Well, the time has finally come. I've packed my undies and toothbrush, I've watched the first half of The Beach, I've realized the porn industry owes much of its jargon to Thai (gay gang bang?), and I've even managed to find my passport, finally, hiding beneath a 'VISITOR' card I wore home from a job interview once. Now, there's nothing for me & my backpack to do but wait until we're at check-in again, secure in the knowledge that in a couple of hours we'll be up, up & away, hurling towards a new adventure in a new, sweaty, anything-goes part of the world.
For those who might not be aware, yes, I'm going to Thailand & Cambodia for two weeks as of this arvo, so I won't be around until Saturday the 1st of March. I'll be taking my mobile but only to take photos and maybe fascinate some monkeys with, so if you need to get in touch then e-mail me or send a courier pidgeon to Sukhumvit Hotel. As always, I'll be sure to send plenty of photos and accompanying rants if we get any spare time... otherwise, if the crocodiles, mosquitoes and Cambodian mines don't get me, I'll see you all when I get back to the pleasant green hills of Brighton.
Well, here I am sweating my arse off at an Internet cafe on Koh Simet Island, and there's so much to write about I seriously don't know where to start.
The flight here sucked hard. I was seated next to a chunky old Greek woman who kept sighing on me and hogging the armrests, then about halfway through the flight another chunky old Greek woman came over and asked me if I wanted to swap seats. I said yeah so she led me up the plane to where a couple of lovely young ladies were sitting - one of whom was from Brighton, as it turned out, and one of whom was Polish. So at least I had someone to talk to for a while, before letting them get back to their bitching and playing a few rounds of Mario Bros.
Things started to go downhill at the airport but that's not particularly interesting.... where it got interesting was when I caught the taxi to Bangkok proper. My taxi driver was this little excitable Thai guy, about half my size, who spent the entire trip just yelling out stuff like "You from Australia! You first time here? You first time in Bangkok! Awww, you love it here. Bangkok good for Australia!" And then cackle dementedly. He started to lose his cheeriness though when it turned out the "Convenient Park Hotel" wasn't actually where it should've been. We'd got off the main highway and all of a sudden the surroundings changed, to what in the dark looked like a Third World slum. The side-streets were lined with shacks made out of rugs and corrugated iron; stray dogs were wandering around everywhere and pissing on stuff; people riding around on old scooters wearing nothing but shorts....
Anyway, after a long and increasingly unnerving search we finally found the place - in the most inconvenient, out-of-the-way location imaginable - and 10 minutes later I was in Dom's room, cracking open a beer and watching From Dusk Til Dawn in Thai. It was nearly 6am Australian time at this point but only midnight in Thailand, so we caught up for a while then I checked into my room, had a cold shower and went to bed, just in time for the air conditioner to conk out.
The thing is, if I keep writing in this hour-by-hour way then I'll never get to finish this e-mail, coz it was the next day when all the cool, crazy and downright amazing shit started happening. Basically Bangkok is unlike any city I've ever been to. There's no town planning; the infrastructure is absolutely chaotic, road rules don't seem to exist at all yet there's this strange calmness that prevails through all the noise, decrepitness and stench, that's really a tribute to the Thai people themselves and their no-stress, no-bullshit Buddhist mentality. Here on the island this is accentuated tenfold. When me and Dom were kicking back on the beach last night, drinking Sang-Som whiskey & Coke, I don't think I've ever felt so totally, perfectly relaxed. In Melbourne, even at the mellowest upmarket bar, you just can't get that sense of absolute Zen & escape... there's always people jabbering and carrying on, the screech of sik kuntz in their cars, shitty generic house music pumping away in the background... whereas here, even with the large Western minority, everyone just seems to absorb and adapt to the tranquility and respectfulness of the place, in a way that's hard to describe in an e-mail at 10 in the morning, sleep-deprived and with a Thai whiskey hangover.
Anyway. I could crap on til kingdom come and there's so many gaping holes in this e-mail (the "boat" trip to the island was worthy of an e-mail in itself), but I'll leave it there and save the rest for when I get back. All I can say is, Thailand is frickin' awesome... hope you're all well and please be warned, there's a damn good chance I may never come back.
Just a quick one to kill a bit of time and let my hair dry out... me & Dom just spent a couple of hours in the water and like everything else on this island - the food, the weather, the atmosphere - it was absolutely perfect. Warm as a bath, blue as Bombay Sapphire gin, calm as a Tibetan monastery.
Again, there's so much I could go into right now but so little time... the food on the island is incredible - the equivalent of like $3 for the tastiest noodles, stir-fry or curry you've ever had - and the Thai girls are undeniably gorgeous... not to judge books by their covers, but the Western tourists tend to look pretty fat and pasty by comparison. What's really surprised me though is how flirtatious some of them are (the Thai girls that is), as they have no qualms about smiling and waving at you from across a bar or restaurant... although yes, I've been looking closely for that tell-tale Adam's apple! A lot of the Westerners here actually have Thai girlfriends, and there's a fair contingent of sleazy old Yanks with wives about a quarter their age and size. The two other prevalent minorities seem to be flabby Russian Jews, decked out with gold chains and enough chest hair to stuff a mattress, and Scandinavian couples, frolicking on the shoreline as the sun bleaches their hair from blonde to albino white. Otherwise, of course, there's the Thai themselves - zooming around on motorbikes, sleeping in hammocks or just wandering around, chilled as bar fridges, selling everything from fresh fruit to necklaces to massages.
Anyway, I'd love to write about everything we've seen & done but unlike everything else here, Internet access is stupidly expensive and Dom's looking decidedly bored already... so I'll cut it there and pick up again in a few days' time. Cheers for everyone who's e-mailed; I haven't got time to write back one-on-one but if there's any shopping requests, by all means let me know and I'll see what I can pick up amongst the chaos of Bangkok.
Another hangover, another opportunity to update you all on our latest adventures.... and last night was definitely an adventure.
First of all, I may as well point out that when I wrote about Bangkok earlier, I was writing about Sukhumvit, which is a particular district and a world apart from Khaosarn, which is where we are now - together with pretty much all of Bangkok's foreign devils. I gotta say, going to Khaosarn and saying you've experienced Thailand is a bit like walking down Little Bourke St and saying you've experienced China. It's basically a long, wide, crowded drag packed with Westerners - just think of Acland St during the St Kilda Festival and you're pretty much there. There's no stray dogs (just the odd cat), not much of that urine/fish oil smell of Sukhumvit, and unfortunately, not nearly as much of the authenticity either. The silver lining is that the number of things to buy is limitless, but it's very easy to get ripped off here - as I discovered last night, when I bought some weird palm leaf cigars from a woman who looked like Yoda. They were supposed to be 20 baht; I gave her a 100 baht note and the next thing I know, she's speeding off with it instead of giving me change. It's actually difficult not to get parted with your money in this place, coz even if you don't want to buy anything, Thais will come to you and hassle you to buy their novelty lighters, tatts (there's even a tattoo 'happy hour' here), Smurf-style hats and pretty much every other thing under the sun. Even 12-year-old kids will run up to you and challenge you to that game where you gotta squash the other person's thumb, insisting on a 100 baht reward if they win. After three days of Heavenly peace at the island, it was a serious culture shock to be back not only in the madness of Bangkok, but the multicultural, Woodstock-style, never-leave-you-alone madness of the tourist sector.
So anyway. After nearly capsizing on the way back to the mainland and sitting on a bus for three hours, me & Dom arrived at Khaosarn, checked into the nearest hotel, found a place to eat and started our third round of Singhas for the day. The Singhas turned into buckets of whiskey - yes, they actually sell buckets of the stuff here - and before we knew it, we were sitting around with a bunch of Poms in wife-beaters, smoking cigars that tasted deceptively like pot and getting drunk & rowdy. What followed was like something out of the Smack My Bitch Up video clip, and culminated at a club called Gulliver's. As it turned out, Gulliver's is basically a club full of Thai sluts - specifically, those who have a thing for Western guys. Pretty much as soon as me & Dom walked in, a couple of Thai girls latched themselves onto us - I didn't even have time to get a drink before one of them started trying to dance with me, blowing kisses and basically just acting hypo. When I finally managed to lose her, another one started. The Poms quickly got annoyed coz they weren't getting any attention themselves, so I tried to offload the second one to them, only have the problem repeated maybe 20 minutes later. It seems that just as the Western guys here love hooking up with Thai girls, so the Thai girls (and ladyboys) love hooking up with Western guys - the blonder the better. It was a bit of fun dancing and talking with them, but after years of conditioning in Melbourne - where chatting up girls is supposed to be a challenge - I found the Thais' kinkiness and clinginess slightly ridiculous, and there was no doubt that ultimately it was all cynical; just a couple of steps down from actual prostitution. When I eventually bumped into Dom near the dancefloor he was nicely inebriated indeed, and had happily convinced himself that one of the dyed-blonde Thais was Russian... by the time the lights came on and the reality became all too obvious, he was way too pissed to care. So I left him to it and after sneaking out of the club, wandered around a bit looking for a place to buy water - and even then, after stepping out from the 7-Eleven next to our hotel, a Thai girl from the club ran up to me to pinch me on the arm and giggle. That's one thing about the Thais - generally they're extremely laidback (some would say lazy as hell), but when it comes to sex and taking your money, they're the most persistent people on the planet.
And yes I did sleep by myself that night, in case there's any ambiguity there.
Anyway, after a big hangover breakfast and afternoon nap today, me & Dom decided it was time for some culture and caught a tuk-tuk (motorbike-taxi) to a temple complex, which was absolutely amazing. For those who remember StreetFighter II, this is where the Reclining Buddha from Sagat's stage is located.. although as I discovered, it doesn't actually recline on a field but inside a building (and Sagat was nowhere to be seen). This particular building had closed by the time we got there, but wandering around the rest of the complex was free, and was basically like wandering around the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - a walled-in world of temples and shrines, all beautifully decorated with gold and coloured tiles. It got dark soon after me & Dom arrived but when the full moon came out, it all looked even more enchanting than it did in daylight, as all the gold-plated structures glittered in the moonlight, and the gigantic stone warriors guarding every gate cast long shadows across the courtyards. I took plenty of photos there but since I forgot to take my USB cable with me, I'm afraid they'll have to wait til I'm back home.
Anyway, this is getting pretty damn long so I'll finish it there for today... at any rate, as has happened a little too often in Thailand, my stomach's starting to feel like a washing machine so I'm probably gonna bolt for the dunny soon.
Hope everyone's good & keep sending those e-mails!
Yes yes, the time has come once again for another mass e-mail, as me & Dom continue our Excellent Adventure through Thailand....
Right now we're in Surin (not sure about the spelling), which is a provincial town less than an hour from the Cambodian border. White people aren't exactly a dime a dozen here - even now I've got little kids constantly staring at me from across the Internet cafe, probably wondering how someone so young can already have white hair. The reason we're here is basically 1) to escape the mental asylum that is Bangkok and 2) as a stop-over to Siam Reap in Cambodia, which is where Ankor Wat (the ancient temple-city I've been wetting my pants about) is located. But yeah, Surin's not what you'd describe as a bustling tourist destination, and the bus driver who took us here actually laughed when me & Dom told him where we're going... I guess it's like Japanese tourists checking out Moe or something.
Anyway, on our last full day in Bangkok, we caught a ferry up the river to a predominantly Chinese district, and had a wander around the various markets and eateries there. It's amazing the stuff you can find in Bangkok markets: samurai swords, cross-bows, bullet-proof vests, even full-on rifles with scopes. The quantity of fake, cheap shit is overwhelming - just as a random example, we saw a GameBoy replica called the "Good Boy", which came with a bonus "Super Game" starring a badly drawn version of Mickey Mouse. I did find a couple of gems amongst all the crap though, my favourite of which is an (obviously inauthentic) Swiss Army watch.
After catching the underground back to Khaosarn and chilling out a bit, me & Dom went to a popular Thai chain restaurant called 'MK'. For those who have seen Lost In Translation, it's basically like the restaurant where Bill Murray & Scarlett go for lunch - there's a big cooker in the middle and you just order whatever vegetables and other bits & pieces you want, and cook it in the cooker. Like Bill Murray (and probably every other Westerner who's experienced this), I couldn't help thinking "What kind of a restaurant makes you cook your own food." But it was decent enough - nowhere near as good as the family-run, off-the-street eateries, but then, what would you expect from a big chain.
After dins we met up with a Pommy guy called Lee, who used to be in Dom's TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) class. He's basically what you'd call a "sexpat" - someone who got a taste for Thai girls when he arrived here and has stayed back ever since, earning a living by teaching English and indulging his gonads in the evenings. Unsurprisingly then, our first port of call after dropping by his apartment was a go-go bar. I guess going to Bangkok without seeing one would be like going to Amsterdam and not seeing the Red Light District, and the two have a lot in common. In case any of you haven't heard of a go-go bar, it's basically a bar full of Thai girls dressed in skimpy black latex, pole-dancing to very loud, very bassy music and doing everything they can to catch your interest. The funny thing was, unlike the 'free' whores at Gulliver's, these ones didn't pay me or Dom that much attention, focussing instead on the sure-fire old Western men whose wallets are even fatter than their guts.
I actually left after a couple of drinks and caught a taxi back to Khaosarn, coz I was having a suit made and needed to have some final measurements done. After getting it over with I bought a couple of Smirnoff premixes from 7-Eleven and just wandered around... one of the few good things about Khaosarn is that it's actually legal to drink in public there, and most of you would know how much I enjoy doing that. I bought myself a CD and wristband-thingy and promptly lost them both about an hour later, together with a 1000-baht note, when I regrouped at a bar with Dom & Lee. We got stuck into Leo longnecks (the Thai equivalent of VB) and were joined later by another Pom, Spence, who'd just arrived a few hours ago and was obviously bewildered by the never-ending human traffic. It was about midnight by this point and me & Dom had to catch the bus to Surin early the next day, so what did we do? Take Spence to another bar ("Spicy" no less) and get absolutely fucking smashed until 5 AM. I don't even remember leaving the place actually - the last thing I clearly remember is ordering a whiskey & Coke, and seeing the barguy grab someone else's empty glass and start filling it with whiskey. I waited until he brought it over, shook my head and told him "Clean glass" - he shrugs, I go "I want clean glass" and an argument followed. He ended up giving me a clean glass but refused to give me change for my drink, which is pretty much how things work in Thailand. They don't go by the book, and if you have a problem with it they'll be sure to screw you over.
Anyway, yesterday morning I felt ready for death. I woke up at 8:30 feeling like I'd been baseball-batted in the head, and had to drag my sorry arse down to the 7-Eleven again, looking like Corey Worthington, where I bought 2 bottles of water and pretty much skulled them right on the spot. Then I went back to bed but had such a headache, stomach ache (stomach aches are pretty much a daily event coz of the unprocessed food here) and sunburn that getting any more sleep was impossible.
AND, unfortunately, I'm gonna have to leave it there ladies & gents.... I feel like I'm writing Lord of the Rings here and even though there's heaps more to go, I'll leave Surin and the trip here for another e-mail.... right now it's time for lunch and another Asian-style, so-concentrated-it's-like-taking-cocaine energy drink.
It's early evening here in Siam Reap and as always, so much has happened since my last e-mail I feel like I'm about to attempt sweeping all the sand off Phuket beach....
Like I said, after getting hammered for the final time in Bangkok, me & Dom embarked on a six-hour bus trip to Surin, which is a provincial town where Dom attended a wedding when he was teaching English in Thailand. On the surface the place wasn't terribly exciting, but it was nice to see a part of Thailand completely unaffected by tourism - pretty much the only farang (foreigners) there were old Poms, who'd snatched themselves Thai wives and have been living there for years, introducing the locals to soccer and high-cholesterol food. On our second day we also visited a village called Sankah (again no idea about the spelling), home to the bride & groom from the aforementioned wedding. As it turned out, Dom's friend was in hospital with a fever but his brother showed us around instead, treating us to a lunch so spicy I thought my face was going to cave in, and following it up with some Thai-style iced coffee which you drink out of a plastic bag. That night we were supposed to have an "early one" back in Surin but again, we dined a little too finely and didn't get back to our hotel until sunrise.
I guess the best thing about Surin was just being able to kick back a bit, because the anarchic universe of Bangkok was starting to wear on me a bit. It's definitely not like Paris, Prague or Helsinki, where you can still communicate with people and things work essentially the same way as they do back home. Asia really is a bizarre & somewhat exhausting world to the Western virgin, and you can't live a day here without seeing stuff you'd never see back home - ridiculously overloaded trucks tipped over on the road; elephants casually walking down the streets at night; stray dogs that sleep in the middle of intersections, because they know exactly how the traffic works; and best of all, the Thai karaoke video clips that seem to be a staple feature on all buses, and make me laugh so hard I get tears running down my eyes. There's just a randomness here that's really refreshing and novel, but the flip-side is, you always have to keep your wits about you and be able to adapt to new circumstances. But I guess that's part of the beauty and challenge of this holiday - as Leo di Caprio says in The Beach: "Never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it." As me & Dom have discussed over many a jug of Singha: you go to Thailand with this mentality and you'll not only have a ball but learn and appreciate new things. Go to Thailand just to get your hair braided, eat a Thai-style burger at Maccas and watch CNN in your hotel room, and you may as well have stayed within the white picket fences back home.
So anyway - onto one of the most exhausting and confusing days in all of my travels to date.
Me & Dom woke up at 5 this morning and were at the local bus station by quarter to six, feeling decidedly less than refreshed. At six a mini-bus arrived that looked like it was out of Mad Max; the driver confirmed that it was going to Sanka so we got on, crammed like cattle with about 20 rural Thais, and rattled off down the highway as the sun started to make its appearance. Nearly an hour passed before the bus turned into a village we didn't recognize from the trip to Sanka, and began going completely in the opposite direction. Dom asked in Thai if it was in fact going to Sanka, and - it wasn't. So we got off, Dom making some loud & colourful use of the Polish language, and began walking through the village and back down the lonely stretch of highway. We'd hauled ourselves & our backpacks a couple of ks before being told we were going in the wrong direction, so we turned around, wondering if we were trapped in some kind of demented comedy, and dragged our sorry arses back to the village, where we decided to see if there were any bus services leaving for Sanka. What followed made me feel like that dude in the Da Vinci Code - all sorts of cryptic, mistranslated instructions, which sent us wandering around like idiots while the local girls stared, giggled and occasionally waved at us. Eventually though we came across a bus that was leaving for Sanka, and after getting to Sanka about an hour later, we wandered round again before finally finding Dom's friend's family's house. It turned out the guy who was supposed to drive us to the border was in Surin, but he said his older brother would take us instead... yet the older brother left the house without saying a word, leaving us with two parents who didn't speak English and didn't know why we were there. By this point we were pretty much ready to set the whole town on fire, so we decided to take the only option left: motorbikes. I gotta say, at first I thought I was gonna die but I quickly grew to enjoy tearing down a country road at 80 kmph. 20 kilometres later we were at the Thai-Cambodian border; we immediately arranged our Visas, had a buffet lunch at a seedy Cambodian casino (gambling is outlawed in Thailand), and then caught a taxi for nearly three hours down a road that could've been out of Third World Africa: basically a mountain trail full of sharp turns and potholes that make the tracks at Labertouche look like autobahns. The taxi driver spoke decent English but this magically deteriorated when we got to Angkor, and tried to get him to drop us off at a specific guesthouse. So yet again, we ended up lugging our backpacks by foot in the wrong direction before catching a shitty old tuk-tuk, just in time to avoid being approached by a man wearing nothing but a T-shirt.
Anyway, I've seriously got a headache.... it feels like today's been about 50 hours long and now that I've just relived half of it via e-mail, I feel pretty fucking pooped. So I'll leave it there for today - tomorrow morning me & Dom are off to Ankor Wat - the Temple To End All Temples - so I'll be sure to have plenty more to rant about when I log in in a couple of days time.
Until then, it's over & out from Siam Reap, Cambodia :)
Yo yo yo,
Yes it's time for another long-winded public broadcast; probably my last depending on how pissed I get between now and my flight back to Oz... either way, Tuesday represented probably the last cultural thing me & Dom will be doing in south-east Asia anyway - and definitely the best.
Basically we visited the four biggest temples in Cambodia - I can't remember all the Cambodian names, but let's call them Face Temple, Temple of Doom, Jungle Temple and the Ultimate Mother of all Temples, Ankor Wat - which is basically the ruins of not only a temple but an entire Hindu city, and the single biggest monument I've ever seen.
The Face Temple was first, and is characterized by its plethora of serene Buddha faces, carved into virtually all of the walls and pillars. This was Dom's favourite temple, coz of the eerie feeling you get that you're always being watched by those blank stone eyes, gazing expressionlessly in every direction.
Next temple was the Temple of Doom - I'll call it that coz basically you risk your life just checking this thing out. As you'll all be able to see from Dom's photos (my phone died a long time ago now), the staircases on this thing are STEEP. Just consider that they're a thousand years old, so they're pretty bloody eroded, and must've been designed for midgets - definitely not the Ronald McDonald feet of someone like Dom. To top it off for us, it started raining just as we arrived at this temple, so everything was nice & slippery... but after gazing up at the seemingly impossible staircase for a while, wondering whether this was worth risking our necks for, we decided to go for it. I'm pleased to announce that yes, we did survive, and even bumped into a couple of older Irish dudes on the way up, clinging on for dear life and muttering how there better be an Irish pub on top of this thing.
Next came my personal favourite - the Jungle Temple, which is probably the oldest of the four and overgrown with trees the size of Godzilla. Wandering through this temple, you really feel like you're going back in time to the primeval days of humanity... the whole complex is crumbling and coated with moss, but that's exactly what gives it it's haunting beauty and atmosphere. We even saw a gang of monkeys scrambling along the temple walls, which really made my day (I was hanging out for the monkeys more than anything), and made the whole place seem like that Bandar-log city from the Jungle Books.
Finally, after some "not too spicy" chicken that set my stomach on fire, came Ankor Wat - basically the biggest, most grandiose thing I've ever seen. From a distance it looks like an intricate, mountain-sized mudcake, but get closer up and it's absolutely breath-taking: almost a thousand years old, and in sheer size it absolutely dwarfs Notre Dame or anything I've seen in Europe... and even more surprisingly, is just as ornate, although the finer details have been worn down over time by the elements. All of the interior walls are covered in reliefs depicting legendary battles, the creation of Heaven & Earth etc, and everything else is decked out in statues of Hindu gods, goddesses, warriors and the like. We were getting pretty exhausted by this point so we didn't get to see everything, but boy... if you actually wanted to see everything, you'd have to dedicate an entire day to that one temple alone. It stretched out forever and unfortunately the very top of it was closed off - as I said, the stairs on these temples are pretty damn steep, and my guess is some plump Westerner got a tad too ambitious one day, missed a step and ended up as modern art at the bottom of the staircase. I'm surprised they haven't blocked off the top of the Jungle Temple for this reason, but it seems only reckless Irish and Polish guys even think about tackling that one.
Anyway, ancient beauty aside, the streets aren't exactly paved with gold here. It actually breaks my heart to see some of the kids here, some as young as five or six, walking around trying to sell you bracelets, postcards and guide books. I always give them money without taking anything in return, but it does become a bit overwhelming - there's basically an entire industry here of children trying to get monetary scraps off all the tourists, and they usually start off by asking where you're from and then reciting facts about your country. Me & Dom have really put their knowledge to the test, citing everywhere from Hungary to Jamaica, and the little buggers seriously know their stuff - even population figures sometimes. But in all seriousness, it pisses me off when I see Westerners dismissing these children like trash - it'd do them a world of good to have their money ripped off 'em and see what it's like eeking out an existence in a bark hut, while sweaty, obese White people stroll past, drinking bottled beer and pretending you don't exist.
Anyway, I'll probably rant about that some more when I get home... but as always when travelling, you see some truly amazing things and for better or worse, you also see some distressing and depressing things that really make you think about the world and how much better it could (and should) be.
Well, there's still an entire novel's worth of stuff to go into but me & Dom are out of time... so wish me a safe flight and I'll catch up with all of you when I'm back - as I said - in the pleasant, green, boring-as-hell hills of Brighton.
Just a quick one to let you know I got home safe & sound. The receptionist rang me at 4 as requested, so I didn't see any point in waking you up... I heard one of the doors slam pretty late so I'm guessing you & the boys were out for quite a while.
Anyway, I'm not gonna go into it now but Jesus.... what you were saying, about how the weirdness doesn't really hit you til you get back.... it's way more fucked than I thought. With Europe it was different coz when I got back from Europe, it was the trip that felt unreal and dream-like. With this it's Melbourne that feels unreal, even though technically I'm returning to my 'real', usual existence. As exhausting and dingy as it was, I seriously miss Bangkok already. Hell, I was already missing it as the plane took off this morning. I guess you can say I've joined the ranks of Westerners who left the matrix, experienced the real Thailand and now have no choice but to go back sooner or later... and now that I'm actually back here at Outer Crescent, I realize that sooner's gonna have to be as soon as possible.
Well, enough ranting for tonight... give me a call when you get back & we'll move your stuff over asap, so you can be settled in by the weekend. At the very least, it's nice to have a dog around that's not covered in mangy fur and scabs :P
Well, Thai Airways flight TG 999 finally touched down at Melbourne Airport late last night, bringing my Thailand Adventure with Dom to a close... and Jesus, what an adventure it was. The funny thing is, after my two holidays in Europe, the feeling I got almost as soon as I returned was that they were just a dream - whereas with Asia, it's like I'm BACK in a dream; like Melbourne is actually the unreality and Thailand the reality of my life. And it comes back to something me & Dom discussed at length throughout the last two weeks - that the lives we live back here aren't really real. In a city like Bangkok, you always feel alive: there's always noises, smells, lights, people, vibes - good or bad, you're always having some sort of sensory experience, and being forced to either reevaluate or live up to your values. Being back in Brighton last night actually felt freaky after that, like straightening out after taking a mind-blowing drug... you really feel like you're being faded back into a neat little matrix and for better or worse, after 24 hours I can feel myself already adapting back to it, forgetting what it's like to be run over, ripped off, flirted with and have your breath taken away at any time.
But anyway. It'd be impossible for me to cover everything that happened in our last 3 days in Bangkok, suffice to say that my last night alone was huge - Dom caught up with his Thai mistress that night so I went bar-hopping with a tall Danish dude who looked like he could've been my older brother (and that's exactly what we pretended)... I can't be bothered going through it all or how I met him, except to say that we got into a pretty hostile confrontation with a bunch of Thai guys at our last destination - a night-club which unfortunately had a distinctly aggro, un-Thai vibe much like the ones back here. Again, I'd had way too much Sang-Som to remember exactly what happened and I have absolutely no idea how I managed to get home afterwards, since we'd been bar-hopping all over the place and I had no idea where I was in relation to our hotel. My saving grace was that I knew the hotel was in an alley off soi (street) 4 near Sukhumvit Road, so I started wandering in that direction, asking anyone who looked friendly which direction soi 4 was in. The weird thing was, all the women on the street seemed more than eager to help me, even by Thai standards, and finally one of them actually stopped me, took my hand and kept pestering me to take her back to my hotel room. It was at this point that something in the back of my mind clicked, and I realized they weren't actually women at all, but very subtle-looking katoys (ladyboys), looking to take advantage of guys too drunk to notice the difference. I stopped asking after that point and once I stumbled onto Sukhumvit Rd, managed to find my way back and at precisely 6 AM, Dom finally heard my drunken footsteps make their way up the hotel stairs.
All of you probably know that famous line, "One night in Bangkok makes the hard man humble"... well, cheesey as the song is it does sum up a lot. You walk down the street and you see stalls selling fried cockroaches, spiders and other insects, while live ones crawl around the gutter underneath it. You get women stopping you just to tell you you're handsome - and like I said, if it's late at night, ladyboys stopping you to ask if they can accompany you back to your hotel room. You see entire families crammed onto one motorbike, the child sitting on the driver's lap at the front; random burned-down skyscrapers that nobody's bothered to demolish, giving certain blocks the appearance of a war zone; barefoot monks in orange robes shopping, standing at urinals and catching the train like anyone else; and disturbingly, a lot of homeless amputees begging on the sidewalk, uncared for by a society that's never heard of social welfare. Hell, even the toilets work differently in Thailand - more than once I got caught out without any toilet paper, since they don't actually use toilet paper, opting instead for a little shower device... which isn't particularly enjoyable unless you enjoy walking around with a wet arse. Basically, Thailand is a country that's full of charm and vice at the same time - but even the vice is, at least for tourists, something of a bonus since it makes the experience so much more gritty and interesting. Thailand wrenches you out of your Western comfort zone and throws you into a den where so much more is possible, both for you and against you, and which way the scales tip depends largely on your attitude and open-mindedness. A trip like that obviously changes people, and I'm no exception... so whether it's another full-on holiday there or a stop-over to good old Europe, there's no doubt that I'll be back in Bangkok to once again reset my mentality, shake off all the petty crap in life and remember what it's like to live every minute, and be surrounded by people who even in the middle of an urban jungle exude the most remarkable sense of humility, calm and civility which we in the West could learn a great deal from.
P.S. For those who asked about photos - most of 'em are on Dom's camera so I'll send them all out in one hit when he gets back.
Just having a quiet moment after doing a bit of shopping in Brighton... it still feels pretty weird being back here after Bangkok, and I guess if there's one person other than Dom who can relate to that feeling, it might be you.
The whole Thailand experience is an interesting one to say the least, and I have to say, I actually found myself feeling contemptuous towards white people when I was there. While I did meet the odd funny/intelligent Euro, the vast majority of Westerners seemed to be either pathetic, pot-bellied old men, walking around with Thai women young enough to be their grand-daughter, or just wanker tourists who are more than happy to dish out thousands of baht on trinkets, beer and anything else they can consume, but don't give so much as a few coins to the beggars or children. The situation was even worse in Siam Reap: everything was insanely cheap yet I didn't see a single tourist give away a bit of the money they were saving just by being in the country. I dunno.... it's true that ultimately we don't owe these people anything, but if that's the case, we probably shouldn't go there just to fuck their women, treat them like servants and exploit their developing economies.
Apart from being less than impressed with the tourists there, I was also pretty charmed by the Thais themselves. I did meet some real shitheads and con artists but overall, they struck me as a very calm and friendly people, despite the madness of Bangkok itself. Now that I'm back in Melbourne, things seem to be exactly the opposite: the surroundings are quiet & orderly but people seem to be so loud and self-obsessed here, even at the fucking supermarket.
Anyway, Dom's due back on Wednesday so like I said, we'll have a few of you guys round later this month for drinks. Talk soon mate!
Interesting e-mail. Especially about the blokes with Thai wives... you're absolutely right, a lot of them just seemed lost; disillusioned with the snobby and sterile bar scene in the West, and hopelessly charmed by the Thai ladies. Dom put it to me this way: these guys can either grow old alone in some nursing home, or live out the rest of their days in some cheap & friendly Thai city, where at least they'll have someone to cook for them, clean for them and give 'em some lovin'. So I can see the other side of the story, absolutely. As far as this category of farang goes, I guess it's not so much that I look down on them as I feel sorry for the pretty Thai girls, who in many cases feel obliged to support their family by hanging around with these blokes for years on end. I'm not sure we have a right to make an industry out of it.
Anyway, there's so much I could write back to in your e-mail but we'll probably get a chance to chat about it soon... will keep you posted & see you on Friday maybe!
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