Recently my adventures in Asia have taken me to Bangkok, Thailand. I left last Wednesday night and returned to Busan yesterday, Sunday the 12th of February.
I’m going to write a long and winding narrative of the events that took place between Wednesday the 8th of February and Sunday, February 12th. Those of you who have read my previous entries will now be bracing yourselves for a long winded and often convoluted 20 minute anecdote that will most likely leave you feeling used and empty inside. If you would rather skip all that I’ll just write a quick summary of the trip so you can get all my impressions and feelings towards Bankok without having to read my long blog entry. To summarize the whole trip in one sentence I would say that I left Bangkok in much the same way I entered the world; kicking and screaming and awfully sticky.
I had a total blast and three days was absolutely not enough! I could go the rest of my life without ever seeing China or Japan again (don’t get me wrong, those countries were amazing) but if I go to my grave without at some point returning to Thailand and spending an appropriate amount of time there it will certainly be with a few regrets alongside me in my extravagantly adorned (fingers corssed!) coffin.
I left the -3 degrees of Busan behind around 8pm on Wednesday night. Five and a half hours later I left the airport into the sweltering 33 degree Bangkok night. Even though I arrived in a foreign country at nearly 2am, I still had no problem finding my way to my hostel, thanks to the English speaking cab driver (who I thought was just a myth, even in western countries). It turns out that alot of people in Bangkok speak excellent English, to my surprise.
The next day I woke up early and spent my whole first day exploring on foot. I walked to what is mostly considered downtown Bangkok, an area of town known as Siam. The walk there took me past a few shopping malls and over a canal – which was filled with boats ferrying people to and from their destinations (this is foreshadowing – I would take one of these water taxis the next day). After the downtown area I made my way towards Lumphini Park. On the way I stopped at a snake farm (because why not?). The snake farm is an institute where they breed snakes for anti-venoms and medical research, but two floors of the complex are set aside for a venomous snake exhibit and zoo. Thanks to incredible good luck I arrived at the snake farm around 11am, just in time for a snake milking demonstration. Before you google ‘snake nipples’ I should tell you that it isn’t that kind of milk. Snake milking involves a cup with a leather lid – handlers press the snakes’ fangs against the leather and it spits it’s venom into the cup. Watching two guy holding a 10 foot long King Cobra while a third pressed a cup to its mouth was a singular experience.
After a quick lunch I finished my trek to Lumphini Park. The park was nice, green grass, palm trees and ponds/streams. It couldn’t compare to the pure beauty of Japanese parks of the size of Chinese parks, but it did have one thing going for it – wildlife. As I strolled along a path I glanced over and noticed a turtle sunning itself on a stone beside a pond. I took out my camera because I was so thrilled to see a turtle in a public park in the middle of such a huge city! As I’m snapping away I spot some movement in the corner of my eye. I turn to look and there, not 10 feet from me is a 4 foot long lizard. I literally did a comical double take. Here I am admiring a little turtle thinking its so cool to see a turtle in a park, only to be surprised by a mother-fing komodo dragon looking SOB sneaking up on me. I felt like that badass australian guy in Jurrassic Park who has just enough time to admire the ‘clever girl’ before she velociraptors the shit out of him. Turns out the park is full of these lizards and apparently well known for them. Did I mention I earned an A+ in not researching things before I do them class?
Next I walked down to Silom road which is a well known business/red-light district. It was a really interesting walk and I entertained myself by trying to pick out the genuine massage parlors from the prostitution fronts. There were lots of cool restaurants and bars in this area too, but I was eager to return to the hostel by that point as the heat was seriously getting to me.
That night I went for Malaysian food with some people from my hostel. I had ‘Matabe’ which is beef (or pork or chicken) fried in an eggy-pancakey batter with vegetables. After the amazingly cheap dinner I went for some amazingly cheap beers at a bar near the hostel and on the walk back we bought yet more beers and carried on drinking into the wee hours in the hostel’s common room. A note on prices in Bangkok – everything is amazingly cheap. 1000 baht is roughly $30 Canadian. 100 baht is 3 dollars. Dinner at the Malaysian restaurant was 80 baht. Beer at the bar was 80 baht (it was an upscale place) beer in the convenience store was 25 baht.
