Bangkok: The Providential Stranger and His Evil Double

On our way to find breakfast, a smiling middle-aged Thai man approached us and asked us where we were from. We talked for a little bit. He was a teacher at the nearby university. By the way, did we know that today was a Buddhism holiday? No, we do not.

1. He would be happy to recommend some sites with free admission for us to visit.

2. And just so we know, we should never take the tuk-tuks with white license plates, only the ones with orange license plates. The orange license plates were regulated so prices were lower.

3. And did we realize that right across the street a afestival would be held to celebrate the Buddha? It would start at 6 that night, with lots of food and vendors, but by 8 it would just be religious ceremonies.

4. He would be happy to hail us a tuk-tuk and tell them exactly how much to charge us.

He asked for some paper in order to write down the proposed route. Then, he said, we could show this to the tuk-tuk driver as needed

He also taught us how to say “Too expensive” in Thai (“Pang Pai!”). How could we thank him? He said, “You see me at festival, you buy me beer.” Deal! It was one of those perfect coincidences: the well-meaning stranger, able to direct and guide us. The sites were amazing, as well, and one was so off the beaten path that a Thai man asked us how we found out about it “because tourists normally don’t come here.” And he toldd the tuk-tuk driver to wait for us outside of each one, so we had transportation for the whole day.

Here are some of the pictures:



At the top of the Mountain of 300 Steps, a gong was pealing. I could feel the vibrations all throughout my body, but the effect was peaceful, like a deep breath. Peonies and crysanthemums were heaped up around the altar. For good luck, on this day, you should walk three times around the shrine. The gentle whirlpool of celebrants sucked us in and we walked around three times, in perfect silence, with  Thais, the orange-robed Buddhist monks and a few other tourists.

That night, we returned to the same area in order to go to the festival. Walking down the street, we were pretty quickly met by another smiling, middle-aged Thai man in a button-down shirt and slacks. He, too, was a teacher and he, too, would love to help us appreciate this holiday. Upon learning we were from the United States:  “You like Obama?” “Sure!” “Obama good, yes?” “Yes, Obama’s great!” “Obama thumbs-up, yes!” “yep, thats Obama!” This went on for a while. He was a big Obama fan.


1. He would be happy to recommend some sites for us to visit (this was at 6 p.m. Were these sites even open?)

2. He would give us a bit of advice, which was that we should never take a tuk-tuk with orange license plates, only those with white.

3.  The festival across the street wouldn’t start until 8, so no point in going over there now, at 6.

4. Since we had plenty of time, we could to go to some sites he would recommend. Oh, and also a place that could help us with our Phuket trip.

He drew us this diagram, which included a sketch of one of the sites, where apparently monkeys swing on bars and somehow this is related to the Buddha. There was a language barrier. He also wrote our names – and Obama’s – in Thai.

So far he has told exactly the opposite of everything we heard in the morning. We didn’t know what to think. But, maybe because we’d already had our providential-stranger encounter that day (and I’m pretty sure you only get one per day) or because we knew something was off, we declined and said we were going to keep walking. He was already waving over a waiting tuk-tuk driver, and then suddenly he wasn’t so nice. “Why? Why you leave? Go to temples!” No, thank you, we politely shook our heads and started walking. He followed us for a little bit before exploding in exasperation, saying something in Thai, and leaving us alone.

I guess sometimes you get the providential stranger and sometimes you get the scam artist.

3 responses to “Bangkok: The Providential Stranger and His Evil Double

  1. Patrick Gorman

    Awesome story. But now anything someone tells you you have to verify somehow. How does the prudent traveler do that?

    PD Gorman


    • carolinekgorman

      I don’t know, exactly. Normally it’s obvious when someone I’d making money off of you, but when it isn’t, I guess just.. take a reasonable risk? All we would have lost was time if the sites turned out to be uninteresting or closed


  2. That last line is…sooooo true. and it is the knifes edge that you are placed upon every time a stranger approaches. Sounds like a great day!


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