Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Bustling Bangkok (2 of 3)

June 18th - June 26th, 2012

The entirety of our time in Bangkok consisted of visiting as many of the 475 temples spread throughout the city as we could using various means of transport including tuk tuk, subway, sky train, motorcycle taxi, our own two feet and taxis.  We got to know the city a little, the people and the games they play. 

Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram also known as the Marble Temple but literally meaning Temple of the fifth King is among the most stunning in Bangkok with its ornate style of high gables and stepped-out roofs. The interior is decorated with crossbeams of lacquer and gold, and in shallow niches in the walls paintings of important stupas from all over the country. The cloister around the assembly hall houses 52 images of Buddha including the only emaciated statue we have come across representing his period of fasting before he was enlightened; his rib cage and hollow eyes strikingly different than the healthy, humble, smiling representations more usually seen. 

Of course, there are a couple things that come to mind when one thinks of Bangkok, one of those things being Mui Thai boxing matches.  This was a must see for Julian and I was happy either seeing it or missing it.  Approaching the box office at the entrance of the large stadium we inquired about two tickets and immediately the woman began filling two out with VIP scrawled across the top.  
"How much?"  We inquire before she gets too far.  
We were blown away by when she told us they were 2000Bht (CND$66.00 approx') each.  Shaking out heads we request third class tickets to which she responded it was crowded standing room only space with a lot of drinking and betting going on, creating a potentially 'dangerous atmosphere'.  We would 'be safer in 1st class with all the other tourists'.  
Slightly bothered by the situation we shook our heads and walked away so we could discuss the situation.  The idea of sitting in first class with all the other white skinned tourists while the locals enjoy a rowdy environment in the gods was not exactly appealing.  We like to do as the locals do when we're travelling and it sounded like it was going to be much more fun up in 2nd or 3rd class. 

Whist debating the situation a tuk tuk driver won us over by offering to take us to four of the temples across the city for a mere 40bht.  Pleased with this offer we hopped in; you really can't help but smile in these things.  Even just saying the word…  go on.  Say it out loud.  Tuk Tuk.  Just makes you smile doesn't it?  
He took us to a Buddhist site not listen on our tourist map of the city; a giant, standing Buddha towering 45 meters overhead.  A ceremony was soon to be underway here; hundreds of strings lead from his shoulders each connected to single chair which sat in the courtyard so that each person might be physically connected to the entity. 
Another temple followed with another laying Buddha covered in gold leaf, this one encased in a protective plastic tomb. 

He offered us a 'free stop' on the tour and introduced us to a tourist office.  Having intended to visit one for advice at some point anyway we spend a good 30 minutes with the ladies inside picking their brains for advice on continuing north in Thailand.  Having not spent any money there our driver suggested another tourist office.  We politely declined, telling him we had the information we needed but he stopped there anyway.  Along the way our driver was having problems with his tuk tuk; his brake had seized on.  Throwing a bucket of cold water on the sizzling parts calmed the suffering vehicle which allowed us to creep forward though certainly not doing the machine any favours. 

Always happy to get travel advice from multiple people and went to have a chat with the second agency anyway.  Upon hearing about our intended overland journey, the clerk realized we were not his  'average punters' and that he 'might learn a thing or two from us instead' as we posed questions to him that he did not have answers to hand such as "Can we cross overland through Myanmar to Bangledesh?".  We came out of it having not purchased anything but happy to have a few bits of new information to help us along. 

Growing increasingly more frustrated with his tuk tuk and passengers who were not spending any money (and thus earning him commission) along the way he forced the vehicle onwards until eventually it gave up the battle of engine vs brakes altogether.  Julians trained ear had picked out the problem earlier and he was soon lying on the ground and filthy to get a closer look under the vehicle.  Convinced he could help, if only temporarily. He told the driver what the problem was and insisted he could fix it if he could remove the wheel to get to the brakes. Despite having tools (but no jack) our driver was not keen on accepting help however and continued to decline Julians offers.  One more free stop was on offer; another custom tailor. Whilst our tuk tuk driver remained outside with half a dozen others we were persuaded inside and met by a sales associate who tried immediately to sit us at a small table to discuss suit options.  Appraising the five or six other couples already sat and browsing fabric swatches and wising up to these cheap tuk tuk deals, we blatantly told him we had no intention of purchasing anything and after a few more half hearted attempts he led us out of the door much to the obvious disappointment of our driver.

The tuk tuk was on its last legs.  A frustrated driver pulled over and told us the tour was over despite still having one temple stop to go.  Julian insisted he could help fix the vehicle but was dismissed repeatedly. All we could do is tip him an extra 20 baht (CND 0.60) and walk away. 

The Golden Mount was our original planned destination when we first hailed the tuk tuk but after the many unscheduled stops and the eventual break-down the compound of Wat Saket was closed by the time we got there. These 40Bht deals are great if you have the time and don't mind a roundabout route to your destination but if time pressures are imposing perhaps a bike taxi might be a better way to get around the city. We wandered in through the gates of Wat Saket an hour and a half after Joe Public had been dissuaded and pretty much had the place to ourselves. Hundreds of statues of golden Buddhas sat around the entire circumference of the courtyard. The grounds were quiet and empty and as we passed a doorway we spied for a class of monks dressed in their saffron robs who sat in the elaborately decorated hall (complete with yet another Golden Buddha) deeply involved in the evening teachings from a senior brother. 

We left the grounds and bargained a price for a direct tuk tuk ride to Khao San Road night market known to be "the centre of the backpacking universe".  Western people crowded the streets eyeing goods such as knock off merchandise, local street food and other delicacies like chocolate covered cockroaches, scorpions and maggots.  We walked the entire 1km stretch of road passing countless accommodation options, internet cafes, swanky bars and clubs, restaurants, massage and tattoo parlours enjoying the care free vibe with the tourists and pedlars alike before returning to the quiet residential area for an evening meal with our host who rustled up some Thai green curry soup with chicken, coconut milk, lemon grass, coriander and bay leaves.

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