First day in Bangkok…sweltering heat, smell of street food and an unbelievable amount of westerners all gathered on a few small streets in the heard of Bangkok’s backpacking district on Khao San Rd. This area really makes this city feel so exhilarating and full of adventures! And it is….
After a few hours of aimless roaming around Khoa San Road, stuffing my face with delicious street food, photo snapping and some innocent shopping, I felt like it was time for some proper culture. So with a map in hand I was off to the Grand Palace – the #1 cultural attraction in Bangkok. Pretty much on every street corner, I kept being approached by tuk tuk drivers, saying something about cheap 20 Baht rides in celebration of Budda Day. I dismissed about 5 of them before giving one a chance to actually explain the “deal”.
“Today is Budda Day, all Buddas in the city, you see for free. Tomorrow you pay 200 baht for entrance, today, Budda – free. Big Budda, lucky Budda, black Budda – all free, you pay 20 baht, I take you 1, 2,3,4,5,6 places in 1.5hrs and I wait for you and you see Buddas. Cheap cheap.”, he said.
Hmmm…Budday Day, eh? Sounds like a bit of a load of crap, plus I remembered reading about this type of scam in Bangkok. But then, I am only being asked to pay 20 baht …that’s what? £0.50? Not much to lose and if this “Budda tour” really sucks, I can always get off and taxi back to my hostel. Right now, I’m hot and kinda tired of walking and really do fancy a ride around the city.
“Alright. 20 baht only? Let’s see some Buddas!”
And within minutes, I was in a tuk tuk riding down busy streets of Bangkok, which, let’s be serious, is a rollercoster ride on its own worth more than £0.50!!!
First stop – Big Budda. And yes my tuk tuk driver safely got me there and to my surprise did wait for me to do my sightseeing, picture snapping and helped me back into the tuk tuk ready to show me more! The lucky and whatever other Buddas followed. And then came the catch…
“We stop now at factory, you look. Don’t want, no buy”, he said as we pulled up to some store front. I’ve travelled enough to know that tours always take you to random shops and try to convince you to buy stuff, so I wasn’t too worried about checking it out. Inside was a well air conditioned room with lots of fabrics and a comfy couch where I sat and chatted with a friendly store owner. We discussed his factory (aka sweatshop filled with women working for pennies), his prices and how they compare to Shanghai fabric market (about double in price) and his supply chain (“best materials only, not like China”) . Of course I didn’t buy anything, but I left the store wanting to share the story with others and wondering whether all “factories” in Asia where like that, and how I felt about supporting this type of manufacturing by getting all sorts of things made at the Fabric Market in Shanghai.
I hopped back into my tuk tuk and we carried on to see more Buddas and stop at more shops. Along the way, I learned a bit about my tuk tuk driver and the fact that these ” shopping pit stops” are his best way of earning money. Each store I go into (regardless of whether I buy or not) gives him a 5 litre gasoline voucher to use for his tuk tuk…a “commission” equivalent to about 1000 baht (£5). Knowing how little these guys earn and how big of help these vouchers are to them, I sort of felt glad that I was able to help him earn these coupons. So at the end of the “tour” I got exactly what I was promised, lots of Buddas, a few temples and a final drop off at the Grand Palace – my original destination – all for just 20 baht.
Sure, I got to the palace an hour later, but I really enjoyed the ride: seeing the city beyond the touristy roads, the Buddas, the temples, some great chats with the locals, and even a sneak peak into a school day of some Bangkok kids that I spotted sitting out in the school yard beside one of the temples.
So was it really a Budda Day? No…the Buddas and temples are free on a daily basis, that part of the pitch is clearly a lie to entice tourists to head on the tour now as opposed to tomorrow. So, was it another scam in Bangkok? Well, hardly. I got what I was promised and for the price I agreed to pay. Was it a waste of time? Maybe. For someone on a tight schedule, who needs to get in and out and has no time to dilly dally at jewellery and clothing shops, it would be!
But for me, it was an adventure in Bangkok and a great story to write home about!