I've often written about sports, politics, jobs and career, but rarely about the things I like to do or the things that make me happy in life. I am a self-professed foodie; I enjoy cooking and trying out new cuisines, but only occasionally have I written about the good food I've eaten and tried around the world. I love to travel, but rarely have my travel experiences made it into my blogs. I guess it's never too late to change, and so here goes...
Since I have moved to Asia, I have had the opportunity and been lucky enough to carry on a trend of expanding my horizons and broadening my mindset, visiting different parts of the world. Since I moved to Singapore three months ago, my travels have taken me to Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Not only have these travels given me an education, but they've also made me realize that Karl Pilkington wasn't the only Idiot Abroad. If I had only paid heed to my grand dad's advice and listened more than I spoke, I wouldn't have had the "enjoyable" experiences that I did... And I guess you wouldn't be getting a laugh out of this blog either!
On one of my weekend sojourns recently, I found myself in the vibrant, hot and naughty (yes, I said naughty) city of Bangkok. It was a whistle-stop trip, spanning all of a weekend, giving me just enough time to explore the sights and sounds of this very diverse and contrasting city. On one end of the spectrum you have the temples and religious shrines dedicated to the Holy Buddha that dot the landscape of Bangkok and at the other end you have the night life and "extracurricular activities" that are a hallmark of areas like the (in)famous Pat Pong.
Saturday morning was dedicated to some local sightseeing and possibly some (much required?) religious penance at some of the temples and religious shrines of Bangkok. My first stop was the Grand Palace, which is also home to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. What came next was something I was totally unprepared for; I should have been but I wasn't!
As soon as I got off outside the palace, a gentleman standing outside the palace gates (who appeared all official with some kind of a security badge hanging around his neck) whisked me away and told me that I couldn't enter the palace. When I asked why, he pointed to my shorts and said "Shorts. Not allow before 1:30 p.m." (It was about noon then.) It was an odd sort of comment as to why I would not be allowed in now, but would be allowed later with shorts, but I just took his word for it.
In the meantime, however, he advised me that I could use my time by taking a ride around the city in one of the "tuk-tuks" and an hour later, when I returned, he would sell me a pair of full pants that would allow me to enter the temple/palace. He was even considerate enough to hail one for me and strike a "deal" with the driver. 20 Baht (approximately US$0.65) for a ride showing me some other sites around the city didn't sound like such a bad deal after all! Very thankful to the guy, I hopped in and off we went...
First stop, "Big Buddha Temple" (or at least that's what the guy referred to it as), where strangely, shorts were permitted before 1:30 p.m.! Next stop, "Thai Culture Center," which for all practical purposes was a jewellery store... Then came the "Thai Fashion Stop," a custom suit store... And then I realized what was going on. (I know, slow reaction time!) My one hour ride around the city was a way for my driver to make 20 Baht off me and an additional commission from every store he took me to. So when, after the "Fashion Stop" I told him I had had enough, he insisted we visit a couple of more before I would be "allowed" into the palace.
It was one o'clock and I insisted on being taken back to the palace. My happy, cheerful driver for the first part of the ride was suddenly not so chatty and cheerful anymore. Now slightly wiser, I got off at the Palace and walked right past the guy trying to sell me the full pants. I reached the palace gates only to hear an announcement that was being frequently repeated over a loudspeaker for all to hear which said, "Do not trust anyone outside the palace gates trying to sell you clothing or directing you towards other time wasting activities. Appropriate clothing can be rented for no charge inside the palace gates." And I thought to myself, if only I had listened to grand dad... "God has indeed given us one mouth and two ears for a reason!"
Note: This post is not a reflection on Bangkok or the people there. I had an enjoyable time in the city and was extremely impressed and touched by the hospitality of Thai people. The post above is more a reflection on my lack of vigilance and a poke at how even some of the most "well educated travelers" can be taken for a ride (quite literally).