In a previous post, I told you about how we found ourselves with a chauffeur and an air-conditioned 4-wheel drive to take us round Bangkok after buying a pair of gold and sapphire earrings. Our new vehicle is most welcome after the morning tuktuks! Relationnel sits in the back pacha style (he doesn’t speak English you may remember) while I chat in the front seat with our driver. “Why are you doing this ?”, I ask. “Because my boss told me to.” “Yes, but why did your boss tell you to ?” “Because she likes you.” Hmm …
The first stop is Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. We park a little distance away and protecting ourselves from the sun with umbrellas provided by our driver, we weave our way through the food stalls, smelling strongly of dried seafood, and under the shady trees along the wall of the Grand Palace. I discover that my three-quarter length pants are not suitable attire and stand in a queue to get a wraparound skirt.
Our guide waits outside while we visit the temple, impressed by all the gold, pearls and coloured glass. We file past the 70 cm high emerald buddha that we can see from afar. After visiting several throne rooms we move onto the next temple, Wat Pho, with its 18th century reclining Buddha, 45 metres long and 15 metres high and covered in gold leaf, with its somewhat sardonic smile. We take in some of the 394 seated Buddhas.
We pay for the parking and invite our guide to lunch in a restaurant of her choice. We eat noodles and soup alongside the river. She asks if I can buy some “moon cakes” to take back to her children. We pay about 11 euro in all for the meal and tell our guide that we can continue on our own for the rest of the day. “No”, she says, “I can’t take you back until 5 pm.” She is very friendly and helpful and wants advice on bringing up her teenage son with whom she’s having a few problems!
The next stop is the Vimanmek Mansion, made entirely of teakwood, which is part of the Dusit Palace in a leafy area of Bangkok, built by King Rama V to escape the heat of the Grand Palace. We park the car and our guide suggests we leave our backpack (containing the earrings!) in the car. We look at each other in consternation. Maybe it’s a put-up job? We finally leave the backpack because it would seem rude to do otherwise. We have our money and passports on us, of course.
We take off our shoes (as usual) and follow the palace guide who explains the different features of the house in very approximate English. I am very taken by the draperies but unfortunately, no photos are allowed. We finally emerge from the mansion and can’t see any sign of our guide. Our hearts sink. How naive can you get? But we spy her at last and we all go back to the car. Relationnel checks that everything is still in the backpack and we breathe a sigh of relief!
It’s nearly 5 o’clock so she says she’ll take us to our hotel where we’ve left our luggage. Relationnel and I discuss how much we should give her as a tip and finally decide on 20 euro. We ask her to stop at an automated teller machine to get some cash. While Relationnel is gone, our guide asks us if we have “something to give” her. I reassure her and when she stops in front of the hotel, we give her the money and thank her for the visit. She waves happily goodbye.
We then go to the airport for our late flight, keeping careful watch out for anyone who might have followed us. It’s not until we are safely in the plane that we can really relax and appreciate our good luck! And I’ve taken the earrings to a jeweller in Paris since – they are not fakes …