Bangkok - "the same, but different"
Updated 14 years, 6 months ago
From chilly Sydney, I arrived in Bangkok completely unprepared for the humid intensity of the heat that washes over you as the doors of the air-conditioned airport slide back. The heat was one thing, but the other striking feeling was of wallowing in a rice pudding - the odour of boiled rice was overpowering.
Other travellers were hovering uncertainly by the taxi rank being harangued by cabbies, clearly doubtful as to which cab represented the greatest chance of reaching their destination alive. I teamed up with three of the "farang"(foreigners) and plucked a smiley-faced chap out of the throng to give us a lift. He was cheap too. Maybe I ought to be more discerning in choosing my rides or maybe I should put a higher price on human life(especially mine!), but this lift was definitely an error of judgement.
The bloke drove with his foot permanently on the accelerator, weaving in and out of heavy traffic at breakneck speed, whilst continually laughing manically and jabbering in Thai English(very different from the English of our own dear Queen). He asked the Israeli chap in the front seat where he had come from, "Sydney" he replied, "Ah, Sydney putyeh"(uproarious laughter), "No, Sydney, Australia", "No, Sydney putyeh"(more laughter). This to and fro continued until I realised he meant "Sidney Poitier" and he laughed delightedly, turning to us in the back and telling us of his love for the hollywood male stars of the 1950's- Audie Murphy, John Wayne, etc; all the while continuing his zig-zagging rally drive. At one point he even took his hands from the wheel to emphasise the point he was making. We had no idea what he was on about, caring even less as we stared glassily ahead, just keeping saying "Yes" in the hope he'd stop talking and watch the road. The whole experience was terrifying and reaching the area of Bangalamphu, a haven for backpackers and certainly for us, came with a mixture of surprise and relief.
Higgledy-piggledy shacks, houses, shops, bars, market stalls, any dwelling or building crammed in anywhere- under a freeway, in between imposing skyscrapers, over the river. Then large, open, smart squares; pseudo European grandeur; ornate, gaudy, but wonderful temples. Tuk Tuks (small motorbike taxis) weaving in and out of the constant throng of traffic. Urgently parping horns, loud rabbiting alien tongues, smiling Thai faces, sweaty Farangs. The smell of spice, rice and all things nice mixed with exhaust fume. A really sweet and sour city, but all of this goes to charm and beguile you- suddenly I could readily understand why so many of my friends love the place.
The Grand Palace was spectacular, the Vimanmek mansion okay, but both very European in influence. It was the Wats(temples) that really caught the eye in their, sometimes garish, ornate splendour- Wat Phra Keuw(with the emerald Buddha), Wat Po(Buddha laying on his side), the marble temple(shit loads of Buddhas), the Golden Mount(Buddhas all the way round the hill) and so on. Went to so many Wats in the first few days to see Buddha sitting, standing, laying down, folding his arms, picking his nose, that the thrill and novelty of it all began to wane and fatigue set in. However, when Buddha-ed out one can always take refuge in the superb food markets, where you can always find some new and tempting delicacy. Can't get enough of it! The noodle soups, curries, fried stuff, pad thai, banana pancakes, tom yum, etc, etc. So cheap too- dinner comes to between 15-40 Baht(25p-65p).
Went for a Thai massage in a recommended, tiny place down a shady alley off the Khao San road and was twisted into positions I never envisaged possible. Occasionally it was quite painful as I was so stiff after doing very little exercise for ages, but as I walked away I felt so relaxed and flexible, loose and fit. Really chilled out and sort of floating. So the worst thing after this was to go to Pat Pong- all hassle, hustle, seedy exploitation, dirt and scum. Very bad karma, man. Went there with a few mates and was appalled. No, really. The miserable, morose expressions of the women working there and the lecherous, sordid, leering of the western blokes "buying" them, I felt ashamed to be there and a part of this stuff. The only people who really seemed to be enjoying themselves were the lady boys! Some of the prossies were pretty full on, just grabbing you by the balls in a vice like grip. They lacked a certain lightness of touch; very painful. Couldn't believe the seediness and rip off scams everywhere. The market was crap too and I was keen to go home. Awful. So after dodging a few poorly aimed darts, ping pong balls and half smoked cigarettes, we departed skint and cheesed off.
Went to the fantastic Chatuchak weekend markets, where you could buy just about anything- from animals to adidas, flowers to flip flops. But I didn't come here to shop and I think a week was too long to be in Bangkok really, i wanted to get out and go somewhere else. The question was where?
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