Friday, October 14, 2011

Bangkok Day 2 + 3: Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wash Out.

Bangkok is an interesting city. Going by my own experiences of travel, it seems to be a mish-mash of Western consumerism coupled with a wide range of eateries similar to Greece and the kind of hard-sell you'd find in a country like Tunisia. However, the hard-sell ranges from blatant to downright devious. Yesterday we decided we were going to visit the Grand Palace. On the way there, we were stopped by a tuk-tuk driver asking us where we wanted to go and upon telling him he informed us that it was a "Buddhist holiday", so only Thais could enter in the morning and tourists could visit at 2:30. Instead, he suggested we took a trip with him to the Standing Buddha which is apparently a massive 40ft Buddha statue. I'd read about this kind of con in the guidebook (i.e. telling you something is closed and shepherding you somewhere else, usually via a gem shop) so we were just about to move on when another guy came over, shooed him away and then proceeded to look at our map and tell us about the various sights we could visit. He said he worked in the government, and that there were a lot of people scamming you on the road. He gave us some advice on the quality of clothing and other tat on Khao San Road, and said we should best avoid it to not get ripped off. All seemed like reasonable advice. Then he started asking questions: If you took a tuk-tuk to this site, this site and that site, how much do you think it would cost? Alarm bells started ringing. It would have cost 60 Baht (about 1.20). All we needed to do was hop in a tuk-tuk. But we want to go to the Grand Palace! Ah yes, but that's closed. You didn't know? Ahaha, it's a Buddhist holiday - it opens again at 2:30 for tourists. He then started pointing out the various modes of transport on the road and whether they were official or not. Taxis with meters in? Not official. These yellow tuk-tuks? They are official government tuk-tuks. You want to get in one? Erm, no thanks...time to move on. As we did, we went past the original scammer who had pulled up in a tuk-tuk expectantly, as if he was convinced the "government official" would have convinced us to ride in his 3-wheeled death trap and visit a load of cheap tat shops run by his mates. He was disappointed.

It didn't stop there though. As we continued to the palace, we were verbally greeted by a number of people, one was a "doctor" who told us the palace was closed whilst we were waiting to cross the road. Another was at a temple we passed - she told us her name was Chanarwa. Little old lady, on holiday from Chiang Mai. Had been to Bangkok 3 times in her life, and was here again on holiday for a week. Took us into the temple to see rows of Buddhas, showed us around the courtyard, all very nice. Sat us down in the main part of the temple and proceeded to point out on our map the Standing Buddha (45 ft high - it must have grown since earlier in the morning), and also informed us that the Palace was closed until 1:30 for tourists (I guess they had so many expectant tourists, they decided to open it for us an hour earlier - very nice of them). At this stage I'd had pretty much enough. We got up, went out to the courtyard and wandered around taking photos, as she followed and tried to herd us back outside. In the end she gave up, and when we finally arrived at the palace we found it was - shock! - open. Imagine our lack of surprise.

The Grand Palace was a bizarre mix of Thai and Chinese architecture, the majority of it covered in gilt, mosaic and glass. Ostentatious probably doesn't describe it; it was like an authentic version of the kind of thing you'd find in Las Vegas, all spires, garish colours and weird ornamentation. The photos in my Flickr feed will probably explain it better than I can. The main highlight was the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which appeared to be made out of jade. The mercury rose uncomfortably in the afternoon and we staggered on through the heat to Wat Pho which had similar architecture, slightly less loud, with the centrepiece of the site being a massive (and I mean massive) reclining Buddha. This thing was monstrous, and barely fit within the temple that housed it (also huge).

In the evening we went out to a restaurant called The Flow, which had lovely food but a waitress with a permanent scowl. I told her (in Thai) that the food was delicious, and she said "You speak Thai?". I said "No", and she made a face that was somewhere between a grimace and a sneer, like I'd comically fallen into a cesspool. At least I was making the effort to try and speak the lingo. When we were in France, the locals loved it when you made an effort. To be fair, the staff at the guesthouse were delighted when I said "thank you" in Thai; I guess most tourists don't bother trying.

Today we were going to go to Museum Siam - the Museum of Discovery. Unfortunately, the only thing we discovered was that it was closed due to the worst floods Thailand has seen in 50 years. I wouldn't say that this was unusual for us. We tend to bring out extreme weather in the areas we visit; when we went to Skiathos, they had a month's worth of rain dropped on the island in the space of 30 minutes. When we went to Barcelona, they had the first snow they had experienced for 9 years. I guess we should have been expecting this. We were caught in a torrent shortly after we found it was closed and managed, somehow, to get a #53 bus back to the road our guesthouse was in. It was an odd bus, in that the ticket lady was holding a clipboard and marking off how many people got on and off the bus, but not actually collecting money. We got to our stop and she ushered us out, and I was expecting to pay someone at the bus stop...but there was no-one there. Free bus ride - woohoo! It went some way to make up for horrendous drenching we got. Typically, as I sit typing this the weather has much improved.

Tomorrow we're moving away from the Sivarin Guesthouse to Green House which is on a road parallel to Khao San Road. By all accounts it's not going to be as nice, but it'll be cheap and in the centre of the backpacker community which is something we've not yet experienced. Plus, we've only booked one night there so if it turns out to be a cockroach-infested sewer, there's plenty of similar sewers to choose from in the area.


Dave Braga said...

we drew 1-1 with the mancs today. gerrard scored on sixty-odd and the little mexican dwarfthing equalised in the last ten. don't know how it wasn't a pummelling - we were all over them

Rob said...

I saw it at a bar, pretty uninspiring match but we should have won.