One night in Bangkok
and the world's your oyster
The bars are temples
but the pearls ain't free
You'll find a god
in every golden cloister
A little flesh, a little history
I can feel an angel sliding up to me.
One night in Bangkok
makes a hard man humble
Not much between
despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok
and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me
When I remember Bangkok, I think about traffic, temples, traffic, shopping,
traffic, titty-bars, soul-sapping heat, and traffic.
I put these 2 pictures first because these are the sights that we saw the most. All the rest are the pretty things we saw, but we spent a lot of time sitting in traffic to get there.
The Golden Buddha
was the first of many temples that we toured. The story goes that this solid gold
statue was covered with plaster for centuries before a monk noticed the metal beneath
a chip and discovered that the interior was solid freaking gold.
As you can see from the many pictures to follow, the Buddhist mythology is filled with man/animal hybrids of snakes, monkeys, crocodiles, birds and elephants. We learned that Buddha is always shown with flames shooting out of the top of his head. In the back of my head in all these temples is the thought that my Protestant forbearers went about Scotland smashing iconography as graven images. One wonders what John Knox would have thought if he could have seen this
Who the heck is Jim Thompson? We had never heard of him, but all the guidebooks said that his house was a must see when visiting Bangkok. It turns out he was an American who got involved in the Thai silk business in the 50's. He got rich and started collecting Asian antiques. Interestingly, in 1967 he went to a resort in the Malaysian jungle and disappeared. Many conspiracy theories exist; some say the CIA had him murdered because of his spy work during the war. Another says he staged his own disappearance and went back to the States to kill his sister. Anyhoo, his house is now a museum with a very pretty garden. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the house, but it was also very pretty.
The carp's name is Oscar
We took the SkyTram to downtown, then rode this powerboat up to the Flower District. This was fun, but we had the murky brown polluted water splashing up in our faces during the whole trip. Cholera anyone?
The Flower Market is where all the hotels and restaurants buy massive floral arrangements. Flowers are very important to Thai culture and you see them everywhere.
A Tout tried to tell us that Chinatown was closed for street cleaning in a classic scam. Chinatown is another must-see in the Bangkok guidebooks. You can get anything you could possibly want at a street side stall, just don't eat the food.
After being soaked in a tropical downpour, we made our way to TripAdvisor-recommended Hong Kong Noodle for lunch. This is a chain restaurant, but the food was good, the beer cold, and most importantly there was AC and it was dry.
The Grand Palace is gobs of temples and the offical residence of the king. The buildings are beautiful and have a Disney-like aspect to them. If there was a Pirates of South Asia ride at Disney World, one would imagine that this is what it would look like. The throne room was being renovated while we were there. This is where the new king is crowned. The current King is the longest reigning King of Siam ever, born in 1927 and on the throne since 1946. It does seem like they might be getting ready for the next coronation, after all the man is 85. Fun fact: Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Our final Bangkok temple was Wat Pho, the Temple of the reclining Buddha. This is the largest Buddha statue in the world. The Buddha was built first, then the building was erected around the statue. Our tour guide kept saying that this Buddha was built by the rich king, just to prove how rich he was. By this point in the day I was templed out, so was ready to get back to the hotel for happy hour. Touring is hard work.
Steven found a Hangover 2 Tour that
promised to take you to all the places seen in the movie. What we really saw was 3
go-go bars, a ladyboy bar, and a ping pong show. Don't get me wrong, we had a great
time. We never would have gone in to these places on our own, and it was quite instructive.
Its just that the tour had almost nothing to do with the movie Hangover 2.
Soi Cowboy is a red-light district
in Bangkok. Wikipedia is so amazing. What other dictionary has entries about sex clubs.
This is what Wikipedia says about Soi Cowboy.
The go-go bars follow the pattern common in Thailand: alcoholic drinks are served and women in bikinis dance on a stage. Topless or even nude dancing occurs in some bars, even though illegal. (The police are paid to look the other way.) Most of the dancers are also prostitutes and will go with a customer if he pays a "bar fine" to the bar and a separate fee to the woman. Sexual services take place in the tourist's hotel room.
Going in, I expected strip clubs like in the USA where guys were tucking bills into girls G-strings. I had no idea that the clubs were really just display cases for prostitutes in one great big neon-lit meat market.
