Getting a Tour of the Temples and Dealing with Locals
Bangkok Travel Blog› entry 35 of 41 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.