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Day 3 – The Accidental Hustler

March 6, 2010

Dateline: Bangkok, Thailand – Saturday, March 6, 2010

I woke up at 5 a.m., a full hour later than the day before. A small, but important victory. Couldn’t get back to sleep so I stayed up and wrote and e-mailed.

At breakfast, there seemed to be lots of French and Americans compared to when I was here in 2006, when everyone seemed to be Israeli or Italian. Perhaps it’s the time of year. Perhaps it’s a Saturday.

I was still a little sore after the previous day’s massage. When I learned shiatsu massage, I was taught that the day after getting a massage you often feel more sore than before you got the massage. That’s because your body has felt what it’s like to be relaxed; when your body returns to its “normal” state the next day, you feel it more. Makes sense. It could also be, though, that my body’s not used to getting the crap kicked out of it by a 5 foot, 100 pound, Thai lady.

After breakfast, I called my Uncle Jesse and arranged to meet him at 5 p.m. at the hostel. That gave me 7 hours to kill. I decided to do what every tourist does in their first few days in Bangkok. See a wat (a temple) and get a Thai massage.

I hopped a BTS to Saphan Taksin, the bridge I’d been at the day before, and headed to the pier to explore my options. I figured I’d take a boat up to Th Thien pier and walk to Wat Po, one of four tourist destinations in that area.

Then I remembered it was Saturday and I’d decided to do what every tourist does in Bangkok.

As I walked down the BTS steps to the pier, I kicked myself for joining the herd. I like slipping around anonymously. When you’re moving with a group of tourists, you don’t blend, even if you look like a local. For example, in San Francisco, a Japanese person walking down the street with a backpack and a visor is no big deal. But you gather 20 of them and have them move down the sidewalk together and locals can’t help but notice. Other people dressed even remotely like them and moving in the same direction also get lumped into the tourist group even if they don’t belong. And that’s all before you add the lady screaming into a mega phone and waving a colored flag.

I was going to be one of the sheep; a target for touts and heavy handed selling. I cringed.

By the time I got to the pier, though, I’d already started to focus on the upside. Since I try to blend in, I often miss out on taking pictures of stuff. In every culture, a camera around the neck screams “I am not from around here! Please rob me!” Since I would be grazing with the herd instead of alone, my chances of being a target would go down. Predators tend to prey upon the weakest of the herd and since I look like a local, I like to think I look less weak. Humor me.

Today, I’d embrace the tourist in me and go crazy with the camera.

At the pier, signs in English said that a 1-day pass on a tourist express boat would cost me 150 bht (~$4.75). After making it clear to the lady behind the counter that I didn’t speak Thai, I asked whether a 1-day pass was my only option. She looked at me like I’d smeared poop all over the word “option” and said, “ONE-DAY PASS. ONE-DAY PASS.”

A bit flustered and annoyed, I paid for my ONE-DAY PASS and sat down with the rest of the livestock to wait for our boat.

Then I remembered the last time I was here after taking the bar. I’d noticed that locals either took different boats or paid for one-way tickets once onboard. I only wanted to take two trips, Saphon Taksin to Th Thien and back. I didn’t need to get on and off at every stop. I didn’t need a tourist ONE-DAY PASS.

I was bitter at myself for not taking the time to think before I bought. Now I was stuck with an overpriced ticket.

Or was I?

After much internal debate (“It’s only $5, suck it up. But dammit, I’m paying 5x what I should be and five bucks is 10% of my estimated daily budget. Wah, just live with it and learn a life lesson: you’re an idiot. You’re going to look like a jackass if you try to force this ticket on someone. You’ll have to cold sell strangers.”), I found myself standing in front of the ticket booth gripping the inside of my pants pockets.

My first attempt to hock the ticket was about as ham-fisted as it gets. I approached what looked to be a German couple in their 20’s and said, “Are you guys planning to buy a ONE DAY PASS?”

“We were thinking that. . .” the girl said.

“Because, if you are, I have one I can’t use because I have to meet my friend and won’t be able to use it I just bought it and I’m willing to sell it to you for less. You can check with the people at the counter to make sure it’s real if you want,” I said, wondering where the “meet my friend” thing came from.

