Bangkok – City of Sin
Bangkok is not for beginners. Scams. Crime. Drugs. Sex. Noise. Traffic. People. We were lucky to have quiet a bit of Asian travel experience under our belts before we got to this city, and it would take everything we learned over the past 14 months to make it out of here with our bodies and wallets intact. Thankfully, it was our last stop before heading home, because when we were through with Bangkok (or maybe, when Bangkok was through with us) we had had enough.
I’m not going to bother describing the good aspects of Bangkok because those are easily found in any travel resource. Palaces, temples, restaurants, etc. Instead I’ll briefly write about some major things to look out for. This will be a longer post than usual, but we recommend you read it if you’re planning a trip to the real city of sin. “Holla, city of squalor!!”
We dealt with aggressive tuk-tuk drivers throughout Cambodia and Vietnam (the ones in Laos were sweethearts) but the guys in Bangkok were on a completely different level. Whereas in other countries we were primarily concerned with getting a fair price for a ride, in Bangkok we had to look out for the guys offering deals that were too good to be true. Occasionally among the shouts of “tuk-tuk sir…you want temple?…you want palace?….” we would hear, “…all day tuk-tuk only 10 baht” which is extremely cheap. Luckily, we were aware of the scam. Regardless of where you ask to go, the drivers will take you to shady jewelry stores where you are pressured, intimidated and according to some reports, secretly drugged until you buy knock-off jewelry for exorbitant prices. Naturally, the drivers get a cut. Although we didn’t fall for this scam, it became extremely difficult to just find someone to take us where we wanted to go. Basically, they refused to do any actual tuk-tuk driving to earn money and would rather just sit around waiting for a sucker.
Tuk-tuk drivers were also the number 1 peddlers of the quintessential form of Bangkok entertainment, the ping-pong show. Ping-pong shows are sex shows where girls insert various objects (such as ping-pong balls) into their bodies and perform tricks for crowds of international perverts and all-around scumbags. Bangkok has a huge human-trafficking industry. Many girls from neighboring countries are kidnapped, forcibly addicted to drugs and are made to perform in these shows. If you kindly ask a tuk-tuk driver, they will gladly provide a menu detailing the various talents these young girls have. It became impossible to even make eye-contact with a driver without being offered to be taken to a ping-pong show, day or night.
Finally, the most innocent but seemingly most common of the tuk-tuk scams was claiming that whatever particular site you were looking for was closed for the day, but they would happily take you to a nicer place. This scam was of course tied into the jewelry scam. We half fell for this one. When we approached the wrong entrance of the king’s palace, a very official looking gentleman wearing a tie with a very official looking palace pin on it informed us that the palace was closed during midday. We knew this was actually common in some places as a way to avoid the noon heat. The gentleman began to list the numerous places he could take us instead right in front of the palace guards, police officers, and other very official looking people. However, we decided to find the main entrance to the palace and, surprise surprise, it was open. It became very clear that the priority in this city was not their image in the eyes of foreigners or the tourism industry, it was quick and easy money.
If you happen to be walking around the large park near the royal palace, and you see a roving band of homeless women surrounded by large flocks of pigeons, be sure to give them a wide berth. Anybody that knows Gina knows that her biggest fear is homeless people, so naturally a crowd of Thai homeless people and pigeons (the hobos of the animal world) are absolutely terrifying. If you’re thinking of the friendly pigeon lady from Home Alone 2, you’re way off. We noticed the women (pigeon mahoots as our friend Zisko called them) had their arms full of small baggies filled with dried corn. As we neared, the women quickly approached and attempted to stuff our hands, bags and pockets with the baggies and refused to take them back. As they demanded money for the feed, the pigeons smelled our increasing panic and came in closer. Seeing no other option, we emptied our pockets of the feed and sprinted through the pack with dirty street hands and diseased birds flying at our faces. Needless to say, Gina was not happy.
Sukhumvit Road: The Red Light District
One evening, we decided to venture out to the red light district. We were under no illusions about what goes on in these sorts of places. But we had seen red light districts in other cities, and they really never looked too sleazy or terrible. This place was different. A quick stroll through the main streets quickly revealed a healthy clientele of elderly pedophiles sitting outside of bars and restaurants flagging girls down as they passed to inspect the merchandise and negotiate. We walked through a hallway lined with bars and saw everything from heroin addicts full of track-marks to young Eastern-European girls that couldn’t have been older that 16 trying to drum up business.
The scenes of sex, drugs and pornography being openly sold on the street were bizarrely juxtaposed by the devout muslim population that lives in the neighborhood. For every prostitute we saw, there was a woman in a burqa silently shuffling behind her husband. After about 15 minutes, we decided we’d seen enough and actually felt quite unsafe, so we walked over to the main street to flag down a taxi. We stopped in a convenience store to buy some water and while we waited in line, a man walked in covered in blood and with his hand wrapped in a bloody rag. He calmly walked up to the counter and asked the attendant to call an ambulance. That was our cue to leave.
By the end of our time in Bangkok, we were completely drained. Unless you’re a high roller and plan to stay in expensive hotels and can dish out the cash for taxis everywhere you go, expect some hardship. However, it is worth seeing for two or three days, but no more than that.