Obsession is a ladyboy bar. Now the men in Thailand are all fairly effeminate to start with, but the ladyboys (female impersonators) are unreal. These fellows were on stage in sexy little outfits, and you'd never be able to tell the difference from a biological woman unless you took their panties off. And yes, you can take these boys home if that is what floats your boat. Now I don't really get why you would want to make whoopee with a fellow who looks like a gal, but when in Bangkok...
We did go to a Ping-Pong show, and it was one of the saddest things imaginable. For those of you with a delicate constitution, I would recommend you stop reading this and skip on down to the next section.
OK, so the women in this show are the dregs of prostitution barrel. in this show a woman puts Ping Pong balls in her vagina and pops them out at the audience. Only it doesn't start out with Ping Pong balls, they lead up to that.
Imagine the scene, the bar is a second floor hole in the wall. The room is grimy and ill-lit. We are led to some filthy couches arranged facing the bar/stage. There is music, but it is the same three songs repeated in an endless loop. A dead-behind-the-eyes waif staggers up the steps to the bar counter top. This drug-addled ingénue starts the show with a few vagina tricks: opening a bottle; blowing out candles; popping a balloon with a dart blown from a straw inserted into her hoo-ha.
Next she takes a break to reload, then resumes the show by pulling streamers out of her vajayjay, followed by smoking a cigarette down to the butt through some strong Kegel action.
During all this the proprietress, known as Mama-San, is trying to interest us to take one of her girls out for a ride despite our protestations that we are only there for the show.
Finally, the coup de grâce: Mama-san passes out Ping-Pong paddles and the star attraction starts shoving balls into her uterus. I wouldn’t have touched one of these paddles with a 10-foot pole, but the intrepid Andy takes up the challenge. Ball 1 goes wide, ball 2 shoots to the left, but ball 3 is right over the plate. Andy swings, connects, and sends that Ping-Pong zinging right back at the pitcher hitting her squarely in the neck.
While I am sure that this girl had to struggle to remember how to feel any emotion whatsoever, the glare she shot at Andy made it clear that despite the fact that she had sunk about as low as a person can go she still felt that a line had been crossed.
Frankly this whole spectacle was about as sexy as an autopsy, but I suppose it could be an acquired taste.
Following the tour we had some time to wander about the district and Brandie, under the influence of many beers and with the encouragement of a drunk Steven, found a great deal on some new luggage. It had 8 wheels and looked so new and spiffy.
Our final day in Bangkok we took it easy; slept in, went shopping, bowling, and had massages. That evening we went to the dome bar in one of the taller sky-scrapers. Despite the intense heat we had to wear long pants and closed toed shoes because you are not allowed up in shorts or sandals. After taking the SkyTram downtown and walking 4 blocks we were soaked in sweat by the time we got to the building. It was a fabulous view of the city at sun set, but the staff insisted that the 100 plus people up there remain jammed in a tiny little bar area where we jockeyed for position to see the vistas while spending 25USD per drink. I swear I saw the hotel staff pistol-whip a man for trying to take a picture outside the designated area. Those Thai people are sticklers for rules and regulations.
Our trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap Cambodia was uneventful. There were no problems at the
border and our e-visas were accepted. Brandie's new luggage lost a few zippers and developed a
rip in transit.
I had expected Cambodia to be a total toilet, but as you can see from the pictures of our hotel things were not that bad.
I first remember hearing about Cambodia when I was 9 or 10 in the late 70s and, as described in The Killing Fields, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge had murdered several million innocent Cambodians. Flash forward to 2012 and Angkor Wat has become a huge tourist attraction bringing tons of money to this region. The local people still live in crushing poverty, but at least the tourist regions are pleasant.
Interestingly, the local economy used US dollars and the ATM spat out crisp new American greenbacks, presumably because the Cambodian money is so unstable. Funny story: Andy paid for a dinner with a bill that he had brought from home, and the restaurant wouldn't accept it because the paper was too old.
Tonle Sap, or "Great Lake" in Cambodian, is the biggest lake of South East Asia.
