Bangkok - Smog, Sweat and Tears!

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005


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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sawadee Kha (Hello in Thai)
She Said:

I hate "Bloat Blogs" and the fact that we don't post for weeks leads to entries that go on for bloody-ever. Soooo, we're trying to turn over a new leaf and post short, concise logs more frequently. Now, let's see how well we actually do. :-)

Ok, I must admit Bangkok met my expectations in the areas of pollution, over-population and just plain excess. What I was NOT prepared for was the sex trade in this city. Everywhere you went it was so blatant - men of every age, race and demographic with young Thai girls on their arms. So prevalent and so accepted - it made me sick to my stomach. Mark & I have had numerous, heart-wrenching discussions on this topic and I don't feel compelled to share tons about this city so I'll just title this puppy and turn it over to Mark.

Highlights:

1. The food - Thai food has always been our fav ... just doesn't get any better than this!!

2. Our exec serviced apt - so much room and in-room hi-speed internet, for a reasonable price. Heaven.

3. The Grand Palace - a beautiful tribute to Thai culture and spirituality

Lowlights:

1. Pollution, overcrowding and sex-trade aka "Smog, sweat and tears!" Not a place I enjoyed hangin' in.
2. Taking our hotels advice to just ship our stuff home from a cargo operator at the airport. We were shocked and appalled when they told us it would be $300 to ship our parcel Express. We don't care how long it takes to get there...we're not home for months. "Can't you send it by a slower, less expensive method?" Duh, it's an airport, of course they only send it plane. Another lesson learned - so much for all my hard bargaining :-(

He Said:

Highlights:

1. The Food
2. River Taxi to the Grand Palace
3. Custom Tailored Suits
4. Wandering through the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo
5. Morning walk to and journaling session in the Starbucks at Nana Station
6. The Grande President (Serviced Apartments rock in Thailand)
7. The People - even in a city of 10 Million the Thai people are very friendly
8. A "GOOD" Thai Massage - our hit ratio was about 1 in 3 were good

Lowlights:

1. The crowds, the pollution, the noise
2. The Sex Tourism Trade
3. The obvious poverty and lack of a social safety net

Well I don't really know how to write about Bangkok without immediately just jumping up on my soap box, but I'll try.

First of all after a month in Bali and 3 days in Singapore we were very ill prepared for Bangkok. Bangkok is 10 million strong with the noise, crowds, traffic and pollution to go with it. It is the most air-polluted city I have ever visited. LA has nothing on Bangkok. That said, I did not find Bangkok insufferable. There is plenty to see and do in the city and the train system is world class. We spent 5 days in Bangkok driven by the fact that we needed to get Egyptian Visas as we've decided to add Egypt as a destination rather than just a transit point.

So while we took care of the Visas I decided to check into the tailoring industry that is very well represented in Bangkok. I did some research, talked to some folks and in the end rolled the dice and picked a tailor shop that was somewhere between the 2-suits-2-extra-pants-2-ties-and-2-shirts-for-$189-guys and the I'll-charge-you- more-than-your-tailor-at-home-guys. In the end I picked David Mann in the Ambassador Hotel on Sukhumvit, Soi 11 because I liked them, I liked their fabric and in the end I felt like I'd get a couple decent quality suits and accessories for a lot less than I'd pay at home. Time will tell whether or not I chose wisely. :)

The food in Bangkok is as you might imagine excellent and if you look around also very cheap. You can pay almost North American level prices if you want to but if you look around you can find amazing food for a fraction of the cost. We could easily eat dinner for 4 with a cocktail each for 600 Baht or $20 Cdn. For snacks, fresh fruit or just the experience you can just walk down any of the side streets and grab something from one of the street vendors. It seems all it takes in Thailand is a food cart with mandatory fluorescent bulb, a couple of folding tables and some chairs and you have a restaurant. Now the ambiance is pure yellow air and car horn but the food is simple, good and inexpensive.

