I think I am in love with the madness of Bangkok. Not Bangkok itself, mind you, but the epic madness of the city, that crazy feeling that permeates everything, soaking through the streets like sweat through my tee shirt.
I took an overnight train back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, complete with “lady-boy” car attendant. Lady-boys are the third gender here in Thailand, not only tolerated but accepted, and with a smile. The train was not bad and actually nicer than overnight trains that I have taken in Europe; the seats fold down for a lower berth, the upper flips out of the wall and curtains close the two beds off, making for a fairly comfortable trip, if you don’t mind the few small cockroaches that say sawasdee-ha (hello) in the morning or the near-inedible food.
I love train trips; the slow rocking back and forth, the whistle sounding through the still of night, the silohuettes of trees racing past and the peekaboo moon make for a romantic setting with your lover. Or in this case, me and Coldplay. YEAH I LIKE COLDPLAY AND I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH I GET MADE FUN OF FOR IT. I was teased mercilessly as a child and have skin thicker than you would ever imagine- so go ahead.
The thirteen hour voyage went rather quickly and soon I was back in Bangkok. When I arrived here last week, I arrived after midnight and left very early the next morning and therefore saw very precious little of the city, which I was determined to correct in a day and a half.
In Bangkok you can buy anything you want, from perfectly fake California drivers’ licenses or university degrees to a watermelon shake served in a plastic bag (they give you a straw). Men with no legs pull themselves along the pavement hawking squeaky duck puppets for a quarter. The weekend market from which I just returned had 15,000 booths, making it the mother of all markets- the big, fat mother.
In Bangkok it is easy and recommended to get lost, and getting found again is as close as the nearest taxi or tuk-tuk. Traffic is insane, from the zillions of scooters to the taxi boats on the river- when the long boat gets next to the dock and is bouncing back and forth on the buoys, the driver just says, “JUMP!” and you have to leap from the boat to the shore over slimy brown water that would no doubt land you in the emergency room if it landed in you.
The drivers here have a miniscule idea of the space needed between vehicles, and lane
markers are merely a suggestion, like helmets for your toddler on a motorcycle. Taxis have multicolored flashing disco lights alongside their brake lights, and the air is hot and humid and 98% diesel fumes. I am traveling on the tail end of the rainy season, and giant drops will suddenly burst from the sky in a deluge, bouncing high off the pavement for ten minutes and then stop suddenly, completely, and in another ten minutes it is as hot as it was before- only even more humid and drippy.
Everyone is selling something and asking five times the amount you ought to pay for it.
Cops wear Johnny Walker emblems alongside their badges- perhaps they are sponsored? And you can get a cup full of crickets to munch on as you peruse the false Adidas, Converse, Von Dutch, fake EVERYTHING for sale. Name your price. There are also huge shopping malls selling real name brand clothes for half the cost of the same in America, but who wants to buy that? Boring.
Much more fun are the open-air markets, which seem to make up 75% of the city. While looking for an amulet market I found a flower market where ladies were stringing
together bright yellow chrysanthemums to hang in devotion. The markets are the wheels that turn and fuel the madness of Bangkok with all of their unidentifiable fruits and strange smells- smells that at once wash over you like a wave and make you sure you are about to puke- until you are hit in the face by the smell of fresh tangerine juice, or grilling bananas, or the omnipresent street-corner Phud Thai dealer. The best smells in the world and the worst smells in the world mingle together, and that is the smell of Bangkok.
Yesterday I went to several Buddhist Temples to gaze up at the intricate mosaics and glistening altars, tall towers and the serene eyes of Buddha which look down on you every chance they get. Wat Pho held a jolly golden reclining Buddha, chilling out in his vast temple, with feet bottoms of delicate inlaid mother of pearl. Wat Phra Kaew boasted
a tiny and venerable “emerald” buddha made out of jade and the nearby Royal Palace at one point held the king.
After a few hours of sunny sightseeing in this city of crazy, there is only one thing you can possibly want to do- have a massage. It seems like every time I blog I am either headed to a massage or coming from one. They are cheap and fantastic. The masseuse pulls, stretches, beats, hits, slaps, rubs, presses, pops, sits on, smacks, pushes, and digs her elbows into every conceivable part of your body, including the arches of your feet, in-between your toes, your armpits,
your bum, your spine, under your shoulder blades, your inner thighs, your temples, your earlobes, your jaw. There is no freaky new-age music for the background, only the occasional sound of somebody getting slapped and the idle chatter of the workers. My back has been popped in ways I did not think possible, and my feet want to dance for an eon.
Massages are simply part of daily life here, like tuk-tuks. Tuk-tuks aren’t just three-wheeled little open-air trikes that race around the city stuffed with tourists- they are emblems of
Thailand itself and carry the driver as well as his personality. Their multi-colored brake lights are the same as those on rocket ships at Chucky Cheese; their dashes are sparking lime green and decorated with stickers from happy-faces to elephants. Hubcaps are red, yellow, green; the bench seat that you sit on is rainbow-striped or fake blue snake skin. The silver rails which you hold on to for dear life are embellished with curlee-cues and from the front photos of the king, Buddha, the driver’s kids or the Thai Britney Spears gaze back at you. Most have a silver plate reading “THAILAND” on the back above their license plates, and you can fit as many people in
a tuk-tuk as you can cram- my personal record is six. Tuk-tuks careen around Bangkok, belching diesel fumes into your face to the unmistakable sound: tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk. Taxis here are colorful too; most are neon pink with a few sky blue and lime green ones mixed in. Taxis have AC which is nice, however they can’t compare with the tuk-tuk, every single one of which is different. I want one. I can drive around Seattle yelling “tuk-tuk” at people and charging them a dollar to go across town.
Bangkok is also reputedly famous for it’s seedy underbelly and it’s numerous red light districts. I can now confirm this with 100% accuracy. Last night I went to a ping-ping show, and that is all I am going to write about it. For the love of God, my grandmother reads this blog. You will just have to ask me about the show once I return home. Suffice to say:
1. The show involved much more than just ping pong balls,
2. I was totally amazed and completely traumatized, and
3. I will never, ever listen to Lionel Richie the same way again. EVER.
(Shudder, shudder, shaking head and closing eyes. Goose bumps. Shudder. Shudder.)
I am okay now.
By the way, “OK” is the most widely understood word in the world. The second? Coke. But who drinks coke when you can buy a BUCKET of vodka red bull for five bucks? The nightlife is
certainly banging in Bangkok, and to get over the shock and shame of the ping pong show, a massive amount of alcohol was in order. Nightclubs abound and people set up bars on the street and sell cocktails (in glasses or buckets). And could there be any more freaking psytrance in this city? No, there could not. WTF? Am I in Goa or Bangkok? And why does psytrance go so well with the tropics?
Maybe I will find out in Ko Pha Ngan, the island which hosts the biggest beach raves in the whole world, the full moon parties. I am headed there in a few hours on another overnight train; I stay a couple of days and then will bounce around to some of the other islands. My plan for the next week looks like this: beach, pool, bar, pool, beach, bar, beach, pool, bar, snorkeling, pool, bar, beach, bar, pool, grilled fish, bar, pool, beach, bar…you get the idea.
This is kind of a random, messy post but so is Bangkok. Take care of each other, and remember: knowing is half the battle.
Sorry for the typos and spelling errors. And the ping pong show. (Shudder)