Saturday, July 09, 2005

Tralog [travel log], Day One, Bangkok TH

Day One
Cannot believe it's time to wake up already, can't even see the purple beginnings of a new day. As I stumble my way out of bed to grab the phone alarm, I sink back into bed. And fall asleep again. And then Ravi's alarm rings. Crawl out of bed even as Ravi is slamming the alarm down. As I sober up (and stone away) on the potty, I worry as I hear the wind howling all around us. Our full length windows in the bathroom are shut but the curtains are swollen with wind - just to illustrate how strong the wind was. Our flight better not get postponed, I curse to myself.

So we get on the plane. What a cute little plane it is. Very quaint, kecik molek. Uneventful flight, no howling children or excessively talkative passengers.

We arrive in Bangkok. It's cloudy, extremely humid and very warm. It is depressing. Everything looks grey or light brown. Cannot believe there is a golf course smack in the middle of the airport. People obliviously teeing away even as planes touch down just metres away. Talk about security.

We sail through immigration and our checked in bags come out before we do - a rarity. Must be good to fly in small planes. Like the travel geeks we are, we split our faithful Rough Guides open to figure out a way to get into town. A ha, the train. And so it is, we make our way to the rail platform. And spend 3 minutes gesticulating to the Thai conductor who only knows how to say "Hello" and "Thank you" in English. We specifically request for tickets to Bang Sue and he gives us tickets to Phahon Yothin. Looking at the map, looks like Bang Sue is midway - so Phahon Yothin is simply the "final destination" and we can get off midway, right? Right.

So we rush up the train with our big heavy bags even as the train is moving away. The station master stops the train the moment we get on and asks us where we are going. "Bang Sue." He says, "No, no, wrong. Down, down." And so we get down the train and the train starts moving off again. Then he looks at our ticket, we communicate in skeletal English and he shouts over to the ticket seller then nods to himself and pushes us towards the train again. Once more, we have to jump onto a moving train. A ha, good start already. As we settle ourselves onto the stiff wooden seats, I feel like I've just been thrown into the 60s - doubt the train has changed much since then.

Ravi's been frowning since we've touched down. I doubt he's liking any of this.

The train chugs along painfully slowly as we are riding in the middle of town. And then it comes to a complete standstill and every single soul on the train gets off. We remain seated, blankness registering on our faces. We are in the middle of nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. The cleaning lady gets on and I look at her and say, "Sawadee Ka ... Bang Sir? Bang Sir?" And she comes back wildly in Thai and the only gist I get out of it is that this is definitely not Bang Sue. Instinct drove us out of the train before we find ourselves in Cambodia. As we get down, we learn that the bluddy ticketing guy really did sell us a ticket to Phahon Yothin. We've bypassed Bang Sue! But then again, maybe Bang Sue is not a stop and he was just unable to tell us the same. We get into a cab who manages to rip us off and head off for Khao San Road (Ko San Lote as the locals say it). Pick up the phone to give Shambara Hotel a call to find out if they have any available rooms. They do not. I scramble for our Rough Guides once more and we settle for D & D Inn which comes pretty well recommended.

We get off at Thanon Khao San and I immediately think to myself, "Oh, wow." The mood just hits you. The place is alive. It's a day market. You cannot help but feel that this place is made for someone just like you. At first, you do, you really do. We walk into D & D Inn and are told we have to wait an hour plus till 1200 before we can check in. At 750THB, the room does not come cheap. Having learnt from my Delhi experience, I tell myself "Do not expect anything. Do not." We walk around the lobby and I spot cute, chubby elephants fucking.

Rough Guides warned "Do not settle for the windowless rooms". So when we're checking in, I ask, "Are there any windows?" The reply, "Have baalkoni." A ha, "in other words, no window?", I think to myself. True enough, we get a windowless room with a balcony which faces a concrete courtyard. Very depressing. But we just cannot care enough to bitch about it already.

In a minute, we are out of the room and on our way to the Grand Palace. Then we realise that the map we have onhand is not sufficient. Confident that tour agencies will have free maps for tourists (surely the government has these handouts?), we were disappointed to find out we actually had to buy one. No matter, we scoot off to 7-11 and get ourselves a map. Then we realise that everything, absolutely everything is in Thai. Cursing to ourselves, we march off to get a different map. Enough time wasted, we sweat our way to the Grand Palace, passing by roadside stalls selling wonderful smelling pork balls, chicken balls, fish balls, BBQ chicken and bottled soft drinks, and homeless people on steps of entrances to various closed down establishments or on the green benches, and Thais seeking respite from the unbearable heat under trees.

