One more night in Bangkok

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

After sending several more days in Chiang Mai I decided to visit Coconut in Bangkok as all my friends had left town and I wanted to see her again. In the meantime I amused  myself by taking in some more sights in and around Chiang Mai. I decided that I wanted to do some adventure activities and  booked myself into a 'jungle flight' with a reputable company. I was picked up early in the morning by a jeep and was joined  by three girls who were also on the trip. After driving around thirty kilometers from Chiang Mai we reached a winding steep  dirt track which led us to the site of the jungle flight.  Nestled in these high mountainous altitudes, lives a nomadic tribe  known as the Khamu. Originally from Yunnan Province in China and neighboring Laos, they migrated to the jungles of  Northern Thailand over a century ago. Here the Khamu now grow rice, coffee and tea and still hunt and gather for food, their  lives unchanged by the world outside they return every night to their 'unseen' village where only thirty families reside.  From their village at the apex of the mountain you are afforded sublime panoramic sunsets where wildlife is abundant with  many species of birds, while a short hike through the jungle will reveal stunning waterfalls.  The flight itinerary itself is made up of a course of twenty five platforms which criss cross the jungle canopy and where you fly  through the jungle on a zip wire high high up. One of the wires is three hundred meters high! There are four abseils from tree platforms where you can basically free fall on a rope down to a lower platform on a tree below and a five hundred and  seventy meter canopy walk. Suffice to say it was exhilarating and the scenery was stunning; I was swinging through the trees at  warp speeds like a monkey on speed. It was great to see some jungle scenery and on the way back we had a picnic snack as well which was tasty and stopped of at a natural spa. I really enjoyed this trip as I had been yearning some adrenaline based sports activities. In contrast, the next day was quite; I got a haircut and took in some more Thai boxing. Unfortunately the fights were pretty poor and only one of the seven advertisers bouts actually had the advertised boxers, no real  surprise there I guess! The highlight of the night was a four man blindfolded one round bout which was hilarious as these guys tried to beat each other up without knowing where their opponents were so they would swing big punches and kicks into thin air and then continue until they connected with something. The referee also got stuck in as well, although the sneaky chap was using hi eyes. I met a Canadian girl ringside called Annabel who was also traveling solo round Asia so we  swapped stories and had a few drinks later on

Next stop Bangkok! I flew down south to meet Coconut with the idea of spending some time with her while also keeping in mind that  anything could happen as basically Thai women can be crazy and much gets lost in translation when you are with them. Arriving on Friday I went to her massage parlor and we agreed to go out later  on to some bars. Looking forward to this I texted her later in the day asking when we would meet up. I was somewhat surprised to receive the reply  'I GO TO AIRPORT WITH HUSBAND'. Oh dear I thought, I hooked a crazy one. Stupid me had gone and got carried away and got stung. However I decided not to get angry as in the back of my mind this had always been a possibility, despite  several amorous texts from her previously she had obviously lost interest. So I walked around the surrounding area and looked for a good yet affordable place to stay. After viewing a few over priced hotels I came across a modestly  priced Best Western hotel nearby. This hotel had a huge room, air con, en suite bath, fridge, cable tv and microwave. Upstairs there was a  swimming pool and a sauna and downstairs there was 24 hour security. After requesting a discount for a 7 day plus stay they offered me one of around 25 percent  which meant effectively I was paying 25 for a good quality central hotel with 24 hour access and free breakfast. This was a great find and redeemed the day a little.  After unpacking and catching up on some international news I rang Charlie and spent the rest of the evening with him and his friends in a district near the Victory Monument where the May riots took place and where sniper shots had rung around. We talked in hushed tones about the Thai royal  family and the May riots in Bangkok and after several drinks I headed home on a motorcycle taxi.

