Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Those Bastards Got Me Again

I hate admitting to being an idiot, but it is certainly a plausible concept for those of you who know me. It had been almost a year and a half to the day since I was first approached by a sharply dressed, english speaking Thai businessman on the streets of Bangkok. He could clearly see that I was attempting to decipher the complimentary map from my hotel, and immediately offered his assistance. Mariana and I were appalled at the prices for a massage near our hotel ($10 US), so we naturally asked him for any suggestions he might have for cheaper alternatives. He told us of a place that had the best massages in all of Bangkok and assured us that their pricing was far superior to our intial option. He even flagged down a tuk-tuk driver and provided him detailed instructions in Thai, as well as negotiating a fair price for our transportation. The Gods were truly smiling upon us. Where else could you find such simple hospitality but in the "Land of Smiles".

One hair-raising ride later, we found ourselves on the second floor of an inconspicuous building far from our hotel that specialized in "hand-crafted suits and ties of the highest quality for a fraction of the price". NO!! We firmly demanded that the tuk-tuk driver take us to get the cheap massage that was promised and we said our peace with conviction.

Fifteen frightening minutes later we were entering a back-alley massage parlour and handed a brochure with massages beginning at $15 a session. I attempted to haggle and was swiftly asked to leave. NO!! We then firmly demanded our tuk-tuk driver to take us back to our hotel and he begrudgingly obliged...we thought. Twenty horrific minutes later we were looking at crappy jewelry in God-Knows-Where Bangkok, praying that we were not going to be abducted by some Southeast Asian mob syndicate. Finally exhausted by our lack of motivation to purchase anything from any of his business partners, our tuk-tuk driver reluctantly dropped us off back at our hotel, and we payed $10 (US) for a massage. I vowed then and there that I would never fall for such under-handed trickery again.

So much for promises. Mariana and I were twenty-five minutes in to a long walk to visit the King's Palace when we were approached by a nicely dressed Thai man claiming to be a teacher at a nearby school. When we informed him that Mariana was a teacher his eyes lit up and he immediately asked us if he could be of any help. When we told him where we were going, he looked saddened because I was wearing shorts and we were both wearing flip-flops. "Oh, today is a Buddha holiday and the Palace will not allow you to enter without long pants and close-toed shoes." This is in fact true on occasion, so Mariana and I had reason to trust him. He explained that the Palace would open to the public in a couple of hours and he suggested a few other temples to visit in the meantime. He also explained that we should only trust government licensed tuk-tuks (recognizable by their yellow plates), and that we should not pay more the 40 baht ($1.25 US) for our trip. His story was plausible and his demeanor was trustworthy, so we again enlisted the kind generosity of a stranger to help us in our journey.

Our first stop was a lovely temple that was extremely unique and devoid of any western tourists. This is just the kind of side trip that Mariana and I cherish when we are trying to experience other cultures first hand. Our second stop was a store filled with middle eastern tailors promising "hand-crafted clothing at a fraction of the price"...damnit, they got me again.

One more temple and one more jewelry factory later we finally arrived at the King's Palace. We walked past the twenty sharply dressed Thai men offering their assistance and walked in to the King's Palace only to find that I did in fact need long pants to enter. Fortunately they were available to rent for a 200 baht deposit. So, I rentedt my pants, entered the palace grounds, interacted with some local Thai students, and opted to walk all the way back to the hostel. Mariana rubbed an unfortunate blister on her foot during our long sojourn home, but it was worth it to not have to deal with any more tuk-tuk drivers.

Three lessons learned:

1. I have a lot of "friends" willing to kindly assist me in Bangkok.
2. The temples we visited were still worth the cheap tuk-tuk fare.
3. You get to meet plenty of other Westerners at the tailor shops and jewelry stores.

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