Chinese Word of the Day: 旅游者
(lǚ yóu zhě) tourist / traveler / visitor
Okay, there are some wonderful things about Bangkok. The Chatachuk market is a marvel. It’s huge, with everything from the exotic to the mundane. The pet market alone is amazing, with everything from snakes and lizards to fish and little tiny monkey like critters that I think might be lemurs to birds of all shapes and sizes. We spent a happy morning there. Pat found some presents for relatives back home. I picked up a nice white shirt, to go with my longee, and a great hippie shoulder bag.
Yesterday, after my rejection by the Grand Palace security staff for indecent wardrobe, I came back to our hotel and swilled Starbucks lattes while preparing yesterday’s rant against the illogic of the world. Then I joined Pat and Ruth for a pleasant lunch beside the river. Here’s the view from our restaurant table:
One of the great unsung bargains of Bangkok is the water taxi that runs the length of the river within the city boundaries. Thirty baht to do the run in both directions, or about a dollar Canadian. The long tail boats charge a fair whack for a ride, but the water taxi is better and might as well be free. We spent the whole afternoon watching the shoreline slide by.
After a refreshing shower back at the hotel, Ruth and Pat went out for a massage while I had a nap. They woke me up with a phone call and we all went out for dinner. On the way to joining them, I stopped at the durian man and bought another good sized portion of fresh durian.
After dinner, Pat spent twenty minutes getting her feet nibbled by cleaner fish in the fish spa.
Jim Thompson House
The next morning, yesterday now, I set my indignation about illogical dress codes aside, put on a pair of pants, and went with Ruth and Pat to see Jim Thompson house. On the way our taxi stopped in heavy traffic. I rolled down my window and handed 20 baht to a lady on the street, who handed me a bag of deep fried battered banana slices. One more thing to like about Bangkok.
Jim Thompson House was very interesting. Thompson was instrumental in reviving the Thai silk industry, taking it from a cottage enterprise to a staple of the fashion houses of the world. His house is full of the treasures he collected.
Vimanmek Mansion: Irony Compounded
Billed as the world’s largest golden teakwood mansion, Vimanmek Mansion is a glimpse of the splendor of a bygone age. Room after room is set out with beautiful European furniture and decor. But first came the infuriating surprise. The day before, I was refused admission to the Grand Palace because I was improperly dressed. But my Burmese wardrobe would have been no problem at all at Vimanmek Mansion. In fact, the staff was selling something similar for 100 baht, to be worn by any man who arrived in shorts.
The Royal Elephant Museum
I think this elephant was ceramic, though it certainly looked real enough to be a taxidermy job.
On the mansion grounds near the entrance are two rather large buildings which are now the Royal Elephant Museum. In the past, they were stables for the royal elephants. I think it’s safe to assume that the elephants had it better than most of the citizens of old Siam.
Fights with TukTuk Drivers
After the tour of Vinmanmek, we asked a tuktuk driver how much he wanted to take us to the Siam Museum of Discovery. He said 500 baht, an absurdly inflated price. I said 100 baht. He said no, but then said he would take us there for 100 baht if we would stop at two places first. That would get him free gasoline, he said. So why not?
The first stop was at a jewelery factory. It was interesting, but there was nothing there we wanted to buy. We just aren’t jewelry people. So into the waiting tuktuk and we were off to the second stop, far less interesting, a custom clothing enterprise. We wasted as little of the staff’s time as possible, before beating a hasty retreat. Now our tuktuk driver looked unhappy. Suddenly he wanted a new deal, 400 baht, or we could get out and take a taxi. Big mistake. Before our eyes Ruth’s mom turned into a cross between a bulldog and a chainsaw. No, we weren’t getting out of his tuktuk. No, we weren’t going to pay him 400 baht. Take us where we told you to take us. You made the deal.
Whereas I had felt guilty about our argument with the cab driver the previous night, this argument was just pure entertainment. He was so obviously in he wrong, and so obviously cowed by the transformation in Pat. After a few attempts to pretend he didn’t know where we wanted to go, which was silly because he’d put pen marks on his own map before we set out to the jewelery factory, and several attempts to divert us to the reclining Buddha, we were mobile again. Warning to all tuktuk drivers, do not cross Ruth’s mom.
It was a beautiful sunny day in Bangkok. Pollution in this city has been much reduced since they banned the two stroke engine powered tuktuks that gave the vehicles their name. But drama is still everywhere. We passed a motionless body lying face down on the road at the end of a twenty foot strip of what looked like bodily fluid. The body was wearing a motorcycle helmet. Police were diverting traffic, but nobody seemed to be attempting first aid. Life and death in the big city of Bangkok. Then we were at the Siam Museum of Discovery and our driver was all smiles of good fellowship.
The Siam Museum of Discovery
We saw the posted 300 baht per visitor entrance fee and almost gave the Siam Museum of Discovery a pass, but then a staff person told us that entrance was free. That made it a bargain at twice the price. The Siam Museum of Discovery was a delight. I could have stayed there exploring and playing with the various hands on displays for a couple more hours, but we got there after four so we were evicted at six when the museum closes for the day.
Back on the street I flagged down a tuktuk and got no argument about taking us back to Kao San Road for 100 baht. It took us a while to find the quiet restaurant we’d scouted out at lunch time. Pat bought another t-shirt. We settled in for our last dinner in Bangkok.
Do I need to talk about the misunderstanding of our drink order that caused us to drink a pitcher full of blue something or other called a Kamakaze. We wanted a pitcher of margaritas. No, that’s just part of being a stranger in a land with a different language. Dinner was delicious.
After dinner, Pat passed up another foot massage in favour of my suggestion that we have that margarita. A bar was offering a bucket full for 300 baht. By this time we were feeling anxious about moving to our hotel near the airport. Would they be holding our reservation? What would we do if they didn’t? Two buckets of margaritas later and all anxiety was banished.
We got back to Baan Chart Hotel, reclaimed our luggage, and flagged a cab for the airport district. The driver protested that we wanted him to go a long way, and asked for an additional 50 baht. That’s not unreasonable, so we agreed. We also got him to stop at a 7/11 near our destination and I picked up a few Baccadi Breezers and a small bottle of Red Label for Ruth’s mom. Having learned the story of why cab drivers don’t want to use their meters, not having been allowed to increase the fare rate for thirty years despite rising gas prices, I had decided to be a generous tipper. At least 50 percent of the meter fare. And one thing the Bangkok cabbies are good at is expressing surprised appreciation of a good tip.
Then we were in our shared hotel room, killing whatever remained of our pre-flight anxiety before crashing for the night.
Our airport hotel included breakfast and a ride to the airport. Breakfast in the same river-side restaurant that we’d had brunch in on our arrival. This time I knew enough to feed some bread to the fish that crowd to the surface so thickly that you think you could walk on their backs.
Back “home” in Wuxi
In all, the transition from Thailand to China was painless. I wrote much of this post with my travelling laptop on top of the baggage cart as we waited in the check in lineup.
About to hit the “Publish” button from my home office in Wuxi. It’s good to be back. Our dog, 狗狗 （GouGou = dogdog), was one living wiggle of greeting.
The weather in Wuxi today was unseasonably warm and pleasant. Blue skies. We had a canal boat ride with stops at three different museums, all worth seeing. This evening we had a hotpot dinner with our friend Wang Tao (Simon Wang), followed by a demonstration of the family’s automated mahjong table, a lesson in playing mahjong, and a tea ceremony. All in all, a wonderful day.
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