Getting a Tour of the Temples and Dealing with Locals

Bangkok Travel Blog

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At Wat Timit

On Monday morning, I woke up early, as I had a tour guide picking me up at 7:30 am. He was on time. He showed up in an air conditioned van with 6 other tourists. Four of the tourists were from London and the other two were from India. I got to know a few of them and we all shared stories about what to see, expect and what to avoid in Bangkok and in other cities. It was good being around other people that spoke English and had shared similar experiences. The Temple tour was neat.

The tour guide’s name was Sanwan, but he asked us to call him “One”. The driver’s name was Tuahl (I think that’s how you spell it) but he asked us to call the driver “Two”. Ha ha! I thought that was amusing.

The view from the temple grounds

There were six other people that participated in this tour. There was a couple from London, then two single guys from London, who had spent two weeks in another part of Thailand fishing and there were two men from India, whose wives kept calling them to yell at them (apparently they didn’t call their wives the previous night and had some explaining to do). All of the other tourists were friendly. We introduced ourselves to each other and talked about our experience - where we’d been in Bangkok already, other countries we had visited, etc.

The tour started by visiting the Wat Timit first. This temple houses the Golden Buddha. There were monks praying in there, and I learned that today was a Buddhist Holiday. I learned it was Makha Bucha Day. This day represents a great deal in terms of the development of Buddhism in Thailand.

Going up the steps at Wat Timit
It is a highly ceremonial event and many monks in Thailand were out and about praying to commemorate the special day. The temple itself was simple on the inside, but it was pretty and the gold everywhere shimmered in the bright sun.

Next we went to see the giant Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho temple. This was my favorite statue of a Buddha. It is huge! This reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high! I was trying to get a good picture of it, but it was difficult to get a good shot that truly depicted its grandeur. None of my pictures give it justice! A temple has stood on these grounds since the 16th century. Today, this site is known as the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage (did I tell you all that there are massage parlors EVERYWHERE in Bangkok?)

After walking around Wat Pho, we went to visit the Marble Temple at Wat Benchamabophit.

In front of Wat Timit
This temple was made of white Carrara marble from Italy. It was beautiful. Outside there were canals and footbridges and strolling around was peaceful.

At the end of the tour, the tour guide took us to a Gem and Jewelry factory, which had not been stated in the itinerary. Similar to how it all worked in India and in China, we gathered that the drivers benefited somehow from taking tourists to these factories. We first got a tour of the factory, where we saw locals carving jewels and working with the jewelry, and then we were ushered into a store where a local staff member stuck to you and followed you around while you looked to see what he could talk you into purchasing. When you tell them you don’t want to buy any jewels, they then usher you into a souvenir shop where you can buy magnets and wallets, etc. I bought a few souvenirs.

People honoring the holiday
When we were done shopping the tour guide got each of us settled in our own cars with drivers that would then deliver us to our hotel.

I was back in the hotel by 1 pm. I asked the hotel guide for another recommendation for lunch and had better Pad Thai (this time it came with shrimp) and a delicious Thai Iced Tea. As I was about half way through my drink, I realized the drink had ice in it (I had been trying to stay away from local water and ice, to avoid getting sick). I decided I had already drunk half of it, so no sense in not drinking the last bit. Good news – I didn’t get sick.

Outside the hotel, there are normally cabs waiting to pick up tourists. I had seen one cab driver there when I got back from my tour, then when I went out to the restaurant and he was still there when I returned from the restaurant.

Monks at the temple
Each time he asked me if I needed a cab, I ignored him.

I decided after a late lunch that I should venture out and see more sights. So from the restaurant, I walked over to the hotel, where was approached by the driver I had seen standing outside the last few times I had entered and left the hotel. He immediately asked me if I needed a cab to go somewhere.

So I thought we were about to play the game of negotiating cab fares. I knew the fare to get to where I wanted to go would be no more than 100B, as that’s what I had paid to get to the tourist area the previous day.

I told him I needed a cab. He immediately asks me where I am going. I tell him. He quickly tells me, 100B to get there, wait for you and bring you back.

The reclining Buddha
OK…. There’s a catch. There has to be. He was way too quick to offer too low a price and the deal sounded too good. I’ve been getting better at this game (I won’t lie and say I’m getting good… cause I hate negotiating prices).