The vast lake fills with the waters from the Mekong river. About the only non-temple
things to see in this region are the floating villages on the lake. The people who live here
are of Vietnamese descent. They are not considered Cambodian citizens and face a great
deal of discrimination from the native Khmer. The boat people live off fish from the lake,
and whatever money they can get out of tourists. Our tour guide tried to make it seem that
the Vietnamese were refugees, but it was clear he considered them more like homeless squatters.
We were driven from our hotel to the lake shore where we boarded a long boat piloted by a local and his young son. The kid was really working it to get tips. The floating market that we had come to see was really just a gift shop on a boat. Trip Advisor has some really nasty reviews about this tour. My favorite is 'feel robbed by this human zoo'. But they did have live crocodiles, and like I said, this was about the only non-temple tour in this region.
After going out on the lake, we were dumped at a craft school where they churn out all the tchotchkes for the tourists. Big yawn. Next they took us to downtown Siam Reap for shopping. We immediately found a bar. We ended up in a lovely rooftop terrace that was beautifully landscaped. Once again the moral of this trip: Country is dirt poor but they know how to treat the tourists.
So here is what you need to know about these temples. Angkor means city and Wat is temple, so Angkor Wat just
means Temple City. This region was the seat of the Khmer kingdom from about 800 AD to 1431 AD when the place
was sacked by a neighboring kingdom. During the time the Khmer were here, each new ruler built his own
temple, so there are scads of ruins.
The temples were Hindu, then Buddhist (Mahayana) then Hindu again then Buddhist (Theravada). The tour guide tried to explain it all, but searing heat and dehydration made if really difficult to comprehend. Did I mention that it was hot, like fry an egg on the sidewalk hot, in frigging October.
This was not a dry heat where sweat can actually provide evaporative cooling. Oh no, the Angkor is built on a swamp and the heat is a damp, moist, sultry, cling to your skin and smother your lungs type of heat. I think that here sweat actually draws moisture out of the atmosphere where it dribbles down your chest and back to collect in your nether regions.
Also, we were foolishly wearing long pants and closed toed shoes so that we could go to the top level of Angkor Wat. Now I know that it is a sign of respect, and normally I would be all in favor of showing respect in a holy place, but I don't think our little brown brothers understand just how hellishly hot is their fetid jungle. I mean seriously, the place had been abandoned for hundreds of years and they couldn't cut us a break on the long pants thing. Anyhoo, here we were climbing up and down temples in blistering heat, so I hope you'll forgive me if I didn't take in everything that our guide was yammering on about during the tour.
The one thing I do remember was that when the religion switched from Buddhism back to Hinduism, they chiseled a third eye into the forehead of all the faces of Buddha so that they became depictions of a Hindu God.
Our first temple was Angkor Thom-Bayon. This is known as the face temple. Our guide had us go through these temples in the morning because the light is better at Angkor Wat in the afternoon. The place was packed with Asian tourists, and they each needed to spend 5 minutes posing in front of each and every statue/ carving/outcroping.
Phimeanakas, or the celestial temple, is a Hundu temple built at the end of the 10th century.
Ta Prohm is a Buddhist temple built in the late 12th century. The silk-cotton and strangler fig trees have grown up over the ruins making them particularly picturesque. This temple was seen the film Tomb Raider.
In this picture Brandie is surrounded by urchins trying to sell her souvenirs. There was a
gaggle of these little salespeople waiting to spring into action at every stop.
We ate lunch in a tourist spot that was air conditioned (thank heavens). It gave us a little time to cool off and rehydrate before the big Wat. Seriously, we were issued a paper ticket that we had to show at each temple and by this point mine was so soaked with sweat that I could barely take it out of my pocket without it dissolving into pulp.
I totally posed for this picture in the hammock. It would have been nice to hang out in the shade, if there hadn't been an actual AC inside.
OK, so this is the main reason we came to Cambodia. Angkor Wat
is the largest Hindu temple in the world, not that we know the first thing about Hinduism. The temple was built by
King Suryavarman II in the early 1100s. To put things in context, Angkor Wat was built during the very middle of the
Dark Ages in Europe. The Roman Empire has fallen and it is still several hundred years before the Renaissance. The first
crusades are starting up in order to seize control of Jerusalem from Muslim control. Windmills and mechanical clocks have just
been invented. I wish I could say there was good story behind the temple, but really this is just a way for the king to
show how powerful he was. The place wasn't even ever finished, the next king moved on to build his own temple. It is a really spectacular piece of architecture, but other than that there is not much to say about it.
