Friday, August 23, 2019

Wandering Bangkok

Bangkok is hardly Utopia but it did restore my belief that a huge city can be clean, somewhat orderly and quite beautiful. Dhaka are you paying attention. What you can't hear me because there are to many horns blasting at the same time all day and night? FUN FACT: The population density of Toronto is 4334 people per square km. The population of Dhaka is 26 995 people per square km. That would mean the entire population of Niagara Falls, Canada would be jammed into a 3 square kms. Good Grief Charlie Brown!

There is a reason Bangkok is a major tourist stop. It is an epic city. Big, brash and colorful. It has a long deep history that is evident everywhere. You can be good, bad or somewhere in between and it is fine. Nobody would blink let alone care. Getting around is easy. Neighborhoods are interesting. Food is incredible and readily available. However there are constant reminders that this is a big city with big city issues towards unsuspecting tourists. Touts, pickpockets, dishonest Tuk Tuks,  taxi drivers and various other scammers. Nothing to be afraid or to make you feel unsafe. I have been robbed before, it happens. Don't ignore it but don't let thoughts of fear control your every moment.

Take a cup of water. Dip your finger in it and flick the water over your shoulder. Those are the bad people in the world. The water left in the up are the good people. I read it and I liked it.

This is a nice ride The big ass temple and colorful bus
Ministry of Defense Colours, colours and more colours
I have no idea what this temple is Too many Wats to count.

The Chao Phraya River runs through the middle of Bangkok. It has many tributaries that wind in and around the city into and through different neighborhoods. People have always lived along the river here and I wanted to see the waterways and homes. Surprise! Tourist boats are available all over the river offering cruises for about $45 for an hour tour. So I bought my ticket from a lady who did not give me a ticket, smile and put the money into her back pocket. Tourist workers ripping off employers is a national sport in the industry. Trust me, I worked in the tourist industry for many years. I jumped aboard the long boat and sat back. I was not to be disappointed. 

Boat traffic was light on the main river but once we turned into a side waterway it was active with small boats, tour boats and people living and going about their daily lives. The rivers actually had  street names, directional signs and navigation markers. Houses were flush up against the river and in some instances the river was winning. I could imagine 50 years ago people would be fishing off their porches for supper. Now, not so much. Pollution is the scourge of the earth, everywhere.

Boat ride on the The Chao Phraya River Boat ride on the The Chao Phraya River
Boat ride on the The Chao Phraya River Boat ride on the The Chao Phraya River
Boat ride on the The Chao Phraya River Boat ride on the The Chao Phraya River

Wat Arun, The temple of the Dawn, is a Buddhist temple in Bangkok Yai district. It was the only "hop on hop off" stop on the one hour boat tour. I hopped off and decided not to hop back on. What a rebel! A little google map check revealed it was about an hour walk back to my hotel neighborhood. I would be able to discover new areas of Bangkok that I had not seen before. It was all riverfront so I should be interesting. There was a "docking fee" of $3 for each tourist, which like the boat ticket was received with a knowing smile. You do become a portable ATM machine in so many part of the world.

This temple was magnificent. Naturally I know nothing about the religion or history of the religion but it did not stop me from enjoying the wander. The various temples inside the main temple were colorful. Statues of gold, blues, reds and yellows. Stone carvings of lions seemed to be the animal of choice. In one area locals were lining up to be blessed by a monk, with the mandatory cash donation at the end of the blessing. It's not religion if there is no money involved.

I have been in temples all over Asia. In China, Tibet, Nepal, India and Thailand. They are usually ornate and splendid spectacles. However it always amuses me how these "palaces of worship" who always preach magnanimous living and simple lives always seem to be prosperous beyond what the masses can afford. The impoverished giving what they can so that the purveyors of dogma can live comfortable lives in the name of their god. It's a global phenomenon that I can only shake my head at.

Thailand is interesting. The openness of one part of their society selling sex and booze. The preaching of strict adherence to a simple and good life through religion. This creates an societal mix that can only be enjoyed. The Kingdom is also as corrupt as any in Asia, as any in the world. Through it all people flock here for all their personal reasons. Maybe it is the mystery of history. Maybe it is the beauty of the natural world. Maybe it is the readily available sex. Maybe it is a combination of all of the aforementioned. I don't know and I don't care.

Thailand, you are a mysterious creature.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Watch Your Change

I was in Bangkok in June of 2018 (Click here for a link to that post) but this time I decided to stay near Khao San Road.