The next day I was determined to do a few more touristy things (instead of my usual aimless wanderings). I started the day with a two hour traditional thai massage. I have heard good things about these massages and it certainly met all my expectations. I went to a high end fancy spa/resort that was recommended to me by the hostel owner, but even so a two hour massage only cost 450 baht (a little under 15 dollars). A full out Thai massage will cover basically every inch of your body and involves several really vigorous maneouvres. At one point I had a 60 year old Thai woman standing on my hamstrings and pulling both my ankles towards the ceiling. I took a step back from myself and wondered what someone who just walked into that room, with no context of what was happening would think about the strange sight before them. My one regret about the massage is that I planned it for the start of the day – leaving the spa knowing full well I’d be walking around for the next 5 hours really sucked. Ideally I should have saved the massage for last because afterwards all you want to do is relax.
Next I walked to the Central Pier and took a 15 baht water taxi up to Wat Pho temple. The water taxi was a long boat (longer than a city bus, but otherwise identical in terms of seating arrangements and hand rails) that moved surprisingly quickly. I got off near Wat Pho temple (which is in a popular tourist district). I walked around the area of Wat Pho and the Emerald Buddha, but I didn’t go into either place, mainly because I was getting tired (the heat really wears you out). I got some video of the temples from the road though. Walking a little further north I investigated the (in)famous Khaosan Road, which is a really popular backpackers area. It is loaded with bars, scam artists and massage parlors as well as hostels and cheap accomodation). It was a neat area to walk around, but better to visit than to stay in my oppinion, as it isn’t all that close to the metro or sky trains.
To get back to my hostel I did something that, in retrospect, wasn’t a very smart thing to do. Luckily I didn’t live to regret it, but when I climbed onto the back of that motorcycle taxi I was seriously questioning my judgment and wondering if my friends and family would know what to do with my Playstation if I was rendered a vegetable in a horrific accident. The main advantage of the motorcycle taxi is that every single law of the road does not seem to apply to them, which means you get where you are going pretty quickly. The main disadvantage is that when you arrive you need to quickly find a defibrillator to get your heart beating again. The taxi weaved in and out of traffic and when the congestion became too thick it would thread the needle between the stationary cars on either side of the yellow line. I managed to get a video of the experience which hopefully you will enjoy.
That night I had dinner with some hostel folks (Thai street food, which was delicious and cheap, but you had to really, really work hard at not thinking about where it came from). The pad thai I had cost 35 baht and made a good base for the alcohol I’d be ingesting later that evening. I am positive that the night that followed from these humble beginnings will prove to be one of the most memorable nights of my life (and that’s not necessarily meant as a good thing). First we went to the Banyan Tree hotel which is famous in Bangkok for its 62nd floor bar. The rooftop bar was absolutely unbelievable and it put all the other beers I’ve had in beautiful scenery (at the top of mountains, in Algonquin park, even the quiet beers while I gaze at myself in a mirror) utterly to shame. The rooftop wasn’t like a balcony or a penthouse, it was full out the roof of the building. Nothing was higher than us as far as the eye could see except the sky itself. The city lights stretched away in the distance literally to the horizon (apparently Bangkok is a big city). The railings around the edges were about 4 feet high – there were no nets or walls to block the view and if you went over the edge it was a sheer 60 story drop in some places. Drinks were pretty expensive (250 baht for a beer) but of course the alcohol took a distant back seat the spectacular views and atmosphere.
