I asked for a napkin and almost got a tampon

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
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Trip End Oct 17, 2008


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, September 8, 2008

With India behind us now it's time to explore a whole new geographical area and see what we can get into. I was supposed to meet a friend here but he is stuck at the Hong Kong airport because flights got too full to nonrev all the way to Bangkok. That's the joy of nonreving.
Before I get started, let me throw out a word of caution to everyone if you travel overseas. A napkin to us is not a napkin to them and I knew this, too. I was just too tired from the plane ride to think right and I embarrassed a poor girl at a coffee stand. I ordered a snack and needed something to wipe my hands with so I did what any of us would do and asked for a napkin. She gave me a really puzzled look and said, "sorry sir?" I repeated again I need a napkin and she asked if it was for my wife. I said no, it's for me. She gave me an even crazier look and it dawned on me that I was asking for a feminine hygiene product. This poor girl was just trying to sell muffins and coffee and here is this crazy foreign guy asking for a tampon to go with his muffin.
She started reaching for her purse to actually give me one and had a horrifed look on her face by this point and the people behind me in line were making hissing and clicking noises. The tampon in its bright white wrapper with beautiful Thai script was inches from my fingers when all this was clicking in my brain what I had actually asked for. I quickly said "I want a tissue" over and over but the damage was done. She still was giving me a weird look so I just took my stuff and left quickly without getting my change. I am sure she is telling everyone that American men use tampons and are rich enough they don't need their change back. Oh well. I thought it was funny but I think she was truly offended. I was seriously hoping Buddha wasn't going to get me after all that. You know about that karma stuff.

A muffin minus a napkin and five minutes later I set out to explore all that Bangkok has to offer and it is an amazing place. The guesthouse I am staying at had some directions to use the water taxis and elevated trains to make a circuit of the sights and wrote down the directions carefully. I was going to see the whole place using public transportation for under $2. Oh this was going to be an awesome cheap day and I was excited to keep my budget under $2. It was going to be like a game (that I would later lose badly!!). In hindsight I should have brought a map with Thai and English place names on it rather than my pig scratch on the back of a napkin. I knew better, too, and it turns out Buddha was out to get me for the napkin incident. Karma got me.

I got on the water taxi no problems at all and even figured out somehow that you pay on board after three had passed my stop without me departing in any one of them. It's the best way to get into town from the neighborhood I am in because of the traffic on the roads. It's a narrow wooden boat and you sit on these tiny wooden benches. There's a striped blue curtain that keeps the spray out and whoever is sitting near the cord and pulley holds it so that the curtain stays up. Luckily that was not me.

I knew to take it all the way to the last stop but somewhere before there (well before there) the boat stopped and everyone got off. I stayed on and got shouted at in Thai with wild hand gestures. I got off and then just reboarded the same boat after it had moved up maybe 15 feet at the same dock. Weird, huh? The same exact thing happened a few stops later and I repeated the process after getting wild hand gestures. It gets even stranger. I had to get off a few stops later again and this time there was no more boat to the final stop. I waited a while and then just followed everyone eventually up the steps to some main road.

Remember when I was describing returning the rental car in Dubai and how frustrating it was? Times that by about a 100 and you have what I was feeling when I realized I was lost in Bangkok with no clue. I didn't know whether to curse or laugh even though a few F bombs were running through my mind. So what do you do when you are lost? I don't know. Maybe someone can tell me what is proper. I didn't know what to do except start walking towards the skyscrapers about 3-4 miles in the distance. I figured since that was the new highrise area the elevated train or subway would be nearby.

So here I am the only non Asian as far as the eye can see at some random intersection in God knows where Bangkok. I've got no map and no idea where I am headed. The only thing fueling me is the cursing going on in my mind and I was wondering why Buddha was so mad at me in his home territory here. Was it because the Hindu gods had been so good to me in India?

I finally broke down and started asking random people who looked like they might know English and hit gold after the 11th person. Mild panic was going to set in soon if I didn't figure out where I was and where I was going. I think cursing up a storm in your head is a precursor to it. This really nice guy told me I was nowhere near the sights and he arranged for a tuk-tuk driver to carry me on for the equivalent of about 50 cents. He even told me it was an honor to help someone who came all the way just to see Thailand. Can you imagine that in good ole Atlanta if someone got asked for directions? An honor, huh? I will have to remember that and see if someone tells me it's an honor that I am visiting Dothan next time I need directions.

The boat so far had cost about 20 cents and the sign in the guesthouse said I should make the circuit for about under two dollars. Liars!!!!! Their crappy directions had already cost me 20 more cents and my wallet was being drained quickly!!! I was already going to be over budget and it was killing me. This was now a challenge to see how cheap I could do it. Seriously though, I don't think an extra twenty cents here and there will break the piggy bank but I sure was frustrated that I had gotten lost already within my first twenty minutes of exploring due to bad directions from the guesthouse.

