I landed in Bangkok and took refuge in a hotel away from the City, a time to let the experiences from India settle. I slept for many, many, many hours in the sweet comfort of a hotel off the beaten track. I would hide away for three glorious days & nights, sleeping, writing, eating, sleeping some more. After I felt like I was truly caught up and feeling like a human again, I ventured out into the world. I would find myself wanting to walk yet unsure of the neighbourhood, asking one of the staff where I could walk in the area, he STRONGLY urged I take a taxi, even after telling him I wanted to walk he said “you take taxi!”. The only thing in the area would be a huge mall less than 10 minutes away I went by taxi. Show DC, a massive, empty mall with air conditioning, I wandered around and purchased myself another pair of reading glasses. You know you’re getting older when you go to a massive mall in another country and look for reading glasses. I wandered around for a short time and started my walk back to the hotel, walking. I had watched every turn, made note of the landmarks and felt confident I could find my way back to my hotel.
After walking back I clearly understood this man’s insistence on taking a taxi, some of the areas were plain scary.
I would take a taxi into the big city of Bangkok and find myself in a sweet little guesthouse, Chetuphon Gate, right across the street from the temple of the reclining buddha. A sweet little place with a room on the second floor, a tiny bathroom, a tiny fridge, a kettle, a queen sized comfortable bed and a reading light. All the comforts of home.
I would set out that afternoon for a walk around my new location, I would find many street vendors, shops, the river tucked in behind with ferries and boats ushering people to and fro, everything new, the smells repugnant, the streets crowded, the roar of traffic, horns honking, people talking, hot and sticky and overwhelming!
I would spend the next two days as a tourist setting out to see the city’s main attractions. Starting at the Wat Pho Temple, temple of the reclining buddha right across the street. Incredible to see such a large representation of buddha, the craftsmanship, not only of the buddha itself but of the grounds, the statues, the lotus flowers, the tile work, absolutely amazing.
I would walk out the exit looking like a tourist, acting like a tourist, being a tourist with that deer in headlights look with a camera strapped around my neck and a bag hanging close to my body filled to capacity with things I might need, everything except food and water. I walked out onto the street knowing where I wanted to go next but having no clue where or how I was going to get there or where they were in relation to where I was standing now, all I knew in that moment was that I needed food. I walked out to be accosted by a man selling silkscreen prints of buddha and anything that closely resembled anything to do with buddha. He was relentless continuing to badger me; at the very same time a young man asked if I wanted a tuk tuk and offered me a price, instantly overwhelmed I agreed to the price and continued trying to say “no thank you” to the man who was insisting I buy, not one, but two prints. I kept saying no thank you, no thank you and he kept following me until I was already inside the tuk tuk. I caved and bought two prints and off we went. Food a distant memory. I would find out later that the tuk tuk driver robbed me blind on the fare. Like I said before, I looked like a tourist, acted like a tourist and in that instant I became a tourist with no clue and they both got me! You would think after travelling for 6 months one would learn these lessons. I guess in my own defence I have not been travelling as a tourist, I have been travelling on an inward journey and keeping myself protected from these scenes.
The tuk tuk driver would drive me all the way around the city to Wat Arun, the temple of dawn. I realized the next day that it was right across the river, I could have jumped on a boat and crossed in less than 5 minutes at the cost of 10 baht. Wat Arun is a beautiful temple with the same attention to detail and extravagance as the Wat Pho. Unfortunately, most of the temple was behind scaffolding and only accessible to the first level which made for a disappointing 20 minute tuk tuk ride across the entire city breathing in exhaust from all the traffic. My driver then drove me all the way back to the Royal Grand Palace which was literally next door to Wat Pho were I originally started and charged me 700 baht. I got robbed like a tourist. More lessons learned. I would settle into my room for the night and eat the nuts and mango snacks. I was finished for the night. The repugnant smell of the street vendors turned my stomache inside out.