As we entered the temple complex our guide pointed out the bullet holes in the walls. When the Khmer Rouge took power, they tried to destroy the past. The insurgents went through the temple and tried to wreck everything they could. The stones were too heavy to move, so the settled for whacking the head off of every Buddha they could find inside the temple.
Phuket is resort island in Southern Thailand, just off the long strip of land that connects to Malaysia.
The white people were mainly Australian, German or Russian. This was not a good looking crowd. Everybody was out of shape and pasty white, so we felt right at home. I don't feel so bad about taking off my shirt in public when everyone else has a gut too. There wasn't a single tourist with six-pack abs on the entire beach (the malnourished local workers don't count).
We stayed at the Cape Sienna Resort. The hotel was beautiful and the views stunning. There was some drama about construction on the pool bar not being finished, but we got compensated by a room upgrade. Each room had an outdoor Jacuzzi, but you couldn't see the view because of the wall, making it little better than a bathtub.
Here are some pictures of the local wildlife. The poor monkey was chained up at a roadside stand, but it probably would have tried to rip my face off had it been free. I gave it a roll from our breakfast.
Phuket island may have had native elephants at one time, but they disappeared over 100 years ago.
These elephants have been brought in solely for the tourist trade. It seems a sad life being
chained up by the side of a major highway, following the same track day after day. But then I look
at my own life and think I have a lot in common with these elephants.
As soon as we were lined up to go out for a ride, it started pouring rain. The ladies running the place handed out thin disposable ponchos that had been reused many times and which had multiple holes. Crammed onto a tiny wooden bench strapped on the back of an elephant with a solid wall of water pounding down on your head while wearing a leaking poncho is an experience not to be missed. The little man riding on the neck of the beast kept looking back at us and gesturing for us to shift our weight so the saddle wouldn't fall off. We couldn't stop laughing, the situation was so ridiculous. After about 10 minutes of this the guide stopped and pointed out 'the view' which at this point was just a foggy white cloud bank with a monsoon rain pouring out of it. We asked our man to turn around at this point, but the others soldered on. I still have water in my watch as a reminder of the experience.
We had a much more scenic elephant ride on our previous trip to Thiland.
The Phi Phi islands are limestone prominences jutting out of the Malacca Strait between Phuket and the mainland.
It took about 40 minutes by speed boat to reach the islands. The main attractions are beautiful beaches, snorkeling,
swimming, and sunbathing.
The day was notable in that we encountered a number of very rude people during the trip. The van driver who took us from the hotel to the boat was almost hostile (and late). There were a bunch of young Chinese who had no problem making the entire boat wait for them. And there were a couple of Indian families who had no concept of personal space and kept pushing us into an increasingly smaller area on the boat.
Patong is an area most known for its night life. It is a lot like South Padre Island with more prostitutes. This beach was also hit by the Tsunami but has since recovered.
Steven paid to release a lantern on the beach. It was pretty awesome to watch it float away over the water.
Italian food is very popular here, and this restaurant was highly rated on TripAdvisor.
It is nice that the place is kid friendly what with all the hookers and such
Yes you can get a bracelet that says 'I heart rape' among other fun phrases
Why yes, that is a child dancing on a pole. Things go on here that would land you in jail back home
I want you to imagine the bar at the Rain Forest Cafe or Hard Rock where they have a bunch of bright lights and memorabilia hung up on the walls. Now imagine that bar repeated over and over again in a building the size of a football field. Now imagine that standing on top of each bar there are a couple of prostitutes who are swaying lazily to the music. (video) That will give you an idea what Soi Tiger in Patong is like.
Remember that game - Connect Four - from when we were kids. Well each bar had something similar, only
instead of checkers, there were condoms. Pretty sneaky sis.
Sitting at the bar next to us there was this old guy with his hands all over this whore. It was kind of creepy.
We went dancing at an empty disco, where Erica found a ladyboy. After a quick snack of street-squid, we hopped in a tuk-tuk and headed back to the hotel.
As the sun sets over Kamala beach, we drink a final toast to our Thai bartenders and the many fond memories of our trip.
Adieu Thailand, Adieu.