Disclaimer: If you love Bangkok, read no further.
03.02.2013 - 07.02.2013
Bangkok, the land of a thousand smiles. I read that on a billboard here. It sounds cheery enough, sure, but Bangkok has a population of over eight million. That’s a 0.0125% percent smile rate. Funnily enough, I’m with the majority. Every morning when I open my eyelids, it reminds me of waking up after a night involving a bottle of Jack Daniels; cloudy head, sweating, waking up in a strange bed, grasping at any sign of your whereabouts. Then you remember, you slept with your neighbour’s dog. Well, you get that same smack in the face here, “Where am I? Oh, shitsticks I’m in freaking Bangkok.” The city of grime, grit and gender-defying girlymen. I take solace in my morning shower, as that is the only time of day when I am not sweating like a Saharan swine, and I don’t feel that if I looked in a mirror I would see Pig-Pen’s dirtier brother. Vermin scurry at your feet while you eat, and any peace in a meal is taken by the third hawker in as many minutes offering you the same hat for sale which, when worn, screams “I am a twat.”
Bangkok - The Land of 1000 Smiles
I can comprehend how the allure of the dozens of grand shopping malls may attract the likes of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda & Charlotte, but shopping to me is comparable to sitting through “Legally Blonde,” over and over. Maybe with Babs Streisand singing her rendition of “Goodbye My Lover” sitting on the couch next to me. In short, it’s not my calico bag, baby.
Which leaves basically naught to do but for the taking in of the impressive array of holy temples and Buddhas in all of their grand splendour. Taking a significant portion of a day, you can jump aboard a Tuk-tuk and see all of these sights, visiting many jewellery shops along the way which the driver takes you to against your will, in the vain hope that you may buy a trinket from his cousin. After this excursion, you are indeed left with the naught which I mentioned earlier in this paragraph.
I experienced this magnificent tour first hand my previous visit to Bangkok. Yes, that’s right. This is my second tour of duty in the hazy Thai capital. If you have travelled South East Asia before, you would know too that Bangkok is quite a pivotal point to venture from one region to another. On this trip my wife and I were travelling from Laos to the Philippines, and were required to stop in Bangkok to visit the Philippine embassy in order to purchase an extended tourist visa of 59 days as opposed to the standard issue three weeks. This worked in our favour twofold as…
(a) The Philippines is by all accounts a beautiful gem not to be missed,
(b) An extended visa grants us 38 days longer away from fucking Bangkok.
I wish to tell the tale of the trials and tribulations of this trip to Thailand’s tacky town.
I awoke next to my beautiful bride, on the stunningly serene isle of Don Det, located amongst the 4,000 Islands in the south of Laos. Today was our last day on our 28 day tourist visa in this beautiful country. We stayed as long as permitted and wished we could have stayed longer, such a stunning land and I can’t wait to return. After enjoying our last breakfast we boarded the long boat which would take us to the mainland. From here, we climbed into a mini-bus which was to take us to the Laos border. Our driver was a little loco, a slightly crazed gent in a faded t-shirt and ripped jeans. He seemed to laugh almost maniacally at the drop of a hat, his glass eye the only thing that wasn’t moving as he cackled. The slightly concerning thought of this dude driving us the two hours to the border was made less slight as he took a big swig of his Beerlao longneck as we left the station. True to his Red Bull fuelled nature, he drove like Schumacher on his way home from work about to miss an episode of Lost. Fortunately, there were no casualties of the human variety; unfortunately I cannot speak for the countless number of Lao wildlife pancaked by the critter hungry cruiser we zoomed in. We could not hear the squishing of squirrels due to the decibel defying Lao pop that our dear driver had blasting through the stereo and into our eardrums. I am still undecided as to which I would have preferred given the choice.
