Bangkok: A Cultural Experience

If this is even possible, Bangkok might have been one of the most interesting and most awful places I have ever been. Before we get to Bangkok, let’s rewind a bit. Unfortunately I had to leave Ko Tao after spending fourteen days in paradise. I had no choice for two reasons. First my visa for Thailand was about to expire. Second my flight out Thailand was scheduled for the 2nd of July. Anymore delay, and I would miss my flight and face a penalty. Sadly, I boarded my two hour ferry and subsequent six hour bus for Bangkok.

I arrived in Bangkok around 9pm and took a taxi to my hostel. I had been in Bangkok for less than ten minutes before I was already scammed. The taxi should have been no more than 50 baht, but I ended paying 200 baht. I learned my lesson quickly, and luckily it didn’t happen again. Upon arriving at my hostel, which was surprisingly nice, I chatted with a few people, prepared my things, had delicious Pad Tai with shrimp, and went to bed.

The next morning I awoke and spent the day traversing Bangkok with Emily, a fellow American whom I had met the previous night. We spent the morning touring the Grand Palace and the ‘Laying Down Buddha’ statue. Two temples were enough for me, and we spent the afternoon on a short river cruise around old Bangkok. Later that evening, I went to a McDonalds where I proceeded to purchase two massive meals and an ice cream.

Following this Emily and I took a tuk tuk to one of Bangkok’s central and massive malls. A tuk tuk is basically a tricycle with a big bench in the back to sit on. They can’t be the safest form of transportation; no doubt an accident would have been devastating. But still, they were a blast.

We went to the mall with the intention of seeing a movie in one of Bangkok’s world class movie theaters. Apparently before each movie, the theater is required to play the King of Thailand’s national anthem which is accompanied by a hilarious montage of pictures of the king and his adoring fans weeping at his presence. During this montage, all movie goers, regardless of nationality, have to stand to pay respects to the king. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a movie, and subsequently I didn’t get to see the royal montage. Of the twenty theaters in the movie complex only three were playing something other than Transformers 4. I had no desire to see Transformers 4 and left.

After our disappointing movie experience, Emily and I headed back to the hostel. I rested briefly, gained a second wind, and decided to go out on Ko San road. Ko San road, a well known backpacker destination in Bangkok, is a road where the east meets the west. Lining the street are shops and eateries. All the junk Thailand is famous for selling is also on this road. So are McDonalds, KFC’s, Thai restaurants, and, of course, alternative food stalls where one can purchase fried cockroaches, scorpions, and other various insects. Scattered between the shops and restaurants are massage parlors where for a specific price you can purchase just about any type of massage imaginable.

Despite all these things, the two things that took up the majority of the street space were bars and men advertising Ping Pong Shows. The first is pretty self-explanatory. The latter is not. Instead of me trying to explain a Ping Pong Show, I think the picture below will give a much better description of the acts performed. Also the girl in the photo is Emily and is NOT a performer. Sadly we paid 10 baht for this photo (or 30 cents).

After walking up and down the street several times, we sat down at a bar to watch some of the World Cup. Here we met three other guys. I can’t remember their names but one was from Spain, the other Afghanistan, and the third from England. Little did I know that this random meeting would bring me into a wild night.

After a brief introduction,we all ordered beer. Emily, after finishing her beer, felt tired and decided to go back. Following suite, the Afghan soon left to smoke weed that he just purchased from some Thai guy on the street, and the Spanish guy took his absence and disappeared into a club never to be seen again. That left me and this British guy watching soccer at the bar. At the conclusion of the game, we decided to head to another bar up street. We ordered a couple Long Island Ice Teas and started chatting up some English girls. While in line ordering my second cocktail, I overheard a guy in the line saying that he was from Arlington, Virginia. I butted into the conservation abrupty and introduced myself. Turns out they were a group of four guys that had just graduated from the University of Virginia. To celebrate, they were on a month long trip to Thailand. After we received our drinks, the four joined me back at our table. We chatted for about thirty minutes and soon concluded that we all had had enough of the bar. We didn’t want to call it a night, so we convinced ourselves that it was a good idea to go to Sui Cowboy, the infamous GoGo bar opened in Bangkok by an American ex-solider after the Vietnam war. It was located in the heart of the red light district. The time was 2 am.

To get there the six of us went out in the street to find a cab. We couldn’t find a cab for the right price and ended up negotiating for ten minutes before we settled on a tuk tuk ride with six people. Usually you can barely fit three.

The ride was an uncomfortable twenty minutes, but thankfully we made it in one piece. Ironically our location was right next to both the Hilton and the Westin Hotels. Such excellent city planning…. We never found Sui Cowboy, but we did find a street littered with strip clubs, food stalls, people, and other alternative stores. We entered our first strip club at 2:40 am. Other than the plethora of Thai women (and trust me they were women), the club was mostly empty. We ordered a beer and proceeded to watch the show. About ten minutes into the show, I noticed that all the women had numbers on their chests. They also kept waving their finger at me to come to them. I soon put these two oddities together and realized that we weren’t in a strip club but a brothel. Apparently there isn’t a distinction in Thailand.

Twenty minutes into the show or 3 am, the weirdest thing happened. The club closed. I assumed that such a fine establishment would stay open all night. I guess the curfew was still in effect for some parts of Bangkok. We finished our beers, got up, and left.

Of course, not only did the guests leave, the dancers did too. Since there were few guests and dozens of strip clubs, within ten minutes of our departure, the entire street was filled with Thai beauties. Males on the street were easily outnumbered ten to one. Three of the UVa guys were uneasy from the moment we got in the tuk tuk to go to Sui Cowboy, and they quickly took this opportunity to hail a cab back to the hostel. One of them, who was adamant about seeing all sides of Bangkok, decided to continue onward with us. So for the next thirty or so minutes me, the British guy, and one of the UVa guys wandered the streets of seedy Bangkok at 3 am. One of my better decisions in life. During this time I was approached by more women than I can count. Don’t worry mom I said “no!” In addition to the women, I was also relentlessly approached by little kids begging for money. Even worse there were mothers laying on the street, pretending to be asleep, holding their newborns with a cup asking for money.

From what I am told, all of this is just one big act. The children are “rented” from Cambodia by the mob. They pull in thousands of baht a night and all that goes right into the pockets of organized crime. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I do know, that while Thailand does have a lot of beautiful things to offer to this world, there is also a frightening dark side. Upon reflection, I can only think that after seeing such spectacle before me, of how happy and blessed I am to be brought up the way I was. I am grateful for my family, living in the USA, being free, and everything that has thus happened so far in my life. Sometimes a does of the harsh realities of this world is something we all need. Soon we had had enough and took a cab back to our respective hostels. My experiment with Thailand’s dark side was over and will stay over.

The next day, I awoke and spent the morning drinking coffee. It was my last day in Thailand, and I needed gifts to take home. I took a river taxi to this massive clothing mall, but despite the endless corridors of clothes, I couldn’t find anything. I then went back to McDonalds, and while eating my cheeseburger, I noticed I was near the movie theater and decided to try my go at another movie. I was in perfect time for “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and to stand up to pay my respects to the king. After the movie, which was quite good, I went back to Ko San Road and purchased an assortment of junk to give to my family.

The next morning I got up early and made my way to the airport to board a twelve hour flight to Stockholm. My travels in SE Asia were done.

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