My Incredible Bangkok Adventure # 1

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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.

Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram white marble temple

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.

One of the 53 buddhas at Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram

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.

32-metre high buddha at Wat Intharawihan

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).

View of old wooden houses from Wat Intharawihan

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.

My sapphire and gold earrings

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 …

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5 thoughts on “My Incredible Bangkok Adventure # 1”

  1. Dear Fraussie
    What lucky timing – didn’t know about the government store thing for the Queen’s birthday. Do you remember the dates? We’ve been going to Bangkok as a rest top on the way to or from Europe from Australia for about 40 years and have seen the enormous changes. Over these years we’ve been at least once to just about all the main temples and the tourist sites so now we just like to do a little light shopping (eg Thai silk and cotton at Jim Thompson’s), take lunch on the terrace at the Oriental or have spa treatments at the Sukhothai and relax by the pool. For our 30th weddding anniversary my dear husband inisted on buying me a beautiful pigeon’s blood ruby ring set with diamonds. When we had it valued back home it was worth more than double what he paid for it (after a bit of bargaining), even though it wasn’t at a discounted price. Your earrings look beautiful, I’m sure they’ll give you a lot pleasure and will be a very happy memento of an interesting time in Bangkok.

    We stopped getting the tuk tuks a long time ago for all the reasons you mentioned, and because they can be fairly high risk. In the event of an accident you have absolutely no protection. Just a piece of plastic or nylon separating you from other vehicles. The other thing to know about Bangkok is not to go out till after rush hour is over – and the importance of getting back to the hotel well before it begins again in the afternoon. Also while many people can be very kind, like the woman in your jewellery shop, because of poverty and social problems there is risk of theft. Though having said that, in all the years we’ve been going there, sometimes on my own as a 24 hour rest stop on a work trip to Europe, I’ve never had a problem. Best wishes, Pamela

  2. We were there on 17th August 2006. According to the pâtissier, the birthday weekend changes every year and you only learn about it a short time in advance (he was on some mailing list). Everyone was wearing yellow T-shirts and there were posters up all over the place so I guess it was bona fide! We’ll be going to Australia via Hong Kong this year, obstensibly to recoup our Asia Miles from the last visit only we would have had to buy much more expensive tickets to benefit from them. Most annoying. We’ll try somewhere new next time.

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