Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bangkok wandering - Our last day

The 21st was the last day of our 8 week trip.

We started by meeting T&B for a bit of breakfast. Unfortunately, Thomas was feeling rather ill after our less than perfect dinner the night before, but he was eager to head out and do a little bit of final sight-seeing. They were flying out that evening.

I had told them all of my trip to the market from the day before and T&B were eager to see if we could find something similar that day. Both Bridget and I had come across the same interesting sounding market in our Lonely Planets, so it was determined that that should be our destination. I also wanted to take a bit of a canal boat trip in Bangkok, so we decided we'd give that a shot after the market.

We took a cab to the market. The interesting thing about taking a cab from the tourist area is that most of the cabs that are waiting for passengers want to negotiate the price upfront, even though they are meter taxis. And, for the most part, the price that they want to negotiate is about twice as much as should be paid. We'd also recently discovered that the tuk tuk in Bangkok is a huge rip-off, costing far more in most instances than a meter taxi. This is all easily sorted out by simply walking an extra block or so and hailing a couple of cabs until you find one that is willing to use their meter, but it takes a day or two to figure this process out. Additionally, once you do get into a cab that agrees to use their meter, they will often still try to negotiate a fixed fare to the destination. Colleen and I always just stuck to our guns about using the meter, but we did meet others who were kicked out of their cab when they insisted on using the meter price. I suppose it's all part of the adventure.

This time, right after our cab picked us up, he was pulled over by a cop. It was interesting to watch two Thais argue about a traffic ticket. Our driver kept smiling and laughing the whole time with the cop, who smiled patiently back but was clearly going to give him a ticket. This is the Thai way of arguing, with smiles and laughter the whole time. I don't mean to say that he was happy. He definitely wasn't. He simply had to save face.

After the ticketing incident our driver then tried to convince us that we should go to take a tour of a government factory. He said that since we were going to a market we should be happy at the factory too since there was a gift shop inside. And, oh yeah, he'd receive 10 litres of gas for taking us there. As badly as we felt for our driver, who had just received a traffic fine, he didn't make a terribly compelling argument.

Eventually we got dropped off near the market that had been described by good ol' LP as the "in-city version of Chatuchak". It wasn't a good sign when we couldn't even find the place. A helpful passer-by pointed us in the right direction, but also let us know that they didn't think it was open until 2:00, due to some sort of event associated with the Princess's death. (See Jan 19 post) When we did eventually find it, it appeared to be open, but it was terrible. It was small, cramped and smelly. And the only thing that appeared to be on sale was sequined ball gowns. Not exactly what I was looking for. We decided to get out of there. I still suspect that we did something wrong, and there was a big market that we must have missed, but I'm not sure where it could have been.

At this point Thomas wasn't feeling so well again, so we took a little break and planned our next step. We decided to go to a mall called MBK, which was supposedly like Chatuchak, but within a mall format. (Whatever that means.) We decided to walk and made our way over there, walking past the huge Bangkok high end department stores and shopping centres. It's a pretty impressive shopping destination if you've got a lot of money to spend.

MBK was essentially a 6 storey mega-mall comprised of loads of small shops. We spent some time wandering around, particularly on the third floor, where at one end was a section that really did feel like the outdoor market, with lots of small vendors with their own little spaces. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, and grabbed a couple of items for my niece and nephew. I quite liked this place with its market feel plus air conditioning. However, Colleen and T&B were much less impressed, with Thomas feeling quite under the weather. We left MBK and went down street to another market which didn't seem too impressive. At this point T&B and Colleen seemed to want to leave, whereas I wanted to stay and look around a bit further, so the three of them jumped in a cab to take them to the canal and back to Banglamphu, the area where we were all staying.

I grabbed a bite and explored the market that we were in. It turned out that we'd just been a little bit off. It was a cute little collection of stores called Siam Square that were a bit less markety and more like small boutiques. It was quite nice, but would have been a lot better with Colleen and the others with me.

I went back into MBK to explore around. It was a fascinating retail environment. Each floor has it's own specialty, so the bottom two floors were mostly clothes and accessories. The third was jewellery and souvenirs. The fourth had cell phones and technology. And so on. I did a little more shopping for a couple of small items and did a little negotiating for a watch. There are dozens of watch shops, each with the same catalogue on their front counter. You find your watch of choice in the catalogue and the salesperson will find it for you behind their counter. Of course, none of the watches are real, so the challenge is to find out what the real price is. I had my eye on an Omega Seamaster, but couldn't get them down to my price.

