating and taking enough time to get situated, I throw some sun block and my board shorts and head straight to the beach.

The beach at this resort (Pavilion Samui Boutique) is gorgeous. It is not perfect but it is more than great. The sand is just shy of fine, the water is a beautiful series of blue and green, and the visibility goes on for days. The only bad thing about the place was that when the tide was out, about 20 or so feet into the ocean were giant boulders that you had to be careful of. At high tide, you would never make it that far still standing, but it was something to watch out for.

I spend an hour searing both sides of my body, and begin contemplate whats next as I start to struggle with being lonely. This hotel is very romantic and the middle of the day is the time I am guaranteed to not be able to talk to friends back home.

At 1500, a bell is rung from the bar, and the entire staff yell out “Happy Hour.” 

I spend a little more time reading and thinking when I decide its time to head into the water. Wow, this ocean feels like a warm bath. You could literally spend hours in this water without thinking about it. Magically, my worries and loneliness melt away.

With 45 minutes to spare, I head up to take advantage of happy hour, which was 40% off. I order a Chang beer and take in the sights with the shade. I can see someone parasailing in the ocean and there is a man fishing right from the beach. Somewhere between my beer, the sun, and some lingering jet lag, I am sleepy. By 1700, I am out cold in bed.

I woke up two and a half hours later, threw on some deet, and headed back down to the bar/beach to see whats happening. I’m not sure where all the people went. During the day there was 40 or so people on the beach. Now the beach was empty, the bar was empty, and the restaurant was empty.

  

There was only one person working the bar now, a young man who I later learn is 23. Romantic music was playing through 2 speakers on the bar via a computer and youtube. I saw him browsing the internet and saw a video for snoop on one of his tabs. I said, “oh yeah, play that,” forever changing the vibe of the bar, at least for me.

He brought me a piece of paper and a pen and told me to start writing down songs and he will play them. I smiled wide as I was now DJing a gorgeous beach resort that I had all to myself.

  

After a short while, I tell him I better go to the restaurant and eat some dinner. 

He hands me a menu and says, “you can order here.”

For the next hour I am hanging out listening to music and drinking beer, with the beach to myself. Finally, I decide to head back to my room and write up the recent days activities. There is no desk in my room so I set up on the bed and start typing. 

Next thing I know I have woken up at 1am, upside down on my bed, fully dressed, with all the lights on. I’ve managed to type a billion v’s but not much else. I figure its time to actually go to sleep….

The Thailand Trip – Day 4: A peaceful day

March 21st, 2015

Ugh. 0730 and I have a massive headache. Grateful I slept but wow did I forget to drink water yesterday.

I performed my regular morning routine, shower, get dressed, double check and lock any valuables, and pack my day pack.

Today the plan is the weekend market in Bangkok. As was easy now, I walked to the train, forgoing food until I got to the market. I had to transfer trains at Siam (where the high end world decided you needed 108 places to buy Gucci and Levis) and headed off to the Mo Chit station for the Chatuchak Weekend Market.

After getting off the train I noticed a pretty cool park that it looked like I could walk through to the market and so I took a stroll. I took a moment to send a Video Letter ™ to my kids and snap some photos.

  

Afer walking through the park I stumbled upon a seated street vendor and had some pad thai for breakfast. I can’t tell if this is normal for Thais or just for tourists but I’m literally eating thai “dinner” for every meal of the day. Then, because it was hot, I got a smoothie to cool off while I walk the market.

 

 

By 1000 I was in the market. This place was HUGE. If I had to guess I would say it was easily 2-4 football fields in area, with each shop taking up maybe a parking space for one car (if that) and walkways that a motobike would struggle with. And you could buy anything here: knock off and unique clothing of every imaginable type, gems, amulets, food, silverware, furniture, and then some.   

   

Personally, my favorite area was the local artists trying to sell their works and some were even kind enough to let me take photos (despite their signs that said no photo). 

   

    

There was also a huge pet supply area, which unfortunately, included what was clearly puppy mill puppies. This part was sad. It was easily 95 degrees outside already and these dogs were in these horrible tiny cages, every single one of them passed out and panting for dear life. To make matters worse, some of them were long haired. I don’t get it. At least they weren’t with the produce and raw meat (hashtag #silverlining?).

