Feb 15 11

Welcome to Bangkok!

by Emily Benjamin

We made it! Our first night in Bangkok was pleasant and we both got a good sleep, waking refreshed at Udee Hostel. The room and service was brilliant, and well worth the 1200Baht we paid. Private room and bathroom, air-conditioning and breakfast included, all for $35 a night? What a deal!

After a lazy breakfast and a slow start to the day, we met my friend Rachel, who had kindly offered us a place to stay with her friend Nick. We caught a taxi there cheaply and were shown to our house for the next 3 days, in Soi Kolit near Phaya Thai Train Station. A quick catch up with Rach and we decided to head to Chatachuk Markets, as they are only open on weekends and we may not get another chance while in Thailand. It was a very pleasant afternoon strolling through the markets, where everything from food to textiles, shoes and homewares are sold. Rach tells us that anything we could think of could be bought here, and we weren’t disappointed. We had a yummy lunch – my first thai meal since arrival and I was as happy as a pig in mud with a spicy green curry. The total bill was only 300Baht – about $9 – and I realised I was going to like this place. Not 10 minutes later I was tempted by a frozen banana covered in chocolate sauce and sprinkles. To be honest, I was full from lunch, but being such a fan of the TV show Arrested Development, I couldn’t resist my first opportunity to visit a real frozen banana stand. “There’s always money in the banana stand, Michael!”

Rach and Nick had planned a relaxing BBQ with friends that afternoon and invited us to join them. After Chatachuk, we headed back to Rach’s house to meet her friends, all living in a friendly apartment block resembling the one from Melrose Place. There were Australians, French, Turkish and Spaniards all living there, for different reasons and different amounts of time, all hanging out together regularly for drinks, dinners and BBQ’s. Everyone was really friendly, even more so once the beers and rums were introduced. For the record, thai rum – SamSong Rum – is not too bad really, but best served with Coke!

We headed home early to get a good nights sleep, and made it back there by ourselves almost trouble free. We got dropped by a tuk-tuk in the wrong place, but managed to catch the train to the right stop soon after. Clearly, we are naturals at this!

The next day we headed out on our own, with a visit to the Grand Palace. It felt like a big theme park, everything covered in gold and mirrors, making the glare almost unbearable. It always surprises me how decadent religious buildings are, and I felt the same way here. I remembered looking at small, thai inspired jewellery boxes back at home, and wondering who had the time to put all those sequins and mirrors onto tiny wooden boxes. But this, on such a grand scale, was amazing. We visited the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, who is in fact made of green jade, by the way, and discovered that someone clambers up his mosaic’ed throne 3 times a year to change his outfit. Now that’s commitment!

Later in the afternoon, after lunch with Rach and Nick, we checked out Khao San Road by day before visiting it again at night. It didn’t actually feel as touristy as I expected although I suppose it reminded me of a quiet night at the Ekka, with food stalls offering everything from meat to kebabs to corn, and enough fluoro lighting to give me a headache. Or maybe the headache came from the three cocktails I had…. Hmmm…

Here are a few photos from our adventures so far… There’ll be more on facebook or on the main page, coming soon.

Cheers,

– Em :)

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Filed Under → Words
Feb 14 11

“Two Shops, Then Free”

by Emily Benjamin

 

We should have asked for his name, so we could officially credit him with the most expensive cab drive in our lives. But we didn’t, so for the purpose of this entry, his name will be Bill.

Bill was approached by us today on Khao San Road, the main tourist strip in Bangkok. We’d spend the morning seeing some sights of Bangkok – namely the Grand Palace – and having lunch with my friend Rachel. After lunch she put us in a Tuk Tuk and sent us to Khao San for a beer in the afternoon sun. A tallie each and we were pretty sleepy, but tipsy enough to convince ourselves it was time to give bartering a try. So we began approaching drivers in the hope of a cheap lift home.

We were offered a lift for 150Baht, which yesterday we would have accepted and been dropped in the wrong place… true story, that. But we got tough this time, and with a shrug of the shoulders, Jamie suggested 50Baht instead. A few of the drivers shook their heads and walked away, but two were left, discussing which one of them would do it. Finally, Bill accepted our offer, under the condition that he had to stop for fuel on the way. That was the first sign that something was up.