Shaken but safe, we arrived at the border in time to board our night-train. I would like to firstly point out, that these are not as cool as Axl Rose would have you believe. However, they are relatively comfy, and are a great way to get to Bangkok as slowly as humanly possible. Travelling with our dear friend Maddy, we watched a movie to pass the time, before retiring to our curtained cubbies for the night. Lao pop still ringing in my inner-ear and peace seemingly unreachable; Eddie and the boys did a great job of sending me to sleep that night. Thank you Mr Jobs for making a musical memory eraser.
Sophie on board the night-train
I awoke to a scent that I recalled from years earlier. Where is Captain Planet and his Planeteers when you need them? It was Bangkok alright. Wafting through the window was the unmistakable stench of a city in dire need of a good spring clean. If someone could please call Ambi-Pur and tell them to stop buggering around with fresheners for your Ford Fairlane and order a lavender scented number that can plug in conveniently to a skyscraper or a nearby Buddha that would be terrific.
Just a thought...
We arrived at the station, bleary eyed but quite well rested and prepared ourselves for what lay ahead. Fighting off Tuk-tuk drivers with our bare hands, we eventually found a metered taxi to take us to Khao San Road, the home of backpackers, bars and booze. A cool scene involving markets that run from first thing in the morning until late into the evening, plenty of places to wet the whistle and a bevy of fellow travellers to bounce stories off of. Hawkers here not only sold aforementioned “twat hats,” but also scorpions, grubs and crickets for a culinary delight. Although I would like to tell you all that I took a handful of each, crushed them up into a creepy-crawly cocktail and threw them down the hatch like Hussain, I will let the truth get in the way of a good story and say that I did not partake in anything exotic this time around. Maybe one day… but probably not.
Finding accommodation, we went hunting for something slightly more palatable than insect meat. I will say this for Bangkok; it is fortunately part of Thailand, and Thai food is some of the most amazing food on the planet. If you are a fan of a good curry, and like me they don’t give you an upset tum, I cannot recommend Thailand high enough. After lunch, I promptly went back to the accommodation and spent the next day and a half on, or lying in close proximity to, the Royal Doulton. It makes it quite challenging to write anything entertaining about such a situation, so I’ll let you use your imagination. But please don’t.
Plying myself up with Hydrolite, a full season of Breaking Bad and positive thoughts of the Philippines, I recovered. I wondered if the events of the past 36 hours had to happen because Bangkok knew somehow that I would write this blog slagging it off until the cows came home. Which if they were in Bangkok, they wouldn’t come home as there is no grass and they would probably all choke to death on the fumes. Speaking of cows, I sadly decided to avoid meat for the rest of this leg (pun intended), and tried to stick to fruit and vegetarian dishes.
The remaining days were spent in the largest workout facility I have ever seen. Check that, the largest of the two workout facilities I have ever seen. A day pass would grant you access to their lap pool, their extensive range of beefcake machines, their rock climbing wall (awesome) and yes, finally, a basketball court. I am somewhat obsessed with the game and this was the first time since leaving my homeland two months ago that I picked up a Spalding and fired up some shots. I do miss Thursday night basketball with the fellas, playing on the greatly feared “Beers” team.
We also went on an amazing adventure to one of the shopping malls. Now, now, before you start labelling me as a hypocrite, we didn’t go shoe shopping or anything. Ok, we did go shoe shopping. We plan to go trekking and caving in the Philippines and I don’t think my trusty Converse All Stars will cut the mustard. After completing the mission as quickly as possible, we found a Tuk-tuk with a somewhat adventurous driver to take us home. I was all inspired to make this entire column about a “Speed” rip-off containing a Tuk-tuk that would explode if it dropped to below 5 km/h. The most nail-biting moment includes when the motor cuts out, and it takes four brave locals to laugh in the face of death and give us a push. I’m sure this may have been fun, but it turns out it’s also a laugh to poke fun at my most loathed city on the planet so far, and yes, this includes the Gold Coast.
In closing, I wish to apologise to anyone reading this that has a close affinity to the city of Bangkok, and if I have offended you deeply, jog on.