Live & Let Die in Bangkok
Before I'm accused of putting down Thailand let first make it clear that it is one of the most interesting countries in the world to visit, and no, the man standing behind me with the gun has nothing to do with the statement I just made.
The following story really happened.
You haven't lived until you've tried the death defying experience of riding the tuk tuk in Bangkok. If you believe that Rock N' Roller Coaster is scary then you're in for a surprise.
A tuk tuk, for the uneducated, is a three wheel rickshaw that gets its name from the noise made by its engine. Tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok are not required to speak English; they're not even required to have a driving license. In fact I'm not even sure they would pass an eye test. A blind tuk tuk driver would probably feel quite at home and not in the least inferior.
When you approach a tuk tuk driver the first thing you have to do is tell him your destination - the Grand Palace - then agree on the price. First the driver (if you can call him that) pulls out an oversized calculator and enters his price -700 Baht (around $22). You immediately show how offended you are and tell him Australian not American (even though you're third generation Brooklyn with a heavy drawl) and enter your bid 70 Baht ($2+). If you are good at this game you should be able to settle for 200 Baht and are now ready for the second step of the negotiation.
This part is very important yet a bit delicate. No matter what he says, you agree to no stops on the way. Not to fill up on gas (it will cost you), not to stop for a minute at his uncle's real fake very good jewelry store (it will cost you), not to stop at the best soapy soapy massage in town -my sister works there (it will cost you an arm and a leg and some other additions which you will find hard to explain to your wife - especially if she is sitting next to you on the tuk tuk).
So now you are on the way and the tuk tuk is speeding down the road, hopefully on its way to the Grand Palace. The open aired chariot allows all the pollution to blow into your lungs, you can't see anything because you are 6 foot tall and the tuk tuks are designed for midgets, but hey you're there for the experience. Then he slows down and your wife, who is considerably shorter, tells you you've hit a traffic jam. Not to worry. This is Thailand. The driver makes a sharp left, almost throwing you into the road and heads straight into the opposite lane driving against the traffic coming in your direction. I kid you not, this is for real. So now you are ready to throw up, jump over the side and walk the rest of the way, but your macho side gets the better of you and you remain calm (well calmish). Finally you arrive.
“This Grand Palace” Says the driver.
“Great”, you say to the wife and start walking in the direction of the main entrance.
“Wait”, he says, suddenly he knows English. “Today Monday!”
“Today’s Monday”, you agree.
“Monday closed in morning, open afternoon.”
He could have told us this before we did the Indiana Jones road trip.
“ I take you Wat Pho Buddha 300 Baht.”
“No we'll walk”, I answer, enough being enough.
The guide book shows the Reclining Buddha to be within walking distance. So off we go to the Reclining Buddha in the burning heat, fully equipped with pineapple skillets and coconut juice. We return at around 2 P.M. to the Grand Palace area. Three tuk tuks and their drivers are parked outside.
“You want tuk tuk, I give you good price. Where you want to go?”
“No we've come to see the Grand Palace.”
“Palace closed, open in morning.”
It was at that point that my wife was forced to restrain me from transferring three tuk tuk drivers to the local cemetery causing an international incident. Instead she pushes me towards the Palace entrance.
The Palace is beautiful by the way and of course is open all day long.