This post is catching up on the Bangkok night walk-about along with some pics I took.
I remembered four things about Bangkok. It was hot & humid. There was a curious mix of opulent wealth right next to poverty. Traffic and taxi drivers were crazy. And there was an ummmmm… “interesting” red light district. I guess there’s a fifth thing… the smells.
Right off the bat when I got off the airplane the temp and humidity went up. It was was over 90 degrees F yesterday and the humidity was up there. At 11:00 P.M. when I got back from my “walk-about” last night my shirt was soaked.
They have a “sky train” in Bangkok. Walt Disney envisioned the skyway that would move people all around a city. In LA and most major US cities we are still to have anything like that. Bangkok has a very elaborate system.
I was going to take the “sky train” from the Airport to my hotel, but I was intimidated doing that carrying all the crapola I have with me. So I decided that a taxi would be the smart thing to do. I’m happy… and terrified to report that the traffic and crazy taxi drivers are worse than I ever imagined.
In Jamaica they tell you when you ride a bus or taxi that you are supposed to close your eyes and say “No Problem Mon” a lot. Well… in Bangkok it’s just YEOOOOOOO!!! Be sure to bring a change of underwear.
Traffic laws seem to be merely a suggestion, as are lanes and even the direction a lane is supposed to go. In Memories of Naked Fanny I mentioned getting on the Freedom Bird and out of Bangkok by the “hair on my chinny-chin-chin” as the result of a taxi ride. Riding in a taxi is no better today.
Everything else was the same… only more so. There was opulent wealth. I went for a walk down to the Sukhumvit Road. Sukhumvit Road an ordinary road… kind of like 5th avenue. Except for the points where “alleys” go off to the sides you wouldn’t know about any of the “districts”. Several of these “alleys” are where the “night life is.. You wouldn’t even know which “alleys” (streets) to turn down except at the corner there would be bars or massage parlors.
There were high end stores everywhere. Of course every kind of fast food place you would find in the US too. I must have counted at least two of nearly everything you might find “back home”. There seems to be a Starbucks on every corner here too. I couldn’t believe all the posh stores.
Then within yards of the posh stores there were beggars. Not right at the stores of course because I suspect that they keep the beggars away. About 150 yards from a Rolex store I saw a guy laying on his belly… almost face down on the sidewalk with a money plate in front of him that he jingled. As I passed by I saw he was missing half a leg. I have heard the cast system in India is like this… don’t know if it is true. There were also beggars including women and children that were living on the streets. I had never seen anything like this in Thailand before.
Now about that “red light district”… I just want to make it clear that I’m just your “cub reporter”. I felt it was my duty to go there so I could tell you about some of the most famous… and infamous areas in Bangkok. As in my “earlier life” I just went to visit but not partake in any of the “activities”.
The hotel I was staying at was within walking distance of most of the “districts” I wanted to go to. So, I went for a walk-about.
Most of the walk was through regular places. It was clear that this was an area where tourists abound. At times I saw more “western” people than “Asian”. I’m kinda guessing there were a lot of expats, but that’s only my supposition. There were a lot of tourists too. There was lots of regular stuff… stores, outdoor restaurants, and regular businesses and the like… along the way. In some ways it reminded me quite a bit of Manhattan in the areas around Time Square.
As I walked along I heard what seemed to be some kind of live entertainment. There was some singer and stuff like that. So I walked toward the stage area. Then just as I got there, the singer stopped. Some guy took the microphone and was saying something to the assembled crowd. Everytime he stopped talking the crowd would blow whistles and jeer.
Then I remembered reading a US State Department warning about “civil unrest” in Bangkok. I suddenly realized that I was right in the middle of a “political rally”. Needless to say I got out of there as quickly as I could. As I walked out I kinda “tail-gaited” a couple of western guys. I figured that if it looked like I was with them, I would have strength in numbers.
After we were clear of the demonstrations I discovered that the two guys were indeed Americans. I asked them if they were worried about walking through the rally. They said, “don’t worry… nothing will happen if you don’t join in”. Hummmm… I’m not sure about that, so I decided I wasn’t going back the same way.
