Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 236 (46)

Bangkok

Saturday 30th October

Still revelling in the relaxation from our respective massages last night, we allowed ourselves the luxury of a good long lie in this morning. We had already decided not to take one of several the day trip tours we were offered. This would have meant getting up very early again and it is high time that we take things easy for a few days. The tourist stuff will still be there waiting for us another time.

In many of the countries we’ve travelled through, we’ve used the US Dollar as the primary currency for calculating costs and so on. My now extremely complex spreadsheet has also been based on Dollars and we have been converting each currency into the Dollar rate as we’ve moved from country to country. With the Euro now so widely accepted as a significant force in hard currency, together with the fact that the vast bulk of our money is in our Dutch bank in Euros, I’ve decided to convert everything from Dollars to Euros. From here on, then, all the converted figures for the various costs we incur will be in Euros and not Dollars. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of days wading through my spreadsheet and trying to identify exactly where we will stand financially at the end of the trip, based on what we expect to spend in each country and how much available funds we have both now and what we expect to receive from various sources during the trip. I think I’ve finally got things worked out accurately enough to determine just how much money we will end up with after all is said and done. Assuming we spend everything that we expect to spend in each category in each country (I’ve guestimated conservatively in every category so this shouldn’t really be the case), then we should end up with approximately nothing. Isn’t that a comforting thought?

Since today is Saturday, the weekend markets will be open right here in Bangkok. We don’t really know much about what the weekend markets are other than the fact that they are here in Bangkok and we can take advantage of the fact that it is now the weekend and can visit them for an afternoon of relaxed browsing around. The reception staff had told me that a taxi to the weekend markets should cost around 70B (€1,35) so I figured we could get there for less than this if we tried. An auto-rickshaw driver just happened to be passing by when we walked out onto the Khao San Road and we asked him about the fare to the markets. He showed us a nice big laminated map and told us that for just 50B (€0,96) he could take us to visit a couple of sites of interest on the way to the markets. We would be able to stop for as long as we wanted to take photos and move on when we wanted. These sites of interest were pretty much on the way according to his map and for less than €1, it seemed like a reasonable idea so we got in and got to know each other as he made his way across town. The auto-rickshaws here are about the same size as those in India but they certainly have much more powerful engines and he propelled us along the roads at speeds rivalling those of the many cars that we overtook.

The first place he took us to was a huge golden Buddha statue. In and around the site were other Buddha shrines with pockets of people praying and making offerings. A number of effigies are golden in colour and look like they are peeling away. On closer inspection, it appears that the gold peeling are actually little patches of gold leaf that the praying locals rub onto the statues as some sort of offering. Dotted around the place are stalls where the faithful can purchase little sheets of gold leave to apply to their favourite effigy. There was a family of two adults and a couple of kids sitting in front of a monk dressed in nothing but an orange robe. He was sat on a table with his legs crossed and was chanting towards the family whilst wafting droplets of water over their heads with what looked like a bunch of twigs. I gathered he was bestowing some sort of blessing on them and in return, after the ceremony was complete, the man offered a shrink-wrapped bucket full of food and other gifts to the monk, presumably as some sort of offering in return for the blessing. It was quite fascinating to watch.

We were also given the chance to set some birds free. There were a few women with a couple of stacks of small cages full of trapped small birds, about a dozen to a cage, and for just 90B (€1,73) we could bring good luck on ourselves for ever by ‘setting the birds free’. It made me wonder just what sort of luck might have been bestowed on those that caught the birds to begin with. The big Buddha statue was rather impressive and we gained a little insight into the Thai culture by watching them engage in their cultural and spiritual activities.

The next place we stopped at was another religious shrine inside a building that turned out to have just closed. Our driver apologised for this and made a ‘suggestion’ for us. On the way to the markets from here was a tailor shop where we could be measured for a tailor-made suit or whatever. He would earn a free fuel voucher for his rickshaw if we would agree to stop off there for a few minutes. We wouldn’t have to buy anything, just look around for long enough for him to earn his commission. Ordinarily, we would run a mile in this scenario but the fact that he was up front and very honest about the whole thing made us a little more tolerant towards the idea. After all, the ride was only costing us less than €1 and a few minutes of idle browsing seemed harmless enough to earn this man a little bit of fuel so we agreed and off we set.