Speaking of street vendors as with Bali there are people hawking their wares everywhere and as with Bali you can buy pretty much everything under the sun with a few new twists like Replica Handguns al la the movie "Snatch" and assorted martial arts weapons like throwing stars. Kayla thought we should buy a few stars and we could play games with them. I immediately imagined Tyler with a star stuck in his head, the result of a tragic throwing error. ;)

So, upon hearing this we affirmed her creativity and imagination but declined to issue the Purchase Order on grounds of child safety. I must confess to almost caving in though as I have always wanted a few throwing stars myself. The little boy in me could see a whole host of trees at the cabin becoming surrogate targets as I raced around playing Ninja. Maybe another time, perhaps we could include a few stars as stocking stuffers next Christmas. Not likely to pass the Shannon-test! :)

As I mentioned the Train system is world class so the day we went sight seeing we jumped on the sky train made one transfer and voila we were at the River. Now, for me I had some very romantic images and ideas of what a boat ride in Bangkok, The Venice of the Orient might be like. Those were quickly shattered as we boarded the cattle liner water taxi to head up or down the river to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. The River is dirty, really dirty which I knew but I didn't if you know what I mean. The river is lined with 5 star hotels which lie right next to a -5 Star set of shacks. It was really quite bizarre in that sense.

The Wat and the Grand Palace were great. The Wat is the home of the Emerald Buddha, which is not really emerald but revered none the less. It was so cool just to wonder around and take in the architecture, sculptures and statues etc. within the Wat. On the way back, we missed the last water taxi/ferry so we were faced with riding the bus, that is a big negatory Big Ben, or paying for a Long Boat. We chose door #2 and while it was considerably more expensive, 400 Baht, than the water taxi, it was much more enjoyable. It was more like what I imagined a trip on the river to be like and the sun was setting etc. so it just made for a better memory.

So, as I said all was not lost in Bangkok and besides we had a one bed room serviced apartment, serviced apartments rock, at the Grande President on Sukhumvit Soi 11. It was awesome we had our own bedroom, internet in the room for $6 a day and a full kitchen for breakfast and snacks all for under $100 a night.

We got an extra night in Bangkok on our way back from Chiang Mai on the way to Phuket. The main purpose of that stop was just to pick up my suits. However, as fate would have it my friend Dave just happened to be coming to Bangkok on business at the same time as we were to be passing through. As usual it was awesome to see a friendly face from home. We met him for a few drinks in the Hotel Lobby and then we headed out for a nice dinner and some wine. It was a special evening and fun was had by all. We got caught up on all the happenings in Calgary and had some great chats about life and living in the moment. It was a great night!

Cheers Dave and Thanks! The kids loved the choclate and so did we!

NOW....

I think I did a good job avoiding the soap box but alas the time has come for me to jump up and speak about the not so pleasant sides of Bangkok, "Oriental City where the streets are gold and the girls are pretty...". Pretty they are and from what I could see that beauty has become their curse. There are two things that ripped at my soul in different ways when I walked down Sukhumvit. One was the obvious lack of any kind of social safety net. Which I believe contributes to my other point but I'll get to that.

I have traveled a lot and seen a lot of street people, runaways and lost souls. The people we as society have discarded. WE, the collective we, want to forget about them, pretend they don't exist and for the most part we do. In Bangkok however, I have seen things that I found shocking and absolutely heartbreaking. Young mothers with babies, filthy sitting on the street with child in hand and cup. Looking so sad, so lost, we saw some of that in Bali but for some reason it hit me harder here. Maybe because they just looked so much more desperate.

I saw a young boy, probably Tyler's age, sitting on the street, struggling to stay awake again with a cup in his hands. It was farang (foreigner) prime time and so rather than being in bed like most little kids he was perched, back against a cement wall, in the middle of the packed sidewalk. I just about lost it, as a father I could not imagine but then again I don't think I can imagine what the circumstances of his or his family's existence are like either. I can't imagine not having food on the table each day, I can't imagine having to go hungry. I'm pretty sure this little boy doesn't have to try to imagine it, he and his family are living it.

Lastly, the one image that seems to haunt me is of a young man, maybe in his mid-twenties who had lost a leg literally crawling, not on all fours but like a snake down the sidewalk. Now, it was so shocking to me that my first reaction was this guy is working a con, this can't be real. He's just working the maximum sympathy vote. But then I took a second look, as difficult as that was, and I looked at his face and into his eyes. There I did not see a con, I saw a very sad, desperate and lost soul.