Its easy to spend a ton of money here as this place has everything imaginable and as you walk down these not-always-straight isles, you can just get lost forever. Around 1345, after eating, I decided I should get out of their before I spend myself to the poor house. What took 15 minutes on the way in to take photos, shoot a video mail, and eat breakfast took 45 minutes to find my escape and make it back to the train.

Thankfully, it being Saturday, the train was not very full. After glancing at the map, I decided I should polish the day with some high end shopping and a visit to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center. Well, by the time I got to Bangkok Center and started looking around, the western stores actually made me feel more anxious than the giant and packed flee market. I decided I would use the malls to get over to the BACC (and to get some AC). 

  

I really didn’t know what to expect when I walked in the doors of the Art Center. This building was pretty big, 9 stories, in a giant circle. There isn’t an inch of this town that doesn’t have vendors. Besides the regular stores inside, there were people hawking art, bracelets, and whatever else right inside this building. The “regular” stores, which are starting to feel pretty irregular now, had various themes like art supplies, coffee, or souvenirs. 

I decided to start by going down and on the first floor I found an awesome showcase of urban city planning, making better and more artistic use of public space. Examples varied from new resorts, revitalizing parts of Bangkok, converting the outdoor space of a mall in Chiang Mai to a mix of public use and shopping, and then some. 

Later I would find myself on the 7th floor, where the art exhibits were. As I started to walk towards them, the security guard told me “no bags” and I had to pay 10 baht for a locker for my day pack. Of course, my pack as light and small, and I couldn’t help notice that the women got to keep their purses. I saw 3 other men putting their backpacks in lockers when I realized this clearly must be a man tax.

The art in the galleries was, like most museums, a mix of interesting pieces and garbage. As I stood there looking at a 4 painting installation of the exact same rooster, I couldn’t help but think about the cultural heritage and culture a place like Thailand has and how completely devoid we are in the states or much of the western world even. The feeling was pounded home in series of paintings of castles/palaces from around the world and how much intricate detailing there was in the asian palaces and how simple, square and boring some of the rest of the worlds castles were.

Fortunately, or unfortunately I guess, both western and Thai modern art are completely hideous, and I can only imagine what a Thai hipster enjoying this crap looks like. 

One of the most striking pieces of art was a 4 painting setup, depicting what I am sure was Vangogh crouching naked in front of a fire burning pottery and who knows what else, with a dog opposite him. I’m not a great art critic so I don’t know what was going on, but I guess you don’t have to be to find something eye-catching.

The next floor up had a rage of sculptures varying from a gigantic 6 foot wide, 10 foot tall hallow buddha head laying on the floor, covered in saffron to a very realistic elephant sculpture with a tiger climbing up the cage on his back, to monkeys clearly destroying someone’s library, to vultures pulling the intestines out of a 3 foot buddha.

There was also a really strange half wolf (head), half crocodile (body), half fish (tail/feet), caught by a hook in the shape of a crucifix with jesus hung up on it and wooden buddhas as links in a chain up to a fishing pole held by a different buddha.

On the top floor was a photography display by the princess of Thailand. Many of the photos were from her world travels. My favorite was from her trip to Venice, CA. She took a photo of a large sun glasses display from a street vendor. The caption said that she took it before noticing the no photography sign, which I found entertaining given that no photography was allowed here. 

After the Art and Culture Center, I decided I would call it a day early and head back to my hotel. I looked at my phone and opted to walk back rather than take the train as it was just over a mile and a half. There are a ton of massive high end malls here and for some reason I walked on the street instead of the raised walkway under the rail, which was fortunate as right smack in the middle of these malls and sky rises was a decent sized temple/school: Wat Pathum Wanaram.

   

 

Despite being right in the middle of these huge buildings directly on a main road, this place was fairly secluded. And unlike the tourist Wats throughout the city, there were actually Thai people praying here. As with all Wats, you must remove your shoes before entering, but because this place was isolated, there was no one there to tell you to do so, you just did. Because this temple is actually used by the locals, inside the two shrines there was actually soft carpet to sit on. To be respectful, your feet must never point at the buddha and so you must sit on your feet, which is hard for a westerner. 

   

 

In all, I had a really good day. This temple has been the highlight of my trip and if I am not too busy seeing the sights I will be coming back here again on my way back through Bangkok.

The Thailand Trip – Day 3: 2nd Chance for Bangkok

I didn’t sleep well last night, but managed to stay in bed until 0630. I don’t have much stuff, just one pack’s worth, and yet it takes me just over an hour to shower, prepare my day pack, tidy up, and put my valuables away.

