Bangkok Backpacker Debauchery - A First Hand Account of SE Asia's Seedy Underbelly
“Know the rules well so you can break them effectively” - Dalai Lama XIV
On a whim I decided to revisit Bangkok for a weekend in the middle of my holiday in Laos. Essentially it was a holiday from a holiday, how my family thinks I live my life full time. A friend of mine was there unexpectedly so I made the trip back to the big city to meet up with him. It would be a long while before we see each other again so we spared no expense doing the weekend up big. We started out each evening at about six o’clock with greasy delicious street food: pad Thai, meat on a stick, som tam thai (papaya salad) and cold Leo beer. Having similar travelling styles we made up each night as we went along.
The first night out was a trip out to a shisha bar on bustling Soi 11 in Sukhumvit area. Shisha smoking is one of our favourite past times together. We’re both ex-smokers so shisha is a nice al-ternative. The place was busy so we asked a young woman sitting alone if we could share her ta-ble. We realised quickly in her response that she was quite drunk, but it wasn’t until I made a trip to the bathroom that we discovered just how inebriated she actually was. In my absence she leaned into my friend and said quite simply, “your girlfriend looks like a whore, how many times has she sucked your d—k?” My friend was of course shocked but being the laid back guy he is, took it all with a grain of salt and replied, “oh countless times” (he’s a goof). I returned and my friend leaned in to tell me the story. I was floored but thought, oh this could be fun, let’s roll with it. She could be very entertaining company.
This woman had a glass of wine in front of her, likely her fifteenth. She had wig-ish looking long blonde hair and wore bright red lipstick which had bled onto her teeth as so happens when severely drunk women wear cheap cosmetics. She had the mouth of a Northern Thai tribal woman who chews betel nut on a regular basis (google this and you’ll see what I mean). Her eyes were glassy with liquid confidence. She leaned across the table and said to me, “oh you look old like my mom! Why do you have to wear that makeup and get Botox? Just stop it honey. Oh but you’re beautiful, you really are!” And this continued on for nearly 15 minutes. I swear I’ve never been hit with such a smattering of insults all in one shot, particularly with the backhanded beautiful comment. Her comments were not far off a young man who once remarked that I must wear lots of moisturiser to look as I do at 37. This woman claimed to be a paediatrician AND a surgeon AND a part owner of the bar we sat in. Obvious bullshit as was her insistence that three of her friends were on their way to meet her. Now that would be an interesting variety of people. But then she knocked over her shisha pipe and sent a spray of sparks beneath our table over our feet. She moved after that and we didn’t see her again. What a shame.
We sat there for a couple of hours smoking shisha drinking soda with Sangsom, Thailand’s cheap and popular “whiskey”. It’s actually rum not whiskey but the Thais call any hard stuff whiskey. We left the bar in search of some green stuff. Yes I know this is illegal and perhaps not the wisest thing to do in a foreign country where the penalty for drug possession is death but we decided to go ahead and inquire anyways, with due diligence of course. Who is the number one go-to person for anything in a big Asian city? The tuk-tuk driver. The tuk-tuk driver has the eyes and ears of a thou-sand flies on the wall. We competed to see who would have success first. I lost. I look too much the wholesome kindergarten teacher I am but my friend looks every part the bohemian backpacker roaming the earth for an indefinite period of time.
From there we started back towards our guesthouse on Soi 31 and hit up a 7-11 on the way. The 7-11s in Thailand are ubiquitous, seriously. They are on nearly every street corner. They’re like cultural landmarks. We picked up some chocolate and water and a can of beer to make a bong like a couple of 18 year olds and continued on down the street. We stopped briefly to lie down on the sidewalk and kick our arms and legs in the air, what I call Laughing, Dying Cockroach, a little feel-good activity I like to engage in periodically and in which I absolutely love to pressure my friends into doing with me. My friend was a good sport. Obviously we didn’t really need the green but we smoked it anyway.
The next day started late with a trip out to the street for fresh fruit and coffee. I LOVE Thailand for this reason. Food is everywhere. The ramshackle carts line the main streets and tiny sois and offer everything: hard-boiled eggs on a stick, fried bread and ice cream, grilled octopus, fried grasshop-pers, fresh fruit, salads and spring rolls, etc. The fruit is sliced and put into a plastic bag, accompa-nied with a slim wooden stick with which to spear the fruit for easy eating. So I grabbed pineapple, watermelon, apple, and mango. How great it is to find cheap, healthy street food without having to walk more than a mere 10 metres.
We hit up the famous Chatachuk market on Saturday afternoon, along with the rest of Bangkok and half of the Western world. The crowd was thick but the weather was awesome! It seems all of SouthEast Asia was having a bit of a cold snap that weekend as I was quite cold leaving Laos the day before. The temperature felt about 25 degree Celsius with a nice breeze kicking. We walked around for hours without sweating, looking at all the stuff and the people buying the stuff. After several attempts at trusting my terrible sense of direction we finally managed to find the food mar-ket. We had papaya salad again, grilled shrimp the size of houses and cold beer.
That night we decided to check out crazy Khao San road, a debaucher’s dream come true. I’d heard about Khao San before but had never been and wow, it did not disappoint. It was full on. The neon lights advertising hostels, massage, the notorious ping pong girls, food and shops monopolised the view. All kinds of merchandise lined the streets and bars and restaurants spilled out into the road. Young backpackers and locals created towers of beer bottles on their tables. Ladyboys trolled the area. Talented buskers drew crowds. We sat for a while and ate dinner and drank Sangsom and soda, until we were ready to explore a bit. We left Khao San and went hunting for shisha. We found an awesome place, half outside with a bit of a view of the city, mats on the floor and low tables. We of course ordered a bottle of Sangsom and got our drink on for a little while. After another fun, rum-induced walk around the area we grabbed a tuk tuk and headed back to our guesthouse. We stumbled in around 4 am and decided the night was not yet done. We found a secret door just outside our room leading to the rooftop… yes! We grabbed the green and climbed the ladder to the tin roof. We sat out there a while, a giggling couple of bad-asses, whilst we smoked and looked down upon the city.
