During our week in Bangkok we decided that it is the Las Vegas of South East Asia, a city of sin, debauchery, excess, secrecy and sex. It was also a metropolis and an international hub for business and a city deeply routed in faith and religion (and not just in the “Little White Chapel” in Vegas way). Even with a full seven days of exploration, we still didn’t even scratch the surface of this vibrant city. Since we did spend such a long time in the thriving city, we will try to consolidate the week into our favorite stories. There were a lot of them.
To start our trip in Bangkok, we first had business to attend to. To get to Brazil, US citizens need visas (actually a lot of countries that the US forces to get visa for, they also require US citizens to get visas for in order to visit as an act of reciprocity). Since we would be traveling to Brazil during the second half of our trip, we would not have time between the first half of our trip and the second half of our trip to obtain a visa, especially considering it might take up to a week to finalize. We found the embassy on a map and it was about a 45 minute cab ride or bus trip. We opted for the bus journey (of course, because it was cheaper). On the bus, no one asked us for money and we made it across the street from the embassy in a swift 35 minutes. When we asked the building guard for the number of the Brazilian embassy he told us to come back the next day since it was closed.
Instead of being up in arms about it, we made the best of the situation and took the time to get our yellow fever vaccines, which we needed to obtain our Bolivian visas (another task in itself) at the hospital across the street. We had heard that the vaccines were cheapest in Bangkok and the hospitals were cleaner – both turned out to be true. We also heard from the grapevine of travelers that you could get prescription drugs without a prescription here so after our immunizations we made our way to a pharmacy. Once there we wanted to try to find the magical anti-nausea drug that saved Natalie’s life in Myanmar and also wanted to see if we could get more doxycycline for the upcoming months of malaria infected countries we were planning on visiting. Both drugs were easy to come by but one was way more expensive than the other. The Zoloft was brand name and about $70 USD for 50 pills; the doxycycline on the other hand was $7 USD for 400 pills (enough to last us at least until the end of India). We got back to the hostel and examined our purchases, it turns out that we had just purchased 50 anti-depressants, not 50 nausea pills – an error that Natalie made. By thinking that Zoloft was the same thing as Zofran, fail. When we tried the next day to return the pills, the ladies behind the counter simply laughed at us when they realized our mistake but thankfully, they returned the anti-depressants, because after researching, we found out they had no street value.
The next day when returned to the embassy (and to the pharmacy), we found out that Thailand has more holidays than most western countries. The office was not open the previous day because of a holiday for workers and it was also closed on the next day for a holiday for farmers. The man behind the counter (who was clearly Brazilian) called out to his co-workers to ask what holiday it was and why they actually had it off. Due to timing our trip perfectly in line with all of the holidays that didn’t throw parties or festivals, we were now required to spend an extra four days in Bangkok to process our passports and visas. We decided to make the most of the time and explore every wonderful and weird thing that Bangkok had to offer. Not wanting to waste the day, we headed out to explore Wat Po, the temple most famous for the reclined Buddha. We timed the visit perfectly with Buddha’s birthday and on accident, we snuck into the temple free of cost in time to see devotes walking around the center of the area with lit candles to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. Also going on all around Thailand and especially for His birthday was an active campaign to stop “disrespecting Buddha”. After seeing the stunning Reclined Buddha in all of His glory (it really was spectacular), we ducked into the “disrespecting Buddha” presentation because it was in an air conditioned room. The 15 minute slide and music presentation was all about educating people that Buddha should not be used as art, tattoos, toilet seat covers or any kind of clothing. It was actually quite sad because the woman running the presentation got emotional – Natalie definitely didn’t mention that she had Buddha figurines in her house and definitely might have owned a t-shirt or two. As we later learned, it might even be illegal to take home a souvenir of a Buddha head through Thailand customs.
Since we covered wonderful during the day, we turned to weird at night. We were staying a few blocks from Khao Son Road, one of the many party streets in Bangkok filled with drunk tourists eating scorpions on sticks and sucking on “laughing gas” balloons. We surveyed our group of new friends to see if anyone wanted to go see an infamous ‘ping pong’ show (if you think this is a bunch of really good ping pong players, you are very very wrong) and we got a couple of takers, one lady from Amsterdam where sex shows are almost normalized and also Max, a fellow backpacker who had just arrived to Bangkok and was on day one of a three month trip around Asia. The two of them were already planning on going to a rooftop bar in the city and they both agreed to join our adventure if we joined them on theirs. After finding a rooftop bar in the city that was not charging an exorbitant amount of money for entry and a bar that also did not have a dress code, we headed 50+ floors to Above Eleven (which we would highly recommend to any backpacker who wants to get fancy for the night). After downing our only sushi of the whole trip with a bottle of the only good wine we had experienced the whole trip, we headed to the famous Khao San Road to see if we could bargain our way to a ping pong show.