Khao San has a reputation as the place to be for hippies, backpackers and low budget travelers. That may have been the case 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Now it is a cliché location filled with mid-range accommodation, overpriced food, massage parlors, families and Chinese tourists. The Chinese tourist is everywhere now. There is absolutely nothing Bohemian about the place. I am not saying don't visit, hang out and watch the crowed while sipping an overpriced Chang. Just lower your expectations if you are looking to experience something that no longer exists.

One thing that the local merchants have down to a science is trying to short change you. Counting back your change fast and hoping you just put it in your pocket is one of the most common trick and not giving enough change runs a close second. However, the most effective is giving you a 50 Baht note instead of a 500. They look similar in color, 50 is blue, 500 is light purple and the 500 is a bit larger. However, too much talking and not enough checking means suddenly you find yourself short 450 Baht...about $19.50 Canadian. If you are wondering. A resounding yes, it happened to me.

The famous Khao San Road
A perfect sign for this town
Entrance sign to my hotel
Lamphuhouse. A bit of seclusion in the madness
Street vendors in front of a government building
A bit of greenery around the hotel

I treated myself to a good room at the Lampuhouse Hotel Soi Rambrutri, , just a 5 minute walk away from Khaosan Road. My $30 a night splurge included free daily bottled water, a private bathroom and a balcony. A home run in my world of simplicity! I was within walking distance to temples, interesting streets and general Bangkok life.

I buy very few trinkets and trash when I travel. What I do collect as souvenirs is money. Current currency and when possible older coins and notes from street vendors and markets. I love browsing through bowls of coins looking for hidden gems or something that catches my eye. No, there are no million dollar finds and it’s fun to negotiate with a vendor who excitedly explains how valuable a coin is, even though it's not. Some of my best Mexican memories are with Tom Webster in Tehuacan. There were so many vendors in various markets with impressive looking coins. It became a bi-weekly event to head out to a market and browse for hours.

I came across a vendor in front of the Coin Museum just up the road from Khao San. Her coins were all so overpriced but she refused to budge because they were all “rare and valuable”. In fact, so rare she had about 50 of each. Near the Grand Palace and the Royal Temple of the Emerald Buddha, I came across a woman who had coins spread out on various blankets. I was going to be there a while. She was incredibly friendly and funny. She gave me tea and we sat and talked for about half an hour. I looked at coins and she told me stories about them. True or not, it was fun and entertaining. I ended up buying a couple of coins from the 1980s for about $6. She was overjoyed and gave me a small plastic container of Thai sweets as a gift. I sat and talked with her for a while longer. A nice travel moment.

My favorite coin lady

Sweeeeeet snacks.
Selfies with locals is an Asian Sport
Ministry of something or other..
Private, for your punishment you must sit on a horse and be bothered by tourist for a day

As I was with my "coin lady friend", three young guys stood and watched what we were doing. They were curious and kept looking at me, whispering and nervously smiling. I knew it was going to be "selfie time". The absolute second I got up from chatting with the coin lady these three were on me. Did they want selfies? Of course. What they really wanted was to ask me questions in English and record the video as part of a school project. They were friendly and excited when I agreed. They asked me the standard questions. "Where are you from? How do you like Bangkok?  What do you think of Thailand?  When we were done, I re-gifted them the container of sweets. They were balls of raw sugar and my head almost exploded when I tried them. The coin lady laughed.

Back to the Royal Temple. I had visited it before on my previous visit to Bangkok. It was impressive but not so impressive it required a return visit. I did like wandering around the area, which was also near various other temples and government buildings. All spectacular in design and color. I came across a couple of security guards on horseback posing patiently with selfie taking tourists. Ha! They must have done something pretty awful to be punished with this extra duty. I took my photo.😎

Slices of cooked croc anyone?
Khao San night street scene
Khao San night street scene
Khao San night street scene
Soi Rambrutri night street sceneSoi Rambrutri night street scene

My day ended with a night wander around Soi Rambrutri. It had rained and the streets glistened in the streetlights. The neighborhood was busy with food vendors and I dove right in - Pad Thai for about $3 and $2 for slices of alligator or crocodile? Not sure and I did not care. I could sit on small plastic chair at a small plastic table, and eat and drink in comfort and happiness. There were enough people around to chitchat with while sipping on a beer and watching the night crowds enjoy themselves.

