Bangkok - Thailand
12.12.2011 - 15.12.2011
The journey from Malaysia left us yearning for a shower and so we hurried on to the Metro, shaking off the beckoning calls of the scooter taxi drivers: 'hey!', 'Where you go?', 'Can I help you?' and 'Where you go today?'. A nice semi-retired gent with very good English joined us as we embarked on to the, Singapore style ultra-modern Metro system. He told us how he had visited England a couple decades ago when he was a high flyer on the non-woven fabric front and how he much preferred Manchester over London – too busy for him! Soph enquired about non-wovens and he explained it was material for things like nappies. We had to pass through a metal detector to get into the station and after beeping we had to open our giant backpacks on the station floor whilst the uniformed officer shone his torch inside half-heartedly. Soon we were at our backpacker hostel near the famous Muay Thai Lumpini stadium…we hoped to catch a show at some point.
The dorm was basic but modern, which was fine aside from the 12man stench it produced due to lack of ventilation, which brought a whole new meaning to ‘melting pot’. After freshening up we landed ourselves deep in the heart of the Chinese quarter and started to pound the streets by foot to explore the sights and sounds of this area. We were rewarded with intimate alleys and a breadth of activity within them. We saw little children playfully peek out at us, squatting old ladies stirring up simple but fragrant dishes for eager locals and industrious workers loading their wares onto carts and pickups. Soon we entered a market akin to a labyrinth. The Sampeng market stretches for a mile through a series of connected alleys that dissect through a number of Bangkok blocks. The narrow, covered markets were packed tight with people fighting to move in opposite directions. Every now and then, a scooter overladen with good tries to charge its way through. A couple of hours later, we emerged…hungry!
The Indian ‘Phahurat’ district followed next and we explored briefly here before heading to two prominent temples. We snacked on some street food, sticky rice covered in egg and grilled over charcoals. Before we hit the historical quarter we walked through the flower street market which sprawled a couple of blocks on the pavement.
We visited Wat Pho near the royal palace; it is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok from the 16th century and houses the country’s largest Buddha; 46m long and 15m high! We had a great time exploring the sight and the giant Buddha was amazing, coated in gold leaf, with an intricate pattern on its sole filled with mother of pearl. After this temple we took a ferry river crossing to Wat Arun named after the Indian God of dawn ‘Aruna’. It was made of tile mosaic and 82m tall.
The big fight night was on at the Lumpini stadium so we rushed back and barely made the 9pm start, however the good seats were well out of our backpacker budget. We consoled each other that we would inevitably find somewhere else in Thailand to watch Muay Thai. Disappointed, we headed back to the hostel. Sensing our disappointment, the receptionist recommended a good, professional, massage centre. We headed over to a place near the stadium where none of the masseuses spoke English and most of the clientele were Thai. Soon we were being elbowed, crushed and twisted into positions that would make a contortionist green with envy. Feeling like a bowl of Pad Thai we stumbled back to our dorms for a restful night’s sleep (helped by the ear plugs). The next day Sully woke up early and brought back a flower garland for Soph and soften the blow when he dragged her out onto the to the large variety of stalls that lined the streets for Bangkok commuters and office workers.
The following days we explored the rest of the city and tried to get to know the real Bangkok. We witnessed middle aged western men courting ladies young enough to be their granddaughters! Thailand definitely has a knack for attracting the oddballs and outcast men from America looking to fulfil their testosterone fuelled desires. The stalls in the Pat Pong night market sold some great stuff and we promised to buy a few things before we returned back to the UK and when we would re-visit Bangkok in March. Unfortunately, this area suffered from the worst desperations of society. Row upon rows of girls sat on little plastic chairs waiting to be plucked by punters. Touts waved laminated sheets in front of us with photos of young women on them for your choosing.
Soph read a book called ‘The Pat Pong Sisters’ Cleo Odzer, written some time ago by an American PhD student who sought to get behind the notorious industry here. As one would expect, many of the girls come from poverty ridden rural areas, often being pushed into the industry by family members. But what came as a surprise was that the ladies would be considered akin to movie stars when they returned to the village as they were dressed really well and afforded luxuries those left behind could never dream of having. Another reason why Thailand is culturally accepting and encouraging of this behaviour. Apparently, it was historically common for Thai men and Laos men to have paid mistresses. In modern times, the wealthier western man has simply taking their place.
Other touts, and the most relentless, kept trying to convince us how great the ‘shows’ were. These shows are where women project various inanimate objects from themselves. The only way we found to stop them from pestering us was to say we had already been to a show the previous night, at which point the more enterprising touts asked which object we had seen and would offer us to attend a show where a different object was being launched to Mars.
We also visited the Arab district, where it distinctly felt like Cairo in Egypt and we saw Muslims dressed in traditional clothes. We enjoyed some mint tea and talked to the owners. A nearby shopping mall was fascinating. Called Terminal 21, the staff were dressed like air hostesses and each floor was based on a different country with décor to match…our kind of shopping mall!
After a couple of nights in Bangkok, and with only a 15 day visa, we decided not to spend too much longer in this city of thrills as we will definitely be back and booked tickets to travel to nearby Ayutthaya, a town teeming with ancient history…