That rooftop visit inspired me to inquire the next day about an even grander view from Bangkok’s Sathon Tower, informally named the “Ghost Tower”. The tower has been sitting, only partially con-structed for several years due to a bankruptcy. Several blogs online explained that one could climb to the top, at their own risk of course, for a spectacular view of the city. People claim the tower is haunted and blogs recommend bringing a head torch, wearing good shoes and bringing a beer to drink at the top… sounded right up my alley. We stuck with the flip flops but brought the rest, along with the green–we’d overbought and had only three days to use it up… excuses.
We walked to Phrom Phong BTS station (Bangkok’s skytrain) from our guesthouse. It was done up: a cross between Times Square and Beverly Hills. Giant high-end shops like Louis Vuitton and Gucci shone with glitter and gold. A crimson carpet donned the marble floor and all around over-the-top Christmas flare sparkled. The lights were bright and the whole scene was glitzy and glam-orous, a reminder that we were in the middle of a world-class city. I thought of Laos, just a stone’s throw away, beautifully brown and meek with its dirt roads and ruddy faces. We took the BTS to Saskin Tanin station and started walking towards the Ghost Tower, which loomed forebodingly over the city.
We found the building’s entrance but it was completely closed off with giant signs reading “no entry” and “trespassers will be prosecuted”. Now, being in possession of MJ already, I wasn’t really too concerned with such warnings and began looking for a way in. I even stopped a tuk-tuk driver to ask for information on how to get in. I was sure he didn’t really understand what I wanted but I negotiated a good price anyways on the hopes that he would show me what I wanted. A local woman walking by stopped us and advised us not to go with the tuk-tuk guy, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps she could see that he didn’t really understand me. Her command of English was re-ally good so I asked her about the Ghost Tower. She explained that not too long ago you could climb it but recently the authorities denied the public access to it because of the risk it posed, either because of the shady people that hang out in its bowels or because the building’s physical structure is shaky at best and there are plenty of opportunities to slip through a crack and fall to your death. Okay, that’s a fairly good reason to shut down public access. But we were so disappointed. Climbing derelict buildings has become one of my favourite activities, as fun as climbing moun-tains. I was willing to take the risk and check it out properly but my friend’s intuition insisted that we leave it. I quickly pointed out the naturalness of this feeling since the place is rumoured to be haunted but he claimed it had nothing to do with that… and I’m sure it didn’t (wink wink). So instead we chatted with this woman a while who was pretty friendly and quite obviously enjoyed telling us about her country and culture. She directed us to a place called Asiatique on the side of the Chao Phraya river as an alternative to trespassing derelict buildings so we decided to check it out.
We jumped on a local bus and took it a ways until we reached Asiatique. It was a fairly big complex, like an upscale market, with tons of little shops, some restaurants, and riverside fun like a giant ferris wheel and the Space Vehicle. We decided to first find a dark place where we could hit the bong before getting on the ferris wheel… naturally, right? We took turns hiding in the shadows with the other person watching out for passersby. We were like a couple of shady 17 year olds wanting to get high before hitting the fair. To all you judgemental folks out there: I’m on holiday… full stop. We hit up a couple street food stalls for dinner after and then got on the ferris wheel. It was a pretty good view actually. From the top we saw the Space Vehicle down below, this big tube shaped thing holding two seats, that rocks back and forth. Definitely our next stop. We finished the ferris wheel and headed there. It was really fucking fun. Every once in a while the dude operating the ride would come by and rock us way back and way forth, threatening to roll us right over. We were in giggles.
After that it was shisha time. We grabbed a tuk-tuk that took us on a mach-four ride through the city back to Soi 11, home of the original shisha bar from the first night. We ordered our usual mint shisha and–wait for it–Sangsom with soda. That night ended up being one of those nights where you get to know your friend just that little bit better than you did before and wonder if you’re actually a bit of a bad influence on each other. We shared all kinds of stories, funnier and more lively as we emptied glass after glass of Sangsom.
Towards the end of the night a man and woman approached us and invited us out to party. They were quite forward and persistent, giving me an all around bad vibe. I got up and went to the bath-room, which I could access only down a dark lane and through the back kitchen of a restaurant. I came out of the stall and there was a woman standing there in the doorway waiting for me… creepy. She asked quite assertively if my “friend” was more than just a friend. She asked me where I was from and if I was interested in partying with her and her friends, the man and woman who’d approached our table a few minutes before. I politely declined and left the bathroom. She followed me, continuing with her creepy questions. I grabbed my friend and told the people to have a good night. We left. We walked down the street a few metres and decided to stop for late night pad thai. My friend left the table to go to the bathroom and almost immediately two older men of the fat greasy variety, typical crawlers of the wee hours of the night in SouthEast Asia, starting making eyes at me. They ever so chivalrously invited me to sit with them by saying, “we’ll have you over here”. CREEPY. When my friend returned I looked at him and said, “kiss me like you own me right now.” It was a surefire way to shut up those guys behind me. It worked.
We finished up the three-night shenanigan with a long but interesting walk home at about 4:30 am dodging eager ladyboys propositioning both of us, hilarious. Bangkok certainly does not disappoint.
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