Hello, hello! Tuk Tuk?

16 02 2012

Bangkok is a deceptive city.  Looking at a street map most tourist hotspots seem within relatively easy walking distance, but once you start walking from point A to B you realise that it is actually a hundred times further than first anticipated.  Problematic?  Well ,yes, it is when the temperature soars to 38 degrees in their “winter season.”

We caught the SkyTrain into town (brilliant transportation link!) and quickly found Smile Society, our hostel in the Si Lom district.  We checked in and signed the obligatory agreement:  we the undersigned hereby agree not to smoke in the premises of Smile Society nor bring girls or boys back to the premises for sex.  Sure, no problemo!

We dumped our bags and immediately leapt on the Metro for Wat Traimit.  But when we exited the train station we were met with road works, construction and temporary walkways.  We had only paused for a few seconds trying to spot a street sign when our first con-man slithered up to us.  Dressed in a fine suit and with all the pretence of trying to be helpful, he told us the temple was closed and could we follow him please.  Not on your nelly mister!

Unwilling to stall a second longer for fear of his friends arriving in their tailored suits, we quickly took to our heels having no idea which direction we were walking in.  We just had to keep moving.  “Hello hello!  Tuk Tuk?  Hello!  Tuk Tuk?” – we were being attacked from all sides!  Spotting two Western tourists walking towards us (they weren’t hard to spot – they were the ones with rivers of sweat running down their faces, bad fashion and bulky backpacks), we strode in the direction they had come from, certain they must have come from some nearby tourist attraction!  And once they had passed us, we walked towards the next Western tourist, and the next, and the next.

The top of Wat Traimit

And that was how we finally stumbled upon the massive Wat Traimit temple – a huge and spectacular white and gold-plated temple in the heart of Bangkok.  We climbed to the top and sat gaping in awe at the five tonne solid gold Buddha sitting cross-legged at the top, incense wafting all around us, and Thai worshippers in a state of prayer and reflection.

Standing in front of five tonnes of gold!

Our next objective was to walk through Chinatown to the Grand Palace.  Although it was closing soon, we hoped to get at least an hour strolling around the grounds and to see the reclining Buddha.  We set off at a steady trot and soon we were in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Chinatown.  Stalls lined the streets for miles selling everything from mops to bracelets to clothes to lottery tickets to mattresses to food to spices to fish.  Every sense we had was assaulted as we wandered through a maze of stalls.  It was very claustrophobic and poor Roger was having a sensory overdose!

Entering Chinatown in Bangkok

After walking for twenty minutes, Chinatown showed no hint of ever ending.  It just went on and on and on and on.  And then after almost getting scalded from a hot plate, and Roger getting his achilles sliced open by a sack barrow we were desperate to get out. We stumbled helplessly around for close to an hour but we just couldn’t get out of Chinatown.  By now the Grand Palace had closed, the hot sun was absolutely stifling and the map I had grabbed from our hostel didn’t have all the streets on it.

Finally we stumbled upon the Chao Phraya” express boat”, a very old, rickety, wobbly boat that had far too many people on-board.  As I boarded hesitantly (it did not look like safe transportation to me!), the ferryman blew a sheep whistle sharply next to my left ear.  Everyone shuffled left, shuffled right and moved through the pen in unison!  Actually he seemed to be using it to communicate to the driver, but it was deafening and the more he whistled his screechy little tunes, the closer I came to pushing him into the river.  My ears ached and I was not amused!

Head of golden Buddha at Wat Traimit, Bangkok

We got off the ferry and it took us another hour before we finally made it back to Smile Society…and by then we were not smiling.  However, all was not lost as it turned out that the Night Bazaar was right outside our door.  So wallets in hand we hit the markets to try our hand at haggling.

It wasn’t long before the bright colours of eight minis on a Paul Smith tank top caught my eye – and the game began.  First of all, did she have my size?  While she thought I was a medium, I was pretty sure that a large would be a safer bet given the tiny frames of the Thai women.  There was of course nowhere to try on the clothes, and you wouldn’t really want to anyway it was so bloody hot and I was very VERY clammy!  Turned out, she did have my size, and after some polite compliments about our body sizes, we were into it.

“How much?” I asked, my eyes drawing into fine slits, giving away nothing.  She reached for her 1980’s Casio calculator and punched the keys efficiently – 1200baht (NZD$46).  “No, no, no,” I said shaking my head and waving my hands in exaggeration.  “Too much.”  She handed me the Casio.  “What your price,” she demanded.  By this stage Roger was eagerly bouncing on his toes behind me.  “Go low, go low.  You can always go up but you can never come down,” he whispered excitedly in my ear.  I punched my price into the calculator – 300baht (NZD$11).  She rolled her eyes and muttered something about having to make a living, then punched 800baht into the Casio.  I hesitated, quickly calculating into NZ dollars in my head.  The pressure was on.  Perspiration formed…well…everywhere!

I took the Casio – 400baht.  She sighed, lamenting in Thai before punching 600baht into the calculator.  I could hear Roger hissing behind me “Walk away.  Walk away.”  In a grand gesture I turned away from the Paul Smith T hanging on her stall, shook my head and said “Nah, I don’t like it that much.  Thanks anyway.”   Seconds later I felt a hand on my arm, “Okay okay – 400.  You tough lady!”

The deal completed I handed over my baht, which she flicked across the other t-shirts in the stall as a sign of good luck for the evening.  She bagged my item for me and I walked away as smug as a cat.  Got her….or so I thought.  I ended up paying NZD$15 which I thought wasn’t too bad – I wouldn’t say it was really cheap in NZ money terms, but I thought I had done okay.  Until we reached the next market down the street and I saw the same t-shirt for 250baht.  Bugger!  I guess that’s the roll of the dice.

The night markets were brilliant!  The atmosphere was electric, frantic and alive with colour.  Hundreds of tourists were either getting the bargain of their lives or being scandalously conned.  And all the while a sexual undertone oozed throughout the markets as pole dancers wiggled at us from open windowed clubs and dodgy blokes offered us gay porn DVD’s and Ping Pong Pussy shows at every turn.  In fact Roger was offered so much gay porn that he began to question his sexuality – “Do I look like I would be into that kind of thing?” he blushed.  “Don’t worry dear, they are offering it to me too.  I think they are pretty indiscriminate about their customer base!”

POSTSCRIPT:  We have since learned that there were three bombings in Bangkok on Tuesday aimed at foreign tourists and we would like to assure friends and families that we had moved on from Bangkok at that time….thankfully.