Mar 02 2008

Going out with a Bangkok!

Published by at 12:21 pm under Bangkok,Thailand

Shortly after Ben discovered there was an amulet market in Bangkok, we found ourselves turning into a dark, low-roofed alley near the city’s waterfront. I’m going to pretend his excitement didn’t stem from a love of fantasy role-playing video games. We’d heard that the amulet trade in Thailand was extensive and it didn’t take us long to notice the silver chain poking out from underneath the shirt collar of nearly every Thai, so we wanted to see what an amulet market was all about.


The alley extended as far as the eye could see, crowded with row upon row of vendors selling Buddha figurines — some tiny and encased in plastic to wear around your neck, others nearly life-sized — elephant and monkey statues, Buddhist symbols, amulet repair, and, strangely enough, images of the royal family to wear as amulets. The Thai regard their monarch with a reverence that can only be described as extreme. You can’t go in to any establishment without seeing a nearly shrine-like set up surrounding a large portrait of the king or queen. As a foreigner accustomed to jaded criticism of one’s own government, it’s important to remember that in Thailand you DO NOT talk about the royal family for fear of being charged with lese-majeste and ending up in prison for seven years, as many unfortunate Westerners before me have discovered. For that reason, I’ll end this discussion now.

Because we simply couldn’t leave an amulet market empty handed, I bought the tiniest Buddha, no bigger than my fingertip. Sometimes I rub his belly for good luck.

We left the market for one of Bangkok’s many mammoth malls, so Ben could pick up some cheap mosquito-proof lightweight trekking pants. Have we mentioned how huge everything is in Bangkok? Coming from Europe, where grocery stores, shopping centers and highways are teeny and squeezed into very limited space, it was a shock to walk into Bangkok’s numerous behemoth supermarkets and malls. Did you know it was possible to get lost in a supermarket? It is when it’s six stories high and the size of a city block.

Our next stop was a mall we’d read about dedicated entirely to electronics. At Pantips Plaza, you can buy cameras, TVs, computer hardware, and game systems. You can also flip through binders upon binders of software that sells in the States for $1000+ but here, mysteriously, for only $10! Really, I have no idea how they keep their prices so low. Thailand is amazing! So, theoretically, you could buy a fancy photo and video editing suite and an entire language-learning course for $12 and ship it home to the U.S. I mean, it would be possible to do that, if you wanted. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So I’d hardly seen any prostitutes in Bangkok. I know, I know: most normal people would consider this a good thing. But with all the talk we’d heard from fellow travelers about how crazy and ubiquitous BKK’s sex-trade operation is, despite having wandered the entire city for nearly a week, I couldn’t help but feel like we must be missing something.

The main reason we’d been sheltered from such activity is that, honestly, we’d passed out every night at 9:00. Yes, I know, nerdy. But what with the climate change and daily ventures into the heart of the city, we found ourselves way too tired to do anything at night.

It was no different on our last night in Bangkok: we were exhausted. But since we’d been told that no trip to this city is complete without a visit to Phatpong, the notorious night market, we downed some Red Bull (which actually comes from Thailand, although the version here is much stronger, not carbonated, and comes with a health warning) and hit the town. It was all in the name of responsible journalism. How can I give an accurate depiction of Bangkok to you, beloved blog readers, if I do not experience all the city has to offer?

Turns out we weren’t missing much. Do you want to see creepy old white guys with too-young Thai girls? No, you don’t. (But if you come to Bangkok, you will. Such disturbing couples aren’t limited to after-hour night markets, and are as plentiful in Bangkok as spiky hair.)

But Phatpong is mostly notorious for the many erotic go-go girl clubs that line the streets. You know what I’m talking about: the shows in which girls do … um … tricks, I guess? with ping-pong balls. I’m won’t go into detail. I’m kind of uncomfortable.

It’s obvious Ben and I weren’t going to patronize such clubs and we thought they’d be easily avoidable. Just don’t go in. Right?

PhatpongWrong. Remember those restaurant greeters back on Crete? These clubs employ similar tactics to lure customers to their tables, only they are far, far more intrusive and annoying. They follow you down the street, waving white, laminated “menus” of sorts in your face with a list of all the incredible feats their girls can perform, and screaming “Come sit for free!!” and “One drink! One drink!” And by “you” I mean ME as for some reason every bouncer on the street honed in on me as their target and refused to leave me alone even when I screamed “LOOK, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR GIRLS CAN DO WITH CHOPSTICKS, I AM NOT GOING INSIDE.”

To escape the flock of hawkers, we chose a small bar on the outskirts to relax, order beers, and people watch. But were we left alone? No. This time, sketchy men would slide up beside Ben, whip booklets out of their pockets, flip through the pages, and whisper, “sexy pictures! sexy videos! 100 baht!”

All in all, Phatpong is pretty tame stuff. What with the gawking families wandering around, it’s a tourist attraction more than a serious red-light district. There are definite neighborhoods in Bangkok where the real red-light happenings go down, but I’m okay with never witnessing those first-hand.

It was a fitting end to our week in Bangkok! The next day we were leaving on a train heading north to continue our Thailand adventures…

NEXT: Won’t you take me to Monkey Town? »



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