We’ve got a day in Bangkok, having flown in from Australia late the night before and flying out again to Paris in the evening. We’re standing in the street, just in front of the Old Bangkok Inn, where we’ve been staying. The temperature is already high and Relationnel is checking which direction to go. A young man stops to help us. I finally understand that, for some unknown reason, the yellow “tuktuks” (sort of motorised rickshaws), are offering three religious visits for 20 baht (which is next to nothing). He flags one down and tells him where to take us.
We get in and chug off. The roof is too low, it’s hot and we’re surrounded by car fumes. The first site he takes us to is the marble temple of Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram, built in the early 20th century. It’s quite ravishing with its little canals, varnished tiles and brightly coloured façades, not to mention a gallery with 53 buddhas. When we come out, the tuktuk driver is waiting for us.
Next stop, Wat Intharawihan with its 32-metre high buddha. At the stop of a staircase, we overlook the old wooden houses below. We find our driver again and he takes us to our 3rd destination, the temple of the Lucky Buddha. Unfortunately, it is being renovated. But there we meet a Frenchman who explains the cheap tuktuk story. It’s the Queen’s birthday and during the three-day festivities, the tuktuk drivers get their petrol free. Whence the 20 baht fare.
He tells us about another “perk” during the festivities. The “government” stores open their doors to the public and do not charge their usual 196% sales tax. He says he is a pâtissier at the Ritz in Paris and that every year, he includes the Queen’s birthday in his travels so that he can buy a matching necklace, earrings and bracelet incrusted with sapphires and rubies at a bargain price and then sell them for twice that to one of the jewellery stores on Place Vendôme (opposite the Ritz).
We don’t know whether to believe him or not. When we go to pay our tuktuk driver, he suggests taking us to the government stores for clothing or jewellery. We say we’re not interested. He insists (surely he’s in cahoots with the pâtissier) so we decide to visit a jewellery store. We don’t have to buy anything, after all.
We find ourselves in an air-conditioned store, the only customers, but with a large number of sales girls. We look around but don’t see anything to our liking. A very friendly senior saleswoman accompanies us and leads us behind a curtain into another section where the pieces are much more attractive. I see a beautiful pair of gold and sapphire earrings and am encouraged to try them on. My very generous husband insists on buying them for me and negociates the price.
A cold Pepsi arrives for each of us while waiting for the certificate of authenticity and the receipt to be prepared. The sales woman warns us about potential thieves following us to the airport and stealing the earrings. She then says to me, “May I give you a present?” Well, considering the price of the earrings, it doesn’t seem that surprising, so I say “why not?” It turns out that she’s lending us her secretary and car for the rest of the day. Relationnel asks how much it’s going to cost. “Nothing.” I ask her why she’s doing this. “To make the last day of your stay in Bangkok memorable”, she replies. She asks us for 20 baht to pay off our tuktuk driver and we follow the secretary outside to her car. It turns out to be an air-conditioned four-wheel drive!
Watch out for the next instalment …