Letters From Bangkok: To Houston From Abroad
27h September 2018
To my longest friends,
This isn’t handwritten like I promised. Maybe next time. Everything in this city is so hard to find. There are hardly any addresses and even though there is a million-and-one-shops, it seems they all sell the same thing. Therefore, I’ve yet to track down a pad of paper.
Yesterday, I was wandering the crowded streets of Bangkok. You have to watch where you’re going with every step or you could crush some kind of trinket laid out on a blanket being sold on the sidewalks (or step into a moped flying down the sidewalk at 30 m.p.h., too.)
Around mid-afternoon, I was finally able to check-into my new accommodation. The room where I’ll be spending the next month here.
As I was making my way to the most popular bar district (conveniently where my accommodation is), I was stopped on the street by a man who was about our dads’ age. He asked the normal questions locals ask tourists (how long I’ll be here, where will I go next, etc.). We talked about his family who lives in the south of the country and what he does in Bangkok to support them.
He rarely gets to go home to his family. Money and opportunity, for the most part, is all in Bangkok and the comfortable lifestyle is everywhere else in the country. I’ve since found this is the case for most people I speak with (taxi drivers and street salesmen, especially.) All work away from their families.
The man went on to tell me that it was a special day in Thailand; Buddha Day. It only comes around once a year. On this day, the government shells out money to promote Thai culture. Therefore, many of the Buddhist temples that are usually closed to the public are open for only the day.
In addition, Tuk-Tuk’s (little go-cart-like taxis with three wheels) are much cheaper than they already are. He flagged down a Tuk-Tuk and explained to the driver that I wanted the full tour before I even knew I wanted it.
The first stop was called “The Happy Palace” (no, this isn’t a Thai massage parlor). It’s one of the temples only open one day a year. When I got there, it was rather empty. I expected big rushes of tourists and locals alike.
A new man saw me walking about a little confused and asked if I practiced Buddhism. He was surprised to see a white person, probably. I told him no and he asked how I knew about the temple.
When I told him I had no clue where I was, he proceeded to explain a bit about it. So far, Thai people have been very communicative with me as a foreigner. You can tell they are excited to share their country any chance they get.
The man told me I was very fortunate to end up there. He said most Thai’s live their whole life without seeing the temple because of its accessibility.
“This temple bring you good luck in Buddhist belief,” he said.
I removed my shoes and entered the temple with the man. I lit an incense, bowed three times in front of Buddha’s statue, and realized I was in a room full of bald, tatted monks dressed in orange gowns like the little monk kid in Dragon Ball Z.
I watched one of them perform some kind of prayer or ritual on the floor and then I was shuffled out by the man. I didn’t have much time inside. The man said it would be bad luck.
As I was leaving, another tourist was walking about confused similarly to how I was. I heard the man who helped me approach the other lost tourist in a similar manner he approached me in.
I found my Tuk-Tuk driver who was waiting for me outside the gate and we drove to our next tour stop.
Fascinatingly enough, I didn’t see any more temples that day. I was pushed into tourist agencies and tailoring shops for another hour after that. It’s like I had been kidnapped because I had no other option but to ride the “tour” until the end of the run when I would know where I was again.
Among their begging, I managed to tell every tailor I didn’t want to be measured and wasn’t interested in buying a cashmere suit while in Bangkok and was eventually dropped off at my accommodation. I paid the Tuk-Tuk driver 40 baht (roughly equivalent to $1.25) for driving me around for the afternoon and finally settled in my room.
What started as an amazing experience was quickly not-so-amazing. Such is life, though. Sometimes, you trust people and are showed incredible secrets and sometimes you’re being played. For a dollar and twenty-five cents, I’ll take the experience at the temple as a win, despite the hour I wasted being hauled into tourist traps.
The next day, I was walking the city again. A similar situation occurred where a man tried to shuffle me into a Tuk-Tuk explaining that it was a special day to be in Bangkok. That’s when I realized that this must be the official tourist trap of Thailand.
I refused to get into the Tuk-Tuk, but eventually, their persistence won and I did it all over again. I will get better at this.
I love the city and all there is to notice about life here. This is only the start in this insane place.
Love you guys,