Written by Shirley T
Wednesday, 09 July 2008 07:47
Sawasdee kha! I had just arrived home from Suvarnabhumi Airport (pronounced as 'Sue Wanna Poom ') yesterday evening. It was an exciting week spent in Thailand. Bangkok the fifth capital of Thailand, is also called 'Krungthep' by the local. I never thought that Bangkok has some much to offer until I was there. People say lightning never strike twice, but we were fooled twice in a day, one after another. This is what we called Murphy's Law. When I thought of the whole incident now, I found it was hilarious and seemed did not make sense. Unfortunately, it still happened. I hope this sharing will benefit the first timer folks visiting Bangkok and decide to be adventurous like us, exploring the tourist areas in the heart of Bangkok by your own.
All three of us came across so many warning notes on touts that work at top tourist attractions. We had also read about the touts that claimed the temple is closed or the friendly tuk-tuk (only called by foreigners, the local called it 'saam lor') driver whom offers a complete tour around the city of Bangkok instead of our destination. When we were there on the first morning, we thought we were smart enough to ignore the tuk-tuk driver that claimed Wat Saket (Golden Mount) was closed. Instead he offered to take us to see Golden Buddha. After visited Wat Saket, we walked towards Wat Suthat and took several shots of Giant Swing that located opposite Wat Suthat in the middle of a busy junction. As soon as we took out our book and map to check out the route to Grand Place, a man of dark complexion with spectacles in mid 30s passed by and participated in our conversation. I remembered the first word he uttered "Yes, that is City Hall" as he nodded and confirmed our hand pointed direction. He spoke fluent English. He then continued "I am a government servant and I work there (City Hall). Today is a Thai special religious day. I just came back from praying at that temple (Wat Suthat). Where are you from?" He also tried to find out where we wanted to visit next, and he claimed that Grand Palace was closed until 3 pm to give way for special prayer that only happen once every quarter. Since that day was a special day, there were celebrations along Chao Phraya river with plenty of activities including Thai Boxing and food fair. There was a special boat with several stops along Chao Phraya river and we would be lucky to experience this occasion. It only cost about 600 Baht per person and it will leave in 10 minutes. He hurried us to make decision and offered to call tuk-tuk for us to Rajinee Pier to catch the boat. Tuk-tuk ride cost us 40 Baht. As we arrived at Rajinee Pier, special boat was not at scene. Instead, a lady offered us an hour boat ride that cost us 400 Baht each person with NO stop. We tried to bargain for 2 stops which were Wat Arun and Royal Barges National Museum. Since we were already there, we decided to take the boat ride and as we traveled passed Wat Arun, the boat man did not stop. As we continued, we found out from boat man that he would only make one stop for us at Royal Barges National Museum. The boat ride was interesting and we had fun although not very happy with the dishonest lady at the pier.
On the return journey, we asked the boat man to stop at Tha Tien (Tien Pier) so that it will be nearer for us to reach Grand Palace. We proceeded to pursue our next destination Grand Palace. We saw a sign post saying Wat Pho at the opposite direction and we knew Grand Palace is located next to it. So as we were about to walk into the street, all of sudden a man dressed up in white shirt and black pants like a professional, convinced us that was the direction to Wat Pho. And he continued to say that Wat Pho and Grand Palace were closed at lunch time. It would be opened only after 3 pm. He asked us several questions like where we had been, how many days in Bangkok, how much we paid for the boat ride. He even showed us his ID that he was a tourist police. He advised us not to be fooled by the private tuk-tuk, only use government tuk-tuk. So I asked him how to differentiate them but he ignored my question. Instead he moved on to show us his ring with a ruby stone and told us the story that he just got married and he was apparently waiting for his wife to fetch him. After he took a call on his handphone, he asked us to show him Bangkok's map so that he could suggest to us where are best to visit. Since he can speak Thai, he called the tuk-tuk for us. In the end, we decided to walk along the street to look for food since we were hungry. However, he claimed there were nothing much and in a nice way force us to take the tuk-tuk ride for 50 Baht which would cover 5 stops in the city including three local temples, jewelry shop and T.A.T. (Tourism Authority Thailand) office and be back to Grand Palace by 3 pm. Before we left him, we offered to take picture with him and he quickly refused claiming that he was a Muslim and can't take picture with us. While sitting on the tuk-tuk, we tried to justify the cost of gasoline. In Thailand, 1 L of gasoline is about 44 Baht and the trip he offered might not provide a good margin. So, where was the catch? All of us suspected something was not so right when the tuk-tuk driver stopped at the first local temple. We refused to walk in and asked him to take us straight to Chinatown for lunch. We offered to pay him upon arrival. He did not seem very happy and probed us why. We told him that we were very hungry and hop on the tuk-tuk again. Suddenly, another man with T.A.T. logo of a pink t-shirt appeared and asked us what was wrong. We said there was nothing, we were very hungry and the tuk-tuk driver had not choice but left with us. Before arriving Chinatown, he stopped by the road side and showed us a gas card. He explained that he wanted the gasoline coupon from the jewelry shop. He said we only need to spend more than 5 minutes there and he could claim 150 Baht coupon. We agreed to help him with the condition he would send us to Chinatown for lunch.
After coming out from the jewelry shop, he took us to Chinatown and left us at the junction beginning of Thanom Yaowarat (Chinatown). He promised to pick us half an hour later. As we were swallowed in the sea of people in Chinatown, we never turn back!
The facts that we verified:
1. Grand Palace is open daily (including public holiday and weekends) from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm for ticket purchase.
2. Wat Saket (Golden Mount) is also open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. See the photo below.
3. There is none in Muslim law saying that they can't take photograph.
4. The so-called special religious day never exist.
As we had lunch, we wrapped up with some key learning:
1. Be focus on planned itinerary. Be firmed on our decision, be wise and ignore them.
2. Avoid appearing 'lost' - this is tough unless we are professional actor/actress.
3. Verify the fact in traveler books if have one. If you are lost, ask another tourist instead of the friendly touts.
4. The so-called professional touts usually speak fairly good English that may cook up several versions of stories. Beware when you are approached by so-called professional, as we spotted many of them after these incidents on the following days in Bangkok. For touts in Bangkok city, they are easily recognized if the deal involves tuk-tuk.
The bottom line, these touts are working on the business of redirecting tourists to somewhere else where they can earn some commission The touts are only taking advantage of our situation or limitation as tourist/foreigners. Even if we were to report the incident to tourist police, the negotiation was successful due to our own will. They never brutally force us to take up the deal!
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