Very Bad Man

Trip Start Jan 05, 2007
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

      Erica and I had had such a memorable time in Cambodia that we weren't really hoping for anything better. It may be a good thing we weren't, because our time in Bangkok was full of confusion, hassle, and frustration! Far from the peace of Siem Reap, we were suddenly thrust into unbelievable noise, traffic, and smog. Our hotel was near Democracy Monument, right in the center of it all, and as we arrived we were greeted by very lovely men at the reception with lipstick on. Huh? I knew about lady-boys, but had no idea they were everywhere. Our room was a bit depressing, but ok. We took our hotel's free tuk tuk shuttle to Khao San Road, where everyone had told us we HAD to go, and it was like descending into one of those medieval paintings of hell, with all the ugly sinners doing awful acts. I am exaggerating, but this is truly the image that kept popping into my head as we bumped our way through the crowds of tourists, all tatooed, dred-locked, shirtless, loud, ugly and drunk. It was Hell on earth to us! We walked up and down it, had Pad Thai with more ladyboy waiters (sorry, waitresses), and then sought relief back at our hotel. I telephoned an old friend I knew in Seattle, Singh, who couldn't meet us until the following evening. We took a taxi ride across town for 91 Baht (this detail will be important later) to FACE, a sort of restaurant complex in the old, traditional Thai architecture style. It was lovely, peaceful and sane, just what we needed. Had a nice dinner that was prepared beautifully on banana leaves and a good bottle of red wine. Ah, maybe tomorrow would be better we thought.
      The next morning we joined the other tourists in our hotel for a big, buffet breakfast. Mmm, bacon! Then began walking to the big Palace and Temple complex. On the way we were standing on a street corner and the nice looking man next to us asked us where we were from, where we were going, etc. Seemed pleasant enough. Then he said the Palace was closed and we should go see another attraction somewhere else, and he could go with us. Alarms and bells went off, and thank goodness we had read about these scammers in our guide book. They tell you where you are going is closed, take you somewhere else and demand lots of money. This happened not once, but twice on our walk to the Palace. So, we headed off on a side street and found a local flea market along a canal. It was scorching hot, so by the time we reached the Temple Complex, we had to sit in the shade for a good 15 minutes.
     Both the Temple Complex and the Palace were overwhelmingly ornate, with shimmering gold mosaics, as well as every color you could imagine interwoven in between the gold. It was all stunning. We went into almost every temple, always taking our shoes off and marveling at the sights as well as what some of the other tourists thought was "appropropriate" attire (they obviously hadn't given it a thought at all, some as good as naked). Next to the large reclingin Buddha there were 180 pots for dropping in coins and making wishes.
     We were exhausted after several hours and decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. We hailed one on the street. And thus began our second descent into hell. He began by asking us how long we had been in Bangkok, etc., and said our hotel was in the wrong direction on one way streets going the otherway (it wasn't, and we had specifically crossed the street for that reason). Here's where we should have gotten out of the cab. But no, we forged on, and asked him to turn on the meter, which he did, but then it went off again, so I told him to turn it on again, which he did, claiming it WAS on. Opportunity #2 to GET OUT OF THE CAB, but no, it was like we were deer in the headlights. We continued on with him, and he took us way out and around the whole center of Bangkok! He found our hotel but refused to take us inside the gate, turned on the meter, and it miraculously read 2,761 Baht! ($75! Remember the 91 Baht taxi ride across town??). What ensued could only be called mayhem, as all three of us started screaming at once. Erica and I demanded to get out of the cab, he kept driving, he screamed all sorts of things at us, I screamed I was going to call the police and called him a Very Bad Man! Erica smartly threw a 100 Baht note at him and jumped out of the moving car, at which point he unsuccessfully tried to stop me from getting out. I guess he doesn't know how strong western women can be. Deflated and exhausted, we flung ourselves into the bar of our hotel and sought solace in beer. At least he only got $2.80 instead of $75, but it was still probably twice as much as it should have been, and we were stunned by the whole encounter. Time for a nap!
       We met Singh and two other friends at a riverside restaurant that evening and told them our tale of woe, at which they were truly embarrassed. They made up for their countryman's bad behavior by being very gracious and buying us a lovely dinner. We then went to the Sky Bar on top of a 46 story skyscraper, all open to the stars above. It was an amazing place, with different levels, a band, and loungy cushions and pillows. I caught up with Singh whom I'd known when he was an Architecture student at the UW. He went on to get his PhD at MIT, returned to Thailand only a few years ago and is now head of the Architecture department at his university and has his own furniture design business. It was great to see him.
     Our last morning in Bagkok we decided to take a long tail boat through some of the canals. This turned out to be our nicest tourist experience, as the boat went way into the canals far from the city center, where old, wooden houses still stood amid lots of trees and bouganvillea. Very picturesque. We then strolled through the little market by the river and back to our hotel and the airport, bound for Krabi, the ocean and relaxation. Someday I'll give Bangkok another try!
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