On rising in the late morning I hauled my body to the rooftop of the hotel to do some  sunbathing and it was here that I met Stef, a nice guy from Germany. All jokes aside about the fact that we beat them twice in successive world wars and in the world cup and that they are ruthlessly efficient machines, I have found the Germans a lovely bunch. Like me he had been traveling around Asia for  several months and was now enjoying the sights of Bangkok. Unfortunately he had been attacked by dogs in Cambodia while on his bike and fallen off and sprained his spine. But he didn't seem to badly effected and was telling me his German insurance covered it and would also give him a business class flight back to Germany when he left! We got on well and he suggested we got out later on that evening to some good bars he  knew and this seemed like a good way to take my mind of the ridiculous Coconut episode. Quelle chance! After visiting several bars and rather worse for wear we stumbled into a pool bar and I saw a beautiful Thai girl in the bar. We made eye contact and after the disappointment of Coconut I was determined to not let a chance slip and so I went over to talk to her. We hit it off straight away. Her real Thai name is Supaporn (yes it is an actual Thia name)  and her nickname is Oi and we ended up spending the next ten days with each other.  After a couple of days spent with her I decided to extend my visa for seven days because we  were having such  a good time. As well as enjoying being with Oi it was also great being in Bangkok with a local who can show you all the sights and save you a lot of  time and energy in finding them for yourself. That night we took in a night market at On Nut together with Stef and his friend Dave, who had cycled  around the world for seven years and had now settled in Bangkok with his wife. There were many food stalls lit up like  candles in the night and a live band playing soppy Thai love songs. The next day we went to the world's largest Crocodile farm  and saw Thai men stick their heads into the mouths of Crocodiles as well as lifting the animals out of the water and  throwing them around; obviously these men have a very close bond with the crocodiles, they would have been dead a long  time ago if they didn't. The farm also doubles as a small zoo and so there was also an elephant show, although it was sad seeing these magnificent animals reduced to circus clowns  doing comical tricks like tight rope walking on low slung ropes and dancing while playing the harmonica - no joke. The  highlight of the day however was when we were lucky enough to see close up the crocodiles being fed huge chunks of meat by  the water, apparently this only happens two or three times a month. To see hundreds of these beasts crawling over each other  and chomping at the meat was quite a sight. Oi told me that several years ago a heartbroken woman had thrown herself into one  of the crocodile pools after breaking up with her boyfriend. There have to be easier ways to take your own life I thought to myself as another bone crunching noise came from a croc performning a death role

It was now Friday and I was determined to find a good nightclub and have a good dance with Oi. So I made some calls to Charlie and his friends as well doing some internet research and decided upon two clubs to go to. Unfortunately Bangkok's club scene is pretty disparate and random  and only one of the clubs had some really good music, but it was pretty empty. We never never found a happening busy club but we still had a great  time. However on the way home I experienced the darker and more corrupt side of Bangkok when I was pulled over and searched by the road by the police while walking home. This actually happened three times to me in the following days; when it rains it does indeed pour. These Thai police stopped Oi and myself when we were walking back to my  hotel and I was searched and asked a few random questions. It was clear to me that they were looking for some  way to fine me and make some easy money as I had done nothing wrong and was simply walking home. Apparently this is very  common and I just played ball and let them search me knowing that unless they planted drugs on me that they would find no  reason to arrest me. I also knew that Oi was keeping a very close eye on them to make sure they did not do this.  When one of the officers asked me if I had a lethal weapon on me I laughed and said 'of course not, I am a peaceful guy' to  which he too laughed and said I could move on. This exact same thing happened the next night as well. The third time I was stopped was bizarre. I was walking down a busy street in the  afternoon soaking up the various street stalls products and looking forward to getting an iced coffee. I had just finished  smoking a cigarette and threw it on the side of the street and walked on. About twenty yards further a uniformed officer  stopped me, pointed to a non smoking sign on the sidewalk and pulled me over to sit down on a chair which was next to a table  with some documents on it. The whole thing felt like a set up - I had walked down this street many times and never seen the  sign, the sign itself was hastily erected by some flimsy string and was well beyond where I had flicked my cigarette butt so  I had no way to know this was a no smoking zone. The 'officers' uniform looked cheap and fake and the final clue was when a foreigner  walked past and said 'don't pay them, they are phony police' and then proceeded to give the fingers to a random man who had  decided to join the officers side in the argument against me. After two previous searches by the  real police I was in no mood to play ball. This guy asked me for two thousand baht fine, which is around forty pounds, no  way was I going to pay this and I told him so and asked him to show me his id. He looked surprised and then stumbled a bit and then produced some  pathetic looking card whilst continually shoving these forms in front of me asking for my passport details and to pay the fine. I  relented and told him to take me to the police station because I was not going to pay any fine when I had done nothing wrong.  He then said he would lower the fine to 1000 baht and this was when I knew for sure it was a sting, he then lowered  his offer to 500 baht! In the meantime a French guy had sat down opposite me nervously and coughed up the fine  immediately for throwing his butt on the floor. Not me - don't these people know I am a poker professional and never freeze  under pressure! After thirty minutes of this ridiculous episode he asked me where I was from and then shook my hand, smiled  and said I could go. It seemed like he was impressed that I had out conned the conman, either way I walked away with a mixed  feeling of anger and elation

