The Grand Palace: Bangkok, Thailand

Making our way to the revered Grand Palace wasn't an easy feat.

Coming from the Khao San area, we fought through the crowds of people, dodging back packers and street vendors with every step. Emerging out of the hippie jungle, we found ourselves on a busy street corner. I looked up and saw the Chedis in the distance, glistening in the sun like the Emerald Palace in the Wizard of Oz. "We're almost there!" I thought.

However, directly in front of us was the dizzying sight of traffic whizzing by us in various directions. The last thing I remember is Dave grabbing my hand, then my mind went blank.

Somehow we made it across the road safely. In the intense afternoon heat, we continued to walk down a dirty, shadeless sidewalk lined with people that appeared to be selling trash. Feeling parched, we stopped to buy a bottle of water which was stocked in an old freezer box. Finally, we approached the Palace.

The first gate we approached was guarded, and had a sign that said "Tourists enter next gate."  We walked on.

When we approached the tourist gate, the guards were waving us in fervently, pointing at their watches and shouting something in Thai. We looked at the sign and realized the Palace was about to close in 15 minutes. Rather than pay the fee to walk into the Palace complex, snap a few photos, and leave, we lowered our heads, defeated. We began to walk away, not quite sure of where to go next.

By the next morning, we had recovered from the previous day's disappointment and were ready to conquer the Palace once and for all. We followed the same path, trying to breathe through our mouths to avoid smelling the body odor of  backpackers, who think life is better if you don't shower. Well, maybe it is for them.

We found ourselves on that same busy street corner. The Chedis looked beautiful in the morning sun.

I smiled; I knew the temperature wasn't yet hot enough for mirages, so we were on the right track.

"Where are you from?" As if materializing out of thin air, there stood a Thai man, wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt, sweating profusely.

Now, travel guides and signs all around Bangkok warn against talking to strangers or showing any small act of kindness towards someone you don't know because of the prevalence of con artists. Not one to refute the expertise of seasoned travelers and the locals, I usually follow this advice. However, with traffic buzzing all around us and no clear idea of where we were, there was no place for us to immediately escape.

We answered his question and he asked us some more: "What other places in Thailand have you visited? What do you do?" he asked, while removing a towel from his shoulder to wipe his forehead. I told him we had just visited Chiang Mai and that I was an English Teacher. "Wow!" he remarked, flashing one of those famous Thai smiles, "I am an English teacher from Chiang Mai!".

Rule #1 for scamming people: Pretend to have something in common with the person in order to develop rapport.

Next, he directed us over to a tattered laminated map hanging on a street pole by some thick rope. On the map were the normal tourist destinations, such as the the Grand Palace and various Wats, along with jewelry stores marked on the map by huge green diamonds. He proceeded to give us some "friendly" advice about our sight-seeing itinerary, "politely" informing us that the Grand Palace will be closing soon for lunch because a government official was dining there, so we should re-think our route. He "recommended" some great places to buy jewelery, as well as "designer" apparel at a discounted rate.  He also happened to show us where we were in relation to the river.   

He even made some suggestions on public transportation. He warned us that we should only use government tuk tuks, because private tuk tuks will overcharge foreigners. He went over standard prices for public transportation and taught us the Thai words for "too expensive" and "lower the cost", showing concern for our well-being.

Rule #2 for scamming people: Develop trust.

Eager for us to practice our Thai phrases, he flagged over a tuk tuk driver. He began to negotiate a deal with the tuk tuk driver to take us on the route he had mapped out for us, which just so happened to pass the jewelry stores. On cue, I blurted out my newly learned Thai phrases like a bewildered parrot. "Ah, so there you are, just hop in the tuk tuk and be on your way" the man said, to which Dave replied, "No, that's ok. We have plans." He continued to reinforce that the palace was closed, so we should just take a seat in the tuk tuk, it was only 30 baht, etc.

Rule #3 for scamming people: Be persistent.

Finally, I pointed toward the river and said, "We're going the the river, bye!" I grabbed Dave's arm and we walked towards the nearest river port which the man had inadvertently pointed out on his map. "Wait, what are you doing?", the man cried. "There's nothing over there! Just get in the tuk tuk!" His tone was growing increasingly agitated.

Rule #4 for scamming people: When persistence fails, be an asshole.

After some back tracking, we finally did make it to the Grand Palace, which we were pleased to find out does NOT close for lunch.  It does, however, close earlier than most guidebooks tell you.  You can read about our experience and look at the pictures below.

For anyone traveling to Bangkok, the Grand Palace usually is on the list of must-see destinations, and for good reason. This magnificent palace, built in 1783, housed the Royal family and government officials for 150 years. Now it is just an important historical and religious landmark, although some important ceremonies do take place there.

You are required to wear long skirts or pants when entering the main grounds, and they offer rentals of both at the entrance.  You'll get your deposit back when you return the clothes and the paper slip they leave on the counter (they do not hand it to you, if you do not pick it up, you do not get your money back.)  

Here are some things that struck my curiosity while walking around the palace grounds:

  • The statues of bird/man creatures displayed around the palace courtyard.
  • In front of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), people dipped lotus flowers in water and held the flowers over their heads, letting the water drip down.
  • The Thai King changes the robes of the sacred Emerald Buddha statue according to the seasons.
  • There was a long hand painted wall wrapping around the courtyard which illustrated stories from Buddhist scripture.

Of course there were many other wondrous sights within the palace complex, hence the amount of pictures we took. If you know anything interesting about what I have mentioned above, or about the Grand Palace in general, I'd love to hear it:)


Popular posts from this blog

The learning curve

Hemlock Restaurant: Bangkok, Thailand