Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bali, Cambodia, and Thailand: September 23, 2009

Woke refreshed this morning, and after showering, I went out into the living room and found that Ann had had a rough night on the sofa. I'd turned off the air conditioning in the bedroom, but Ann had left it on in the living room and had gotten a bit of a chill. She was afraid that she was going to come down with something.

The dining room was crowded. We grabbed the last available table, then set about gathering goodies. I started with bacon, toast, pineapple juice, and a couple of small Danish and put in an order for a couple of eggs over-easy. The waiter came over and asked for our breakfast coupons. I'd forgotten them, so I ran up to our room and found the book of coupons we'd been given at check-in. I gave the waiter the ones with today's date on them and sat down to enjoy my meal.

The cab driver was waiting on us. I showed him the printed address again and re-checked the price. Bangkok is a big city, with a population of over 12 million in the metropolitan area. The traffic here rivals Los Angeles, but isn't as bad as Cairo. We got to the camera store at 10:20 but found it closed. The driver asked some of the locals and found that the store opened at 11. We decided to get out and wait, but first I had the driver write down the hotel's address in Thai script (a large percentage of Bangkok cabbies don't speak English, so we needed a way to get back to the hotel). I had no real idea of where we were, so we didn't wander too far, just walked a snake pattern through the side streets. You have to be careful, because sometimes when you're out shooting you're just being propelled by the visuals you encounter, and before you know it you're lost.

At 11 we were back at the store and found that it was open. They were rearranging stock when we came in, but stopped and went into their sales mode. I walked over to the counter and asked the saleswoman for a Canon 24-70mm lens. She looked towards the back and called out the owner. He walked out smiling, pulled out a new lens off the shelf, and opened it for me to examine. I asked the price and he said 52,200 baht ($1,615 -- I could get it for $250 less on Amazon.com). The problem was he guessed that I needed the lens, so there was no reason for him to bargain.

I bit the bullet and plunked down my Amex card. The paperwork took 20 minutes to fill out, but by 11:30 we were on our way again: "Bangkok here we come." Hailing a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled motor-scooter cab), we wanted to go to Wat Po Temple. The driver turned out to be a shill for a "long boat." The spiel was that the major temples were designed to be approached from the water, so if we wanted the full impact we should hire a boat and do things right. After taking us through a maze of back alleyways, the long-boat dock appeared. The rate was an hour and a half for 1,500 baht ($47). We said what the hell, handed over the cash, and got on board. (In the coming days we learned to use the water ferry system, with the same views for a tenth of the price.)

Ann was in the bow and I was mid-ship as the boat moved out into the channel. What was supposed to happen was that we'd cruise up and down the Chao Phraya River, stopping at points of interest. The boat would then dock and drop us off and wait offshore until we returned. After we'd cruised up and then down, we told them that we wanted to stop at Wat Po (I should have done more research and I would have known that it's not on the river). They dropped us off in front of another temple. We got out and said that we'd be back in 20 minutes, then moved off the dock and into the temple. Buying our tickets, we found that we were at the "Temple of Dawn." Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) was begun in 1809.

The super-structure is made of brick, covered in plaster and decorated with pieces of broken porcelain, originally brought as ballast in the hulls of Chinese ships and then discarded. The place was extremely photogenic, even in the mid-day sun. The twenty minutes passed fast, but when we got back to the dock our boat was nowhere to be seen. I stood there for a while trying to find it, but after a bit we realized we'd been screwed. We re-entered the temple and continued to shoot for a while. You can climb up onto the towers, but the stairs are extremely steep, so you really have to watch your step. I watched as some of the visitors did the butt-step coming down: moving in a sitting position from step to step, almost comical.

It was very warm and we became dehydrated pretty fast. Asking around for somewhere to buy water, we were told about the little shopping area on the side of the temple. Sitting in the shade, we got a couple of bottles of cold water and rested for a good 15 minutes. Exiting out the back of the temple, we found ourselves walking the unknown streets looking for something interesting to shoot. We must have walked a good three or four miles before the heat and humidity started to take its toll. About 3:30 we hailed a cab and showed him the address that the first cab driver had written out for us, and headed back across the city, which took forever.

When we got back, I was worn out. It had been a rough day, I'd been over-charged $250 on the lens and cheated out of $45 by the buttheads on the boat. I'd learned that tourists are put here to give the Thai people someone to take advantage of. I'd have to do a better job of not getting cheated. At dinner, Ann and I laughed over our plates of spaghetti, at us sophisticated travelers being bamboozled.

When we got back to the room I took the couch and let Ann have the bedroom. I'd rather have sore back than a sick or unhappy traveling companion.