They took a step back and said, “Maybe.”

“If you do, you should buy it from me,” I said as they walked away.

Yikes. I must have freaked them out because I look like a local but spoke fluent English. And I’d bumbled my way through that like the first time a teenager tries to chat up a pretty girl; I’d put way too much on the table in the first few moments and I reeked of desperation. Unfortunately, this particular realization didn’t come until after my second attempt.

I spotted an Asian guy walking alone with a Lonely Planet guide book in one hand. He might as well have been carrying a megaphone-wielding, flag-waving lady under his arm. I pounced.

He too sort of backed away. His accent-less American English wasn’t that surprising. He seemed a bit more receptive though and I pressed on. He suddenly seemed to get exasperated and said, “Fine, fine!”

He only had a 500 bht note and I didn’t have the correct change. Then he pulled out a 100 bht note and a fist full of coins. I told him I’d take 120 bht, but he forced all the coins on me.

“Dude, I think this is more than 150.” I said, staring at all the silver in my hand. “I just wanted 120.”

“Just take it,” he said, tossing his hands at me and grabbing my ticket.

“Uh, I’m not trying to rip you off. You’re doing me a favor by buying a ticket I can’t use,” I said to his back as he walked away.

Weird. I came off the salesman high and walked off the pier to find the local boat. Did he think I was a tout with perfect “dude” English? Did he try to run game on me and get embarrassed, I mean how could he have not known he had the 100 bht in his pocket? Did I just make money on a stupid mistake?

As for the last question, I’m pretty sure I did. Can’t know for sure though because the coins were already mixed in with the change I had in my pocket. If I am stupid, (buying a tourist ticket) then I might was well be lucky (somehow making money off my mistake).

Then my luck turned, slightly. I headed off towards Wat Po, searching for an opening to a local pier through the buildings. I found the River City pier, but realized it was for tourists. I pulled out the guide, managed to locate the next pier a block over and down, then walked right past it somehow. I walked through the jewelry district. I stumbled across the massage place Becca had recommended the day before. I wandered through old Chinatown through narrow streets and past shop after shop of people fixing piles of car transmissions and transmissions only. I briefly considered flagging down a cab but the fact that it would probably cost me 60 baht and eat into my clever “no tourist ticket” gambit stopped me. I ended up on an inadvertent, prideful walking tour of Bangkok. Not bad, actually.

An hour and a half later and 1/3 of the way to Wat Po, I finally found a pier and ran smack into the German couple. Awkward, since I was alone and getting on a boat. No words were exchanged and they refused to make eye contact. Where the hell did the “meet my friend” thing come from anyway?

The boats were as I suspected, though. I walked up to a lady at a ticket counter, followed the lead of the Thai guy in front of me and handed her a green 20 bht note and got 7 back in change. Cost of ticket: $0.30. Victory, bitches.

By the time I disembarked, I was parched and starving. I knew, however, that, somewhere on the street in front of Wat Po, someone would be selling one of my local favorites: fried, sesame-battered banana. I nibbled on that and pounded water. I chose to embrace my inner tourist and, sitting on a little brick retaining wall with two schoolgirls and their mother looking over my shoulder, took a picture of street food. The sweet, crunchy, warm banana (20 bht) served as my lunch.

I walked in to Wat Po. I’d heard that foreigners had to buy tickets and Thai people did not. I watched carefully and decided I’d give it a try. I marched, head up, past the guy at the gate and he didn’t give me a second glance. I made a sizable donation to the 150 foot long, 46 foot tall Reclining Buddha to atone for my sin. That’s pretty much how Wat Po went. I wandered around trying to blend with the Thai tourists. I stood in their shorter lines. I put my shoes in their special shoe racks.

I was enamored with these statues of Chinese looking swordsmen and took a few too many pictures of those. Probably get sick of these by the time I hit China but, for now, they fascinate me. I meditated at the Coronation Room in front of a Buddha seated high above what would be the congregation. I came across a Thai massage school in the back where I’d had a few massages the last time I was at Wat Po.