We arrived at the tailor shop and spent ten minutes pretending to be interested in having a suit made.  Our driver seemed quite anxious to hear about what we thought of this place and whether we were interested in buying anything. He then pleaded for us to stop at one more place but promised that this would be the very last place on the way to the markets. Still feeling quite benevolent, we reluctantly agreed on the proviso that it would indeed be the last place before we found the markets. This he promised and off we set again to the next tailor shop, where we once again spent ten minutes pretending to be very interested in getting a suit made. Once again, our driver was particularly eager to know whether we were going to buy anything and even asked if we wanted him to take us back to the previous shop again. We told him to now please take us to the markets. He set off but once again started pleading to take us to yet a third tailor shop and this time we both put our foot down. Enough was enough and it was now pretty obvious what was going on. He wasn’t going to give in until he had earned a significant commission on the sale of a suit, at our expense no doubt. From that moment on, we were steadfastly insistent that he was to take us directly to the markets with no further time wasting. He didn’t let up with his repeated attempts to try to persuade us to visit ‘just one more’ tailor all the way to the markets, where we handed him his 50B (€0,96) and bit him a thankful farewell. I think we were well and truly had here, and fell for what must surely be one of the oldest tricks in the Bangkok book. Another lesson learned. Some things you just cannot get out of a guidebook. Much like the unfortunate incident with being shaken down for a couple of hundred Rand in South Africa by a corrupt police office, this little experience has wizened us up a bit and thankfully it only cost us an hour out of our lives as payment. We’ll be on guard for this sort of shenanigan from here on.

The weekend market is quite extensive with extremely narrow aisles and passageways formed by the densely packed market stalls. Much of the market is out in the open but quite a bit of it is effectively indoors as a result of the tin roofs covering many of the stalls. Pretty much anything and everything is sold here, including handicrafts, books, fabrics, house wares, pottery, hardware, decorations and just about everything else besides. Dotted in amongst the various stalls are food vendors that will whip up a concoction of all sorts of things right there on the spot for you. I ventured to partake in some slices of melon and it was expertly sliced into bite-sized chunks and slid into a clear plastic bag with a stick to eat with right there in front of me. The going rate for a bag of sliced and diced fruit is either 10B (€0,19) or 20B (€0,38) depending on the fruit in question. This seems to be the going rate for quite a wide variety of meats on a stick as well as pancakes, fried noodles and various other tasty bits and pieces.

When we first left England at the commencement of this trip, we only really had enough weight allowance for a couple of guidebooks. We choose India and China for our travelling companions and these just happen to be two of the largest guidebooks going. They really have added to the weight and bulk in our backpacks. Consequently, we arrived here in Thailand without a guidebook for this country and have been on the lookout for one since we got here. We have been told that they are very inexpensive here and there are even quite a few knock-off copies to be had for even less but these have thus far eluded us. One of the many bookstalls here did have quite a collection of new and used guidebooks but all of their Thailand books were several years old, so our quest continues.

The markets are deceptively hard work with a lot of tiptoeing around vast numbers of other bargain hunters and an awful lot of walking around and this eventually started to take its toll after an hour and a half (ah, what it would be like to be young again). We decided we’d seen enough and Sandy was feeling a bit under the weather anyway. She’s been doing battle with a blocked nose and sore throat for the past couple of days so we decided to make our way slowly to one of the exit points and see about making our way back to the Khao San Road.

