Monday, January 12, 2009

Stupid Tuk-tuk, Lamphu House and MBK

We woke up this morning in Wild Orchid Villa and took the first of what we assume will be many cold showers after watching Man United play Chelsea the night before with some folks we met. They’d been traveling awhile so gave us some helpful tips. I chatted with Colin or Carl. It was only one person, but I couldn’t tell which his name was due to a thick Irish/Australian accent. He’s born in Ireland and has lived in Australia for a few year. Leslie was fine “watching the match” because she chatted with Carl’s friend who didn’t like soccer.
We’ve moved from the Wild Orchid Villa about 30 meters down the way to Lamphu House, which is the hostel we originally wanted to stay in. It’s the “our pick” in the Lonely Planet guide that EVERYONE travels with.The place is great with a bed frame made out of eight inch round tree branches, a table, mirror and actual closet in-room. Fan and AC cost extra. We got a fan, but all the AC rooms were already booked.
We didn’t go to a restaurant for breakfast, but got pad thai for 25 baht (80 cents) from a stand on the street. It was better than the stuff we paid 90 baht for in the restaurant yesterday.
To answer your question, Mom, a Tuk-tuk is a three wheeled, motorized vehicle. Imagine a motorcycle with a bench seat in the back with the whole thing covered by a thin piece of plastic. Some have radios and CD players, others are more plain. You can hail them like a taxi then \you have to negotiate a fare. There are no meteres.
Tuk-tuks combine with two wheeled motor-bikes (not quite motorcycles, but close), buses and cars to make the Bangkok traffic situation an exciting experience. Traffic lanes are definitely more of a suggestion than a rule. One of my favorites was a father driving a motorbike, his wife between his legs, their daughter standing in front of the mother and the kids’ doll hanging over the handlebars. Everyone is VERY close together. There was a father with a daughter between his legs eating a popsicle and I could have reached out of the tuk-tuk and grabbed the popsicle quite easily.
Tailors, jewelry shops and other places pay tuk-tuk drivers to bring tourists into the shop. As a result, we’ve been dropped off at 3 tailors so far. Yesterday we didnt’ mind it so much, but today it got on our nerves.
The guys we chatted with at the football match told us “MBK” was a good place to get a cell phone which we wanted to be able to book hostels and in case of emergency, so we hopped a tuk-tuk to get there.
The first driver pawned us off to a second guy. I don’t think he was happy with the price of 100 baht all the way across town to MBK. I think that it was a little far for the tuk-tuk and maybe we should have taken a taxi. It became apparent that something was amiss when our driver whipped out a hospital-style mask to cover his mouth. The fumes got to us and I got a little dizzy. Next time we’ll take non-Tuk-tuk transportation to go that far.
MBK was a seven floor mall that was absolutely monstrous. Honestly, Leslie and I weren’t all that impressed. We’re not really mall-going types. The first three floors were dedicated to clothes, fourth was phones, fifth was food, sixth . . . .
We got ourselves a cellphone, so can make calls now. In Asia, you but the phone and then can put minutes on it by purchasing them at a 7-11. No plans.
Leslie got a small mirror, a brush and a hat as well. I still need to find a good keep-the-sun-off-me hat. The biggest thing we forgot is the cord to connect the camera to the USB device on the computer. (hence no pictures on the blog) We forgot to look for one at MBK. Oh well, we’ll get them soon enough.
We then left and went across the street to 7-11. 7-11 is EVERYWHERE and is incredibly handy. We’ve bought a few drugstore type things from them, but mostly bottled-water, which is available for 7 baht (2 cents). They’re also a reliable place to break a large bill if necessary.
We then met a guy in front of the 7-11 who was quite nice. He owned the shop and was going to meet his girlfriend and wanted us to walk with him in order to practice his English and take us to the “domestic”, which I think was a budget tourist agency, but we weren’t sure what it was.
He ended up taking us to the National Stadium, and a row of football (soccer) stores. We stopped at that point for two reason. First, we were in the football stores! Second, we didn’t want to follow him without knowing where we were going. He realized we were a bit sketched out and looked sad. It was probably okay, but no need to take a risk. . . . and we were at the football stadium!
It was EXACTLY the place where I could get a load of cheap jerseys for our Bellingham City FC team. However, the people working there didn’t speak enough english to understand “I need 100 of these”. I’ll try again later. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to find jerseys in our budget, but I’ve found those. Now, I need to figure out how to place a bulk order with someone who doesn’t speak English anhd isn’t prepared for a bulk order from a farang (foreigner). I’m not sure it’s going to happen :( but we’re gonna try.
We then started making our way home, slowly. The Tuk-tuk drivers kept wanting to take us to tailors and jewelry stores. What was okay yesterday for 20 baht+ a few stops ended up frustrating the heck out of me today. We’d agree upon 40 baht, then they’d say “2 stops”. We’d say “no stops”. It rose the price and a few drivers actually made us get out because we wouldn’t go to the tailor. Just raise the price a few baht!!
It makes we wonder what the jewelry stores and tailors are actually giving the tuk-tuks.
Some travel days go well (yesterday), others don’t (today). We ended up walking a lot more than we wanted . . . again. We got directions many times and everyone told us “just walk that way . . . ten minutes”. We were ten minutes away for two hours.
My favorite “friendly-Thai guy” oi the day was a guy we found outside the ministry of defense. He had just gotten off work (at 3) and was waiting for his family to pick him up. He directed us to a few temples and was generally a friendly guy. When we said we were from the USA he started saying good things about Obama. I have a roll of Obama stickers in my pocket so I tore one off and gave it to him. He was stoked.
We chit-chatted for a bit and he directed us back towards Banglampu (our hostel area). It was the right way, but took us through a five-way intersection. The chaos of Tuk-tuks, buses, motorcycles, cars, taxis et-al comes through the intersection in a way that is definitely NOT legal in the USA. Passengers do not have the right of way. Crossing the street in Bangkok is not a job for part-timers.
As a result, we’d find locals and hug closely behind them while crossing. One guy pretended not to notice, then gave us a “come on” motion with his hand when he crossed. We made it, but it was more adventurous in ways that I’d prefer not be in the future!
Tired and sore, we made it back to Banglampu. I tried to order some sticky rice with mango, but ended up getting two mango smoothies due to the language barrier. They were okay. Leslie proved to be much better than me by actually getting what she ordered!
Sticky rice is quickly becoming a favorite. I have a feeling that sticky rice is about to become a theme :)
We then got some curry and Leslie headed back to the hostel for a nap. I headed to the basement of Lamphu house and bought two tickets for an AC bus/boat combination that will take us to Ko Phan-Ngen on Wednesday for $48. It was one of the higher-end packaged. The price was better than I expected :) . I woke up Leslie and told her we had tickets and I was gonna go write a blog. She said to wake her up in 30 minutes. It’s been 40. Later.

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