Friday, 10 January 2014

Thailand tourist scam #1 or How to get a free sightseeing tour of Bangkok

"The palace is closed today. The inner city too,  because of the political protests. But don't worry,  there's a special offer from the Thai government today.  Take a government tuktuk (the yellow ones) and they will give you a tour of A, B, C,... For only 20 Baht. There's one here,  I'll write down where you want to go in Thai. "

And just like that,  I'm sitting in a tuktuk and the journey through Bangkok starts.  A tuktuk is a great way to travel,  it's fast, cheap, small enough to fit through the tightest spaces between other vehicles and the head wind is a wonderful change from the stuffy hot air in Thailand's capital.
The first Wat (temple) we stop at is quite small,  one golden Buddha statue and a large donation box. Outside,  several other tuktuks with tourists,  all seeming to wonder about the same thing: Why are we here and not in one of the much more impressive temples from the guidebook?
I take a few pictures,  then we're off to the so called Thai government factory. It turns out to be a small,  dark showroom selling tailor made suits.  While I try to explain to the sales assistant inside that I have no use for a suit right now,  and no,  I don't need any silk ties either - my driver is getting a fuel voucher outside. When I return,  he smiles.  At the next stop,  a tourist information centre (that doesn't even have a map of Bangkok,  but instead offers a lot of very expensive guided tours), he doesn't smile when I come out of the shop.  I wasn't in there long enough,  this time there was no commission for him. He tries it again, in another suit shop, this time I actually try on a kimono to spend more time in the shop,  but it's not enough. I insist that the next stop is the standing Buddha at Wat Intharawihan from my list.  He does get me there, and this time,  the Buddha is really quite amazing: With a height of 32m, he's higher than several houses and has very nicely painted toe nails. All around it were smaller Buddhas, and it took some time to look at them all. Around the corner,  I found a lovely golden stupa, where I managed to burn my feet (shoes are not allowse in temples) on the hot black marble floor.

When I returned to the place where the tuktuk had parked, it was no longer there.  I walked up and down the street but couldn't find it. While I was studying my map on a street corner, looking for a way back, I was told by a friendly guy who claimed he was a teacher that I was in the middle of nowhere. The man asked for paper to write down directions for a tuktuk in Thai. How very helpful,  I thought,  until I was sitting in the tuktuk and was told it was only 20 Baht to the 'Buddha mointain). Not again. Because I was a student,  the driver brought me to another 'tourist information' where they gave me 30% student discount (still highly over-priced). Of course,  I didn't buy anything. 

Luckily, he finally took me to the Golden Mount, a temple above an artificially created hill. You climb up many many stairs, passing below trees and by waterfalls and streams until you reach the temple at the top. From here,  there's an absolutely amazing view to be had. I especially liked seeing the many roofs of temples just next to Bangkok's modern skyline. I spent quite a lot of time on the 'mount', and was pleasantly surprised to find my tuktuk still standing where I left it and its driver. 

But it wasn't to last long.  He took me to another shopping place,  and again I refused to buy anything.  So he abandoned me at the next temple, just like the first one.  This time I was lucky (maybe the lucky Buddha in the first Wat helped) and found myself only half an hour's walk away (thank you, offline map app) from Khao San Road, Bangkok's ex-hippy-street and now tourist hotspot.

Having spent most of the day in tuktuks, I had some Pad Thai and a mango smoothie at a small cafe away from the crowds, then had a look around all the many stalls on and around Kao San Road. After some shopping (getting clothes better suited to the hot climate) I returned to my lovely, albeit slightly disorganised Phiman River View Guest House (they lost my room booking and i ended up in a dorm instead of a single room - although i am told that this is because the manager is currently on holiday), about ten minutes walk away from the crowds.  It's an amazing little place,  to get there you have to over wooden planks and walkways, and the dorm is very big and airy,  lots of space for everyone.  Now I'm sitting by the river,  munching on dotted pineapple slices and enjoying the view. It was a nice day,  and I certainly saw a lot more of Bangkok than planned.

Even though you could call this whole 20 Baht thing a scam,  I ended up getting a free tour of Bangkok's temples. No harm done, really (and thinking like that helps my bruised ego). By the way, I never found out whether the King's palace really had been closed. But I'm not going to try tomorrow,  after a day in Bangkok I already feel like leaving the city for more peaceful areas.

Ps. Photos will follow when I'm back at home,  I left my laptop at home and my tablet doesn't have a card reader...

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