The journey began easily enough – Bill was very chatty, keen to know where we were from, how long we were staying, and what our favourite sights had been so far. Then he started asking about whether or not we’d found any nice suits yet. Very nice suits in Bangkok, he says. Very nice. Yes, we know, but on day two of a seven month around the world trip, we won’t be buying any suits today thank you Bill. Ahhh but you’ll look while I look, yes. This store? You been here? No? Ok we stop here. Two stops, then free!

What? Have we just been picked up by a tuk-tuk driving personal shopper? We ask him to point out where we are on the map and while we wanted to go east, we’ve gone north. But there are a number of tuk-tuks parked outside this shop so we hop out, on the guarantee that this is stop one, and we go inside to humour him. Looking around, and flipping through a few magazines for suits, we kill about 3 minutes, all the while sales people offering us cheap suits. But we’re not having a bar of this. Outside again we go and Bill looks disappointed to say the least. Almost angrily, he says there is one more shop and at the next one, we must stay longer. Give it a chance, he says. At around this point, Jamie reminds me that we’d been warned of these tuk-tuk scams. Drivers are on a commission to get foreigners into the shops that are further from the main drag. They take you out shopping and then if you don’t buy, the won’t drive you anywhere. Harmless maybe, because you can always find another driver, but time consuming. I must have lost that information somewhere in my mid-term memory though, because I can’t recall being warned of being forced to shop by aggressive thai men, but hey, what can you do. After 4 hours of sight seeing with no food in my stomach, I had finally been fed and watered and I was happy to go along for the ride.

To the second shop we went, and this one was bigger, with the whole front entrance dedicated to sitting space for the tailors/salespeople waiting to serve new customers. We were met at the door by Daniel, who seemed harmless enough. I figured I may as well use this place for their bathroom in case Bill left us roadside, so I left Jamie with the magazines and excused myself for a few minutes. Perhaps I should never have left him alone though, because I returned and Jamie had his ‘………….the suits are really nice here, Em, and they’re really good value……’ face on. Uh oh. He began to look at fabrics while I rolled my eyes, not believing that he’d been dragged into this scam so easily, but also remembering that my boyfriend only has two suits and both are navy, neither of which go nicely next to one of my black cocktail dresses. He found a very nice dark grey wool, and looked ready to buy. Only 9000Baht, Daniel says. He takes our phone and downloads an iPhone app for currency conversion to show us that it was approximately $260. Jamie face changes to say ‘…hmm how can I make myself feel better about this indulgence…’ before generously suggesting that I get myself something too, like a dress. Ha! Now I’m involved in the scam too. Still on a high from a belly full of fried rice and beer, I say ok. I pick out a pattern and get taken to the thai silk area, and choose a rather beautiful navy silk for a strapless dress. Daniel offers a discount for two items and my ‘bargain brain’ is buzzing. Time to haggle.

First offer is 13000Baht for suit and dress. I suggested 10000B but it appears this may be a little extreme, as he shows us the receipts of earlier transactions, to prove that we’re already getting a deal. I go for 11000B next, and Daniel starts to waver. He walks away for a moment and Jamie whispers to me ‘You play good cop, I’ll play bad cop.’ Good idea in theory, but Jamie was obviously too keen for a new suit and wasn’t nearly ‘bad cop’ enough! Daniel comes back and says $400 AUD, whatever the conversion is. It comes down to 12000B which is $390 (thank you, Google!) and Jamie goes to put the deposit on his credit card. We get measured up for our respective purchases, and are invited back tomorrow evening for a fitting before we fly to Chiang Mai. We can also come back in April for another fitting, before the items are posted to the UK for us. We walk out, expecting Bill to have legged it, but alas! There he is, waiting for proof of purchase, and he gleefully drives us to our original destination while we sit in the back, shaking our heads in scammed shame.

Finally, we reached our destination. Bill turned out to be quite the tour guide, and after asking a few questions about how much we spent, he was really pleasant as we hopped out. Obviously he’d done the mental calculations and had worked out he’d made quite the commission from us today. As we’d laughed about it on the ride home, we decided he deserved the original fare and handed over the 50Baht, thanking him for the experience. Surprised, he accepted it happily and shook our hands, wishing us well.

A quick stop at the 7-Eleven for ice creams and water and we were home, almost 2 hours later, and $400 poorer than we intended. But hey, hopefully in May we’ll have a suit and a dress to show for it! A lesson to us both – maybe next time, don’t barter too cheap, unless you’re willing to buy a suit on the way home.

Thanks, Bill!

– Em :)

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