The build up to Thailand consisted mainly of my Mum’s ‘when we were in Bangkok’ anecdotes, and her consequent frustration at my Dad’s lack of recollection of the minor details of said trip (to be fair to him, they went before I was even born and all tangible memories lay in the form of Kodak prints collecting dust in our loft).
One of Mama J’s tales included one of which was warned about in my Lonely Planet guide: where local men tell you that the places you wish to visit are closed for the day and lead you on an inescapable trail of fake gemstone markets. Having seen a poster in our hotel advising tourists against such scams, I reiterated to Katy and Caitlin that both Mama J and Lonely Planet had exactly the same tale to tell. So, of course, on our first day in Bangkok we fell straight into the gemstone Tuk Tuk trap.
Standing on the corner of the Khaosan Road, a well dressed passer-by asked if we were lost, which, having made it only to the end of the road in which our hotel is situated, we were. We asked after The Golden Palace which we knew was within walking distant, but he told us it was closed for military reasons. Given Thailand’s current political situation, we didn’t dispute this in fear of ending up in the middle of a protest and consequently deportation. Cramming five of us into a two person Tuk Tuk, with a list of the places we ‘must visit’ at the promise of being charged only 20baht for the whole chauffeur experience, we set off.
We were firstly dropped off at the ‘Lucky Buddah’ temple, which was a tranquil relief from the hustle and bustle of the roads of Bangkok.
It wasn’t until we ended up at a tailor’s workshop and subsequently a jewellers selling questionably ‘real’ gemstones, that we realised we had been well and truly mugged off. Both the tailor’s shop (who tried to sell us custom made suits and winter jackets in 36 degree heat) and the fake jewellers, were the sorts of places that could rival those found at the bus garage end of Hounslow high street. After a plea of desperation to escape our conman chauffeur, we finally convinced Mr. Tuk Tuk, to drive us to The Grand Palace, which he still, after all his persistent deception, insisted was closed. To be fair to him he did only charge us the promised fee, which at a grand total of 8p GBP each, I can’t really be too aggrieved. My woe at the situation resides in my frustration of being so convincingly fleeced by the first person who tried me.
The Grand Palace is one of the most fascinating and intricately detailed places I have ever seen. Comprising of various temples, museums, throne rooms and statues, the sheer level of beauty is unparalleled by even the best Instagram filter.
As a tourist in such a different culture, no-one expects you to adhere to all the traditions and customs. Given I’ll be here for three months though, I’m frustrated by my lack of research and preparation for acclimatising myself to living in Thailand and a Buddhist society. For women shoulders and knees should be covered, especially in temples. As I found out today, a scarf/shawl is really not an acceptable substitute, and was forced to hire a shirt at The Grand Palace for modesty. Coupled with my new customary traveller elephant harem pants, and my Dad’s bumbag from the 1980s, there was no chance of me bringing back a Thai husband in my sweaty pink oversized shirt. (Upon returning the shirt, we were told to just hang them up for the next unsuspecting person who came armed with a scarf. I daren’t even imagine how many people sweated it out in it before it was briefly mine)