I don’t really know how close I was to the Palace because again there was no way to judge true distances on my map and to make things more interesting, maps posted along the street didn’t coincide at all with the map I had so I was kinda just going blindly most of the time…
At one point I came across a hilarious little squirrel. People (I’ve noticed this elsewhere now too) hang little bags or full coconuts on the trees for the squirrels! I didn’t know they had squirrels in Thailand before this! He was adorable to watch as he dipped his head in the bag for a mouthful of shaved coconut, too cute!!
As I continued down the random street I was approached by a guy who asked where I was going. The Palace, I said. To which he replied that it was closed because the King was going to be there for his birthday. What’s funny here is a friend of mine who’s been to Thailand said that these scammers always say the Palace is closed because it’s the Kings birthday… In this case, it actually was true, I just thought it was funny they always use that excuse! Anyway, he insisted that the entire area was blockaded by police and there was no way to even get close to it. BUT… he recommended several lovely temples each featuring Buddha (Golden Buddha, a temple with 8 different positions of Buddha, etc). He said for 40 baht one of the 3-wheel taxis called “tuk-tuks” could take me around to 4 of them and bring me back! That sounded like a good deal really… 4 Temples for 40 baht AND he would bring me back to where we started?? Sign #1 to not go- too good to be true. But no, I thought “I could go on a little detour, rest my feet during the ride, see some Temples then walk to the Palace once we were back to start”. Just as I got into the tuk-tuk, the guy asked where I was from. I said the States, to which he replied “I love Obama”… I should have taken that as sign #2 to NOT trust this situation, lol!!
The first Temple was of the 8 Buddhas in different positions. Unfortunately no picture-taking was allowed. There was a gentlemen inside praying to one statue however that I found moving. It wasn’t a Buddha statue but rather of a man depicted with sticks at his feet. God of health is what the man said. Pray to him for good health. It was quite moving to wander around the Temple. I’ve got more to say on that in a later post, but moving on…
I returned to the taxi after my walk around the Temple and he then told me that next stop was a Thailand factory where they make very good clothes. Ok, I don’t need any clothes, but maybe it’s interesting somehow. He insisted that these shops were good for the Thai people. Ok… So we went. The shop was, well, just a shop filled with tons of different fabrics and Giorgio Armani magazines with a variety of his clothing all ready to be tailor-made JUST for you! As I wandered in, the sales vultures attacked asking me this and that and what would I like/need yada yada… I did one lap at a quick pace and headed out the door. I did notice before leaving another gringo couple there signing papers… And as I headed out the door another tuk-tuk was pulling up with more gringos… Something fishy is going on… Sign #3…
I got back in my taxi, the guy drove all of 10 feet then pulled over and stopped the cab:
Tuk-tuk man: You spend more time in there
Me: Um… I don’t need clothes. They are very nice, but I don’t need anything.
Tuk-tuk man: Don’t matter if you buy, just looking, just LOOKING. Must stay longer at next one for gas card.
Me: I don’t want to go to another one, I thought we were going to see Temples
Tuk-tuk Man: Yes, yes, Temples but factory first. Must get gas card. 300 baht gas card for going to factory
Me: No, I didn’t sign up for this, no.
Tuk-tuk Man: please, please, you do it for me so I get gas card. 10 minute, 10 minute just LOOKING
Sign #4… But he pulled the guilt trip… So ok, fine. I can spare one more shop for 10 minutes so he can get a gas card. So off we go… I wandered in and played my part listening to the sales pitch, flipping through the magazines “oh this is nice” wondering the entire time how/why any of these people think I have the kind of money to spend on those kinds of clothes with me looking like such crap after walking the streets of Bangkok all morning?? Anyway, I figured 10 minutes were up, so I left and got back into the cab. The driver then turned to me and showed me on the map where we currently were (somewhere off of Nkhon Chaisi Rd WAY northeast of where we started) and proceeded to say “next factory is right here, then we go to Temples”.
Ok, I officially reached my limit. “No” I very firmly said. He tried his pitch to me once again begging and pleading but I had had enough!! I told him to take me back immediately to where he picked me up. He finally figured out I meant business, took on a sulky attitude, turned around and started to head back. Thankfully I was paying enough attention to see that he was actually taking me in the right direction, but at a certain point we got stuck in traffic along Ratcha Damnoen Nok Rd and I just got out. I payed him his 40 baht figuring the one Temple was worth that, walked across the street away from him and wandered the streets again.
As it turned out there was a ton of very interesting stuff along that road! I’m not sure if it also was because of the King’s birthday or just coincidental, but according to some signs it said December 5th was also World SOIL day… They had tents upon tents displaying farm scenes, gardens, green growing, hydroponic setups, etc! Very interesting stuff! Also one of the tents was all about a gift festival. Not sure what that was exactly, but lots of fun stuff to look at and buy.
So really, had it not been for the scam I never would have been in that area to begin with to see all the random festivities. But perhaps the part I thought was the funniest was when I was walking along Ratcha Damnoen Klang Rd where the Democracy Monument is located. Yes, I was STILL trying to make it to the dang Palace, lol!! I stopped at one of the street maps (which again didn’t look a thing like my map!) and another man came up asking me where I wanted to go… Repeat??? Thankfully not! He was a professor at the University for Political Science and was legit! He pointed the way to the Palace then asked what I had seen so far. I told him “not much” just a Temple and random other parts. I pointed on a map where I had been taken (by the scammer cabbie) and the first word out of his mouth: “Gangsters”!!
What??? Did I hear right?? “Gangsters” he repeated, then said “how many factory they take you to?”… Oh dear, lol!!! I’d been scammed alright! I laughed and said 2. He shook his head knowingly and said that the police everyday get calls about that scenario or tourists walking into the police stations to file complaints about this scam. I don’t know if the shops are part of the scam also, but I can’t say for sure. He then went on to give me another couple good tips: Never get into a taxi (actual taxis are regular cars in a variety of colors; pink, green, blue with a “metered taxi” sign on top) if the driver does not turn on the meter. If they try to negotiate a price with you before you get in, RUN! Lol!! His exact words folks! The second tip was for the shopping areas: look at 10 stores before you buy! Again, to avoid being overcharged or scammed on a price:) Lovely guy and great information, I was truly grateful!!
I thanked the professor then headed on toward the Palace first running into the Royal Grounds where the side walk of the grounds were lined with police. I asked what was going on and one guy said that in a half hour the King would arrive! Seriously?? So I hung out in the gardens, which had a view of the Palace in the background (finally!!!) until the action began. It wasn’t the King who arrived, but rather it was a very respected woman. I’ve tried to look up in the papers something about what the event was all about but still can’t find anything. Anyway, whoever she was, she was very heavily guarded and respected! Everyone who approached her did so on their knees, never turning their back to her. After viewing the event for a bit, I headed to the Palace (which was shut) then decided to just get back to the hotel. At this point it had already been a 10 hour day and I was shot and ready for a shower!!
I approached some cops to ask the best place for a taxi pick-up to which they all lined up to hail a cab for me as I stood on the sidewalk (so polite and helpful!!). I was taken to Phaya Thai (by a driver who did use his meter) which is the first stop in the Airport Rail system. Last funny- I needed a cab from the Lat Krabang station to my hotel. I hailed one and he stopped. I showed him the card I had of the hotel and he nodded “yes”, so I went to get in and said “meter?” to which he then looked at the hotel card again and shook his head. He pointed to his eyes and squinted as if to say he suddenly couldn’t read the address on the card… Scammer avoided?? Too funny!!