On our first day out in Bangkok, we were looking for Songkran, the Thai new year’s festival that involves a lot of water. We did find the party, eventually. First, we were re-directed on a little shake-down cruise by tuk tuk drivers.
We arrived at Siam sky train station with the idea of making our way to the Royal Palace and looking for the festival in that area. We should have just asked a tuk tuk driver to take us there. Somehow we had that “fresh off the boat” look, and we blundered into one of those unauthorized tour operators. We asked one of the drivers where we needed to go to find the festival.
Some sort of captain or coordinator there said the best way to enjoy the festival was to take a boat ride up the canals. Not knowing any better, we believed him. We’d not found any of the places listed on “Songkran Splendors” on our little travel map. Maybe the festival was fun from the water. The four of us squeezed into the back of one of the tuk tuks and the “boss” sent us off with one of the drivers.
As we drove to the river, our driver found out that we were planning to go north to Chaing Mai after Bangkok. He insisted we must call his sister, a travel agent. “Cheap, very cheap.” Then he took us to some little temple with a dock, where after paying 2000 baht, we were directed past the cool, narrow long-tail boat and onto a much less fun looking (and much slower) taxi boat. As we plodded through various canals on our trip, a small handful of the faster long-tails sped past us. We watched with envy.
A half hour or so into the cruise, we slowed to a stop mid canal so a hawker in a boat could come pull alongside and show us his tchotchkes. Our driver filled the engine tank with gas, as if that was the real reason he’d stopped. We looked over the carved wooden Buddhas and pencils with elephants and did not see any must-haves. He pulled out a cold beer, and we were sold. Unpracticed at hawker sparring, we didn’t ask the price before he’d opened two bottles for us and a third he’d suggested we buy for our driver. Where street vendors sell the same beers 3 for 100 baht, he charged us 100 baht each, three times the going rate. Hard to bargain when you are already drinking it. Oops.
Our next stop on the canal was a “snake farm.” Having just spent several months in Africa, we opted to get a bite to eat at their café rather than see the reptiles. The brightly painted, large statues of people holding snakes in front of it yelled “tourist trap” to us, but the fried rice was decent.
We never did see anything resembling festivities from the boat. An hour and a half after we put on the water we made our way back out of the canals and onto the river channel. Ahead were boats of people, water taxis, unloading crowds onto docks. Our driver, who spoke no English made a gesture of sleeping, putting his palms together and leaning his face against it, then pointed to the shore. He stopped the boat in the middle of the river, and passed us a sheet of paper that said “The trip is finished. Please tip me now.” After we passed him a few baht, he motored us to a small dock. As we climbed from the boat, onto the narrow wood walkway, a man blocked our path and pointed to a sign: “Landing fee: 20 baht per person.”
We did end up close to the sleeping Buddha (thus the sleeping gesture.) The next day we took the public water taxi bus for a fraction of the money and time to get to the same place. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be calling the tuk tuk driver’s sister for advice on Chaing Mai. One hoodwink per country will suffice, thanks.