I’m still really bummed out after last night, but I put forth my best effort to see some sights and have a great day. I decided that I was going to visit some temples today and that I could find breakfast on the street somewhere. The first stand on the corner nearest my hotel had a ton of fruit and I inquired about the papaya. “250 baht,” the man said. 

“25 baht?” I replied but he continued to insist on 250 baht ($7.50). Insulted, I walked away. Not more than a block down the street there was a vendor selling breaded and fried pork. 

“How much?” I asked. 

“35 baht.” Now we’re talking. Thats just over a dollar and worth every penny. It was delicious.

By 0820, I am on the train, heading towards the temples. I’ve been awake for a few hours and on my feet even less, and yet my feet are alredy swollen enough that I have to loosen my shoes.

20 minutes later, I am at the central dock and booking a boat up to the temples in Ko Ratanakosin for 100 baht. As usual, I have no idea whats going on around me. I read about the ferries and thought thats what I booked. I would later learn that I booked a private boat. After about 5 minutes I boarded with a small 4 person Japanese family. 

  

(Aside: I noted in my Moleskine at this point, that its still lame that no one smiles here. No one on the train smiled that morning. The woman selling tickets for the boat didn’t smile. Land of smiles they say…)

Bangkok is called the Venice of Asia, except the canal is far dirtier. And they have rules about speeding in Venice, where here no one cares. The ferries seat 50-100, the water taxies about 5, and this private boat about 10. The ferries go a reasonable speed, but the water taxies have what looks like a jet engine propelling them through the water. They create an enormous wake and travel all over the place, often close to other boats for no obvious reason (if any). 

After the first taxi cruised right past us, the woman driving our boat cut the engine to avoid huge splashes as we go over the wake. I was really impressed both with her intuition and consideration. I decided to take my camera out and take some shots.  

  

About 5 minutes later, a taxi cruised by and I could see the massive wake coming our way. But the woman didn’t stop. Splash. Both me and the guy (holding a really expensive piece of glass and camera) on the left side of the boat were soaked. And there is water dripping out of my camera. I tried to dry what I could but it clearly got inside of the lens casing if not more. For the rest of the day, I would be dealing with fogged lens and more water. 

 

Around 0910, we disembark the boat into some strange market. You literally have no choice but to walk through it to get to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Outside the market there are food vendors with everything imaginable: dried fruits, juices, bbq meat, fried meat, dried fish, fresh fruit, and then some. For 30 baht I got a fresh bottle of water and some amazingly delicious mango.

  

I can’t tell where the entrance to the Grand Palace is from where I stand, but I see the entrance to Wat Pho, and head in that direction.

As you walk towards Wat Pho, you are bombarded with more street vendors. They have food, drinks, buddhas, and just about anything else you can imagine (although nothing crude or illegal thankfully). I skip past the vendors and go straight into Wat Pho. The price to enter is 100 baht ($3 USD) and includes a “free” bottle of water (which I now know is worth about 10 baht).

(Aside: almost all of the water bottles here are produced by Nestle or Coca-Cola. I understand why Coca-Cola would do this, they need clean water to create Coke. I don’t know what Nestle’s game is.)

               

        

   

This Wat is amazing. It has a ton of “guard” statues around every corner. It has hundreds upon hundreds of buddhas, including a massive golden reclining buddha. After wandering around for an hour (including taking my shoes off in every building as to not offend the buddha), I stumble upon some sort of ceremony for young boys becoming monks (I assume). Within the open space of the Wat there are a ton of temporary covered structures. Around 100 boys are lined up wearing white monk robes receiving instruction from saffron robed monks. 

    

I stand around and try to figure out whats happening but eventually give up and continue exploring the Wat. Later, when I end up back in the same area trying to find the exit, I see the boys sitting on their feet in rows of three. Next to them, a family member, clearly there to support them in their journey. Except some boys were there alone. Some of them as young as maybe 5, which was pretty sad. 

      

Around 1100, I left the Wat and found a place to sit nearby to reapply sunscreen in the shade. There was a man selling something in a chair near by who looked over, nodded, and smiled. Ah ha! The smiles do exist!

