Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lost In Thailand - Ancient City Revisited

Samut Prakan's Ancient Siam - Though I was more than pleased with my first visit in the Ancient City a couple of years ago, I was also disappointed because there were a lot of things I wasn't able to see. I was readier and a lot wiser - or so I thought.

Though I planned on following Lonely Planet's instructions to get there, I couldn't find any of the 3 bus numbers they mentioned. So I followed mine - Bus 82 from Banglamphu. This time, I paid 7 baht (it was free last time) for a ride that took an hour to the Paklat Terminal Station in Samut Prakan. I headed straight to the Post Office to ask for their help - I needed a note in "Thai characters" regarding directions of going to Muang Boran aka Ancient Siam. It was amusing, and I was terribly grateful that all 7 employees engaged in an embarrassing "conference" just to figure out how I could get to the Ancient City without taking the taxi. I was ever so grateful.

From the Post Office (with directional instructions in Thai) I headed straight to the jetty. I took the commuter boat to cross Chao Phraya River (payment of 2 baht was to be made upon exit from the other side). I came out of a market and started considering my options. I was tempted to do the easy way - take the taxi, but a gentleman went up and offered help. He took me to the parked bus just across the market. That would be my ride, for just 9 baht! To be honest I didn't know where it is headed. I just knew that taking that small bus would eventually lead me to the Ancient City. I wasn't even anxious - the guys waiting outside the almost empty bus were discussing my ride, and I knew I'd be eventually deposited somewhere.

True enough, after less than 30 minutes, the lady conductor assigned a fellow commuter to take me with her. I found myself in one of those pick-up trucks, and for 8 baht, it took me directly in front of Muang Boran. What a relief! My 2 hour adventure was easy; a bit tedious if you're a whiner, but ultimately fun. 26 baht total, 4 commuter rides. I was feeling smug. Little did I know that somewhere along this adventure, there was gonna be a sort of payback. But let's get into that later.

In 2 years, the entrance ticket (that includes a tram ride) has escalated to 400 baht. 2 hours into my wanderings, I realized that I was gonna leave the cultural park feeling dissatisfied. I was not going to see more of what I planned on seeing. So I hiked back to the ticket booth and rented their buggy ride - at 300 baht per hour, with additional 150 baht per 30 minute increments. I ended paying 600 baht just for my ride. Pocket a lot lighter, but it was satisfying to finally able to climb up the temple on the hill - the name escapes me for now. The view from above was spectacular. Moreover, the breeze was blowing cool winds. It was very refreshing, Ididn't want to leave. But I had to return the vehicle by 5PM (their closing time).

I would gladly come back for a 3rd and a 4th visit just to be able to get my meal at the Floating Market area once again. Stir-fried chicken with vegetable and cashew nuts I salivate from mere memory.

After the visit, I crossed the road and Pick up no. 36 was waiting. I asked the driver if he was indeed going to where I could get my bus back to Bangkok. The place is called Pinklao Paknam. It was a restful ride worth 6 baht, the commute was characterized by the fast transit of people coming and going right before the peak of the rush hour. When I reached the "terminal stop", I crossed the road - like I did before - and saw a non-AC bus no.365. Hmmm, this wasn't the bus number I took before. But the driver and his conductor kept waving at me. What the heck, if this was headed to Bangkok, I don't mind.

The earliest hint of a problem was the seeming intent to please of the driver and his assistant. They kept nodding at anything I asked them. "Are you going to Bangkok?" I asked both of them, and got similar nods and a huge grin on their face. They seem to not exactly understand every word I said, but what could be clearer than "Bang---kok!" I repeated it thrice, and I'd get glass-eyed nods. So, yeah, I hopped in and just relaxed.

Two hours later, we were still plying a highway, with no hint of the closely positioned skyscrapers of Bangkok. That's when it hit me - I read the road signs... "Bang Pa in"! "Bang Phin". Could it be...? I eventually did the right thing to do, though I was debating against it. What's the point of asking someone who wouldn't be able to understand whatever that comes out of my mouth?

But I did, just so people around us would be able to hear us. True enough, someone finally went up to me and said that Bangkok was headed towards the opposite direction - and i'd been on this friggin' road for 2 hours! My limbs got light and i started to get clammy. Dang! Everyone instructed me to "get a taxi". It was already 7PM and I needed to buy a few stuff before MBK (a shopping mall in Pratunam) closes. A girl who alighted from the bus accompanied me to a nearby waiting shed where a taxi was waiting. After a short conversation, I was inside my taxi. Bangkok-bound! There was a bit of anxiety running down my nerves for I have no idea where I was - or how long this ride would take me. More importantly, how much will this darn ride cost me.

When signs sprung up showing "1 km to Suvarnabhumi International", I heaved a sigh of relief. If this driver wasn't a con artist, I'd be paying somewhere in the vicinity of 250 baht, excluding toll fees (80 baht then 5 baht). When I finally reached MBK, I was just elated to get to where I wanted an hour before the mall closed.

Now, let me ask you - how hard is it to enunciate "Bangkok". And compare it to "Bang Phin" pronounced "Bang-phi-yen". There's a world of difference. I figured I was just too unlucky to have met Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee who would nod at anything asked of them.

Later that night, I found myself strolling along Bangkok's sleazy street - Patpong, immersed in its hedonistic joys. But I wasn't there for that kind of fun.

I went home taking Atom Egoyan, Francois Ozon, and a good number of Cannes-winning films, including the Thai director Apichatpong ("Uncle Bonmee"). Soul is willing, flesh is weak. I had to eventually slumber for my much needed rest. It had been a long day, riddled with heart pounding discoveries. My smugness turned into anxiety. If there was karma somewhere, I shall try contemplating.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Photo courtesy of www.thailand-siam.com

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