[ Thailand ~ 1, 2, 3, 4 ]

4~26~01 to 5~16~01

Big Bad Bangkok

    Bangkok's reputation extends beyond guidebook descriptions into a legendary notoriety for sleaze, traffic, and shady dealing. Like Saigon, I thought I'd hate it. Instead, it failed to live up to its reputation.

    Yes, there is a thriving sex industry in Bangkok, and Steve and I strolled down Patpong Street, the heart of it all, to check it out. We found it was interesting, but not nearly as sleazy or sexy as we expected. The street was full of souvenir stalls selling the usual brand-name fakes and tourist-oriented junk. All kinds of people milled around, seeing it for themselves as we were. The shows promised by the touts sounded silly rather than sexy. I had expected to be overwhelmed, intrigued, or intimidated, but it wasn't like that at all. It was pretty lackluster, despite all the neon.

    We visited Bangkok three times on our travels through Thailand. Our home base was Khao San Road, the legendary backpacker neighborhood. I'm not sure what I expected, but it turned out to be a comfortable enclave, full of the familiar travellers' shops: tour agencies, cheap guesthouses, Western-style restaurants selling fruit shakes and banana pancakes, used bookstores, internet cafes, and trinket vendors. There were a larger-than-usual number of people doing hair braiding and dreadlocking, but otherwise it felt like other such neighborhoods in other cities.

Looking up Khao San Road

Handmade necklaces for sale

Crap for sale

    One night, we went to a small Bangkok stadium to watch Muay Thai - Thai boxing. It's worth travel points (in our Going Global game) to see a sport in the country of its invention, so we were both interested in the event. In Thai boxing, very little is forbidden. Every body part can be struck except the groin, and any body part can be used to attack except the head. This sounds exciting, but in practice (in an everyday match like the one we saw), the boxers usually ended up sort of hugging, while kneeing each other in the side, until the ref pulled them apart again.

    There were some interesting ritual elements. Before each event, the two boxers would simultaneously perform a methodical routine consisting of bowing in various directions, and dancing through some boxing moves. Despite being performed in front of hundreds of spectators, it looked like a private moment. A four-piece traditional orchestra accompanied both this warm-up and the fights themselves.

    Just as interesting as the boxing was the crowd. The third-class seats were packed with spectators (we sat in a second-class section especially for nervous foreigners). After the second round of each match, betting would commence, each bettor signalling his bet by waving some fingers in the air. It reminded me of pictures I've seen of Wall Street - a forest of frantically waving arms. When the boxing began again, the spectators vigorously cheered the boxer on whom they had bet. They would cringe back when a strong hit was made, and stand up and shout when their boxer of choice seemed to be winning. We didn't have the same financial interest, though, so we left after a few hours.

    One day, we went to see the National Palace and its wat (temple). Wats in Bankok (and all important buildings) are extremely ornate and full of glitter and gold.

    The palace

    The palace's spirithouse -
    a small version for spirits to inhabit

    Near the palace is another temple, Wat Po, which is renowned for two things: its giant Buddha statue, and its massage school. The giant Buddha is truely enormous; it is hard to get it to fit into the frame of your camera.

    Thai massage is not as relaxation-oriented as other kinds, like Swedish. The atmosphere at the massage place at Wat Po is more like a hair salon. Massage therapists work next to each other, and chat over your head while they work. (You are clothed.) But they're still pretty good at massage.


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