Not 2 seconds after I finished applying sunscreen, a woman came by selling silk screen printed, well, silk. She wanted 1500 baht for one or 2000 ($60) baht for two. I got her down to 800 baht for one and choose one. It’s like they know western politeness and attack that. 

As I finished with her and started to walk away, the man who smiled starts chasing me down the street to sell me the exact same thing! I said no and he immediately quoted 500 baht for one. “Shit,” I thought, “I got taken.” I tell him “no thank you,” and he counters with two for 600 baht.

Somewhere I lost my logic. I don’t need any of these damn things and yet if I buy two more at 600 baht, I can average roughly 450 per, which makes me feel less bad about being taken. So I buy 2 more. Moron :)

After I put the silk prints away, I take out my map to figure out how to get into the palace and what would be next. A nice thai man in a suit and damn good english starts up a conversation with me about my plans. We talk briefly about where I am from and he tells me he teaches at the elementary school in Wat Pho. He tells me today is a Thai Buddhist holiday and the “black buddha” was open today only. He shows me on the map where it is and tells me that I should really visit “Golden Mount” too. 

I thank him when he tells me that he can help me avoid being over charged by a tuk tuk; that I can do a triangle between the black buddha, the export center, Golden Mount, and back to the palace for 80 baht. He says there will be a ceremony back at Wat Pho by the monks at 1300 and that I could easily be back by then. He then spoke to a tuk tuk driver for me and off I went.

   

 

As we pulled up to this tiny temple in the middle of no where, the driver got out and asked me to stay put. Then he signals me over to come see the black buddha.

 

I walk up to the temple, remove my shoes, enter, and bow to the buddha, who is strangely gold. There is a Thai man in there and I ask him if this is the “black buddha?”

He responds, “yes, but because today is the holiday, he has been covered in gold sheets.” 

I don’t see any gold foil.

Then he starts to tell me about himself. He was from Phuket and said he travels to Bangkok once a year to visit this buddha. He said he owns a rubber tree farm and came to pray here for success, and it worked. His politician friend told him to buy a suit and then when the dealers came to buy rubber, he could charge twice as much. Now he was here to pray for his son (he showed me pictures) who was about to get married but couldn’t make the trip himself.

He really laid on the story about the suit bringing him success. Finally he told me if I have time, I should go get a suit from the dealer upstairs at the export center. He asked for my map to show me where it was, lo and behold, it was one of my destinations with the tuk tuk driver! What luck for me.

I had read in the Lonely Planet guide book about the tuk tuk “scam” of taking you to a bunch of shops on your way to your destination and it finally struck me, this was a freaking elaborate kickback scheme.

Next the tuk tuk driver took me to the “export center.” He asked if I have a wife and I told him I was divorced (a half truth, easier than explaining I was separated). He said, okay, skip the first floor, its all jewelry and gems, just go straight up stairs.

I walk in and the man inside escorts me straight upstairs. Thais are like expert psychologists. He asks me to sit down, immediately takes the fan away from his wife, and offers me a bottle of water or a coke. Yes, treat me special so I feel the need to repay you. 

He starts to show me a book of suit from Boss and asks what kind of suit I am looking for. I tell him I don’t need any suits.

“Perhaps some custom shirts then,” and hands me a book of shirts. Not 10 seconds later he says, “come here, lets look at fabric first.” He tells me this is egyptian cotton and that I would never have to iron this shirt. He shows me his shirt, “I never iron this shirt.”

Strange, I thought. He has creases down the sleeves. Also his shirt was billowy. How was this a custom fit shirt?

He tells me he has many return customers and that I can always order more shirts from America as he will have my template. He shows me emails from his happy customers ordering more.

Amazing psychologists, I thought. He’s creating social proof.

I start to think to myself, “I have no idea where the hell I am. If I don’t buy something, will they just rob me? Will the tuk tuk driver refuse to take me anywhere?” So with my western guilt, I try to figure out how cheaply I can get out of here.

The man quotes me 5000 baht for 3 custom shirts or 2000 baht for 1. He tells me most of the cost is in the template but once he has it I can get shirts in the future for as low as 1000 baht. I make a noise about the price and he tells me he could do one shirt for 1800 (~$55 USD), but that was as low as he could go. 

Frustrated, I tell him I don’t need a suit or any shirts. Now he gets combative, “Well why did you come here then?”

“Because the tuk tuk driver brought me here, I never said I wanted to be here.”

“Well yes, thats how this works. Thats why its so cheap, you have to buy something.”