Afterwards, I headed back to the pier. I couldn’t get on the local boat because it was full and decided to splurge on a one-way on the tourist boat (25 bht). I got off at Oriental Pier and headed off to the massage place I’d missed the day before. As Becca promised, it was much better than the place from yesterday. This time, I didn’t bow back, I rolled over mostly when I needed to, I stuck my arms out like I should. I gestured to the masseuse that I needed work on my shoulders and back. She obliged by forcing my arms over my head and trying to twist me into different kinds of Boy Scout knots. She kept asking me things and I’d just laugh or nod. She’d chuckle to herself and then jab me here or pull me there. I loved it.

One hour and 230 bht ($7.25) later my neck felt like it was finally coming loose. A few more days of this and my body will be where it should be.

I headed back to Suk 11 and waited for my Uncle Jesse. We went to dinner with his family. A lovely time at a nice European-style restaurant. His daughter and her husband joined us for dinner. There was even an awesome Thai jazz guitar trio. The guy had no accent when he sang. Of course, when I pulled out the camera to video him singing, they transitioned to all instrumental.

Ended up crashing at Uncle Jesse’s. He and his wife were so kind and generous. His daughter offered to help me buy a cell phone the next day.

By the way, Uncle Jesse sells chickens for a large Thai chicken company. I don’t want to get our hopes up, but he wants to take me to a chicken factory a few hours outside of town. His daughter was horrified; I was probably a little too excited. I’ve never been to a chicken factory, much less a Thai one. I’m not even sure how I’d ever have occasion to visit one. May not happen, but I like the idea.

____________________

Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: If you try to sell another tourist your own ticket, don’t hyperventilate like an overanxious teenager on prom night. Be cool, honey bunny. Be cool.

Not So Stupid Tip: Don’t buy a ONE DAY PASS tourist ticket. Just pay one way fares and walk a bit. No need to wander like I did. Either wait for a local boat or hop on the tourist boat and pay 25 bht each way to Th Thien. From there, Wat Po is across the street and most of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are next door (walk left till you find an opening in the white palace wall). Wat Arun is across the river and costs a few baht to get to. You’ll spend less on travel and see more since you’ll be walking. You won’t have time to get on and off the boat much anyway since I think it should take all day to go through the palace and the wats.

Then, take the money you saved and get a massage at Suanploo Thai Massage on the way back. It’ll help you recover from the day’s walk. Just get off the boat at Oriental instead of Saphan Taksin and walk straight till you hit Th Charoenkrung. Make a right and walk a few blocks down past Assumption Cathedral. Just as the road curves to the right, cross the street and look for the brown and white sign. Get the 2 hour one if you have time or just get the foot massage if that’s what ails you. I plan on going back and getting a 2 hour version. It’s a near perfect tourist itinerary in my opinion.

It’s the Little Things: For some reason, every Thai bathroom I’ve been to has the light switch outside the bathroom instead of inside. This includes the bathrooms in the hallway at Suk 11. That means you could be inside, door locked, quietly contemplating your humanity, and someone could plunge you into darkness. Not that I’d ever do that to you or anything.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. sally permalink
    March 7, 2010 7:16 pm

    1. As all my friends are, you are incredibly funny and witty.
    2. I seethe w/envy whenever I read a post.
    3. I hope your ‘having a good time” trajectory goes up every day.

    • March 8, 2010 12:22 am

      1. You need more friends.
      2. I’m just happy you’re reading.
      3. Let’s just hope my “good times trajectory” is something less than hyperbolic, otherwise I might not have strength to write more than two words at a time.

  2. March 8, 2010 3:36 pm

    FYI for friends who plan to follow in your footsteps.

    Um, if by “Th Thien” you mean the pier then it’s missing an “a” – it should be “Tha Thien”. “Tha” (pronounced more like “tar”) is the Thai word for pier.

    😉

    Glad you had a good day…

    • March 13, 2010 12:18 am

      Thanks, Becca. I see I forgot to log out of your computer the last time I posted from your place. 🙂

      I appreciate the correction. My spelling in Thai is even more atrocious than in English.

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