Of course none of the signs where I was were in our alphabet and I am relying on some total stranger to help me. I had no idea if this tuk tuk was going to deliver me to some back alley where they harvest your organs. At least the vehicle is open air and you can hop out (in an even stranger neighborhood) if you have to. I was carefully, and I mean carefully, paying attention to every landmark we were passing. At least I would be able to get back to that water ferry stop and maybe try to find my way back upstream.

I am supposed to be headed to the waterfront in this ancient tuk tuk (which is basically a supercharged moped with a pod on the back to sit in) but the tuk tuk stopped down some back alley and I am thinking this is it...I am coming home minus a spleen or something. The driver kept motioning for me to go around the corner and indicated he would wait. What he wanted me to see was a giant golden Buddha inside a temple. It looked just like the kind at cash register at some Chinese restaurant only a few storeys tall. You know the ones you rub for good luck? Believe me if I could have gotten close enough to this one I would have rubbed his two story tall belly for some luck.

I cautiously got back in the tuk tuk and got taken in one piece to the riverfront where I was supposed to have been already. I paid my 20 Baht and thanked Allah for getting me there intact. I figure that if he worked for me in the Middle East so well, his reach must extend to Southeast Asia inshallah.

One of the sights was closed today to westerners because it's some national holiday. I have no idea what it is but there are pictures of some king and queen looking people all over the place. Since this one was closed I walked a few blocks up to where I saw some spires rising from behind a wall. Again, I had no map so I had no idea what I was seeing or where exactly I was. I was so far out of my comfort zone that it was actually exciting. I had no idea how or when I would make it back to where I was staying and I really didn't care at this point. It was fun just taking it all in.

I paid about $1.50 and got into this temple which was spread out over many buildings that were so blinged out you have to see it to believe it. I mean every inch of the joint was covered in gaudy colors and reflective things. I had no idea that Buddha was so pimped out and I was vey very impressed. Ever seen one of those pimp cups that the gangstas all drink out of with all its stones and shiny stuff? Picture grand buildings and all kinds of spires looking like that. Buddha likes it colorful. You can even get a massage inside the one of the buildings in the complex. Buddha's got it going on here and has even embraced capitalism..

After I left the temple I tried my best to ignore the scamsters (they are anywhere and everywhere tourists go I am discovering) and tried to find the water taxi to head south. I saw an open door that led into a courtyard with some more really cool pimped out buildings. Some old lady selling stinky dried fish motioned towards it so I figured it would be ok to look in. I walked right in and just as I was about to get out my camera I felt a hand on my shoulder and I was quickly guided right back out as quickly as I had come in.

The armed guard told me it was for Thai people only until 4pm and to come back later. He was nice enough to point me in the direction of the water ferry though after reminding me 3 times "For Thai peoprer onry." He asked me where I was from and I told him Canada so he wouldn't think Americans are dumb enough to just walk in somewhere like that. Sorry my Canadian friends...I can't make the Americans look any worse than we already do overseas!!! The stinky fish lady was smiling, and I am pretty sure she had set me up. I just waved at her and kept on going. It was turning into a great day actually and I was loving it all. The best days abroad are the ones you just let unfold without any plan.

I ended up of course on the wrong ferry and wound up across the river at another one of those spires with the magical Buddha bling all over it. I figured what the heck, I'll go in and see what it's all about so I paid my $1.50. It turns out you can walk up some really steep stairs and go halfway up it. I did just that and wondered how and world people don't bust their butts coming down. Trust me, if it were in America, it would be the biggest lawsuit waiting to happen. I watched two old American tourists kinda crap out halfway up it and they were blocking all of us from coming back down so they could catch their breaths (repeatedly every two steps). After waiting five minutes for meemaw and pawpaw to catch their breaths several times to make it to the top with much drama and fanfare, the whole backlog of us waiting to come down finally made it to the bottom.

I took the ferry back across the river and got on the proper boat this time and headed south to Central Pier where the elevated train line connects. I looked around and Bangkok is the perfect mix of old and new. There are parts where you swear you are in Toronto because it is so clean and the skyscrapers so tall and modern. Then you just look one block over and you can see old streets lined with stalls selling delicious smelling foods. I am crazy enough to get in some tuk tuk but not crazy enough to eat street food here though. I didn't catch Delhi Belly and don't want my luck to run out in Asia.

All over the city you smell charcoal with spiced meats roasting over it. What a great smell and it just makes you like the place even more. The smell of that is one memory that I will take with me after I am long gone from here.
Ok, so I paid more than my goal of $2 in public transit to get around this awesome place but it was the best and cheapest day you could have ever imagined. I wish I had more time to explore all of Thailand. The people here are extremely nice and helpful. I mean, how many places in the US are you going to find a coffee salesgirl who will give a guy a tampon when he accidentally asks for one?

I absolutely love it here and will see you in Cambodia. I am taking an ATR 72 Bangkok Air style.
P.S. As I write this there is an American guy totally blowing up at the owner of this internet cafe because he thinks he got ripped off 4 minutes. At one Thai Baht a minute that's less than a penny. He is yelling and calling her a cheat. Gee, you wonder why people don't like us abroad.
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