Greetings from Bangkok, capital of the Land of Smiles!
Okay, so I've been in Bangkok for a few days now. The upside: I have hundreds of girls after me. The downside: They're all prostitutes! I mean, even though I knew what to expect, this goes beyond anything I could ever imagine. . .:\ And it's a fucking pain in the ass not to be able to walk anywhere without having bar girls and massage parlor "attendants" stepping up to me and offering their services. Even worst are the fucking tuk-tuk drivers trying to steer me toward this or that bar for a "happy hour," or those guys hanging out on every street corner with photos of naked hookers that are ready to please me. I got very close to punching one of them last night, but held off at the last second. You never know if the guy knows a bit of Thai boxing. And it would have done little to help me make my point if I had found myself flat on my back after a vicious kick I never saw coming, right?
Anyway, I made it to Bangkok after three interminable flights, 22 hours of flying time, and 26 hours in transit. My friend Anick gave me a prescription for sleeping pills, for I knew I needed to sleep at least a couple of hours at some point, otherwise I would have been a zombie when my last plane landed. I can't sleep on planes, you see. So this was supposed to be my ticket to Never Never Land. It didn't quite work out on the flight to Tokyo, though I did manage to snooze for about an hour to two. Don't know if the second pill worked, but I was so damn tired on the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok that I got TKOed and slept for a good 4 or 5 hours. Even missed the entire food service!
I was able to catch the last Airport Express bus to get into town, and arrived at the Lub d hostel past midnight. I was so beat that I didn't even unpack my shit. I took shower, cranked up the AC, and promptly went to bed. As far as hostels go, the Lub d is pretty good. Check out their website here. Got an extension on the online special for the Railway Twin room for less than 25$ a night. At that price, I'm not doing any dorms! With everything so cheap in Southeast Asia, the only dorm I'll see will be in Singapore. Other than in Bangkok, if memory serves me right I'll always be sleeping in a double or queen bed everywhere I go.=) And for peanuts to boot. Other than in Ko Phi Phi and Langkawi, of course! But I can afford to splurge a bit here and there. . .
On any given overseas trip, I never plan to do too much on my first day, what with jetlag and everything. The forecast was for a chance of thunderstorms, so that was that. I decided to take it easy and make my way to the National Museum. Though everyone kept telling me that it was too far, I wanted to walk there. After all, what's a mere 6km walk? Didn't know that on Sundays the sidewalks of Bangkok become some sort of outdoor flea market, which means that pedestrian traffic becomes as bad as the gridlock in the streets. And I was passing through Chinatown, to make matters even worst! I've always felt that walking around is the only way to get a true feel for any city you visit. Which is why I always try to rely on public transportation as little as possible. As alway, everything is nice and tidy around tourist areas. But I want to see the real shit, the stuff they never show you in the brochures. It's like the jeans and T-shirt test for a girl. You know how any girl can look fantastic in a little black cocktail dress. I've always said that the true test is always to see her in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. If she looks good in those, she'll look good in anything!=) The same applies for cities. You want to see the main tourist attractions (the black cocktail dress), but I also want to see the true side of each place I visit (no makeup, with the hair undone, and in a pyjama!). Having seen that other side of Bangkok in the last couple of days, I can now say that in a way the city reminds me a lot of places such as Athens and Buapest. There are a lot of beautiful things to see, but the city itself is not that nice.
Anyway, I made it to the National Museum after about 90 minutes, with blisters on my feets (gotta get used to the sandals again), cursing rather long strings of expletives, and about a minute before the rain started to fall. Took my time to visit the museum, but the rain did not relent. Far from that, as it grew worst as time went by. And just when I thought that things were calming down a bit, thunder began to rumble and I knew that this was going to be that kind of day. Got back to the hostel when the rain finally stopped, had dinner at a very nice Italian place near Lub d, hung out a bit to socialize, and went to bed.
