• 15 . 02 . 11
  • In which we are taken for a ride, literally, make an unexpected purchase and meet a modern day Kharon.

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Taken For A Ride

I’m travelling around the world for 7 months, why would I need a suit?
Oh, I agree sir, but why don’t you just look at the material anyway?

And so it was that 3 days into a round the world trip with no job and no dinner parties to attend for the foreseeable future I purchased a bespoke silk and cashmere suit from a tailor in Bangkok.

The day began with a train ride down to the river and then a long-tail boat up to the Grand Palace. A wily boat operator offered us one-way passage upriver, promising that we’d leave now and travel alone, for a premium over and above the regular boats that waited for a full load. Bartering ensued, which I think we lost, but we ended up in the boat and cast off, reasonably happy. Then we turned around and picked up another passenger, who was headed in the same direction. Well, what can you do? Payment upfront and you’ve nowhere to go. Shou ga nai, ne? I would have done the same if the roles were reversed. Luckily, there were no others, so we got underway.

The river was teeming with activity, with cruise ships, water taxis and house boats thronging the river. If the theme of our holiday is “fun”, then the theme of Bangkok undoubtedly has to be “hectic”. The river was more brown even than Brisbane’s and reminded me of after the floods, when flotsam and jetsam was abundant. Litter, leaves and even logs floated past us as we headed up, taking in the view on both sides of the river. The difference between rich and poor was made clear as hovels and shacks dotted the riverside, punctuated occasionally by gilded ancient temples and grand marble buildings.

There was time for one more shake-down on the river as we were harangued into paying a landing tax when we arrived at the destination. The girl, let’s call her Karen, demanded money before we could leave and physically blocked our path until we coughed up. Bartering ensued, but as others managed to get by without paying, I think we lost that too.

A sign outside The Grand Palace said “Don’t Trust Wily Strangers”. If only we’d seen that before we got on the boat! The palace complex itself is a magnificent sight, with a number of spectacular buildings, the busiest being the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (actually jade, but impressive nonetheless). The temple’s facade, like a number of the other buildings’ is made up like a mosaic, with countless gilded tiles, like the jewellery boxes children occasionally are forced to make in arts and crafts lessons. The morning sun was reflected in a billion tiny mirrors making the whole plaza shine.

Lunch was at a small restaurant nearby, with our table hanging over the river, and we dined for the princely sum of $3, after which we headed to Khao San Road to see what the traditional backpackers experience was like. By day, it’s not that impressive, probably because most of the revellers were asleep, but we had a beer and watched the world go by a while.

Planning to head home and get some rest before the evening, we approached a tuk-tuk driver. Bartering ensued.
150 Baht says he.
50 Baht we reply.
100 Baht he says.
C’mon, 50 Baht.
50 Baht and I take you one place first, you look round, I get free gas, you win, I win, win win, no?

Sounds fair. Maybe we’ve just won our first bartering round with a local!

Longest. Taxi ride. Ever.

As we’re driving along, he says casually How about, 2 stops, then free?. Hmm, free is something we’re naturally cautious of. Suspecting a scam. Have heard these types of stories. Still, free is good, and they can’t force us to buy anything. (Notice we’re talking ourselves into saving $1.50 here.)

Well, ok. Two stops then free. Just two stops though, promise?
Of course, of course, promise.

I’m not exactly sure where the first stop was, but it was definitely in the opposite direction of home. On the way, he managed to take us through preparations for a Yellow Shirt protest, so I feel like I’ve collected the set now. We kept our word and had a look round the suit shop he’d taken us to (in the face of vociferous protests that we weren’t going to buy any suits), but it wasn’t great and so we left after a few minutes. He looked disappointed. The second stop was a bit different, more professional, and an astounding variety of fabrics and colours. We were determined not to buy anything, but for the price of air conditioning, a glass of water and a comfy chair, somehow we were convinced. Bartering ensued. This time, I think we actually got a good deal and we have a first fitting for a suit and dress this evening, which I’m sure will be beautiful.

2 hours after we set off, we arrived at our destination, 4.5km away from Khao San. We gave the driver 50 Baht because he was pretty cool and it had been a fun experience. Initial quote for the tuk-tuk: 150 Baht. Total actually spent: 12050 Baht. But at least we got a free suit and dress.

Best advice of the day? The advice we consistently ignored: “Don’t Trust Wily Strangers!”