Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Bangkok

With India safely left behind, we arrived in Bangkok at around five in the morning, and got the bus to our hotel. We're staying in the Department Store area of Bangkok, as opposed to the Backpacker's area (based around Khao San Road, probably Lonely Planet's favourite road ever, more on which later) or the sex tourist area. Which is not to say that our hotel doesn't have it's fair share of sex tourists. In fact, it's purely sex tourists and us. So firstly, a word on them.

Quite simply, I find them repellant. As most of you who know me will no doubt be aware, generally speaking I'm usually not that repulsed by immoral acts, but there's something so plain wrong about fat sweaty ugly white men flying out here to take their pick of the many Thai hookers, or to marry a catalogue bride. I suppose in a way everybody's happy - the Thais get money, the men are less lonely. But it forever colours the relationship between Thailand and the west. It's got to the extent that every time I see an old white guy around here I assume he's a sex tourist, which is probably unfair a lot of the time. And I can only imagine how much I'd hate westerners if I was a Thai bloke my age.

Right, rant over with, let's get on to my first impressions of the 'City of Angels' (this is part of the real name for Bangkok - apparently Bangkok is just the western name for it, it's official moniker being hilariously long - about twenty words). Well, because, as I previously mentioned, we're in the department store district, my first impressions were of a department store. It was here I discovered a startling and bizarre phenomenon: reverse culture shock.

I've spent so long in India, that when we got in to the department store I was confused and panicky. Everything was so clean and bright and hard. There was so much blank well-lit space. All the products were so clean and folded. And no one spoke to me at all. It was terrifying.

Spent that first day gradually acclimatising ourselves to living in a place so much more like home than what we've been used to. It took a while, but a lifetime of Western ways comes back stronger than two months in India reasonably quickly.

The rest of the day was spent watching the King's Cup International Takraw Championships in the Bangkok National Stadium. Takraw is a game like volleyball, played with two or three person teams, using a light hollow wicker ball about the size of a mini-football, on a court resembling a badminton court. Each player can touch the ball once (as opposed to doing loads of kick-ups) and can use any part of their body except their hands. It's sort of like football volleyball. And it's amazingly athletic - the smash equivalent is generally some sort of ridiculous overhead scissor kick, performed by an oriental man about five foot seven, over a net as high as he is. The man in question then generally lands on his feet, or feet plus a steadying hand. A fantastic sport.

The next day, our second in Bangkok, we decided to go to Jatujak market, since it was a Saturday. This is a giant covered market, the biggest I've ever seen. It's easy and enjoyable to get lost wandering around through the various sections, with stalls selling clothes, hats, belts, shoes, furniture, bags, pets, etc. That's right: pets. Oddly enough Jatujak market is the place to go if you want a dog and you live in Bangkok. We mainly looked at the clothes, though - some cool band T-Shirts, but nothing that I really wanted to buy, though at 180 Baht (about two pounds twenty-five) the price was certainly right. Had it been the last stop on our trip I would have probably spazzed all my remaining wampum on clothing, but as it is, there was no point in me buying two pairs of jeans and having to lug them around for eight months!

After we got bored of the market, went and watched more Takraw, then back to the hotel, where we met our other travelling companion, Si Whitby. He'd flown from Heathrow that day. So from now on there'll be three of us. Yay.

To celebrate the reunion, we went out for dinner and some beers, and watched the Newcastle v Portsmouth football match on TV (Si is a Newcastle fan) in a bar full of Thai hookers who we politely ignored. Going out in our region of Bangkok is actually not too seedy, but again as a consequence of the above-mentioned prevalance of sex tourists, there are lots of hookers. And, again a horrible consequence of these ways of the world, you get to the stage where you assume every Thai woman you see out is a working girl. Which is horrible, because for all I know they might not be. Mind you, it's quite a change from India, where every woman you'd see would fall into one of the old three Maiden, Mother or Crone types, and you wouldn't see many women in general anyway. Here you see more women than men, but as mentioned above, there's a tendency to assume they all fall into another old type.

Today we went to the National Museum Bangkok, and learnt about Thai history. This appears to be a history of the kingdom of Siam warring with Burma lots and lots, being in charge of Cambodia and Laos, and warring with Vietnam a little. Then the European powers turned up, and the history was then the kingdom of Siam trying not to be outright conquered by France or Britain through the means of continually ceding areas of it's land to the foreign interests. Mind you, I'm not too sure about much of it, because the English information at the museum was written in a style that left many sentences completely nonsensical. Such rarely-employed grammatical techniques as ending a sentence with the word "and" were brought out. This, combined with the often amusing names of historical characters such as King U-Thong (childish, I know, but very very funny) meant that much of the time I was near-crying with laughter.

Also today we went to the aforementioned Khao San Road. And it's rubbish. Despite how much Lonely Planet claims it's great, it's in fact a slightly lame stall-lined street full of student clothing, rubbish slogan T-shirts and some bars and bookshops. A big disappointment: If you want clothing and you're in Bangkok, Jatujak market or the MBK Shopping centre are far better bets, it seems to me.

So, can Bangkok topple Mumbai as 'best city so far'? It's too early to say, as we'll still be here for a few more days, and we haven't seen any landmarks yet, but early signs are promising. It is certainly a great place in itself. It's got great shopping facilities, it's clean, the public transport is very good (especially to a man coming from India - here they understand the concept of letting everyone who wants to get off the bus or train before trying to pile on) and the beer is pretty cheap - about 50p for a big bottle from a supermarket, or around one pound twenty from a bar. The only problem is the number of fat old westerners, always making me feel a little bit ashamed.

Who would have thought it - me on the moral high ground!

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