So I flat out asked him, “What’s the catch?” He looked at me like he didn’t understand. So I told him, “You are charging cheap price to take me there, wait for me for one or two hours and bring me back here. Why?” He knew I was on to him. So I began walking away to ask another cab driver for help, because I didn’t see the bell boy standing out there. The man who I had just questioned followed me and repeated his fare to me.

I told him, “Good price, but why so good?” So he fessed up.

I was pretty proud of myself for catching on and playing the game better than I thought I could play.

It's very long

He was honest. He said, “OK – I take you to where you want to go, but first we make quick stop at Tailor Shop (side note: there are tailor shops, people sewing on streets and massage parlors everywhere you look in Bangkok), you look around for 10 minutes, then I take you to where you want to go, then we come back to hotel, but on the way back we make another quick stop at a Jewelry shop, you look and we arrive at hotel.”

Ah ha! I knew there was a catch.

I told him, “I don’t want to shop. I just want to go to the Golden Mountain.” I should have just walked away then and there. I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking.

So he tells me, “You don’t have to buy anything.

The Buddha's foot
I promise. The store gives me commission for everything you buy, but if you don’t buy anything I still get vouchers for free gasoline from the store for every tourist I take to each store.”

I actually appreciated the cab driver’s honesty. On all the other tours I’ve attended in China, India and in Thailand, we’ve stopped at some “tourist trap” shop, while it wasn’t even mentioned anywhere on the initial itinerary I signed up for. So I appreciated the fact that the cab driver wasn’t just stopping there, without informing me and he was basically telling me, this is how he makes his money.

He assured me again, “No obligation. If you like something, you buy, if you don’t like something you don’t buy. I get more money if you buy, but I get something even if you don’t buy.

Statue outside the temple

Luckily, I did want to buy a magnet and some souvenirs. There was also something in particular I was looking for as a gift to Larry. So I actually didn’t mind going to the shops, but I didn’t make this known to the driver.

I had a good feeling about this cab driver. I told him I’d pay him the 100B when I was back at the hotel at the very end of the deal. He agreed so I got in the cab and we were on our way.

Just as he said, we stopped at a tailor shop first. They sold all kinds of stuff - clothes, dresses, fabric, tablecloths, and more. There were several men being measured for suits. It was painless. I walked in while the driver waited outside, I was approached by a man working at the store, I asked the price of a few items, I pretended I was interested, and I was out of there in 10 minutes.

At Wat Pho

The cab driver then took me to where I wanted to go - The Golden Mountain. The Golden Mount, as it’s also known, is an area (park-like, I guess) where steps lead up through trees, past tombstones and up two platforms that provide wonderful views of the city of Bangkok. At the top platform, there is a central Buddha shrine. There are bells lined up going up the stairs and on each of the platforms that people are able to ring while they walk up.

I walked around, took pictures, played with all the bells, ringing each one along the path. I even set up my tripod at one point and filmed myself ringing the bells and took pictures of me and monks ringing the bells. I took my time and figured if the cab driver didn’t stick to his word, at least I hadn’t lost anything.

At Wat Pho
I hadn’t paid him anything yet.

The views of the city from the Golden Mountain were nice. The air looked a lot cleaner than Beijing’s air. Big difference, actually. In Beijing, you could hardly see across the street because of how horrible the air quality is there. But from the Golden Mountain, you could see a lot of the city of Bangkok. The rooftops to the housing units and apartment buildings below looked pathetic. It looked as if the structures would fall over were an earthquake to hit, like the one that just hit on Saturday in Chile.

Anyway, I then walked around outside by Wat Saket, where monks were visible all over the place, as they kneeled and prayed. I wanted to take pictures of the monks, but thought I should respect the fact they were praying.

There were Buddha statues everywhere at Wat Pho

I found my cab driver easily after that. He talked to me a bit during the ride home and I tried to ask him questions to learn more about him, but there were a few things I didn’t understand. I did learn, he has a wife and a child who is 6 years old. He said he makes about 10,000B a month as a cab driver. His wife works in a factory making clothes and makes about 3,000B a month. His parents who are much older live with him and his wife and therefore he supports them, as well. He gives them money to help him and his wife with their child while they are working. His monthly rent is 3000B. It didn’t seem too bad to me; at least he appeared to be making ends meet, which is good to know.