We now felt the need to see some sights and we decided to visit some more wats and places of historic interest. The first of these was the Grand  Palace complex, which was built in 1782  after King Rama 1 ascended to the throne. A brief moment of hilarity before the  historical onset was at the entrance gate where a sign telling visitors where to enter the complex reads 'Thai' to the left  side and 'Foreigners' to the right side. I cheekily tried to enter the Thai side for a laugh but was redirected to the  Foreigner side! The racists. The complex itself consists of the royal residence and throne halls and the renowned Royal  Monastery of the Emerald Buddha and covers an area of 218000 square meters and is surrounded by four walls, 1900 meters in  length, an impressive site indeed. North of the royal residence lies the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha which is one  of the holiest sites in Thailand where people meet to pay their respects to the Lord Buddha and his teachings. The Emerald  Buddha is enshrined on a golden Thai style throne made of gilded-carved wood, known as a Busabok and the sacred image is clad  with one of the three seasonal costumes of summer, rainy season and winter. The King himself presides over the changing of the  costumes three times a year for these seasons. The walls of the ordination hall are decorated with mural paintings  which depict selected  events of the Lord Buddhas life - themes of temptation and enlightenment, Buddhist cosmology, Yataka stories and Thai  proverbs. In the Grand Palace there is also an Upper Terrace with a magnificent golden chedi called the Mondop, sacred  scriptures inscribed on palm leaves and a miniature Angkor Wat . Equally impressive were the galleries which encompass the  grounds of the Royal Monastery. The walls of which are painted with scenes from the Ramakien, which was painted during the  reign of King Rama 1 and later restored; think of the Bayeux Tapestry Asian style and you get the idea.   There are depictions  of war and mythology and the level of detail is superb. Oi is Buddhist herself and paused to make some prayers with incense  sticks, a candle and some flowers as offerings. She asked me to make a prayer but I declined saying I didn't believe in  Buddha so it would be pointless, however she persuaded me that this did not matter so I knelt down and made some simple prayers.  Oi later told me she prayed for me to be safe on my journeys and to have good fortune in my poker playing, how sweet of her.  We then took a short ferry boat across the river to visit Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn and which has been  dedicated to the second reign of the Chakkri Dynasty. Here there is a beautiful pagoda which is a landmark of Thailand and  located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river. I had visited this wat on a previous visit to Bangkok when I did the night  ride tour but I wanted to climb the steps up the side and see the views across the river . After an extremely steep  rise of around fifty steps we were afforded great views of the meandering Chao Phraya river and surrounded areas of Bangkok. This  capped of quite a day for someone like me who really has only a slight interest in visiting historical places of interest,  but I did enjoy myself. Probably because I was in the company of Oi

The next day we decided to get some well needed rest and relaxation at one of Oi's friends massage parlors. This time it was  in a part of town where there are few foreigners and the price reflected that. I had a two hour muscle crunching beating from  an excellent masseuse while Oi was also being beaten up by a lady boy masseuse in the next cubicle. This was probably one of  the best massages I have had and cost only 200 baht or roughly 4 pounds, a similar massage in central Bangkok would set you  back around 10 pounds. Feeling suitably relaxed we headed back to the hotel for some sunbathing on the roof and some exercise  in the gym, which is always a nice way to spend the mid afternoon period. I had decided we should make a visit to see the sunset somewhere which would afford us good views of the city. So we headed to a smart hotel I had read about called the Banyan Tree which is Bangkok's third  highest observation point. A Banyan tree is a tree of great beauty and is a fig that starts its life as an epiphyte when its seeds germinate in the cracks and crevices on a host. Obviously I am not a fauna geek but just googled that one. We hoped on the metro system and after exiting at Lumpini Park station I decided to get a taxi to the hotel to make sure we  did not get lost and would not miss the sunset views. Half way through the ride the traffic was so bad  I decided we should get out and walk the rest of the distance as I could see the hotel in the distance. In my hurry to get to the  hotel in good time, as the sun was already dipping down the horizon, I hastily opened the left sided taxi door to get out, despite Oi warning me to be careful. Unfortunately a scooter was passing by in the inside lane and he crashed into the taxi door, in slow motion I saw him spin up  into the air and crash down onto the ground with his helmet coming off and some debris falling onto the curb. I rushed over to make sure he was ok and apologise; luckily he was young guy who  was unhurt and took it in good spirits. In Asia saving face is everything so an apology nearly always remedies situations like these. The taxi driver was less understanding however and demanded 1000 baht for some slight damage to his  paint work (taxi drivers usually rent their taxis from their bosses). This seemed a bit excessive and as I was bargaining with him several moped drivers passed by and seeing the commotion joined in the conversation over how much I should pay. Oi told  me they were saying 1000 baht was too much and 500 hundred should cover the damage so that it was I gave him. Slightly  annoyed but also glad that the boy had not been hurt we made our way to the hotel. The Banyan Tree is a superb 69 floor modern luxury hotel. The  lift zipped us up to the 65th floor Vertigo bar in seconds and we were walked to this chic bar on top of the building affording  spectacular views of a large swathe of the city,with the Chao Phraya river bending round Bangkok on one side and Lumpini Park and the  surrounded areas on the other. Huge numbers of sky scrapers dotted the view while several long add wide roads cut through the area. Whilst the sun sunk into the horizon over around an hour we sipped some cocktails and soaked in the orange and red co lours lighting up the city like a dim torch. It was a  beautiful scene