I have to tell you that I really didn’t feel threatened in any way while I was near the demonstrations. Instead it was kind of like the “Occupy” demonstrations we had a little while back in the US. There were tent-cities and lots of cars just parked right on the “main-drag”… Sukhumvit Road. Anyway, I think the State Department may be overstating the case. But… I didn’t plan to go back and find out.
Then it was on to the “districts”. One of the things I noted getting there was all the street vendors… or sidewalk vendors. If you look in a lot of the pics you will see them everywhere. They are selling everything from “meat on a stick” and fruit, to clothes, and lots of other stuff. These aren’t t-shirt or trinket vendors… just lots of little stands selling stuff. I thought this might be part of the poor folks I saw on the streets…until I saw lots of vendors with the latest high end “smart” cell phones and iPhones. There must be something to be said for low overhead.
The districts… I was most disappointed by the massage parlors. They were everywhere but nothing like I remembered. The places I recall in Bangkok were kinda luxury places. They had huge picture windows with a bevy of lovely “massage therapists” you could choose from. You would pick the young lady of your choice from a number badge she wore. Then she would take you to a private room where you would bathe and have your tension relieved. Keep in mind these were not prostitutes… well, not exactly.
But to my surprise… and horror… all of the places I saw were sorta like barber shops. Inside a rather plane looking store they had several recliners and people were getting their massage right there… in front of god and everybody. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to get my tension relieved there. Behind the “barber shop type” places they could have had larger areas with more “massage therapists”, but I didn’t go into any of them to ask. I will say that at almost every massage parlor I passed by, one of the “therapists” seemed to want me to get a massage.
The rest of the districts I went to were nothing like I remembered either. In the past, there were elaborate indoor bars with “stage shows” and lots of “ladies” that would offer to keep you company. This time I didn’t see any of those. Instead there were just a variety of bars. Almost all had a few areas to sit inside and lots of outside tables and stools. There were a lot more “ladies” in and around these bars than there were guys. Most of the guys were sitting with a lady.
The thing that surprised me the most is what appeared to be a lot of “street walkers” around the bars. In fact, there were a lot of folks just milling about. Now I don’t know what the “ladies” really did for a living, but they seemed to be a lot of them there.
I think there were a lot of Katoys there too. For those that don’t know, that’s a “Lady Boy”. They say you can tell a Katoy because they are the best looking “ladies” on the street… and by the huge Adams apple. I don’t know if any of that is true and I think Crocodile Dundee had the best method of knowing for sure.
It was getting late… at least for me. I figured that avoiding the demonstrations I had about an hour’s walk to get back to my hotel. As I got near the hotel I decided to avoid a couple of alleys I used as a short-cut early in the evening. This time I wanted to stick to the main-drags.
I got to within about a block of the hotel I was staying in… the Courtyard by Marriott. Then I heard a singer just down the street. I was in another area, but I realized I had walked into another political demonstration. But this time I just walked through while the guy was singing. This time I realized this was a demonstration but was too tired to turn around.
I probably should have turned around and found another way back to the hotel. And I was a little scared this time because it was much later at night. But… it all had a happy ending because I got back to the hotel without any problem.
Oh… what’s that you say? Did you think there would be some kind of other “happy ending’? I have no idea what you are talking about.
Oh yeah… that fifth thing I remembered about Bangkok… the smells. During the walk-about I encountered every kind of smell you can imagine. Sometimes it was good food, but mostly it was just P-U.
Click on the pics to get them full size
- This senior “western” gent is walking along with a nice younger lady… maybe his “tealok”. Again, the sidewalk is lined with vendors.
- Alley (Soi) “Clubs” & “Bars”. This was a dead end soi and it was ringed by bars… and lots of ladies.
- Note the “ladies” in the background. (look through the tuk-tuk.) I think the ones in the center are Katoys… LadyBoys… they were just to good looking. I’ll never know… where’s Crocodile Dundee when you need him.
- Another book by Bob Dennard tells about his adventures on the high seas… ok that’s really cruise ships in the Caribbean –> Searching for Kokomo… Diary of a Madd Cruiser
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