Friday, 22 November 2002

THE JOY OF TRAVEL - 2. STILL IN BANGKOK







18/11/02: Wally’s for breakfast (mediocre); The Royal Palace and the Reclining Buddha for some sight-seeing; Gulliver’s for tea; Dong Dea Moon and Hendrix for drinks – early night.

Never get in the tuk-tuk – too Goddam right. I didn't get in the tuk-tuk, which is just as well as I later noted in our guidebook that they are not to be trusted. You want to go from A to B?  Are you mad? Apparently, what happens is Mr Tuk-tuc will insist that it is in your best interest that he take you on a tour of all the sights, before subtly dropping in that en-route he will need to pick up his gorilla suit from the dry cleaners (he may have well done, with such cursory notation did I observe this clause). What he really wants to do is take you round his mates’ house so he can SELL you a Gorilla Suit. At a hugely inflated price. Primate attire don’t come cheap.

I am amused by Buddhas. They’re everywhere. There is even a temple built especially to house a huge reclining one. ‘Golden Gigantic Reclining Buddha’ it reads on the postcards, and they lie not. The thing is a veritable theistic behemoth, just lying there looking very content. I like to imagine a Christian version: Wan Mammoth Supine Messiah, perhaps?  Anyhow, there are Buddhas everywhere, in all sizes, mostly golden and all with the same beatific grin.

19/11/02: Back to Wally’s for breakfast – far better food this time. Visit Wat Saket (the Golden Mount) where one can see for miles. Got a bit miffed after being hassled by some local type, and the area was a bit rough all around – rotten dogs, rank smells. Went for food somewhere out of the way – bad move: food passably bland. Return to Hole in the Wall in the evening, get chatting to some Danish chap and bet some more with Pipi.

Bangkok simultaneously evokes pity and envy. Around the Golden Mount are streets filled with the stench of rotting waste and general poverty, yet this is not a third world country by any means. The beggars are benign in manner, as are the dogs. The con-artists play fair and the only reason you ever feel threatened is because sometimes things seem so unassuming it arouses one’s suspicion.
Everything functional is made of minimally re-enforced concrete and it looks great: so simple it gives the city a wonderful cohesion leaving centre stage to the glorious temples and Buddhas scattered liberally throughout the metropolis. But it must be quite a full-on place to take up residence. There are malnourished, disease-ridden canines everywhere, homeless people of similar circumstance, street urchins with baby bats in hand hawking chewing gum and tissues, and a general air of licentiousness that makes Soho, or the like, feel pedestrian. All this in temperatures that rarely seem to dip below 30 degrees Celsius.  When it rains, though, it does so with elan. The lightning flashes long after the storm has passed and the thunder can no longer be heard, like a lamp with a bad connection, flickering erratically.

20/11/02: Wally’s again, then north to see another Buddha at Wat Indrawihan, and dogs fighting; internet café; bar with spinning orb; Gulliver’s for tea; back to hotel for an early night.

21/11/02: Do mundane things, then pop into Hendrix for a shandy and bump into J and H. Have another drink, go our separate ways, eat pizza on Khao San and then meet up with J and H around the corner from Hendrix for evening drinks. Rain, then another bar, yet more rain, even harder now, thunder, the works.


After six days spent kicking around Bangkok my companion and I were fast running out of things to see and do – as much as I like Giant Golden Buddhas they do sort of all look the same. Come Wednesday and I had been to Wally’s for breakfast three days on the trot, and every day, expect for the first, for what they discern to be an ‘American breakfast’. It turns out this is a standard interpretation in Thailand, consisting of two slices of toast, two fried eggs, two slices of something masquerading as ham (sometimes you get the option of bacon instead) a conserve of marmalade/jam, margarine, a side order of fruit (usually pineapple, water melon or banana) and either a cup of tea or coffee. I would then back this up with a pineapple shake for re-hydration purposes, given that most mornings I was grappling with a hangover of varying degrees.

And so we walk north up Samsen road to investigate Wat Indrawihan and look over yet another Buddha, dodging tuk-tuk drivers along the way, having to contrive a very elaborate excuse at one point. When we get there a man offers to free a predetermined number of caged birds for a not insubstantial amount of money. I decline this bizarre opportunity for obvious reasons: if I collude, he’ll then have to catch more birds to replace the ones he’s set free, thus perpetuating the cruel cycle, and paying him will persuade him that there’s money to be made in continuing with this racket. (There probably is, otherwise he wouldn’t be doing it.) It is kind of peaceful, I suppose – the Wat – save for a couple of dogs gnarling at each other, whilst laughing children look on, goading them cruelly, like something out of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Then it’s back towards the Khao San Road to think very hard about our impending movements.
The plan was to hang around in Bangkok until a number (three) of our colleagues caught up with us, and then make a move en masse, but we are still to receive the relevant emails indicating when this might be. Should we make a move now regardless, as another South-East Asian veteran, in a recent email, has vehemently recommended I do? Or are we better served holding out for the arrival of our cadres? We decide to give it another couple of days, but on the next – Thursday – our minds our decided for us.

Drinking in the Hendrix late in the afternoon – killing time in a relaxing fashion – two of our (un)expected entourage breeze right on passed. J and H have travelled extensively and their sudden presence is reassuring; I must appear ridiculously pleased to see them. It materialises that they arrived in Bangkok that very morning. Furthermore, they do not anticipate staying for a day longer. And so it is agreed: tomorrow we will head southwards, and S, the last member of our party scheduled to arrive, will have to follow on when he finally decides to show up. (He’d originally been booked to come out on the same flight as us but had to reschedule for work reasons.) These arrangements are willingly received by my companion and me, if only in lieu of a will to commit to anything else.
Later, we meet our friends for a drink at their hotel – just around the corner from Hendrix – a place with the most rudimentary of rooms – charged appropriately – which from the description presented to us almost induces in me fits of traveller guilt. Mind you, our hotel – the grand Khao San Place – doesn't have a bar, so maybe I should give myself a break.
We do some drinking. Then we do some walking. Another storm pounces and we dive down an alley for cover. At the end of said alley is the smallest bar in the world – at least, I’ve not been to one smaller. Slightly more relaxed now, and so tomorrow’s jump into the unknown no longer represents the unthinkable. In fact, I am very much looking forward to getting out of this city that, even though I have not always been conscious of the fact, has had the dubious honour of introducing me to life in the Orient.


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