Comfortably Blind – Part 2

The other bit of safety advice I was given on my first trip to Thailand, Do not let a tuk-tuk driver take you anywhere you don’t want to go. They have many scams, and sound so friendly – offering to take you to their friends’ jewelry shop. Do NOT let them do that to you.

Of course not. HA!

So, as I said in my last post, Evette and I found a lovely park to wander around for the remaining hour before the Grand Palace was said to open to visitors. We knew we’d been ripped off, but that wasn’t too bad – we now had a sunny park to wander through, taking pictures and exclaiming over the landscape and traditional Thai houses we found.

Finally, time to go in to the Grand Palace! We walked across the road, and starting heading for what looked like an entrance. It was locked. Bother! My memory from my visit last year was that there were many entrances, so we set off along the wall to find one. Along the way, we were told that the Palace would not open to visitors until 3 pm, since it was the queen’s birthday, after all. Well. Maybe the taxi driver was wrong. We decided to keep moving, hoping to buy our tickets early, maybe, and avoid the rush.

And then I was reminded, I’m a lost, lost foreigner in this land of mystery….allow me to elaborate, using pictures:

From left to right: Wat Phra Keaw, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace

DO YOU SEE A DIFFERENCE?!!? I mean, yes, those are different images…but they COULD all be the same complex, right? Yes, please say yes – of course that could happen. To anyone. Any non-native, I mean.

These are 3 locations of note in the Historic District of Bangkok, all of which are worth visiting and I PLANNED to visit, so had previously looked up online. Excuse me for getting them mixed up, walking into the entrance of Wat Pho and being utterly confused as to why the woman behind the ticket counter wouldn’t sell me a ticket to all three places.

[At Wat Pho]: Ticket to Wat Pho and Wat Phra Keaw?

“No! This Wat Pho. 100 baht. You want?”

No, I want to buy for Wat Pho, Wat Phra Keaw and Grand Palace. I can?

“No can! Today queen’s birthday. You buy ticket to Wat Pho? 200 baht for 2? Okay?”

No. Not okay. I “couldn’t” buy for all three places, and I couldn’t understand why. Oh…that’s why. I wasn’t in the right place. Out of the enclosure we went, because Evette and I believed we COULD get into the Grand Palace, if we just walked enough.

We walked…and saw farangs walking away from entrance after entrance. Things were started to look familiar, though, like maybe I had made it to the entrance we had used last year. We saw some foreigners being helped by a friendly, friendly Thai man who gave them directions, and sent them on their way – No taxi involved. Phew.

We approached this little Thai Angel, hopeful and asked about the Grand Palace.

“Not open today!! You cannot go. Today Queen’s Birthday, you know? Where you want to go? You want to go on the river? Yes? I will help you. You have a map, I can show you where to go. Many many places. Lots of shopping, very good day for shopping, yes? I will show you. Here….”

Overwhelmed by his gregarious character and frustrated that the Grand Palace REALLY was not open, I found myself handing over my map and watching him scribble all across the laminated surface. He circled already highlighted areas, drew squiggles for where we could walk, explained the best stops on the river boat, discussed the floating market, talked about food and wonderful alternatives to our spoiled plans. Add to this, he was wonderfully entertaining, did not drive a taxi and kept saying, “You take a tuk-tuk to boat stop, and get a boat – VERY CHEAP! Less than before – yes, that was expensive. But, only take a Tuk-tuk with a yellow license plate – and ONLY pay 10 baht, together. More than that – you not go. Okay?”

If I weren’t a foolish, foolish tourist, I would have realized just how convenient it was that a Tuk-tuk driver – driving a yellow-licensed tuk-tuck, no less – arrived at just the moment we were leaving. And happily picked us up, for the exact price our ‘angel’ had told us to pay. Things were looking up. Easy. Simple. Thais are so helpful. They really are.

HMPH!
WEEEELLLLLL. We ended up NOT going to a River Taxi, but instead at a stop for yet another long-boat tour. For the discounted price of $28.50. We walked away. They got frustrated. They tried to barter with us. We said no – we never wanted that tour, and we WERE NOT PAYING THAT MUCH! When asked how much we wanted to pay, we said $8-$10. And they laughed. Oh, how they laughed. I’m so glad someone was laughing because I, on the other hand, was alternately trying to be a gracious, grateful visitor and ready to slap every swindler in reach. Ahem.

After informing us we were cheap, and our money decisions made no sense whatsoever since we were – obviously – Rich Americans with 4 months holiday here in Thailand, the tuk-tuk driver decided to turn helpful.

He scribbled some more on my poor map and drew out three stops for us, three stops that sounded good, plus some shopping and the promise of taking us to our desired River Taxi in the end. Finally, telling us we really are cheap, cheap people – he agreed to us paying him each $1.60 for this little tour. I told him we would not change, and that was the end.

“Yes, yes, very good – now we go to Lucky Buddha, Happy Buddha, Sad Buddha – free today, only today – and shopping, too!”

The temples were lovely, small – but each with its own bit of character. We had a wonderful time exploring the first location and then we went to the Thai Export Centre. That’s a Jewelry Shop, folks. Expensive jewelry. The doors open from the inside, and there is a man on the sidewalk dressed all in black. We left, quickly-ish, without buying a single piece of $1000 jewelry. I thought to take a picture, when the man in black came to life and barked, “No picture! You no buy, no pictures. You buy, you can take pictures.”

If I were brilliant, I would have caught on – and left the Tuk-tuk driver. But, Lucky Buddha had been interesting and he promised to take us to Happy Buddha! We did so, but somehow even though he had left us with directions to, “Take your time, no hurry – don’t worry!” When we were gone or 15 or so minutes, he came looking for us – annoyed to be waiting so long.

The rest of the afternoon….more jewelry and shopping!

“You go here, maybe you want to buy something. Very special place – very good prices.”

But we don’t want to buy anything. Remember, we don’t have money to buy things.

“Okay, okay – no problem. If you don’t want to buy, it’s okay. I get coupon even if you don’t buy. Maybe you change your mind.”

We bought – $5 worth of baskets at two places. He was sorely disappointed, and told us as much. Looking back at that disastrously funny experience, my favorite memory is when we were dragged into another tailor shop and he tried to get us to order clothes.

May I point out, we were both wearing Target tops and cheap skirts, old shoes and dripping from the rain? Yes, yes – lets order a custom-made silken dress! We said the dresses were too formal, and so the tailor suggested a suit – his specialty. In my culturally sensitive and annoyed fashion, I responded, “Hmmm. People don’t really wear suits anymore.”

I MEANT, “In my profession, as a woman.” But instead I told him his business was a bust. Shortly after he packed up the books and told us we were welcome to visit the gift shops. I have no idea why.

An hour later, the driver finally took us to the River Taxi – [50 cents for a 35 minute ride! Great views, but no special stops – I’m okay with that]. He could not let us go without one last statement, “You did not buy anything, and I did not get a gas coupon. Why did you not like the shopping?!”

Well, sir – it could have something to do with never wanting to shop, and refusing to spend money. But, how should I know?

P.S. The temples I visited, Happy Buddha? Doesn’t exist. It’s actually called the Marble Temple. Of course it is.

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