After the Banyan Tree I set off to meet a friend of mine from Busan at Asok station. We went to a red-light district known as Soi Cowboy street. Many of you probably know that Thailand is famous for its sex tourism. Every year thousands of people come from all over the world to enjoy Bangkok’s prostitution industries. With that in mind I offer the justification that I only ventured into so disreputable an area for the experience of seeing a huge thriving red-light district in a country famous for its red-light districts and not to actually partake in any of the services offered there. The street that we walked down was really crazy. It was lined with massage parlors (this time there was no doubt that they were not legitimate massage parlors), strip clubs and outright brothels. The sidewalks were lined with prostitutes and lady-boys (the nickname for Thai transvestites). Many of the women wore necklaces with numbers hanging from them so you could easily enter the massage parlor and say I want number 23 (which, if nothing else, has to be complimented for its simplicity and convenience). The most unnerving thing about walking down the street is how the women yell at you to have sex with them.
I felt a bit like the kid who brings chewing gum to class: I know if I give a piece to my friend everyone is going to want some, but that I can’t possibly have enough to give to everyone. It is for that same reason that I didn’t consent to the ladies’ demands for sex – if I decided to favor one of them with my love making abilities surely all the rest would demand equal treatment. I did a quick count of all the women in range and came up with over fifty, which is just a little over the number times I believe myself capable in a single evening, so I knew I must abstain.
Of course I joke.
My friends and I decided we wanted to see a ‘ping pong show’. If you know what that is: congratulations! You are a pervert. If you aren’t sure whatever you do DO NOT GOOGLE IT. Some things cannot be unseen. Ping Pong shows are infamous in Thailand and you can hear stories about them from any traveller that has been there. In sort of the same way you want to look at a car wreck we decided we needed to see one of these shows for ourselves. I’m not going to go into any details in this blog, so ask me in person sometime. All I will say here is this: The female genitalia is capable of more than I ever knew. Much more.
I worry that one day my children will ask me what Bangkok was like and I, remembering the things I saw in that strip-club, will suddenly grow very quiet. My eyes will adopt a far away stare and my children will feel as though I am looking right through them. In fact, I will be looking through them. I will be looking right into their souls. I will see innocence there and I will feel envy, and shame.
The next day was Saturday and I made my way to the Army Stadium where the 2012 Bangkok Hat tournament was underway. The hat tournament is a frisbee tournament that was my initial motivation for going to Thailand. I heard about the tournament, and asked for the time off work from my co-teachers and Vice-Principal. By the time I got the go-ahead to take two days off for the trip, the tournament registration was closed. Rather than go back to my VP and say I no longer needed that four day long weekend I just campaigned for, I decided to just go to Thailand anyway. Even though I wasn’t playing in the tournament I did have some friends who were playing, and I would never pass up an opportunity for some disc time, so I made my way to the field on Saturday morning.
There were over 300 players at the tournament, all of them from different parts of Asia. There were players from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Korea to name a few. I bought a disc (a great addition to my growing collection) and had a few beers while tossing around in the 30+ degree heat. My entire Saturday was spent in this manner and I don’t consider a moment of it wasted.
Saturday night I went out for dinner with the same hostel group and had a marinated beef and rice Thai dish. Afterwards we stopped at a bar and had a few drinks, and I left around 10pm to make my way back to the airport, thoroughly upset that I did not have more time in that amazing place (I could spend 3 weeks there easily, I am sure of it). I was extremely reluctant to head back to my 9-5 job in the cold winter deadness of February Korea. I was also extremely sweaty. And that’s how I ended up leaving Bangkok – kicking and screaming a awfully sticky.
That’s all for now.
Last entry I mentioned my camera was broken in Japan and that I would be unable to provide any more videos of my adventures. And yet, in this entry I mention several times that I have video of things I saw and did. How can this be? While I am known as a malicious liar to most of my friends and family, I swear that when I said I could take no more videos I believed it to be the truth. Luckily, days later, I found myself in Nampo Dong (a shopping district in Busan) and found a cheap video camera that is very similar to my old one. So the pictures and videos are back in action and I will have my Thailand videos posted in a few days. Stay tuned.