After heading back down to the street I fancied some Chinese food and so asked Oi to show me around China Town. China town itself is insanely busy and the traffic makes Bangkok seem like a walk in the park.  Everywhere are people, food stalls, restaurants and various peddlers of anything from shark fins to tarot cards. The main street is  nicely lit up by a series of lit red lanterns which swing from one side of the street to the other at traffic light level to  make for an atmospheric street scene. After eating some great and cheap Chinese food in a restaurant we went to get some  coffee. Hear we came across the cutest little girl of around seven who was the coffee stall owner's daughter. She was asking  us questions about what coffee we liked and told us not too drink too much or we would get the shakes from the caffeine, she  even asked us to come back again! This child was an early learner indeed who already showed  commercial nous and a basic level of English speaking! The Asians seems to have an innate commercial gene in them, it is just sometimes they have no real plan to back it up with or are too lazy to really make as much money as they could. However the Chinese are a different breed from the Thais in this respect and commerce is everything to them.

Now we only had a few days in Bangkok left and I had burned through a fair bit of cash so decided to keep it low key, so the next day we went to watch a movie after hearing rave reviews of Thai cinemas. I was not disappointed as for around 5 pounds each we got  a deluxe reclining seat with loads of leg room and a large bucket of popcorn with two soft drinks. Before the movie started we  had to stand up for the King's anthem which was played on screen before the movie began. We then sat down and watched the  hilarious movie 'Little Fockers' (obvious pun as you can imagine) which is the third in the series of a hit comedy film  starring, among others, Robert De Niro, Barbara Streissand, Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Alba and other luminaries of the screen. It was a very  funny movie and a much more pleasant and cheaper experience than watching a movie in a London cinema. Otherwise the last days were spent  eating copious amounts of delicious street food and drinking cheap cocktails at street side bars which are erected for the  nighttime. For 30 baht, or around 70 pence, I was always drawn to the delicious noodle stalls where you would get noodle soup  with chicken, beef or pork together with bamboo sprouts, fresh herbs and various condiments like chili syrup and sugar. Each time I get  a little more adventurous with the spicy condiments and each time the sweat trickles down  by brow that little more. The Thais love sweet and sour flavors and it is not uncommon to see someone adding three to four  teaspoons of sugar to their noodles. Other typical street food would be barbecued meet, fresh barbecued squid, the fiery papaya  salad, river fish, various grilled sausages and fried insects like silk worms. You can eat like a king in this way for less than three or four pounds a day and it is very healthy. 

On our final day together I wanted to see some more sights as the ticket for the Grand Palace I had bought several days ago also entitled me to visit the Ananta Samakhom  Throne Hall and Vimanek Mansion. After another canal taxi ride and a short taxi trip we trundled onto the Vimanek Mansion. This is described as the world's largest golden teakwood mansion and is essentially  a walk through museum of various palatial rooms. Despite cultural fatigue kicking in we decided to also visit the Ananta Samkhom Throne Hall. This is a huge mansion complex where King Rama 1 had his throne hall built in 1907. The throne hall is made from Carrera marble from Italy and embellished with a Renaissance decor on the domed ceilings.  This hall serves as a venue for the Kingdom's Royal and governmental pageantry. Within it are around 30 mind blowingly  exquisite masterpieces made by selected and highly skilled craftsmen on the Queen's orders. Some pieces take up to three  years and a hundred craftsmen to build. The highlights were the Busabok Mala which is a golden boat raised on a busabok platform  and  hand crafted in gold, damascene, enamel, silver and wood carving. This is then further embellished with cut iridescent green beetle wing and  intricately woven Yan Lipao vine. Then there is the Te Sri Suphannahongse Royal Barge which is a four foot model of the barge of King Rama 1 and is made  of gold, enamel and diamonds. There were many other stunning pieces to view and an audio aid so you listen to descriptions of  the pieces. After soaking this up it was late afternoon and we were tired and made our way back to the Oi's flat to relax before heading out to eat at a Laos restaurant which Oi knew well as it was in  her neighborhood. Here there was a lovely Loas band playing traditional songs with women performing the lovely slow dancing they do in the Laos style and dressed in traditional costumes

After having spent a wonderful time with Oi it was time move on to Laos. Oi was pretty upset but I told her just to remember the good times we had and that I would probably see her again anyway as I would have to fly from Bangkok to Manila in a month or so. We said our goodbyes and I sped off to the airport to catch my flight to Udon Thani
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Comments

M&D on

Another terrific account - what amazing adventures! And Oi a charming guide. Glad to read that you're street savvy, but make sure you keep that way. Wonderful photos! M&Dxxxxxx

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