After three large bottles of 
Chang, getting up from my plastic doll house furniture proved tougher than when I sat down. The fact that I talk a big drinking game is one thing. Yes, I had my day and it is no secret that beer/alcohol and I have a long storied relationship. Sometimes good, sometimes not so much. However, now I am a lightweight and three large bottles of weak ass beer gets me a "wobblin and a bobblin". 

I like being a lightweight very, very much.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pattaya City

Pattaya was a sleeping fishing village. Pattaya's first big break came on 29th June 1959 when a reported five US Military transport trucks laden with GIs arrived in the city from their base in Nakhon Ratchasima. The word spread among other American soldiers stationed in the region and Pattaya quickly became a hot alternative to Bangkok.  -- Wikipedia

In Pattaya, there are many cars but very little honking and pedestrians are not considered moving targets. There are pedestrian crosswalks where cars actually stop, allowing you to cross the street without fear. It is an eerie sensation and a major contrast to my last six months of life in Dhaka where honking your car horn is the national sport and you must always look both ways before crossing. Not doing so could result in tragic circumstance because cars will be driving the wrong way on a street at any given time. It really is stupid what you get accustomed to and accept as the norm.  Now, onto better things.  Here I was in Pattaya, a city with a torrid past. I had time and money to spend. What could possibly go wrong? Alcohol, tattoo??

I felt like the Omega Man
Streets start to look the same Korean Soul Food? Really?
Oh look! Street food cart.
OK, this isn't so bad

Pattaya has quite an infamous history.. This town was the original Sin City. It was all about drinking, sex, massage parlors, bar girls, freelancers, wild times and zero restrictions. It was carnal pleasure central. If you talk to any Expat who has been here a while things started to change about 8 years ago. The “powers that be” decided to start catering to the massive influx of Chinese tourists and thought making Pattaya family friendly was the way to go. Now, Pattaya is just a shell of its former debaucherous self. I was sitting eating lunch in the market yesterday and beside me were a few younger local lovelies. They were speaking English and the conversation was mostly about how they cannot make any money and would have to move to Bangkok. It did not take a genius to figure out these were very unhappy bar girls. The one line that one girl said which made them all laugh in unison..."Pattaya is now where old white foreign men come to die".  BOOM! Mike Drop!

Now, was the off-season that much was obvious. Desperate and bored bar girls wobbling on five inch spiked heels, warbling "hey handsome, come on in" through layers of lip-gloss and looking past you with distant eyes. So what was I to do? I went it.😊.  The routine was the same at every bar. Upon entry, girls of all shapes and sizes swarm you. Buy yourself a beer for 60 Baht then buy them the same beer but it costs 180 Baht. No worries, it is fun for a short time. Your ego gets a huge boost with the constant barrage of compliments and sexual innuendo. Is this the sex capital of Thailand? YES. Is it the HIV capital of Thailand, also YES. Therefore, after a few games of pool, harmless fun and overpriced beer I wandered off into the sadness that is Pattaya. 

Walking Street, where sin begins
Not going in here
This guy called out to see if I would get in the right with him She was actually nicer and really funny. The photo does no justice
Russian Mob Advertisement Mom, Dad. I am going to Pattaya to earn some money. Don't worry.

With the sun setting there was only one place to go, Walking StreetThe red light district of Pattaya. With all the advertising for "Crazy Russian Girls it gave some credibility to the stories of this part of the city being controlled by the Russian Mafia. With girls, beer, kabobs and Thai boxing at my disposal I did what any normal guy would do. I went for a foot and leg message.

I have walked or ran into enough "red light districts" in my day. This would have been incredible if it was not so pathetic. Each bar had 10 to 12 scantily clad girls out front trying to lure customers inside. They were cute and I have to believe that most came from the countryside, doing whatever it took to make a few Baht. I walked up and down the street twice to take it all in. There was trouble to be had that is for sure. I would think that in the Vietnam War era this place was madness. Now it is all Chinese tourists with lots of money to spend. So be it. They were having fun and everyone was making money.

3Nothing wrong with this start to my day
4Heading home after a long night
Tourist Shot I wonder what does on here?

I relaxed for 3 nights at the Chill Inn. I liked the play on words in the name. I was far enough away from the Helter Skelter of it all but close enough to anything I wanted. The hotel had a great restaurant and pints of beer were cold and cheap enough. I spent quite a bit of time there with a few good books. The Book of Negros and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Light reading for the surroundings. 😎.

I score Pattaya 6 out of 10, if only because I learned to dive here. Perhaps at one time, but now, this town has no soul. "Pattaya is now where old white foreign men come to die". I could not agree more. It was time to get out of here. On to Bangkok.