I would learn another lesson as I entered the Royal Grand Palace, my pants were not long enough, they were loose-fitting pants that went below my knees. I was stopped at the entrance and told I was not allowed to enter due to the length of my pants, I actually tried to convince them to let me in, whining that the women they were letting with skirts the length of my pants. Not going to happen. I went across the street and purchased a pair of full length elephant pants, changed and reappeared at the entrance. As I strolled through the grand palace grounds, everyone was wearing the same pants! Black and white elephant pants everywhere, the woman across the way was making a killing selling her elephant pants and sarongs, too funny!
The Royal Grand Palace unique and beautiful, buddhist monks everywhere, people dressed in black everywhere it seemed that a service was about to unfold, all the monks started to gather and take their place on their mats, all the people dressed in black would take the seats out front and a man’s voice was blaring through on a speaker and could be heard throughout the palace. The Palace would have so many guards, some dressed in army type fatigue, others in white full uniform standing fully erect, guns at their sides, staring straight ahead even as tourists stood beside them snapping pictures, the expression on their faces never changed. As I approached the ticket booth, I asked the man if everyone would have to leave at 3:30pm which was the posted closing time, it was now 3:15pm, he waved me aside and asked for the next customer as though I did not even exist. We had words and he simply would not answer my question, he pointed and said “information, information”. I purchased the ticket and followed the crowd into the palace which was beautiful and elegantly designed, packed with tourists, mostly asian snapping pictures of each and every moment. I am not a tourist at all. I actually hate the hustle and bustle and the busyness, the people, the natives ripping me off, it is overwhelming and not enjoyable on any level. I have come to Thailand without any concrete plans and so I would become a tourist for the first time on this journey and quickly realized why I have planned the journey I have planned. The robber tuk tuk driver would drop meat the Palace and leave me to my own devices even though we had agreed that he would wait and bring me back. After spending a short time in the chaos of the palace and 500 baht later, I would search for the exit and get the hell out of there!
I would find my next tuk tuk driver and he would be an angel sent along the way. I asked him to take me back to my hotel, he asked where I was going to go next, I told him I did not know I just wanted to go back to my hotel. As we were driving he suggested taking me to a tourist information centre without waiting for my affirmation, we were on the way. I was to encounter a second angel, Mr. V who would be concerned for my safety as a woman travelling on her own through Thailand, worried I would get ripped off and suggested an itinerary for the entire month. My new driver would charge me 100 baht for the entire trip plus the time he waited while I sat with Mr. V working on my travel plans. Each night in Bangkok I would suddenly hear a loud all-encompassing sound that would sound like my air conditioner gone wild, I would get up to see what was happening only to realize that the skies had opened up and the rain fell, pelting hard on the tin roof. Night after night it would pour with rain and in the morning the sun would shine brightly, heating up the air to over 30 degrees, sending me into a sweaty mess all over again.
I would go home that evening and do research and include some of the things I wanted to do and see and go back the next day, first thing in the morning, with my new, honest tuk tuk driver to finalize my plan. We would spend another couple of hours together working it all out. My tuk tuk driver would wait, each and every time telling me “take your time”. We would venture out to see some more sights while Mr. V worked on my travel arrangement; standing buddha, sitting buddha, a jewelry factory and showroom which held beautiful treasures, diamonds, rubies, blue sapphire, amethyst, all way out of my price range. A security guard/sales man would be assigned to me personally following me from case to case hoping to make a sale. We would head back to the travel agent and then I would ask to be returned to my hotel, exhausted. My tuk tuk driver would ask with concerned on his face “why you want to go back to hotel, no shopping”. Not a tourist. Happy to return back to my quaint little guest house, close the door and retreat to my inner world where I find the most happiness, writing.
Tomorrow morning out of the busy city of Bangkok and make my way North for some peace and quiet, nature and Chang Mai, a city in mountainous northern Thailand home to hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples. An escape from the whirlwind pace of life of its southern rival blissfully calm and laid-back, a place to relax after the chaos of Bangkok and recharge my batteries.