Bangkok: More than Just a Dirty Old Man?
I’m writing this at 3 a.m., fan blasting in my face, my giant, frizzy fro taking up half the room while Bangkok pants and sweats all over me like the dirty old man that it is.
It’s fully hot and smarmy and this is the cool season!
I would spend my days lying in the street screaming for help if I was here during their summer.
I can’t believe that I’ve only been here for four days because I think I’ve seen every square inch of this not so small city. Much of it by accident. Thanks to the king (Bhumibol Adulyade), and the festivities surrounding his existence. Not to mention the fact that I’m Braindeadus Senseofdirectionless Maximus.
Holy crap. It’s been epic. But fun and mighty tasty and a little… frustrating.
I feel like I’d love Bangkok, that there’s something super bizarre about this place. But I… Just. Can’t. Crack. It. Somehow.
That somehow, I think, relates to the fact that I haven’t been awake very much. I don’t know if it’s the heat or the jetlag, but yesterday at about 3:00 p.m., I found myself thinking that I’ll just have me a little lie down. I woke up 12 hours later. And this keeps happening to me! It’s so bad that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m scared to stop moving. For real.
Here are some observations I’ve made in my narcoleptic stupor:
Bangkok is a city full of smiley people who are really into the blues. Every bar seems to boast that they’ve got a blues band showing up to play. 7-11 is big here, too. And you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an older white guy with a hot young Thai girl.
Bangkok’s part-super-slick, modern city with the cleanest most efficient skytrain that I’ve ever ridden and part-ramshackle town, full of ancient temples, traditions, monks, and these boats shaped like old tea houses that float by like hallucinations.
I’m staying in a great neighborhood by the river called Banglamphu in a sweet little teak
guesthouse that I love because it’s tucked away from the pub crawl of 23-year-old backpackers a few blocks away. Villa Guesthouse. Ask for Chewey.
For a while, I was sort of bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t get out from Whiteyville — that everywhere I went was still tourist central, and then lo and behold, I got what I asked for.
I woke up one morning and took the river taxi — these crazy boats that fly up and down the Chao Phraya River, barely pulling up to the dock so you can jump on — to go see an ancient temple housing the biggest reclining Buddah in the country.
Then I jumped back on the taxi and went downtown to see the fancy hotels and skyscrapers, and to catch the Skytrain to go to Nana, the neighborhood where all the tranny prostitutes hang out. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it ended up being just really dirty and full of weird bars playing loud heavy metal music. The Horny White Dude was everywhere as was The Hot Young Thai Girl. I thought there’d be, I don’t know, a bit more of a circus going on? Better music? A drag show or two? Ping pong balls?
By this time I’d been walking around nonstop for about six hours in flip flops, and my feet were purple throbbing things, so I decided to head home because I wanted to hit this huge open market the next day and would need my energy. So I hopped back on the skytrain, all proud of myself that I’d mastered the public transportation system, to take it to the bus that would drop me off a couple blocks from my guesthouse.
What happened instead, though, was that I took the skytrain to the bus that dropped me off several miles from my guesthouse because, unbeknownst to me, the entire country was out in the streets celebrating the king’s birthday. The streets were lit up for countless blocks with Christmas lights, a live concert was blaring over giant TV screens, and people in bright pink shirts packed together for miles to celebrate.
I had no idea how far away I was, but at least I’d be walking home in the middle of a party! I figured I’d just keep walking in the direction that the bus had been headed and stick close to my map, which wound up being way more challenging than I had thought due to traffic circles everywhere, very few street signs, and the fact that my map seemed to only put names to streets when it felt like it.
I’d say that within, oh, 15 minutes, I was completely lost. I couldn’t for the life of me find where I was on my map, and neither could any of the enthusiastically helpful people I asked along the way.
After about two hours of this nonsense, I was out of my mind, desperate, sweaty, and crashing through the streets like Godzilla, flinging people out of my path. I’d get to every new intersection with the hope that some sort of information would be presented to me only to find more chaos — and more streets named things like Ratchadamnern Rd. By the time I looked from the sign to my lame map, I’d forgotten the second half of the word, which is not okay because “Ratchadamnern Rd.” is very different from “Ratchasrima Rd.,” and they all change names every block anyway, and I want my mommy.
Five hours later I have discussed directions with well over 30 people and finally, somehow, praise the lord, am stumbling up to the door to my guesthouse. BUT, I am still determined not to fall asleep and to go get me some Bangkok nightlife. So I take a shower, wash my hair to ensure that I stay up at the very least until it dries, lie down for just a teeny tiny second to give my legs a little rest here, and wake up the next day, fully clothed. With a fro.
Even though the lower half of my body is no longer speaking to me, the next morning I head out to the weekend Chatuchak Market that has over 15,000 stalls of mind bogglingly excellent and cheap stuff from clothes to fabric to food to kittens to… I’m there for six straight heavenly hours and barely make it through half of it. I have never seen anything like this place. It’s like an entire city dedicated to shopping.
So there I am with my hewge bag of stuff, happy, exhausted, heading on home, figuring out what I’m going to do that night when IT HAPPENS AGAIN. Mr. When I’m King of Thailand I’m Going To Celebrate My Birthday For 12 Days Straight has once again caused major chaos, and I’m once again dropped of miles from my place.
I am pleased to report that four foot-throbbing hours later I was showered, awake and having several beers in a bar down the street with a German chef, listening to a band with some guy wearing what looked like a toilet seat cover on his head, singing the most inspiring version of “Let the Good Times Roll” that I’ve ever heard.
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