Bangkok In Slow Motion: The Art of Misdirection
And so it begins…
Whenever I visit a new city I make it a point to get lost in it. Just walk around until I don’t know where I am anymore. Mind you, I keep my wits about me; if I notice there’s less and less people in the direction I’m heading, I take that as a sign to maybe turn back and explore other avenues. The point really is to avoid being a ‘typical tourist’. I don’t want to only stay where the tourists should stay, or only visit the places the tourists should visit. I want to explore.
That being said, my first night here I ended up eating at some restaurant in Siam Square where not but outside my window, 2 bombs went off within 10 minutes of each other. In the coming days no particular radical group took responsibility for them but yea, I’m here and alive so that’s good right? I’m a survivor.
Bed Station: My First Stop
As soon as I touched down in Thailand I made my first mistake by overpaying for a 45 minute taxi to get me to my hostel ($60 CAD). Truth be told, it was 1 in the morning and I was exhausted after 23 hours of traveling (17 hours in flight with a 6 hour layover in Hong Kong) so my ability to care was at an all time low.
Either way, I ended up at what would be my home for the next 5 days. Looks fancy from the outside? That’s because it’s a recently built hostel that came up with excellent reviews on Hostelworld. The inside isn’t bad either. I opted for a mixed 4 bedroom dorm. It came with a single bed, hot showers, lockers, included breakfast, WiFi, a great location and a beanbag filled lounging area. They also provided all the necessary plugs, rendering my universal plug adaptor useless. Not bad for $22 CAD/night. I just wish the room had windows.
As soon as I woke up I went a walkin’. First stop, 7-11. I wanted a local SIM and some soap.
To anyone wanting to come visit Thailand (and you should it’s a great place), know that there is very little English spoken here. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you see it. I liked it. Such a big language barrier really makes you think differently about communication. Body language becomes the de facto medium to get your point across. So when I was pretending to scrub my body with soap in front of the 7-11 clerk and about 10 other confused locals watching on, you can imagine the feeling of satisfaction I felt when she asked a local to just translate to Thai what I was looking for.
For locals, it seems the motorbike is the standard way to move. Typically though, to get around Thailand you take the BTS Skytrain. It’s relatively cheap and very fast. I wanted to go see the Grand Palace so I paid 37 BHT ($1.48 CAD) at Ratchatewi and went to Saphan Taksin (S6 Station, if you’re ever here).
From there I walked another 100 feet to my left and arrived at the ‘dock’ for the boats that would take me up the Chao Phraya river.
Enter Scam #1
I noticed some locals talking to a man that looked like he worked there. He told them it was 100 BHT ($4 CAD) to take the boat up the river. I went up to him and asked for the price and, again, he confirmed it was 100 BHT. Alright. 100 BHT it is (days later I would learn from my local friends that it typically costs 10-40 BHT–$0.40-$1.60 CAD–to go up the river). But wait! What about the locals that asked first though? Was that some elaborate role play they always perform in front of all Farang (foreigner, in Thai) to get me to believe in the 100 BHT pricing? Too intricate of a ploy. Maybe I thought they were locals because they were Asian as well.
Maybe I’m racist.
Either way, it was great being on the water, in a rickety boat with a ‘life jacket’ on; seriously though, if I fed each of my arms through the handle of a Metro shopping bag with empty cereal boxes in it, I would probably have a better chance at survival. Regardless, as I laid on one side of the boat, admiring the undulating waters beneath me, I was informed by the driver that I had to sit directly in the middle of it. This was due to the fact that the boat would otherwise tip over at high speeds, giving my DSLR camera and I a fully immersive experience of the Chao Phraya. Excellent. I am such a daredevil. It did get me a great shot of the skyline en route so I’m happy with the result.
Upon walking around I notice this beautiful Spirit House (Shrine).
If there’s one thing I have learned about Thailand in my 4 hours of travel at this point, it is that there are shrines everywhere. EVERYWHERE. This is a testament to the strong culture and religion deeply rooted into the country. Not only are there shrines everywhere but they are highly respected and regarded. As Thailand is a strongly Buddhist country, Spirit Houses are built for spirits that may cause problems to others if not placated. There is always a votive offering for the spirits in the form of flowers, rice, bananas, etc. People have these in their homes, outside their businesses, inside their businesses, you name it. Tuk Tuk drivers would get off at a stop and bow to the Shrine. Locals would pray for good fortune, to heal an illness or get a raise.
Anyway. I bought a bag of Mangos for 40 BHT ($1.60), tried this deliciously refreshing thing called a Rose Apple for 20 BHT (crappy picture of it on my Instagram), walked around some more and made my way out to the Grand Palace.
Oh, you thought you were going to the Grand Palace?
Enter Scam #2
I strongly believe that being scammed is a rite of passage of sorts. An initiation even. The country is baptizing me into their world, teaching me their ways. Obviously, not all Thai people are scammers. There are scammers in any country you visit, but right now I’m learning scamming the Thai way.
As refreshing bites of mango electrify my taste buds and visions of the Grand Palace play in my head, I am greeted by another local. This time I feel a little more on guard. I recall reading online that there are people who try to scam you outside the Grand Palace by telling you that it’s closed and you have to go later on. This way they can try to convince you to to take a tour with them instead and they will take you to stores where they get a kickback for bringing in tourists and try to get you to buy stuff. I made a mental note to keep that in mind while talking with this indivudal.
“Helo. Helo. Whey you go?”
‘To the Grand Palace’
“To Gran Palas? Veyy nise. Where you from?”
“Ahh. Canada. Vancouva? Toronto?”
“Ahh. Toronto. Hocky! Yea? Hocky! Mapo Leef”
“Veyy good. Veyy good. Rie now the Monk in Gran Palas pray. *Makes a praying gesture with both hands*. You kum back at 3pm” (It was 12:30pm)
‘3pm? What do I do from now to 3pm?’
“You kan take Tuk Tuk. They drie you aroun otha tempo. Big Buddha. Lying Buddha. Veyy good look for u”
‘How long does that take?’
“Yu can do all otha tempo for 2 hour then kum back hea to Gran Palas afta Monk finish prey *Makes a praying gesture with both hands*”
‘And how much is that?’
“Only 50 Baht ($2 CAD). veyy cheep! Tuk tuk driver taek u and he wait for u finish. Stay as long as u want he no leave”
‘Alright sounds good’
. . . I Am An Idiot
By being so intent on watching him and waiting to hear some variation of the word “closed” come out of his mouth it didn’t even occur to me that I was being scammed. Oh they are praying you say? Well that is entirely different from them being closed, so you must be telling the truth. Off we go then.
To be fair, it wasn’t a horrible experience. I ended up getting to see some of the other temples in Bangkok that I had planned to visit. Though in between he took me to a clothing shop, a jewellery store, a tourist information board (don’t go there if they suggest that you do, they’ll suggest overpriced packages that you can get for much cheaper on your own) and then told me he had to go home and dropped me back off at the Grand Palace before taking me to the other temples I was promised.
No big deal right? I’m back at the Grand Palace and now it’s 3:30pm so I’ll just get back to where I was originally heading, right?
Turns out the Grand Palace actually closes at 3:30pm (for real). Please Try Again (tomorrow).