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.