This blog post was initially going to cover the first month of Thailand but I got a little carried away with Bangkok. It is one of those places after all…
Planning to stay only a couple of days in Bangkok we opted for a day of tiki-touring to see what Bangkok had to offer (for free). We only got 100m from Khao San road before a lovely man stopped us on the side of the road to tell us that we “no walk! Take tuktuk! It flee! Govelnment subsidy! Today special holiday in Thailand.”
Having already had previous experience with pesky and persistent tuktukers and knowing that in this world nothing is really for free we tried to graciously decline this suspicious offer and cross the 10 lanes of traffic in an attempt to look like we knew where we were going – away from him.
But, true to his nature, he was persistent and he did follow us. In the end, and against our better judgement, we thought “screw it, lets just go”. He hailed us down a ‘Government tuktuk’ – because of it’s little yellow flag, apparently – and after agreeing on the remarkable price of 10 bahts each (NZ$0.40) we jumped in the back and zoomed off into the traffic.
Now, it did strike me as strange that normally every tuktuk you ask gives you a phenomenally inflated quote for a fare – so inflated it’s insulting – but this little guy was offering to take us around the city to at least three different sights for cheaper than a plate of Pad Thai. We soon figured out why…
First stop was Wat Intharawihan – or the big Standing Buddha – and for my first ever Buddha experience I was pretty impressed with all 32m of it. Big and standing he was. There were enough legitimate Thai people praying and walking around here to make this place seem kosher, and I guess a 32m high Buddha is not a prop just for the sake of some tourist scam. So, I let this one slide.
We slid back into the tuktuk and off we zoomed again, round in circles it seemed, until we were driven through a gate and behind a building – seems dodgy, right? We were directed into a small building and told “open just one day a year, you veeerry lucky! Look, Lucky Buddha!” We scanned the room stopping only when we saw a very unimpressive Buddha statue. For something supposedly lucky there was a definite lacking of local people scrambling to place a hand or some sticky gold leaf on it. The guide seemed more interested in touching the ivy tattoo on my wrist and asking me if it would “keeping growing” up my arm, making the (not-so) appropriate physical contact in case I didn’t understand (*shudder*), than telling us much about the statue itself. “Yeah, lets go” I said in the least ‘creeped out’ voice I could muster.
Next stop was Wat Saket – or the Golden Mountain. We skidded to a halt outside the gate and wandered in. Our driver yelled out to us and pointed us in the direction of another path. There didn’t seem to be many people about – none walking this way at least – but we shrugged and started our slow slog uphill. About half way up I noticed the arrows pointed downhill where we were walking uphill. I started to wonder if walking against the current is disrespectful to Buddhists… I mean, you don’t want to be knocking about with karma and energy and all that serious stuff, do you?
We reached the top and were greated with a giant golden bell looking thing (which I’ve since learnt is called a stupa) and a pretty good view of Bangkok. I sat soaking in the sights and sounds of bells and prayer (and monks with flashier cellphones than me) before starting my decline, as per, against the flow. We reached the bottom and spun around to see the ticket booth (20Baht entry) and snuck away to find our tuktuk before anyone noticed. I guess that explains the arrows. Lucky we left a donation at the top…
It was then that our tuktuk driver dropped the condition on us. “You want suit?” he asked us, “uhhh, not really” we said in unison, “ahh no problem, no problem, just looking OK? Just 10 minute looking and I get petrol voucher, OK?
Now once is manageable. For the sake of a petrol coupon, yeah we can pretend to look at some suits. Twice is awkward, but you get into the hang of it and even start asking some questions. But after three times it’s starting to get a bit tiresome. I know I don’t want a suit. The shop keeper knows I don’t want a suit. But we’re all still playing this game while our tuktuk driver enjoys a cigarette and a petrol voucher sitting comfortably on his little tuktuk tush.
And it’s not just suit shops. It’s Government approved travel agencies with agents who, after hours of dealing with tourists asking prices but not buying and high-tailing it out of the shop, eventually reach breaking point and start yelling at said tourists. Tourists like us.
We were reaching breaking point too, and despite his resistance he reluctantly dropped us back to Khao San without dropping by any more stops for “just 10 minute”.
Needless to say, the next day we tried our hand at the public bus system. Much easier.
Off we go to the Islands!
We later learnt that there is no ‘Lucky Buddha’ – it’s all part of the scam, a scam we thought was fairly harmless. I think it just serves as a way to disorientate tourists and put them closer to where the suit shops and travel agents are situated.