I learned something there. I realized at that moment that it is easy to just take what you see at face value. The Thai people are very friendly and they smile and laugh a lot and love the kids but as you walk along the street and catch a glimpse of some of them when they are just sitting, no one around to sell to or maybe eating a meal on their stool beside their cart. Then in that moment if you look into their eyes you see a sadness, a quiet look of desperation that says a whole lot more than words ever could. It says in the midst of this dirty, polluted, noisy, busy city of 10 million I'm doing the best I can, with what little I got, to get me through today.

In the end, I felt sad for them and at the same time I felt so very blessed. It was again a very poignant reminder to me of how good I/we have it at home. I also admire these people because they don't give up and they are very kind but I dare you, look past the smile to see what is underneath. Smiles whether here or back home can hide a lot. They are the perfect mask!

The second topic I need to write about is the whole sex trade/sex tourism thing that goes on here. I knew it existed, I've heard stories, watched TV shows about it but none of that prepared me for how blatantly out in the open and how prevalent it really is and not just in Bangkok. Now before anyone decides to jump on me for being pious or judgmental I just want to say one simple thing, "But for the Grace of God there go I!" That said, I would be incongruent were I too just gloss over this I have way to much energy about it to let it slide.

As a father of a young girl and as someone who sponsors a young girl in northern Thailand it absolutely breaks my heart to see what goes on. To see how "PREDATORY" men can be and how they can then just discard these girls like they would a rental car at the end of their journey! It is wrong at every level, emotionally, physically and spiritually. And I'll debate anyone who cares to say it isn't!

There is something seriously wrong with our world when men from all over the world can come to a poor, developing country, like Thailand and just exploit these girls and boys and use them as their own personal sex toys and then leave. They prey on the fact that these people are desperate, they are either doing it to put food on their family's table and/or ensure their brothers and sisters get to stay in school or worse they have been sold into this life by their family to pay off debts and are beaten if they don't generate enough revenue. It is a human tragedy and as a human being I am sad for our world. Sad for these girls and sad for their families and quite frankly sad for the countries where this goes on.

And it happens all because they had the misfortune of being born in Thailand or Indonesia or another developing country rather than in North America. Not that this does not happen in NA or Europe, it does. We all know it does but like the street people we pretend it doesn't. And maybe that is the difference here in Thailand it is not under the radar and the fact that these men pay these girls basically nothing, by western standards, makes it that much more appalling. So not only are we outsourcing our factory jobs to developing, low paying nations, we are also outsourcing our sex trade.

I don't know where I'm going with this but I just needed to put it out there. As I said I have a lot of energy around this and if even one person reads this and decides not to partake in this kind of activity I will have achieved something. I sit here and look at the sheer size of the global sex/porn industry and it is hard to feel like I can make any difference. Sex Addiction is out of control and running rampant around the globe. I used those words deliberately as I can think of no other way to describe it and to describe it any other way would be sugar coating it. If even one person reads this and seeks out help for his own struggles in this area a battle has been won and as we know wars are won one battle at a time.

And btw, in a survey done recently that was published in a Thai paper women in Thailand have it better than most of the women in the SE Asia/Inida areas of the world. For me that's a pretty scary thought.

Kid's Said:

Highlights:

Tyler:
- Going on the Train
- Loved the boat ride
- Our hotel was so beautiful
- Spring rolls are yummy
- Fresh pineapple every day from the street vendors

Kayla:
- Going to the Grand Palace
- Riding the Sky Train
- Fresh pineapple every day from the street vendors
- Seeing Dave

Lowlights:

Kayla:
- Pollution made the sky so cloudy
- The River tour was disgusting cuz it was so polluted - there was garbage everywhere

Tyler - No Lowlights
Slideshow Report as Spam

Comments

kapish
kapish on

Other must do's in bkk!
Wanted to give ideas from my experience too:
1 - Excellent thai food, especially one on the corner of sukhumvit soi 15, dont know the name though
2 - Custom tailored Suits - Crown Tailor in Sukhumvit soi 8 - Excellent suits
3 - Thai massage - asked for a soft one though! heard about how some of them can get very painful!
4 - Platinum mall - targeted towards the ladies, but a big shopping arcade full of clothes (cheap) on Pratunam

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