Thursday, 5 March 2009

10 million people and an awful lot of fumes

As we left Sydney I told Mike that I was bored of Western culture and I wanted my senses to be assualted. I certainly got my wish - Bangkok has just about battered my senses into non-existence! It's hot (really hot) and the fumes are so thick and cloying it's like the city is permanently shrouded in fog. It hurts your lungs and stings your eyes and even the smallest flight of stairs leaves us gasping for breath.

After a night of luxury at an airport hotel (lots of granite and bowing waiters) we took a taxi into the city amd it pretty much met expectations - thousands of cars, not much in the way of road rules, deafening noise and sky scrapers lost in the fog/smog. Our first attempt to see some of the smaller sights started badly as we wandered hopelessly trying to follow tourist maps that were not to scale and do not depict sights geographically where they actually are. Our wanderings eventually attracted the attention of a very "helpful" guy who told us that today was a Buddhist holiday and the Governement was giving Tuk Tuk drivers free fuel for the day in celebration. This meant, he said, we could get a Tuk Tuk to take us round any sights we wanted to see, all afternoon, for the bargain price of 20 Baht (50p) - great we said, lets go!

Our Tuk Tuk driver was a very nice man who first took us to a tourist office so that we could book the bus tickets we needed, then he took us to the Sitting Buddha (a very under whelming collection of Buddha's all in the sitting position). This tikki-tour of Bangkok then turned into one sales pitch after another as we were ferried first to a tailor's then to another tourist office, then a jeweller's and finally to another tailor's. This was all explained as necessary so that he could get his free fuel (he even showed us his free fuel coupon) because apparently the Government wished to boost tourist spending in this current economic climate. We were under no obligation to buy, he just had to take us there. He was very nice, and very convincing, so we felt sorry for him and went along. Oh what naive fresh arrivals we were! We later discovered that this is a well known tourist scam to get commissions on tourist's purchases and there's no such thing as a Government promotion for free fuel; there probably wasn't even a Buddhist holiday. Oh well, despite it being a bit harrowing having to listen to all these sales pitches, then say no, we didn't part with any money, so no harm done!

The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent wishing we'd already left, to be honest. We saw the main sights - The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun - and went on a Long Tail Boat ride on the river and canals. We also visited a night market but it was mainly fake designer goods and guys trying to get you to go into 'Go Go' bars where girls do unimaginable things with parts of their bodies you don't even want to think about. Not really the cultural experience I was looking for! Overall the heat was stifling, the dirt pervaded everything and I don't think I'd go back. Bring on the rest of Thailand, quickly :-)

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