My hostel is about 8 blocks from Khao San Road (the main touristy street), and I’m glad I’m not right in the main hub because #1 it’s more expensive and #2 people are trying to scam you constantly. I got stopped by an Indian man telling fortunes. He immediately said some entrancing things that lured me in. He told me to follow him, so I did, but I got a little nervous when he dragged me alone into an alley. He set up two stools and started telling me actual stories about my life and asked for “good luck money,” so I gave him 40-baht. Then he started guessing questions like my age and my mom’s name and said “When I finish guessing, 1) what you do for work, 2) your dad’s name, 3) your birth month, you give me 1000 baht and I give you a full reading.” I said I didn’t have the money and he said, “You can go to the ATM!” I said, “No, I don’t have 1000 to spend on a reading.” He started flailing his arms and pointing wildly at my purse yelling, “How much you have in there?! How much you have?!” I got scared and immediately started shaking, stood up, snatched my “good-luck-money” (suuuuure, more like “panic to get out of here and forget I gave you this money, money”) and got the heck out of there. Stupid situation I got myself into in the first place, but luckily I made it out in one piece with all my bahts!
Today and yesterday I tried to go see the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Both times, there was an enormous line of thousands of Thai people dressed in all black. Yesterday, it kinda scared me as I didn’t know if it was a political rally and there were police everywhere tweeting their whistles at people, cars, me. I took a shot in the dark and asked a young Thai guy with gaged ears (Gaged ears? Gotta speak English) what was happening. Sure enough, they were all waiting to pay their respects to the deceased king. He died almost a year ago and still the boy said, everyone that lives in Bangkok goes to mourn him once a day. Every business and home has a framed photo of him on the wall and many people wear lockets with his face around their necks. He was a really good king that they loved because of his social work. There is a huge tent set up where people are prepping and cooking delicious Thai food to serve to the mourners for free. Multiple strong men are surrounding 10’ woks and stirring the vats with pitch-fork-like utensils as they heave and ho constantly rotating in a circle.
The guy told me it would be impossible to get into the palace because these people were all in line. He advised me to come back next month (only after 3pm), but disclosed that I could see the rest of the temples by tuk tuk for only 30 baht (that’s less than $1). He disclosed that the tuk tuks with pink and black license plates are privately owned, so they can charge “tourist prices,” but the yellow licenses are tuk tuks for locals. He flagged a guy down, listed all the temples to take me to and demanded he only charge me 30 baht. I thanked him and asked if he wanted to come with me, but he too, had to go pay his respects to the King.
We scooted from temple to temple, stopping for me to wander while the driver stayed in his tuk tuk napping. I love Thai temple architecture. The outside walls were plastered a smooth white with the roof, doors and windows intricately detailed in gold, blue, and red mirror tiles and complex carvings of Asian flora and fauna. A red velvet carpet covered the inside floor while gold and glass crystal chandeliers broke through the boxy red ceiling. Epic isometric-style paintings covered the walls, portraying only good heavenly happenings (unlike much European church-art which often exhibits scary scenes, murder, plagues and death). I took my shoes off on the marble steps before entering and watched as Thai people filed in, bowing individually to each of the many Buddha statues seated on the stage at the front of the temples.
I found myself walking around in a Thai “Graveyard.” Here, I walked over the white marble floors while looking at the ornate red and yellow wooden shelving units that housed colorful porcelain urns. A photo of the man or woman that died was adhered to the glass cupboard enclosing the urn. There was nothing “scary” or “eerie” about it like our graveyards back at home. Rather than being a creepy place that is constantly reminding you of death, these graves added to the architecture of the temple as each contained different colors and ornamentation (probably something to do with family tradition or what the deceased person did in their lives). The pots added character and vibrance to the space and only took up about 6-square-inches per piece, it was beautiful! I did get a little spooked, however, when I entered a small wooden house that I don’t think I was meant to enter. Inside, the air was chilled and there was a still-monk lying to rest inside a glass box.
It began to pour as I got out of the coach at the Golden Mount temple. The driver gave me his umbrella and I set out walking in a spiral up the amber steps. Huge banyan trees sent down thousands of fuzzy pink roots that tickled the top of my umbrella as I walked, and the rain sent actual cascades of water down the steps over my sandals. Looking out, purple paper-flowers contrasted the orange and yellow tiles of the temple-complex roofs below. There were beautiful statues, chimes, and gongs going all the way up and I followed as the locals would ring each one, one after another. Reaching the top, I wound three times around the stupa, rang the gong and began the spiraling descent, wrapping in the opposite direction I came up.
I began to see why this tuk tuk was so inexpensive–he kept stopping at Tourist Info Centers for travel booking. They must pay his gas for the day in return for bringing me there or something. I talked to two different travel agents in two different stores and told them about my idea plans. They did a cost estimate and told me my plans would be $1,200 for the month if I booked through them. It’s so cheap here that I knew they were tacking on a lot of extra cost for their travel services. I took a photo of the plan and told them I’d think about it and come back tomorrow if I wanted to book, though I knew I definitely wouldn’t be coming back. The plus-side is that I now have a nice little (FREE) schedule to go by!
The last place on the tour was a “shirt-making factory,” which I thought would be interesting to see. It was much fancier than I expected, with glossy black marble floors and cranked AC. The workers were professionally dressed, trying to custom-make suits at a much higher price than other suit-makers I’d seen around town. Things got really weird when I asked if I could see the factory and how the garments were being made. The businessman said I could only see if I paid “250 baht for looking because all the men are naked up there on floor 2 and 3!” He started making jokes about how I needed to “Try Asian banana! Not everyone likes Asian banana… some like black, some prefer white.” I’m not sure if things were being lost in translation or if I actually wound up in a sex shop, but I’m pretty positive it was the latter. They do crazy things here!
No, I didn’t purchase any services at the suit-maker-facade-sex-shop, and when they noticed I wasn’t a buyer, they told me “Go! Your tuk tuk is waiting for you” in quite a rude manner, shooing me out the door. The driver took me back to my hostel and I gave him 100 baht for driving me around all day. He was overjoyed with the payment, though it was only around $4 for the entire time we were out! I heard the JJ Green night market is the best night market, so I immediately hopped into a cab to go there. The woman running my hostel said it’s open every weekend, but I got all the way there and it was closed due to rain. I’m really surprised that with all the rain here they’re not in business rain or shine! Feeling bad about the 30-minute cab ride for nothing, the taxi driver took me back into town for free.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato