A friendly pimp, some delicious food and some very shady characters
I was one of the first to board the plane in Vancouver, so I had the pleasure of watching the hoards of people parade their way on in a decidedly aggressive fashion. From the vantage point of row 68d I witnessed one of the flight attendants (traditionally pleasant people), push a man out of her way as she (assumingly) thought he was taking too long to put away his overhead luggage. The chaos and jockeying for position for the typically standard, if not boring task of finding your seat on an airplane was amusing to watch. The last and only time I had witnessed such madness on a plane, was the first time I flew Eastern China Air. This would be the second.
This was leg two of a three leg marathon totalling an ungodly 25 hours of airplane sitting. And by far the worst one at 12.5 hours. I was armed with three sleeping pills and free international drinks, but 12.5 hours still seems insurmountable while you’re waiting for takeoff.
The flight was as expected — very bad. But I did manage to achieve my goal of sleeping for around five hours. I also didn’t have any obnoxious neighbours on the ride so I couldn’t complain. I arrived in Shanghai weary and bleary eyed and wasn’t prepared for the human bumper cars slap-chopping their way through queues with sharp elbows. Not having been in China for a couple years I had forgotten how pleasant it was.
I sat at my gate listening to a chorus of cellphones on full blast playing music, games or someone simply scream-talking to whomever was on the other line. Sometimes these noises were drowned out by flamboyant spitting into garbage cans, which was a nice change of pace. Oh yes, I was back in China.
After being barreled over by a family of four in the great race of walking up the stairs to our airplane, I was finally comfortably seated on the final leg of my journey — 4.5 hours to Bangkok. I was delighted to find that there was only one other passenger in my row providing us both with much needed extra leg room. His name was Allan and he was from Colorado. I told him I was from Calgary. He asked if that was in New Mexico. I said it was.
I arrived in Bangkok at 11p.m. local time looking like I had woken up under a bridge. The heat was oppressive as I drank in that new country smell. I grabbed the first taxi I could and being too exhausted to haggle or care if I was getting ripped off, agreed to pay the first price he presented.
We zipped through traffic without caution down the unfamiliar streets. My only memory of the drive is a swirling assortment of giant billboards featuring the King of Thailand in all his glory. Seems that nobody loves their King more than the Thais. He looks like a nice fellow.
I had given the driver my guest house address which was supposed to be near the infamous Khao San Road. I was only there two nights so decided to see what all the fuss was about.
I could hear the music booming from a block away as we approached Bangkok’s seedy underbelly. The driver pulled over and said, “There, you just walk and will find.” He pointed towards the mayhem.
Keep in mind I didn’t have a sim card yet so I was at the mercy of a data-less, chaotic world.
I wasn’t really comfortable with my two bags at 11:30 p.m. wandering down this jungle without knowing exactly where I was going but complied with his orders and grabbed my stuff.
The street was a swirling kaleidoscope of debauchery as expected and looked to be a spawn of Hamsterdam from season three of The Wire, and every season of The Jersey Shore. Pounding music, flashing lights, lemon-coloured-shirt bar girls tugging at you from every direction trying to drag you into their establishments. Coal-coloured-shirt guys trying to sell you lemon-coloured-shirt girls. Scores of kids shoving signs into your face ranging from laughing gas, to beer, to women, to scorpions. Stereotypical drunk tourists stumbling around like zombies. Overweight men getting foot massages. Smart people getting street tattoos. The smell was a concoction of curry, beer, sweat, piss and death. It was war on the senses and hard to digest after being on a plane for 25 hours.
I could see how this carnival could easily wrap its tentacles around many a young fresh-faced tourists.
The first thing a Thai person ever said to me outside of my taxi was “You want to get laid?” It took less than ten metres of walking for this to happen.
I said no thanks and he asked why not, seemingly confused. I told him I was just trying to find my guest house. He asked where I was staying, I told him, he laughed.
“You’re going the wrong way! It’s back that way and down that street.”
I was extremely annoyed at my cab driver for telling me to walk the gauntlet down Khao San Road with my bags when he clearly had no idea where my place actually was. But on the other hand, I was very grateful for the friendly pimp. It was a wash.
I finally got to my guest house and dropped my bags in my room, which was of equal quality to Leo’s room from the opening scene of The Beach. I booked online obviously and the only thing I really cared about was if the room had air conditioning because it was 40 degrees in Bangkok. The room said it had air conditioning. The room did not have air conditioning. The room had a shitty fan and a broken toilet.
I went downstairs to eat my first ever meal in Thailand. A traditional Saag Paneer with garlic naan bread! The hostel I was at was Indian owned.
The next two days were a blurry mixture of Tuk Tuks, falling asleep in the middle of the day, rooftop cocktails and delicious food from the carts of the renowned Bangkok China town.
Thailand has an Uber variation (called Grab) and it is much more economical than Tuk Tuks but Tuk Tuks are much more dangerous and fun.
It’s amazing how quickly you throw safety standards out the window when you get to third world countries. In Canada we are taught in work meetings to always have three points of contact while walking down the stairs. In Thailand, people carry un-helmeted babies in one arm on a scooter while weaving in and out of traffic doing 80 clicks.
On my final night in Bangkok I woke up from a seven-hour nap at midnight (jet lag’s a helluva drug) and decided to go down to the open-air hostel bar and drink with whomever was there. The lucky contestants were a portly Punjabi man with an ugly bald head but a body that meant business, and a dainty little excitable Burmese man.
They were already friends and invited me to their table to eat sunflower seeds. The Punjabi man told me that the seeds came from a sunflower. I told him that I already knew this piece of wisdom and that we had such luxuries back in Canada. He seemed surprised.
As the beers continued to flow my two new chums seemed to be getting very comfortable with me. The Burmese man kept sensually rubbing my arms and knees and staring at them like they were brand new. To the point where it was fairly uncomfortable. Is this a Burmese thing? I thought to myself. Just roll with it. But then the Punjabi man did it too and it was starting to become super weird.
“You want some weed?” said the Punjabi man.
I did not.
“How about girl?” said the Burmese man.
“I can get you way better girl than the ones on this street. I can get you very tight!”
I didn’t like where this was going.
“The girls I have are 14!”
He then said some other abominable things that I won’t ever repeat again.
I felt quite ill after my first-hand look into the world of child prostitution. Of course, I knew that Thailand was a place of relaxed sexual mores but this was different. Hearing those words is something you can never prepare yourself for. It’s real and it happens. It’s sad and disgusting.
After expressing my repulsion, and a futile effort of trying to explain law and humanity to them I realized it was all falling on deaf ears. Things quickly became eerily quiet and I excused myself and went to my room hoping to sleep away the horrible taste in my mouth.
I woke up with a vestigial disgust about the atrocities I had listened to the night before and was happy to be fleeing on a jet plane to Chiang Mai. I poured two shots of vodka into my historically delicious mango smoothie and was off to the airport.