Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Grand Palace and Tuk Tuk scams

We wanted to go to the Grand Palace and take some photos so we got a Tuk Tuk over there. The Tuk Tuk is a mad little 3 wheeled motorised rickshaw that plys the streets of Bangkok. The driver predictably tried to tell us that the Grand Palace was closed, a prelude to a scam involving being taken on a shopping trip to places that he makes a load of commision. We told him that we were meeting people and didn't care about it being closed, negotiated a very high price to go there with no stops and set off. The ride was quite thrilling, weaving speedily in and out of the Bangkok traffic.

The Grand Palace complex is brilliant. The whole place is just so ornate and decorated. The three large Chedi's in Thai, Cambodian and Sri Lankan style are amazing, as is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of Jade -the Buddha, not the temple.) If not for the heat I probably could have stayed all day taking photos. This is what everyone else is doing of course. I found it quite hard to take pictures in there as the sun was so bright that I faced the problem of not being able to see what I was shooting on the display as well as various other problems that had me cursing my camera slightly. On the shopping list for when I get back is a new camera. I hope one or two of the photos do the place justice, and I tried to at least get some less obvious ones.

After the Grand Palace we went outside and were approached by a Tuk Tuk tout. We'd heard a few stories of people getting ferried round a bunch of temples for just 40-50 Baht, providing that the driver got his gasoline vouchers for taking you to his sponsor shops. We agreed on 40 Baht, said we wanted to see the big and reclining Buddha images and hopped in the Tuk Tuk. We went first to the big standing Buddha, which isn't the most lovely of the Buddha images. Next we started the shopping portion of the trip, with visits to 5 shops, about which our driver was sort of apologetic.

After the shopping he asked us where we wanted to go and said, 'OK', when we informed him that we'd like to see the reclining Buddha. After a short while we pulled onto a wierdly quiet road at which point he started going on about a boat trip, saying, 'The reclining Buddha has an entrance fee, go tomorrow, take boat trip, 1 hour, very good, 900 Baht per person.' I wasn't happy at this point and saw where it was leading so I said, 'We can't afford it and haven't got the time.' His response was to lower the price, say that he was doing us a favour, he'd already called them and they were waiting, etc. He went so far as to make an obviously fake mobile call to the boat. In the end I said, 'Well, I wouldn't go even if it cost 10 Baht, we're leaving now, so we'll pay you what we owe you'. He began to demand $20 or 3000 Baht (which doesn't at all add up) for his hour of driving us to shops. We both got out of the Tuk Tuk, handed him a 50 Baht note, and in our best, 'I'm not standing for this, I'm British', style stomped off down the road leaving him shouting and fuming.

We hopped in the first metered taxi that came past and asked to go home. I say asked, but I think I probably scared the poor driver by shouting at him and waving a map in his face. I was surprised at the cheapness of the fare and resolved never to bother with a Tuk Tuk again.

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