By the time we reached Khao San Road, it was already in full swing and people were already filling the street and spilling out of bars and into the gutters. During the night Khao San Road is closed to traffic and the only motored vehicles allowed are motorbikes selling munchies. Before we knew it we were enveloped by people so we joined the masses dancing in the street. Our humble group of four had now swollen to six as two more British guys joined our quest to the ping pong show, after of course trying the local cuisine, a scorpion on a stick first. It turned out that the it was not hard to find anything shady or seedy on Khao San Road, we started to notice that as we walked down the street we kept hearing locals smack their lips together to make a popping noise (like a bubble popping) and this was the universal (or maybe just the Thailand) symbol for ping pong show. Once you engage with one of them, the game starts – who will get the giant group of tourists to come to their ping pong show? The first local we went to pulled out a list (written in English) of all of the “tricks” the girls would preform and why their show is better than their neighbor’s show, who was also yelling at us that his show was cheaper and better. After a few sales pitches we picked a show. All of the shows are a tuk-tuk ride away so part of the negotiation is a round trip ride. Tuk-tuks usually hold two to three people comfortably and we had six. Our eager salesman pointed to our tuk-tuk after a scary walk down what looked like rape alley and motioned for us all to get in. We asked if there was another tuk-tuk coming to get us and he simply shook his head no. With the help of the wine earlier and a beer on the street, we piled in with liquid courage like an overstuffed clown car filled with white people. We have never laughed harder. 15 minutes later we arrived at ‘the show’. We won’t spoil all of the fun here but we will just say that we never knew the female human body was so strong and versatile. About ten minutes into the show, the girl from Amsterdam left with our tuk-tuk ride home claiming that the girls didn’t look happy (compared to the sex workers in Amsterdam, perhaps this show required concentration faces instead of beaming smiles). The saying of try anything once definitely stands true in this case but this time, we think once is maybe enough.
The next morning a bit worse for ware and unable to unsee what we had witnessed the night before, we headed to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market where it was rumored that you could buy anything from socks to snakes. Each aisle in the market was a different theme. We entered the market in the jean and cowboy hat section and as we got deeper into the market, the more we discovered. After sampling tasty popsicles we continued further into the abyss. Soon all of the jeans and cowboy hats were replaced with home furnishings. Then things started to get weird. We rounded a corner and saw what we thought we had come here to see, a woman selling squirrels, yes, bring on the weird. The squirrel-entrepreneur was not only selling squirrels but memories. She got our attention and placed a squirrel wearing a Santa outfit on Nat’s hand, “you take photo of squirrel, you go home, you look at photo, you be happy!” This was just the start of the weird to follow. As we continued our journey on the “road less traveled by (tourists)” things took a dark turn, literally. The lights illuminating our path began to flicker and dim and the music turned from upbeat pop songs to a sad harmony of Thailand instruments. The scenery also morphed from a row of dog toys to actual dogs. Fluffy pure bred pedigrees in air conditioned rooms transformed into a four by four crate packed with over twenty puppies. The dog section was soon replaced by a fish section with full grown stingrays trapped in in bags made for goldfish you win at the fair and full grown koi fish in giant pool sized tanks. The contrast was shocking; we didn’t know if these animals were being sold as food or as pets. An owl, a few pigs and a couple scorpions later, we frantically tried to find an exit from the deep dark exotic animal section. Once back in the bright fresh air listening to the soothing sounds of Rihanna, we felt safe again.
To end our day and our tired feet, we turned to the safety of something familiar, Bangkok’s biggest mall, Central Mall and saw Guardians of the Galaxy II. Unfamiliar with Bangkok’s movie traditions, we were greeted by none other than the newly elected president’s photo and were asked to stand for the president’s song. Being in the front row, we did as instructed. We found out later that people who don’t stand are promptly escorted out of the cinema. That night when we returned home Nat got a bling on her phone, an Air Drop request from ‘Andrew’, not knowing who it was but knowing they had to be close, she accepted the photo. It was this.
Ross decided that it would be best to send him something back, so we responded with this. The photos continued.
The next morning we walked up to Andrew, since we had already shared so much and said hi. He asked us how we knew his name and we said, this is Natalie. I guess he had a friend in the hostel who also happened to be named Natalie but we already felt closer to him than the “other” Natalie.
Little did we know the next day we would have a closer encounter with the president himself. We took ourselves on a self guided tour of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Buddha tooth temple and began to head back to the hostel and were stopped by three armed guards. They instructed us to remove our hats and glasses even though we were technically off the property of the temple, we obliged and Natalie asked what the fuss was about, they answered simply by saying, the king is coming. Sure enough a motorcade passed and through the window, we saw a man who we assumed was the king dressed in full regalia sitting in the back seat of a black Sudan. Not knowing if we should put our hands on hearts or heads, we both saluted the king as he drove by.