It was now rush hour and there were plenty of taxi passing along the road down the side of the markets so we flagged one down. He wanted a whopping 200B (€3,85) to take us that far across town for we moved onto the next. We weren’t much more successful with the second driver who didn’t want to go that way at all and the price quoted by the third also seemed on the high side. I decided we’d try our luck with an auto-rickshaw and went through a few of them before finding one that seemed like we could trust him. His starting price was 100B (€1,92) but we managed to haggle him down to 70B (€1,34) in the end. Traffic forced him to set off in the opposite direction for a few minutes before having to turn around but we slowly made our way across town. I say slowly but again his engine packed quite a powerful punch and there were times that we accelerated away from the lights faster than all the cars around us. At the end of the ride, he wanted us to give him 100B (€1,92) but I told him we agree on 70B (€1,34) and handed him that sum of money before walking off.

We went straight back to the dive shop to collect our train and boat tickets for the trip down to the South East for the day after tomorrow, where we will go through a diving review before spending a few days beneath the waves and trying out our new underwater photography equipment for the first time.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at one of the several dispensaries here to get some medication for Sandy’s sore throat and blocked nose. The pharmacist was a very nice woman and asked quite a few questions before dispensing some antibiotics and lozenges for Sandy’s throat infection and some decongestant for her blocked nose. Since she seemed professional and proficient, we asked her about the malaria medication that we were currently on and whether or not this was still, the correct form of prophylaxis for the strains of malaria here in Thailand. We had been advised to do just this by the travel health clinic in London at the outset of the trip. The pharmacist told us that we should continue to take the Chloroquine and Proquanil that we are already taking and confirmed that we should continue to take these for four weeks after leaving Thailand. The fact that this is the same advice I’ve been given everywhere else also added to my feeling of satisfaction that she knew what she was talking about. I asked her about topping up our supplies but they don’t stock the medication here in the small chemist shop. She gave us directions to the nearby government hospital where we could replenish our supply. The nurse at the travel health clinic in London gave us a leaflet with directions to a recommended travel health clinic here in Bangkok but it is on the other side of town. I may give them a call tomorrow just to make sure that their recommendations tally with the pharmacist we saw today.

Sandy went to have a lay down for a while back at the hotel whilst I went out to renew our student ID cards. I was able to procure our student status for the next three years with three new student ID cards for each of us for just 580B (€11,15). I realise that I’m selling my soul to the devil here but I’ll have to deal with the long-term moral consequences of that further down the road. God have mercy on my soul.

Whilst out and about, I partook in some more melon slices and just couldn’t resist the delicious smell of the hot corn on the cob wafting through the air so I enjoyed one of those as well. I also stumbled into a small bookshop and found the recent edition Thailand guidebook that we’ve been looking. It was second hand, although in perfectly good condition, and for the ultimately agreed price of just 800B (€15,49) was just about half the sticker price so I couldn’t really complain. It was an original and probably would have cost less if it was a copy but at least we now had a valuable guidebook to help steer us in need.

After seeing the nice printed mat photos that the Dutch guy we met in Leshan, China showed us, we’ve been eager to get some of our own printed just to see what they look like in physical form so I collected Sandy and we sorted a few out by means of a test run. If they turned out nice, we would sort out a whole batch load and get them printed. I put the selection of sixteen choice pictures we decide on onto one of our memory cards and we only had to wait about half an hour to see the finished results. Indeed, they do look quite nice so we will sift through our India, Hong Kong and China photo libraries tomorrow to see if we can choose a small selection from the five thousand, three hundred that we’ve amassed from those three countries.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon and early evening wandering up and down the Khao San Road, sampling the various foods from the street vendors. I have to say that everything so far has been quite delicious and we’ve both eaten quite a bit of food for probably less than €2 altogether. Even with our hotel and the relatively expensive guidebook purchase, we still spent probably less than €40 altogether today. Our daily budget for Thailand is €60 and since we won’t be buying expensive guidebooks every day and will probably be spending less on accommodation once outside of Bangkok, we should manage to stay well under this self-imposed budget and come out with quite a bit of surplus at the end of our stay here.

Sandy wanted to exchange some of here reading books at one of the book stalls here but couldn’t quite manage to strike a deal with the rather inflexible guy manning the stall. Quite ironically, he did have a nice looking recent edition of the Thailand guidebook. I was quite annoyed to see it priced for just 600B (€11,50). Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose – but at least we’re playing the hand.

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