copyright 1998, James Waldron Design, all rights reserved
2/9/98 Bangkok, Thailand,
The fear built as I boarded the plane in Melbourne, Australia, bound eventually for Bali. This trip was to remove me from the English-speaking, easy travel of down under, to the exotic, completely foreign world of the South Pacific. I had a 12 hour layover in Bangkok, arriving at 11 in the evening, with the safety net of a free airport hotel, but the intrigue of decadent downtown Bangkok beckoning me to explore. Determined to overcome my jitters, I got a cab to Patpong, home of nastiness and debauchery.
The Bangkok airport itself is a frightening, huge place with all sorts of vehicles swarming each landing aircraft, shuttling passengers, food, luggage and freight to the terminal. The reception terminal is bathed in dull orange light and crawling with all varieties of travelers from fair-skinned Scandanavians to tiny, ancient, tanned Asian women squatting with their families. I felt very conspicuous with my pair of knapsacks and skittering around changing some Australian dollars for Thai Baht.
I checked into the hotel, actually attached to the baggage area. No surprises here, like any airport hotel around the world. Safe, secure, a nice space to get a good night's sleep. The view out my window gave me a different perspective of the city though, row after row of small, dark, beat-up cottages with smoke wafting from every fifth or sixth one.
My big dilemma for the day? Stay put or go out? I took a deep breath
The airport is 25 kilometers from the main city. I got a tourist cab and off I went. City transport in Bangkok is notable right away due to the diverse mixture of motor vehicles on the highway. Mercedes cabs are surrounded by Tuk-tuks, a three-wheeled motorcycle cab with open passenger compartment and small lights trimming the roof. They all look like Bob Marley painted them on a good buzz. Adding more adventure to the road are thousands of motorcycles weaving in and out of every opening.
Not that highways are usually the most scenic drives, but the ride into Bangkok was especially dull for looking at buildings. Non-descript 40 story skyscrapers grow out of square miles of low, cement and thatched roof buildings. Most of the tall spots are covered with billboards for western consumer brands: Panasonic, Sony, Marlboro, and Coke. My driver and I made a feeble attempt at conversation, both understanding absolutely nothing, but grinning and nodding happily at the end of each exchange.
Eventually we arrived at my supposed point of departure, noteworthy only by a smattering of pedestrian traffic and strings of bright lights. I got out and put on my best "don't fuck with me" face and trundled down towards the activity on the street.
I've never been to a place where the street vendors were hawking deep-fried insects alongside Coca-colas, but here, intrepid tourists are presented with quite a palette of creatures we Westerners generally spray with an aerosol can of Black Flag. This was more noteworthy than the go-go bars lining both sides of the street.
Although the sex trade is the supposed main draw to Patpong, there are five times more vendors for every conceivable bad tourist-trinket. You can get fake Nike's, Versachi bags, jewelry, lighters, lamps, wood carving, biker jackets, wind chimes, Whatever. and munch on bugs while you shop. On either side of the alley ways there are dozens of greeters luring visitors into dancing bars where bikini-clad Asian girls dance on stage and chat at the bar. Menus are posted and handed out explaining how much beer costs and what specific unnatural acts will be performed for your viewing or participatory pleasure.
Against all odds, I was too intimidated to go into anyplace. I didn't know what scams to look out for. I didn't know how much to pay for a beer. I didn't know how fast I had to run to get out of trouble. Instead I walked around the same three blocks for two hours watching the other tourists make their way from one place to another. Ah, for a local guide or a fearless Westerner.
So, a little disappointed, and without fresh insects in my belly, I
escaped Satans pit of despair intact and nodded off in the sanctity of
my air-conditioned room, leaving wild nights in Bangkok for later in the