Bangkok. I first went there in 1994 or 1995, sometime in March. I was 22 or 23. I feel like I’m in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, I’m beginning to sound like I have some intense internal dialogue going on, I’m struggling existential concepts and whether I take on a mission to go down a river in Laos and find some crazy fat dude as the ceiling fans rotate like they’re chopper blades.
I got out of the plane at sometime after midnight, I think. I went down to Khoa San Road and found a place for 60 baht, maybe $3.50 AUD. It was still so warm, I was able to wander the narrow side alleys in comfort, there were still plenty of places open, and I got a packet of cheap cigarettes, even though I hadn’t been smoking for about a year.
I think of that trip as my coming of age, sapphire tour. Where I almost literally, if there’s such a thing, came of age. After getting a few hours sleep I got up and started exploring the surrounds, I think heading somewhere towards Chinatown, I don’t expect I even had a map in those days. I met a friendly Thai guy who showed me around, got me to hire a boat which I explored the rivers and a temples in before he took me to a place to buy sapphires, telling me I could then go resell them in Bond Street in London. The guy was, of course, dodgy guy, and although the sapphires were real, they were dark and not of much value in London, meaning essentially I wasted around $1500, or almost all the money I had at the time. It was a learning experience, to say the least, and I’ve since been back twice, each time older, and perhaps a little wiser, not so much the innocent pussy cat.
The guy above wasn’t the dodgy guy, I did get a phot of him, but I think I might have ended up cutting him out of it, just as you might do to a picture with your old girlfriend.
On this visit I was travelling with my daughter on the way back from Europe. Oh la la how fancy. I hav other pages on those trips so I won’t repeat myself here. I had a Lonely Planet travel guide, I think they still warned off the gemstone scam, you can’t beat the classic scams, in fact they seemed to have improved on it since my time! Just keep saying gem, scam, gem scam, in your head. The scam part is the most important part to remember. Because it’s Bangkok, it could be any number of dodgy scams.
I had booked a place on Airbnb, close to a railway station. No longer was it 60 baht but more like exactly $104.41 AUD a night. It was an apartment in a condominium and the Airbnb listing warns in all caps DONT GO RECETIONIST, THIS IS NOT S HOTEL, DO NOT TELL AIRBNB… JUST TELL YOU ARE A PRIVATE GUEST, FRIEND OR STAFF. And in the lobby there’s a giant sign saying how illegal it is to rent out apartments in the way we were getting rented and how we could be prosecuted etc. We sheepishly sneak past all of these things and end up finding a nice clean apartment with a view. not a super view, just a view. It’s October and super wet. I remember a TV show on Rome which had a line, ‘wet as October’. But that has nothing to do with anything.
It’s still early in the morning, we’ve flown in from Rome, so our body clocks are all screwed up. I plead for some sleep, but are only permitted an hour, before we hit the sites. We make our way on a train down towards a part of the river where we think we can get a ferry across to a temple Wat Arun on the main river, Chao Praya. I’m not trying to further emulate Apocalypse Now, or the original book The Heart of Darkness. The train doesn’t goes all the way to the river, so for the last part of our trip I suggest going in a Tuk Tuk, the cool three wheeler things. Again, while Tuk Tuks are fun, remember that word SCAM, because every time you get in a Tuk Tuk, there will be some scam involved.
I can’t remember if we knew where we needed to get a ferry, but the Tuk Tuk driver took us down this road, which had a private boat company at the end of it. And we were express our interest in going to Wat Arun by a public ferry, which should be only 40 baht or less, and we were told both the public ferries and the temples are all closed today because of some holiday, and that are best option would be to hire our own boat and go on a river cruise for a few thousand baht. Even though I’ve got this word scam tattooed into my brain, I’m still thinking, in my severely sleep deprived way, that perhaps things are closed, but I fight that thought, and I remember, like someone highly high on drugs who get that tiny moment of clarity through the drug haze, that this is crazy talk from the ivory trader Kurtz and that it’s all going to end up in a gem store, or a fucking tailor selling me a cashmere suit which is polyester.
After a few minutes of one-sided haggling over the price of this boat I had no interest in, I persistently and firmly, but politely, let’s not forget they know kickboxing, and that I’m not quite sure where we are at this point, and although these guys are the ones scamming folks, they’re going to be highly offended if I come out and say they are scammers to their faces, and that I don’t believe the ferries or the temples are closed. We end up walking away, not being able to trust the Tuk Tuk man to take us any further, we end up seeing some interesting back streets and after half an hour or so, find a public ferry place where we get a ticket for around 16 baht down river to Wat Arun, which of course is open.
I won’t write much about Wat Arun, you can see it’s awesome. My choice of shirt, below, being influenced by my lack of clean clothes. I’m pretty sure I’d been to Wat Arun before when the dodgy guy who sold me gems took me on my magical mystery tour of Bangkok back in the nineties.
And then we took another operating ferry across to see another, not closed, temple housing the golden reclining Buddha. I probably didn’t see this on my first trip because, a.) I didn’t have a guidebook the internet, and b.) I was too busy getting taking to gem shops. Even though I consider the reclining Buddha a gem, I think we didn’t even have to pay to get in. You do have to cover up though, so if your one to show your butt crack or poke your cleavage out you’ll have to garb one of the temples bath robes to wear. You can pretty much do that everywhere else in Bangkok, outside of the temple areas, and probably the royal palace, which I had been too on my last visit, but which we couldn’t visit this time because the king had died the previous year and this was one place that was actually legitimately closed. The king’s death was marked on the trains by loops of pictures of him doing noble things throughout his life, he seemed like a nice cool dude, and in some ways seemed to emulate the Buddha. The Thai people loved him and everywhere on this visit we saw shrines and pictures of him which people were making offerings to. On my second visit to Bangkok, back in the nineties again, I’d arrived on the king’s birthday, which is also my sister’s birthday. I don’t recall much of the day I arrived that time as I’d helped a fellow traveller in New Dehli smoke some bang because he couldn’t take it on the plane.
But our earlier Tuk Tuk driver was on his way to breaking two of the five basic precepts, or rules: don’t tell untruths, gossip etc, and don’t steal. As with the pirates on Pirates of the Caribean, maybe they think they are more guidelines than rules.
I’m pretty sure we saw more awesome places nearby, like the one pictured below. No idea where it was, by this stage the sleep deprivation had reached true Heart of Darkness levels and I was just praying to Buddha that we could get home and sneak past the big sign that said we could be prosecuted, and go nighty-nite
And then we had chicken skewers by a storm water drain teaming with giants lizards, and potential typhoid. Which my daughter showed signs of when we got back to Australia – the typhoid not the lizards – and which the doctor berated me for, because a.) I didn’t really know what typhoid was b.) didn’t know how serious it was c.) really love chicken skewers so much I was willing to risk getting typhoid.
You may be able to spot the two giant lizards swimming around below.
By this stage I was a certifiable zombie, looking back on the photos we seemed to have seen a bunch of amazing stuff, but all I want was a beer, some stir fry and a beer. And this lady tucked down an alleyway kind of the way back to a train station somewhere, was able to provide 2/3rds of my needs.
As I drank, and enjoyed the amazing Thai street food, I felt dazed, but proud, that I had spent another day in Bangkok without being fleeced like a fluffy sheep. Is it fluffy or wooly, I guess wooly, since they make wool.
Tomorrow, in the aptly named part two of this story, freshy rested, we hit some of Bangkok’s markets.
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There should be a link to part two around somewhere if you’re looking for it. If you’re on your phone there’s a drop down list of pages up the top somewhere