International Travel: Thailand Day 2, Bangkok
After such a wonderful first day in Bangkok I wake early and head out of the door. The streets are again filled with motor bikes and tuk-tuks whizzing by, and the sidewalk street vendors are out hawking food and trinkets.
I feel confident having successfully navigated the city the day before. I have researched travel blogs and YouTube videos, books and magazines, all in preparation for this trip. Fellow travelers have shared what they learned from their experiences and I think I have a handle on things. In my research I have heard time and time again that public transportation is a tricky monster in the city but again I feel confident so I hail a cab.
The meter in the cab is working. That is a good sign. I know I won’t be overcharged or have to haggle over a price. I talk to the driver before I get into his vehicle. I explain that I want to go to Ratchawong Pier, just over three kilometers from where I am standing. I am trying to get to the pier to take a boat up the Chao Phraya River to see Wat Arun, another spectacular temple in the city and on the list of must-sees as a first time visitor to Bangkok. The cabbie tries to tell me that it is too early to visit the temple. Another ploy I was warned about. I explain that I still would like to go take a boat ride from the pier. He then starts mentioning Long Tail boats. I politely decline but this is where things get lost in translation I suppose.
Thinking that I made myself clear as to the destination, I hop in the vehicle and we are on our way. Traffic is heavy but we are progressing through the city. 10 minutes pass and I start to become a little concerned. It should not take this long to go three kilometers, even with traffic. I pull out my phone and my suspicions are confirmed. We are heading south and are already way past the pier. I ask the cab driver why we’re not heading for Ratchawong and this is where things get a little uncomfortable. He feigns ignorance to my request and said he is taking me to his friend for a two-hour long, Long Tail Boat ride up the river. He keeps driving as we discuss the miscommunication while he becomes more and more upset. I finally have to ask him to stop and I hop out of the vehicle. I have been duped. As many times as I read the stories and tips on things to look out for, I am now an hour walk away from where I should have been.
This is not a big of a deal. I mention it only as a warning, another story, one of a multitude, of what to look out for when trying to get around Thailand. I believe walking a new city is the best way to get a feel for the place, this detour just means that I have to switch up my plans and be open to any adventure that comes my way. However, I no longer have enough time to visit the wat today as I am being fitted for a suit later in the afternoon. Thailand is known for custom tailors and I have found a good one, Robert from Suit Cut Bespoke Tailor, who is willing to fit me in to the schedule. So I regroup and move on.
I start to wander the streets again shaking off the feeling of being deceived. Soon, I find myself walking towards a towering spire that rises, white and gold, above the surrounding buildings. Another few minutes and I pass the gates to the Temple of the Golden Buddha, otherwise known as Wat Traimit. The four-story structure houses an almost 10 foot tall, five and a half ton, 18k solid gold Buddha statue that is estimated to be worth around $250 million, give or take.
There is a steady flow of visitors up the stairs as I start to climb. I reach the top and get a view of the city. There is a large bell at the top that looks like it could be heard for miles. I remove my shoes and enter the temple. The statue shines bright in the sun filtering into the room. People are praying, they leave amulets of flowers and light incense and candles. Others take photographs and selfies.
After spending some time inside, I walk back down and out onto the street. It is getting close to the time that I need to meet my tailor. I don’t have the time to walk back to my hotel. I am a little gun shy, but I walk up to a tuk-tuk driver and start the negotiating process. Negotiating is an art in Thailand, and it is expected at markets and for transportation. It can be a little intimidating at first, but after a couple of rounds with vendors you’ll be on your way to fitting right in with the locals.
I think it needs to be said that if you are traveling to Thailand riding in a tuk-tuk is a must. A cross between a motorcycle and a rickshaw, these nimble vehicles, although not the cheapest way to get around, are by far, one of the most fun. Negotiate with the driver before the trip. The price I find is usually dependent on the number of people, the distance and really just the mood of the driver. I’ve taken numerous during my time in Thailand and the price has ranged from 150 baht to around 250 baht.
I hop in and we are off. The tuk-tuk driver deftly navigates the streets, maneuvering in front of cars, buses and trucks and joining a pack of motorcycles. There is safety in numbers and the motor bikes tend to gather together. At stoplights, the bikers will walk their way to the front of the line in between the other vehicles. It is a sort of organized chaos that tends to work.
We near the hotel in no time. I get out a little early and find myself in a market. I walk the last few blocks past vendors. A woman with a cart catches my eye. She has a bunch of skewers in her hand and then I notice what she is cooking…scorpions. Not just scorpions, but crickets, mealworms and praying mantises. I opt for a little more traditional fare.
I make it back to the hotel and have time to shower before my appointment. Max is early. He picks me up and we take a tuk-tuk to MBK. We talk the entire way there, making the ride a lot shorter. Max is from Burma originally. He moved to Bangkok and has been apprenticing with my tailor for the past few years. We arrive at this massive seven story mall which houses stores that sell anything and everything. It is busy. People flood the aisles and escalators. I follow Max to a small store on the first level. Robert greets me with a smile and we sit and chat for a while. Then it’s down to business. We talk styles and colors and fabrics. He takes my measurements and we discuss a follow up for final fittings. All in all I walk away with a three piece suit, a two piece suit, two shirts and two ties, all custom tailored to me.
Another tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel and it’s time for dinner and a trip to the Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market. I walk along the narrow alleyways that seem to be getting more familiar. Passing by the city’s public park and Wat Liap, whose pagoda is lit in bright blue and green lights, I make my way to the market. I stop at the food vendors that surround it and for around 100 baht (three-ish dollars) I pick up some delicious pork skewers as well as a freshly prepared frog covered in a sweet and spicy chili sauce.
The market is bigger than I expect. Street vendors and shops are selling bouquets of all kinds. All I see are colors. Whites, purples, yellows, reds and more pass before my eyes as the sweet fragrances reach my nose. I make a turn and find myself a little more behind the scenes. Stalls upon stalls of people are hard at work creating the flower amulets that I have seen so many times at the different temples I have visited. Large baskets filled with flowers and ice are swiftly moved down the different aisles using hand carts. Young children help parents weave the flowers together. The floors are covered in water from the melting ice and flower petals. It is beautiful.
I spend a long while walking up and down the aisles taking in all there is to see before heading back the way I came. Tomorrow I hop a plane to Siem Reap to spend the weekend in Cambodia!