Naomi Larsson spends one night in Bangkok… The city is encapsulated with a heavy smog as my friends and I mentally prepare ourselves for an equally heavy night in Bangkok. It’s our stopover on the way to Hanoi and with a flight at 5.30am we thought it best not to bother spending money on a hostel and instead see what the city has to offer.
The taxi driver drops us off in Khao San Road, apparently the most ‘happening’ place for Westerners in Bangkok. Khao San Road is like a limbo place for tourists to start or end their trips by getting pissed, having a photo with a lady boy and possibly eating a fried scorpion instead of cheesy chips in the early hours. We are somewhat overwhelmed by all the other travellers and tacky merchandise surrounding us as we pass through the street.
To escape our shared confusion we take shelter in a Wat and instantly find some sort of peace in the vibrant orange that emulates from all Buddhist temples I later come across in Asia. We speak to a friendly Thai man who hands us incense to light and we stand in silence thinking about what experiences we might have in the next couple of weeks. The Thai man asks us about our travel plans and speaks of Thailand which such warmth and pride that we instantly become sad at our measly one night stop here.
Apparently late July and August is a perfect time to head to the north and see Chang Mai and Pai as the rains have passed leaving the forests and foliage covered with beautiful fresh greens. After asking for advice on how to fill the next 12 hours we have in Bangkok, the Thai man takes our map and points to a dock where we can take a boat trip around the ‘back streets’ of the city. He says that he wants us to see the other side of Bangkok and how real Thai people live. He leaves us with two useful phrases: Pang Pai – too expensive and Chan Rak Khun – I love you.
We soon find ourselves in a little tuc tuc being driven around by a sweet old man who is amused by how enjoyable we’re finding the ride. Our ears are full of car horns and motorbike engines as we make our way through the city. We are dropped off at Tha Chang and climb onto a boat as the sun begins to fall in the sky. I feel distanced from the intense vibe of the city now and it is refreshing to see Bangkok in this way.
The boat journey begins, and we are suddenly faced with houses that are half broken and almost crumbling into the river. It’s interesting that this part is so quiet and poor when just a few minutes ago we both witnessed and engaged in pouring money into Thailand’s booming tourist industry.
The Thai man had recommended that we visit the flower market, and gave us vague directions on our map to Pak Khlong Talat. It is dark now and I feel slightly uneasy as we are most probably lost. We follow the sound of people and come across a packed road full of colours and smells that are so overwhelming we hold back for a minute. We begin to enter this hub that immediately envelops our senses. Fried squid on a moving cart blocks our route and we are unwittingly led through a maze of flowers and become lost in the artists’ pallet of colours. This majestic site must be so normal and such a part of everyday life for the Thai people.
With only six hours to go until we must leave this city, it is time to head to Patpong to find a ping pong show. It certainly is not difficult, even for three straight girls in their early twenties. Men given the job of ‘flyering’ pucker their lips, make the notorious ping pong sound and lead us to a suitably named strip club. I have never been to a strip club before so I enter with a slight naive and unexplainable excitement. We are hounded by women who intimidate us into paying 300 baht for the show and another 300 for a beer. It seems that we don’t have a choice, and it certainly feels like we can’t leave now.
Our table faces the stage with six almost naked women with utterly emotionless expressions; I feel weird already. Then all sorts of things start coming out of them with such skill that I start to question myself. Unsurprisingly, we feel extremely out of place. We left the red dingy pad feeling slightly empty, and mainly very confused. As drunk tourists I understand now that we used the ping pong show, and so these women, as a form of entertainment which isn’t right; I felt slightly disgusted with myself afterwards. For whatever reason this has no doubt become a Thailand tourist attraction, but I wish this city was better known for the beauty and warmth with which the Thai man from the Wat spoke of.
I stumble back through Khao San Road and the assault course of leftover buckets of alcohol thrown on the floor and Thai children who are far too young selling bracelets with ‘I HEART PUSSY’ neatly stitched on. You can’t deny that Bangkok, especially this area so exposed to tourists, is bizarre. In the early hours of the morning the city is still alive, so much so that I’m exploring these thoughts whilst having a foot massage on the side of the road. Soon though, I will have to leave this city, with nicely massaged feet but just a small understanding of a place that is so complex. Naomi Larsson naomilarsson.wordpress.com