The only part of Bangkok’s nightlife left unexplored was the infamous ladyboys of the night. That night we set out to find out what all of the fuss was about. The ladyboy scene in Bangkok is a huge. We met some fellow single backpackers who were on Tinder in Thailand and they said that most ladies on Tinder specify if they are a ladyboy or if they are a lady. It turns out that ladyboys actually get a fair amount of business through Tinder as well. We looked into prices and to see an official ladyboy show (yes, they exist) and it was over $50 USD a person so with the help of Google, we found that you could just visit a ladyboy bar to see a show and it only cost “ladyboy drinks”, a ladyboy drink is a drink that you buy the ladyboy so she will stay around and talk to you. Before exploring the depths of ladyboy territory, we went to a night market and ate our fill of the biggest noodles we have ever seen and Ross chowed down on a big bag of insects (mainly, crickets, roaches and grubs, Ross said the grubs were the tastiest) with our new Arizona friends from the hostel.
With our new friends in tow, we headed to the red light district of Soi Cowboy to only ladyboy bar, aptly named, Cockatoo. It turns out that going to a ladyboy bar does not guarantee you a ladyboy show but you certainly will be entertained. Just walking down the red light district street, the girls (Nat and our new Arizonian friend) decided to walk a few paces behind the boys and girls would literally throw themselves at the boys. At one time Ross had to almost carry a lady in lingerie because she was so tightly wrapped around his waist. It was like a petting zoo for ladies of the night. Remember how we said that we would see Romain, the French guy from our trek in Myanmar, again in Thailand? As Ross was trying to say no as nice as he could to the growing number of ladies approaching him and asking him to come into their strip clubs, we saw Romain, alone coming in the other direction of the street! Since he was alone (at the time we didn’t think that he might have wanted to be alone that night) we asked if he wanted to join our ladyboy hunt. He said sure and now we were a party of five! As we walked into the ladyboy bar, the roles of the petting zoo were reversed and the boys were now the animals. Three ladyboys approached the boys at once and when they saw our fake wedding bands, they backed off Ross and started to pet Nat instead. One of the first ladyboys we bought a drink for, grabbed her boobs and said, “your boobs are amazing, are they real? I had to pay much more for mine”. We were not sure our new friends from Arizona liked their current location because shortly after we arrived, the couple Irish goodbyed and they were no where to be found. When Nat went too look for them, the ladyboys turned into kids whose mom just left the room with a bunch of cookies on the counter. Both Ross and Romain were given some free lap time with the ladies. When Nat returned, we now had three ladies attending to our “needs” and Ross was in deep conversation with very attractive ladyboy and when he asked her what her name was, she replied, “Cindy,” Ross almost spit out his drink, Cindy is his mom’s name. While we were deep in conversation with ‘Cindy’ a wasted Japanese man walked into the bar like a deer in headlights, he saw us in the corner and remarked, “the ladies in Bangkok are so much better than in Japan and this is my favorite bar”. We couldn’t tell if he was aware that all of the ladies in the bar used to be men.
Realizing that we were not going to be taking any of the ladyboys home for the night, they grew old of our company and we ran out of English words that we all knew. We headed out of the ladyboy bar and tried to find a normal bar so we could catch up with Romain. It turns out that in Soi Cowboy, there are no regular bars, just strip clubs. In a very YOLO moment we decided that we would venture into the cheapest one we could find. We walked in and instead of the western format of one girl doing a routine with a pole, there was instead over ten girls at once mildly moving their hips on the stage and all of them were completely naked except for one thing, a number either around their arms or waists so that you could pick which one you would like by number. (Sorry moms reading this…) One lady with tattoos from her neck all the way down to the bottom of her bum made eye contact, something we were trying to avoid doing and came down from the stage and whispered in Nat’s ear, “I won’t touch your husband but if you both want to take me home, he can watch”. We politely declined her offer and instead changed locations in the bar. After noticing the time (1am was far past our bedtimes) we told Romain that it was time for us to get a cab. We offered to split a cab with him and he said that he would rather stay.
Our last day in Bangkok we went to the floating markets, a sea of fruits, veggies and people selling souvenirs. It was more tourists than locals but it was on our Bangkok bucket list. Since we checked off all of the weird things in Bangkok in this post we forgot to mention one wonderful discovery, ham and cheese sandwiches from 7/11. These little sandwiches were roughly 25 US cents a piece and we ate them every single morning during our stay in Bangkok. We grabbed one last ham and cheese sandwich for the road and headed to our next stop, Cambodia. Goodbye Thailand, from your clear waters to your sleepless nights, we will never forget you!