“Sorry,” I tell him as I walk away.

As I step outside, a woman follows me out and speaks Thai to the driver.

Thinking I’m in the clear, I say, “Golden Mount?”

He starts to drive off and says, “one more stop.” About 1 minute later her said, “you know why tuk tuk cheap today?” Then he proceeded to tell me that because today was buddhist holiday, the government was supplying drivers with coupons for gasoline for driving people to shops. He said that I “no have to buy” but that I just “need spend 15 minutes pretending,” (as he demonstrated looking) and he would get his coupon. 

Damn western guilt. I said, “okay.”

We drove through what I think was China Town, which is on the way to Golden Mount. A fun fact about China Town in Bangkok: we passed two shops that sold automatic riffles. “Great,” I thought.

Soon, we arrived at, wait for it, another tailor. He told me before I went in, just pretend to shop for 15 minutes.

So in I went and told the man straight away I didn’t want a suit. He showed me shirt fabrics and told me I could get 3 shirts for 2000 baht, but because he liked me, he would give me 20% discount, 1800 baht ($18 USD per shirt). At least this was cheap, I thought, and the clothes the men in here are wearing actually fit properly. If they were awfu I wouldn’t feel so bad. And I also thought I needed to get on my way, so if I bought something maybe I could get on with my tourism.

We picked out fabrics, they took my measurements, I paid with my visa, and off I went.

The tuk tuk driver asked if I bought something and for how much (clearly calculating his kick back). He said we had one more stop. “Fine,” I said.

He told me I just had to “pretend 15 minutes, no buy.”

This was actually a nice jewelry shop with some interesting pieces. The prices were a bit high, but go figure, the shop was going to give me 20% discount! Just like the last 2 shops. What a coincidence!

I got a few things here and they threw in a few more discounts to make me buy. I paid and got out of there.

Finally, on to my destination. Except the driver said that Golden Mount “closed until 3 for buddhist holiday.” Instead he took me to a small temple which was actually nice, although I can’t help but think he just didn’t want to wait for me at a huge temple. 

Finally he got me back to the Grand Palace at 1315. “Shit, I am too late for the ceremony,” I thought. So I didn’t get to see the Golden Mount and I missed the ceremony. So glad I let that man in a suit (go figure now) help me on the street corner.

The driver pulled over near an entrance, I paid him his 80 baht, and went on my way. He mumbled to himself as I left, as if I were a shit for paying the agreed price. As I walked to the entrance, I find out the jerk didn’t even let me out near the tourist entrance, this was a government entrance.

The Grand Palace was indeed grand. This place was HUGE. After going through the gates, you have to walk 5 minutes to get to the ticket stand to gain entrance to the temple and other parts. The price was steep, 500 baht ($15 USD), but after I walked the whole place, it was worth it. The palace had a ton of golden statues, shrines, and old style buildings. It had the “emerald” buddha, which seemed very revered by the Thai people (Thais get in free and there were many there praying). 

(Unfortunately, many parts of the Palace have no photography signs)

   

                 

After an hour and a half in the Grand Palace, I decided to head to the “Amulet Market” which is nearby, but as I was starting to become accustomed, all the street vendors had the exact same stuff, and the area actually called the “amulet market” had very few amulet shops. Frustrated and tired, at 1500 I decided it was time to call it a day.

I found the ferry system not too far from where I was (40 baht) and caught a boat back to central pier. I caught a train in what was clearly rush hour on a Friday and crammed into a train like a sardine. By 1645 I was finally back in my room and still jet lagged, decided to take a nap.

Around 1900, I woke up, the temperature outside now a nice 85 and breezy (down from 99 earlier in the day) and grabbed a beer at the hotel restaurant. Having had such a bad experience walking the streets at night, I decided I would just eat in the hotel this evening, since the restaurant is the #1 indian restaurant in Bangkok per tripadvisor.

The food was delicious, a 3 course prefix menu (with 4-6 foods per course) that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed another beer outside with the couple I met the night before and then decided to call it a day.

I can’t be sure now, but it seems that Thai people only smile at you when they want something or about to take advantage of you. Despite all the drama, I actually had a really good day and enjoyed seeing all the sights. So the people here are trying to work you for a dollar at every chance; they also have some amazing architecture and culture that can’t be beat. Besides, a perfect day doesn’t make for a very good story. :)