What is the "value" of a knock-off product? An Omega Seamaster sells for from $2,500 to $4,500 online. In MBK the prices ranged from $70 to $400. The quality of knock-offs these days is often as good as the original. I'm sure that Omega has very good reasons why their watches are worth $3,000, but the ones I was looking at will tell time very well, and could probably be relied on to do a lot of the things that the real ones do. So, what is the right price here? Or, is there even such a thing as the "right price", since it is a counterfeit and should not be encouraged? Lots of questions. Very few answers.

At around 5:00 I knew I had to get going because T&B were leaving at 7:00 and I wanted to say goodbye to them before they left. I left MBK and walked back through the high end malls. (Here I found a North Face store with the duffel bag I had been looking for the day before. Way overpriced though.) I found my way to the canal, where one catches the khlong (canal) taxi. This wasn't really a tourist thing, so I just tried to do as the locals did. I jumped on board, took a seat, paid the man barely hanging onto the side of the boat and tried to enjoy the view flying by. One thing you learn from the locals is to cover your face. The last thing you want is a mouthful of Bangkok canal water.

Upon arriving at the other end of the canal I had to make my way to our hotel. First though, I had to figure out where I was. I thought I'd gotten it when a stranger offered to help. I pointed on the map to where I thought I was and he shook his head, then he took my book, turned it around several times, and let me know that I was somewhere in "this" area, which was shown by the random wiggling of a finger. One thing I've learned on this trip is that Thais and Indonesians cannot read a map. Frequently, they won't even look at it. After walking for a bit I determined that where I had originally thought I was was correct.

I made it back to our neighborhood by 6:15, hoping to find T&B at a roadside bar for one final beer. But, after looking around, they were nowhere to be found. I discovered Colleen back in our room, packing up. She let me know that they'd left early to catch their bus to the airport. I hurried down to where the buses departed from and got there just in time to watch the doors close and the bus pull away. As it was leaving Bridget spotted me out the window and stood up to wave goodbye, as did Thomas. I was disappointed to not have had the chance to say bye, but was glad that I'd made at least some sort of contact.

Our flight was leaving the following morning at 7:00. That meant that we had to leave for the airport at around 4:00. We had two choices. We could sleep for a bit or we could stay up. Knowing that we'd be fighting off jet lag upon our return to Vancouver I thought we'd have the best chance of fast recovery if we tried to get on Vancouver time as soon as possible. That meant staying up as long as possible.

We went for dinner at a fairly busy place down street and had a good last meal in Thailand. Then we went to another place that provided Thai massages. This seemed like a good idea just prior to a very long flight. It started with a foot bath, then Colleen and I were led to a side room with mats and a change of clothes. Two small Thai women came in, told us to lie on the mats, and got to work on us.

I never would have imagined that a 90 lb. woman could inflict such pain. Right from the start she grabbed my foot, yanking it downwards, and I yelped in pain. The two masseuses giggled. She twisted me, prodded me, punched me, walked on me, and broke me for the next hour. Colleen got much the same treatment, just a lot lighter. I suppose they thought that since I'm bigger I can take more abuse. (Wrong!) And, in the end, it felt great. I felt loose and good. No permanent damage had been done.

Now we only had 5 hours to burn. In the recovery room we started talking to a Swiss guy who had just had a Swedish massage. Done! We signed up for one of those, hit up the ATM to cover massage costs, and went back in. Colleen and I enjoyed another hour of rubdown, although this one had a lot more oil and was far less painful. Afterwards we agreed that we'd much preferred the abuse of the Thai massage to the relaxation of the Swedish.

We went back to our room and showered to get rid of the oil. Colleen started to pack her bags and I went out to see if I could get one last souvenir for a friend that I had lost a bet with and who had asked to be paid in gifts from Thailand. It was after 1:00 AM and, of course, most souvenir shops had closed up. The streets were full of drunken tourists, Thai scam artists and Thai prostitutes of both female and boy-that-looks-like-a-girl variety. Yikes! I walked for a few blocks with no t-shirt luck, went back to our hotel and did a little e-mailing/blogging.

By 3:00 I went back to the room and tried to stay awake by watching TV. Eventually it was time to go. Time to head for the airport. Time to go home.

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