Bangkok, last stop.
Trip Start Dec 07, 1999
8Trip End Jan 07, 2000
Note: For those of you who have been following along, I have added the Thai boxing and millennium party bits to the last entry in Koh Samui and the pictures from the underwater camera to the Koh Tao entry.
"Last stop, Bangkok - Getting there"
Ed was lucky, he managed to get a flight from the Island (Koh Samui) straight to Bangkok. Myself, on the other hand, had to hightail it to Surat Thani ( on the mainland ) to catch my flight. A taxi, a ferry, a bus, a flight and a beautiful sunrise later and I was in the Bangkok airport. "Kao Sahn road please..."
"Kao Sahn Rd, although it is in Bangkok, it's not really Bangkok"
Ever since the first guesthouses started springing up on Kao Sahn road, the tourists began flocking here for cheap accommodations
The market stalls running along Kao Sahn have everything the tourist would need. Internet access, food, drinks, souvenirs, switchblades, drugs, alcohol... you know... the usual. We did some pretty heavy shopping, seeing as it was our last destination. 8 dollar shirts, 5 dollar hats, 3 dollar Thai whiskey and cheap jewellery filled every empty crevice in my backpack by the time I left Bangkok.
"The Meat Market - Soi Nana"
Cheang, a travel mate from Koh Samui, met up with us to show us around Bangkok at night. We headed for Soi Nana, one of the streets in Bangkok which only caters to one thing..
Now, having been to Amsterdam it was interesting to compare the two. Amsterdam has its own sex trade as well but it can't really be compared to Bangkok. I would say that Amsterdam is more like a controlled prostitution shopping mall and Bangkok is the mess of a weekend outdoor market. That's really the impression I had. After leaving the Go Go bars we went to a Beer Bar.
Surprisingly, it was pretty much the same thing here, although it was a bar which had a dance floor and was much different in physical layout than the Go Go bars, it was packed with prostitutes. I stuck to the dance floor for about 15 minutes but it was fairly uncomfortable having all of these women poking, grabbing and leering at you wanting you to buy them a "drink". I found that retreating to the bar for a drink alone was a far better idea.
The expression "You can't see the forest from the trees" held true here
I personally find it sad that some tourists come to Bangkok just for this, and you see it everywhere. Older men with young Thai girls... and boys. It's unbelievable. Bangkok caters to pretty much any of your sinful needs and this is just one of them. ( Not that I have any sinful needs or anything :) )
"The other Soi"
A Soi is a street, and there are a few others in Bangkok which cater to the sex trade, most notoriously, Patpong and Soi Cowboy. We swung by to check them out. I found the women to be very aggressive in Soi Cowboy. I remember having to pick one up with both arms to get her off of me after she had thrown herself over me on the couch. Using my silver ring as a wedding band didn't help either, most of them were married too.
"Insects for dinner anyone?"
Near Soi Nana dozens of food stalls line the streets. The one that caught my eye was the one which had the insects. Cockroaches, Maggots, Scorpions and Grasshoppers, I just had to try one. The grasshopper was my meal that day (yummy). It was actually not that bad, sort of like popcorn. They deep fry them in butter so it's a very buttery flavour. With a weak stomach I didn't brave any others. "Maybe next time" I thought to myself.
"The Gem Scam - How we got Conned."
We were well aware of the gem scams, that's what made it hard to believe that we fell for it
A tuk tuk driver offers to take us to where we want to go for 10 cents, dirt cheap... He can do this of course because he gets commission for bringing us to a few extra places. Good for him and good for us right? We had heard of tuk tuk drivers doing this so we thought "what the hell" and jumped in. What's the harm in seeing a few extra places to make our tuk tuk driver happy and get a cheap fare in the process.
We were told that because of all the gem scams in Bangkok that the government puts on a special exhibition of tax free gems 7 days a year and this was the last day. The tuk tuk driver said that he got a gas voucher for bringing us there, so why not stop in and help him out. All we have to do is look around, not buy anything, so he can get his gas voucher.
"Before hitting the exhibit, let's stop at this monastery" the clever driver suggests, "Sure why not"... The lucky temple he says, we'll be lucky today if we walk around the temple so what's the harm? While walking through the temple, a casual blue-collar Thai man strikes up a conversation with us. We talked for about 1 hour about Bangkok, his family and the temples... and, of course, the gem convention going on right now... last day of the show he says. His story coincides perfectly with the drivers. We say our good-byes and are off to the exhibit.
This guy was so convincing that Ed confided to me later in the day that he though to himself that this was the first genuinely nice, blue-collar Thai person we had met in Bangkok
This turned out to be a shop, not what we expected. Other tourists were there, some buying gems and wandering around. Very legitimate. After a quick conversation we realized that we didn't have the kind of cash needed to buy anything in here so we left. The tuk tuk driver dropped us off at a market and that was the last we saw of him. That's it... now if you rewind and look at the events which happened you can see that this was most likely 99.9% a con. The unsolicited man in the temple ( why go to the temple in the first place ) the 7 day tax free exhibit, the last day of the exhibit... I'll bet that the other tourists in the gem shop were in on it too!
This didn't click 'til about 24 hours later when we started piecing together the sequence of events... damn they were good! It was very casual, no pressure, very well organized and extremely hard to see that it wasn't legit. Thank God we didn't have any cash! I am glad we experienced it though...
Lesson of the day... don't buy any gems while in Thailand!!!! I don't know if they were fake gems or if the gems were over-priced but what ever the scam, it's obvious, looking back, that it was a scam indeed.
"The Grand Palace and the Wats"
Although you may be thinking that Bangkok is a seedy town of sin, there are some clean, respectable sights here. The Grand Palace houses the Emerald Buddha, a Buddha carved of Emerald ( go figure :) )
More impressive was Wat Pho, more specifically, the Reclining Buddha. This huge golden statue of the Buddha is quite nice... it's just huge!
Thailand is 96% Buddhist and there is 1 Wat for every 2000 citizens in Thailand, no shortage of temples here! Thais spend anywhere from 3 months to 3 years in a Wat for their ordination into monkhood and education, sort of like our western equivalent of post-secondary schooling. By the time we got to Bangkok, we had seen enough Wats to last a lifetime.
"Venice of the East"
On our last day we took a boat ride through the canals of Bangkok. Bangkok is much like Venice, it has tons of canals. It is also sinking by 10 cm a year. Zipping through the canals gives you a good view of the city from a different perspective. Although I wouldn't want to fall into the water... the brown sludge which fills the canals is most certainly toxic, Bangkok is one of the most polluted cities in the world
4am, my rucksack jammed-packed with trinkets, I headed for the taxi. The 3 second pause to look at Kao Sahn one last time is the last image I have in my head from Asia. As we had predicted, 3 days in Bangkok right at the end of our trip would be enough to make us want to come home, sure enough ... it did. The frustration of Bangkok got to us... it was time to get away...
... Bangkok... Tokyo... Los Angeles... Toronto... Ottawa
Home sweet home... Aside the fact that the lead singer from the band "The Tea Party" was in line behind me at the Burger King in the LAX airport, the flight was fairly uneventful. A warm shower and a few days to adjust to the cold and time zone and here I am... it's over. My 1 month trek through Asia has come to a close. I can't say that it was the most relaxing trip ever but it was the most culturally rich trip I have ever experienced. As the welcome page predicted... it was "One hell of an adventure".
- La Fin