The forecast was pretty much the same for my second day, but the sun was out in the morning and I decided to give the Grand Palace a go. Learned my lesson from the day before, and took the extremely convenient Skytrain and the Chao Phraya Express boat to get there. To my surprise, the rain never came! And sunny periods were more frequent than the clouds, which means that thanks to my pale French Canadian tan,I got sunburned. It was a bitch of a day, with 33 degrees celsius and 88% of humidity, but it sure beats winter on any given day!
To add insult to injury, I was forced to don long pants in order to visit Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddah. The temple compound is absolutely gorgeous, but to force people to wear shoes and long pants in that kind of heat should be illegal! So I spent a few hours sweating my ass off as I visited Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, and then made my way to another gorgeous temple compound Wat Pho, with its enormous Reclining Buddha (46m long and 15m high).
Got my first taste of Thai food near the pier, and then took the ferry to another temple compound, this time the mesmerizing Wat Arun. Spent a while there, then took the ferry back to the other side of the river so I could make my way back to the hostel. Had my fill of temples for one day, thank you very much!
Had to fend off countless prostitutes to get to a nice Greek restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook, for it is located near the Patpong red light district. Not much was happening at the hostel and it's taking me a bit longer to get rid of jetlag, so I turned in not too late after an eventful second day.
For some reason, though they book bus tickets to basically every point in Thailand between Bankok and the rest of the country, the hostel can't book tickets to Sukhothai, my next destination. So I had to go all the way to Mo Chit bus station at the other end of the city to get a ticket for the 28th. You gotta love Thailand: a seven-hour bus ride to Sukhothai in first class cost me about 10$!
More than a little wat-ted out, I elected to forgo any more temples and made my way to the renowned Bangkok shoping malls. Went to MBK and Siam Paragon, but ended up wasting less than an hour there. They're just stupid malls, after all.
With the suffocating heat, I decided to wander around Lumphini Park for a while. And since I was close, I bought a ticket for the muay thai (thai boxing) fight night at the Lumphini boxing stadium. I'm a big boxing fan, so I was expecting a lot out of this fight card, especially since Tuesday evening is supposed to be the best time to catch a fight or three. Given the price of basically everything in Thailand, thai boxing tickets don't come cheap. But hey, I might never make it back here, so what the heck, right? Well, to my dismay, the entire card was kind of lame. And to make matters worse, I arrived a little late ad missed the only KO of the evening!
In any event, it will soon be time to kiss Bangkok goodbye. I'm catching train to Ayuthaya tomorrow morning, and I'll need to pack up my shit when I return in the evening because Thursday will see me travel north to Sukhothai.
Bangkok is interesting, for it is a city of sharp contrasts. The past lives alongside the present, with the future not far behind. Ancient traditions battle with encroaching Western ways. Pollution and poverty on one side, yet you have thei mpeccably clean, super efficient, and ultra-modern Skytrain and subway system on the other. It's kind of odd that some aspects of Bangkok could put any Western city to shame, and all the while show you sides straight out of a Third World country when you turn around and face the other way. And there are cranes everywhere, so the Bangkok of tomorrow will be much different from what it is today. For better or worst? That remains to be seen. . .
One thing that will likely ever go away is the prostitution. It's kind of sad to see fat and old Western men walking hand in hand with pretty young Thai girls. They're absolutely everywhere and not likely to go away. There are a couple of universities here, so hopefully there is a brighter future for many Thai young women. But man, it feels as though 50% of the girls you see are bar girls, or another euphemism for prostitutes. And considering the high number of dirty old men spending time in Thailand just for the sexual tourism, well the demand will always be there, I guess. Too bad. . . Thai girls have different facial traits than other Asian women. I can see the appeal, certainly. They are beautiful, as well as taller and more shapely than the more petite Asian girls from Japan, Korea, etc. So there will never be any shortage of horny old farts looking for cheap fucks with them. But Christ, when you can't cross a street corner without having a group of them waving and calling out at you, well that's a major problem. And the worst thing is that the Thai government doesn't seem to have much of a problem with the situation. I guess that sex tourism brings in too much money.
Okay, that's it for now. Don't spellcheck me, for this keyboard is driving me insane!