Category Archives: Thailand

My Incredible Bangkok Adventure #2

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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 …

Our “guide” in Bangkok

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.

Grand Palace Bangkok
Grand Palace

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.

Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho

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!

Riverside restaurant

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.

Vinamek Mansion, Dusit Palace

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.

Nightfall in Bangkok

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 …

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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