Monday February 25, 2013
Today I learned why Bangkok has Tourist Police. Yesterday when we first saw a sign on a building saying “Tourist Police,” John and I laughed because we wondered if the police were to control the tourists or to protect them. Now I know they are there to protect them.
On my day in Bangkok, I had three incidents of a would-be rip off of sorts, and I’m proud to say I only fell victim to one of them.
Incident number one. While walking to the BTA, the sky train metro system, an English speaking bloke (love that word bloke) came up to me and asked if I speak English. Then he told the tale of being pick-pocketed in the Soi Cowboy area (prostitution row) and how he needed some cash until money is wired to him. Aha! I’d never fall for that old trick! I told him that I thought he should ask the people at his hotel to help him out.
Incident number two. When I got to the National Museum and found it was closed, I paused to look at my map and a nice Asian gentleman came up to me and said, “Yes, the museum is closed today. I’m disappointed too – I wanted to see the museum.”
It was a national religious holiday, The full moon Buddah holiday. The nice man said he was a tourist from Chiangmai. I told him I also wanted to go to the Wat Pho and the Jim Thompson House. He told me both of those would be closed today because of the religious holiday, and then suggested a different itinerary: 1. a visit to see a Buddah statue; 2. a visit to Chin, a jewelry center where he got a beautiful gem stone ring which he showed me; and 3. a visit to the marble temple, the Wat Benchamabophit.
Well this new itinerary sounded great, and this nice gentleman even said he’d flag a taxi for me and arrange my little tour for only 60 BT, or about $2 US. He gave the taxi driver instructions, shook my hand, and off I went. The taxi driver would wait in the taxi for me at each of my stops.
Site number one was wonderful. Here’s the Buddha statue Luang Pho To (or Phra Si Ariyamettrai). It’s 32-meters high and 10-meters wide. It took over 60 years to complete and is decorated in glass mosaics and 24-carat gold. The topknot of the Buddha image contains a relic of Lord Buddha brought from Sri Lanka.
The Buddha statue Luang Pho To
After seeing the statue, I saw people buying birds in cages and then releasing them for good luck. What a great idea! So I bought my own little birds – three or four of them in a little bamboo cage for 100 Bt, about $3, and I let them go! A nice tourist helped me get this photo! Thank you Mr. Nice man from Chiangmai, this was a great!
Martha giving freedom to little birds and getting good luck in exchange. See the little bird flying to freedom?
I’ve been in these stores in Bangkok before. They are very large, fancy showrooms with rows and rows of jewelry cases, staffed by swarms of well-dressed sales people – and they do sell quality gems and gold jewelry. Often they pretend to be a factory and show you a few people making jewelry on the way in. Well, I had no intention of going into this store and I told my cab driver “No. I don’t want to go to this place. Let’s move on to the Wat (the temple).”
Taxi guy: “But he say you go here.”
Martha: “I don’t want to go here”
Taxi guy: “But he say.”
Taxi guy was parked at the front door of the Chin jewelry store. He refused to budge.
Martha: Okay. I’ll go in. I’ll take a quick look. Stay here.”
Taxi guy smiles. Obviously they get a commission for just delivering people to the store, and I think another commission if you buy. He asked me if I bought something when I came out. I’m thinking Mr. Helpful Tourist from Chiangmai (oh really?) also got a commission somehow – maybe he gave the cab driver a card or something?
Taxi guy finally delivered me to the The Marble Wat, our final stop, and I paid him 100 baht, the equivalent of about $3.00 US (so he got a 40 baht tip for delivering me alive – which I suppose only reinforces the need for tourist police).
The Marble Wat (Temple) was beautiful, and I loved sitting there on the gorgeous marble floor in front of this Buddha statue, taking in the smells and sounds of the temple. A Buddist monk conducted a sermon for the worshippers who were sitting in a separate section from the tourists.
People lighting candles, leaving flower offerings and praying in front of the Marble Temple.
Incident number 3. After the Marble Wat, I took a cab to the River City shopping center. I wanted to get some lunch with a view of the Chao Phraya river. There was a cute shark statue just in front of my restaurant.
Thus began incident three.
Random Asian guy walks up to me.
“Lady, you looking for a taxi?”
Martha, “Well, yes…”
Random guy: “I take you for 300 Baht. Traffic bad now. I Take you to BTS (metro) station and you get home quicker that way. We make one quick stop jewelry shop. Only 300 baht.”
Martha: “No thank you. I’ll take a real taxi over here!”
I got all the way home, with no jewelry store stops, for 80 baht. No traffic on the holiday!
We found a fun traditional Thai place called the Local that night, just a few blocks from our elegant hotel.
The Local Thai Restaurant.
I was happy with my day – and in the end, grateful for the suggestions from Mr. Nice Man from Chiangmai. I never found out if the other sites – the Wat Pho or the Jim Thompson House – were really closed that day, but I suspect not. But the sites I was redirected to were wonderful and the jewelry store stop was painless. Who can blame people for trying to make a few baht?
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