We get stopped three times by annoying touts. As usual, on first days, you stop for these twits. Ravi reprimands me and tells me to bluddy 'ell stop smiling! These conniving touts tell us that we'd be shooed away as we were in our berms. As far as I am concerned, we are wearing decent knee-length berms, not mini skirts/hot pants/the like. We surrender anyway, unsure, and walk towards a different temple, Wat Indrawihan, where the standing Buddha is located. And boy is it huge. It was built towards the end of the Ayutthaya (old capital) period. On our way here, we are told at least 2x that the temple is closed due to Buddhist procession, Buddhist special day, Buddhist this-and-that in an attempt to stall us and bring us elsewhere.

Luang Pho To.

We decide to go on to the next recommended (by the fucking tout) temple, the Wat Thewaratkunchon, where the lucky Buddha is. We stop someone to tell us where it is (just so we know we are not being approached by cheats) and this guy tells us we're lucky as it's the only day in the entire year it is open. It's the day to visit the lucky Buddha and ask for anything you need. Uh-huh. So we hop into a tuk-tuk with a red-faced driver and he loses all bearings and brings us all over the area, but not to the temple itself.

When we finally arrive at Wat Thewaratkunchon, we do not quite know what to say. It looks more like a school, or a hall. But not a temple. Where's the Buddha? Coincidentally, someone walks into the building next door and we stop him to ask.

He: How did you get here?
We: We were recommended to come here.
He: Oh! Because tourists normally don't know about this temple. It's a lucky day, the only time it is open the entire year. I just got married, my wife and I were here this morning.
We: Oh, really?
He: Yes, but don't look for a big Buddha or something like this. This is just a special temple for you to ask for whatever you want once a year.
We: ...
He: How did you get here? By taxi?
We: Tuk-tuk.
He: How much?
We: 20THB.
He: Huh?! Why so cheap?
We: Cos we agreed to let him bring us to the Thai Export.

You see, we've been asked to go to the government Thai Export 5x. Ravi and I, being extremely freight-forwarding and exhibition oriented take it as a tourist-targetted exhibition organised by the government.

He: Oooh ... it's cheap because he can collect gasoline coupon from the government. The government gives tuk-tuks gasoline coupons if they bring tourists there.
We: Uh huh.

It's easy to trust this guy, he looks genuinely surprised to find tourists wandering around this unassuming plot of land. He talks quite a bit about the lucky Buddha etc, etc, never once bringing in the Thai Export issue. Then he begins to explain to us that at the Thai Export, you can buy some sets of jewellery (ruby and sapphire, Thai's natural resources) without taxes and duties during this week, "only one week in one year, today is the last day." Funny, everyone seems to tell us about the Thai Export, tells us about how it's the last day.

Unfortunately for the "Thai Export", I've done some reading about gem trading in Thailand - how you'd be oh, so cheated. We go along with it anyway and let the tuk-tuk driver bring us to this "exhibition". When we are led to the Blue Dragon Jewelry and the tuk-tuk driver goes off to the men-in-black (we take them as lookouts) for "gasoline coupons", we know what we're in for. The signboard looks suspiciously like the jewellery shop tourists are cautioned about - only of a different name, different colour. Once inside, we act interested for two minutes, then we zap out of there. The "manager" is extremely professional, calm and focussed.

Organised crime intrigues me. I get the feeling they are all conspiring against tourists. ALL.

Exhausted from the day, we insist that our tuk-tuk driver bring us back to Ko San Lote. We are just sick of conniving bastards. Maybe when they lie to us, they should think about how unhappy Buddha would be if he knew they were lying so shamelessly.

We stop at D'R-us for pre-dinner drinks. Got meself a Casablanca. Tastes like antibiotics. We watch the backpackers shopping for bargains, gorgeous people running around, pretentious little shits prancing here-and-there, parasitical tuk-tuk drivers surveying the scene and the stray animals strutting along. Seems to me that in order to qualify as a true blue Ko San Lo(i)te(r)), you need to

1. have dreadlocks, corned hair, strange hairdo, unwashed hair or the like
2. wear a piece of clothing of thai origin/make
3. wear flip-flops or the like
4. wear as little clothing as possible or wear the clothings as inappropriately as possible
5. walk around as though your last name is Ko San

We head off to Shambara for dinner which is OK, then hunt around for long pants in order to be guaranteed access into the Grand Palace the next day without being forced to "rent" clothes at the front office.

Once mission's accomplished, we head off for The Hole, our windowless room. A long shower to wash off the Bangkok pollution boosts our morale - till we jump onto the bed.

Never have we (either of us) ever, ever, ever jumped onto such a hard bed. I swear it's practically made of concrete granules. What a cap to the day - we laugh for a good 2 minutes. Nothing can get any worse that night.


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