He told me all of the cab drivers make commission from what tourists buy if they take tourists to these shops.

Leaving Wat Pho
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the jewelry shop he had mentioned. I looked around but didn’t buy any jewelry. When I told the lady at the store I wasn’t interested in jewelry, she took me to the souvenir part of the store, where I did find some very pretty souvenirs for my family.

So I got some shopping done, saw what I wanted to see and fully expected the cab driver to now take me back to the hotel.

So I got back in the cab, where he showed me a book of other tours he could take me on the next day. I told him I was leaving to another city the next day. He wanted to know what time I was leaving. I thought he was starting to ask too many questions about my itinerary. At one point he asked me my name and what room number I was staying in.

A tuk tuk on the side of the road
I was honest with him. I said, “I’m not giving you my name or room number. You don’t need to know that.” He said it was so he could track his commission. When you buy something at the stores, they make you fill out a paper with your name and hotel name, so if he really wanted to know he could have figured out my name, but still I didn’t give him any of my personal information. Just as he promised, he went straight to the hotel and looked at me and said, “End of deal, 100B.” I thought that was so funny.

When we got back to the hotel, I decided to put my souvenirs away, then go walk around Sukhumvit, which is the area I’m staying in.

I walked up and down the main road checking out all the street vendors’ stands. They all sell a lot of stuff, mostly the same thing the guy in the next booth is selling.

At the Marble Temple
You just have to see which one will give you a better deal. It becomes a game of negotiating prices. Sometimes if I think their first price is fair, I don’t even negotiate. I figure these people need the few dollars more than I do, so I just give them what they are asking for.

At one point, I was walking down a narrow street that had tons of street vendors lined up and a mass of tourists walking up and down the street. I stopped at a street vendor's booth that was selling wallets and food (the food was on the next table over). The street vendor's child was asleep in this little chair-like thing about a foot off the ground between the table that had the wallets and the table that had the food (which looked gross by the way). So I was looking at the wallets, and was liking one of them and trying to negotiate a price, when out of the corner of my eye I saw movement from where the child was.

I looked over thinking the child had awakened, when what the hec do I see? A GIGANTIC rat. I ran out of there quicker than you could blink. The street vendor must have thought I was nuts. As I was running away from there, I stepped in a massive puddle and water (I hope it was water) splashed all over my leg. I had had enough walking and now was disgusted, so I decided to make my way back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for dinner.

That was about it for me that day. I ran around a lot, I saw so much, I got a good dose of hot weather and was ready to call it a night. I stayed in the rest of the night, Facebooking, e-mailing and IMing with friends back home.

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At Wat Timit
At Wat Timit
The view from the temple grounds
The view from the temple grounds
Going up the steps at Wat Timit
Going up the steps at Wat Timit
In front of Wat Timit
In front of Wat Timit
People honoring the holiday
People honoring the holiday
Monks at the temple
Monks at the temple
The reclining Buddha
The reclining Buddha
Its very long
It's very long
The Buddhas foot
The Buddha's foot
Statue outside the temple
Statue outside the temple
At Wat Pho
At Wat Pho
At Wat Pho
At Wat Pho
There were Buddha statues everywhe…
There were Buddha statues everywh…
Leaving Wat Pho
Leaving Wat Pho
A tuk tuk on the side of the road
A tuk tuk on the side of the road
At the Marble Temple
At the Marble Temple
Where I had lunch
Where I had lunch
My Thai Iced Tea
My Thai Iced Tea
My waitress was praying (in betwee…
My waitress was praying (in betwe…
A gentleman across the street, har…
A gentleman across the street, ha…
Monks at work
Monks at work
Statue at the Golden Mount
Statue at the Golden Mount
Going up the Golden Mount
Going up the Golden Mount
Ringing bells
Ringing bells
Now the monks are ringing the bells
Now the monks are ringing the bells
Ringing bells again
Ringing bells again
The bells
The bells
The only time Ive seen a sign tha…
The only time I've seen a sign th…
View of apartments from the Golden…
View of apartments from the Golde…
Bells
Bells
My cab driver moving another car i…
My cab driver moving another car …
Local street vendors
Local street vendors
My hotel is near this place
My hotel is near this place
Bangkok
photo by: Deats