While I was taking a photo of a nicely painted building just across the street from the Panfa Leelard boat station, a man who appeared to be wearing a police uniform asked if I needed a tuktuk for temple-hopping. I asked how much it would cost and he said it was only 20 Baht. That’s less than 50 pence. I quizzed him why it was so cheap. He explained that it was the government’s incentives to tourists visiting the temples, but there’s a catch. The tuktuk would take us to a jewelry and textile shop who will give him fuel vouchers in exchange of bringing them potential customers more accurately called prospective rip-off victims. I asked again if the tuktuk could take us to Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the grounds of the Grand Palace. He assured us that the driver would.
Believing I knew Bangkok well enough, I agreed and bit the bait. Alex and I waited for a few minutes until a tuktuk with a yellow flag in front arrived. The “man in uniform” talked to him in English telling him where we wanted to go.
When we got on his tuktuk, the driver said that he must first take us to the nearest temple.
To make the driver aware that I knew Bangkok like the back of my hand, I started a conversation with him. Noticing his right arm with bruise and fresh lesion, I asked him what happened in a casual tone. He said that he had an accident the night before. It made me worried a bit but I pretended to stay calm.
Suddenly, he revved up the engine so abruptly that the back wheels were almost left behind if they didn’t catch up quite quickly. Alex and I talked with our surprised eyes.
The Golden Giant Buddha
I thought I had seen all the major temples in Bangkok but there were more than I had imagined.
Wat Intharawihan or the temple itself had three massive ornate doors whose brilliance was intensified by the sun. Next to it stood the 32 metre-tall golden Buddha.
After admiring this colossal statue, our driver took us to the next stop.
The Temple of the Lucky Buddha
I was imagining a fat Buddha with babies around it but it was a relatively small Buddha compared to the previous one we just saw. In fact it was housed in a simple and open temple. The smell of incense wafted in the air.
In a demonstration, our driver taught us to bow three times to this Buddha for luck and left to give us our space.
Alex and I looked at each other awkwardly. We just didn’t know how to do it and what to ask for. Silently we walked away and checked the building next to it. Appearing from a small room, a man was surprised to see us. He asked if we were Buddhist. We said we were tourists.
“How did you know about this temple? Only locals know about this place.” He queried with interest in his eyes. He was right. There was nothing in it that would catch a tourist’s interest. Our driver took us here, was my short reply. He nodded in acceptance of my explanation.
Before taking us to the next temple, the driver drove us to the jewelry shop. He instructed us to stay at least 10 minutes inside so he could collect his fuel voucher. We stayed longer than anticipated. The driver waited patiently outside.
From there he took us to the textile shop where he gave us the same instruction. Alex and I struggled to get out of this shop because of the sales team’s relentless effort to make us take our wallet out from our pockets.
If it wasn’t cloudy that day, this temple would have radiated even more. Its marble walls and columns were complimented by the ochre roof, scarlet-framed windows and golden fringes. It seemed as though it was built to be admired. The front yard could accommodate a hundred tourists at a time.
After soaking in the sight, we were ready for our final stop, the Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emeral Buddha within the grounds of the Grand Palace.
After buying young coconut for its water, we scanned the tuktuks to find our driver. We walked back and forth looking for a familiar face among the people but we couldn’t find our tuktuk nor the driver. Thinking that the tuktuk could have nipped for a few minutes, we waited impatiently but in vain. We had not even paid him. How could he take off just like that? We snorted and shook our head in disbelief.
We asked the other tuktuks to take us to Wat Phra Kaew and they were asking 150 Baht. That’s £3. It was more than 7 times the original price we were to pay our tuktuk driver who disappeared.