Bangkok culture shock

Trip Start Nov 01, 2005
Trip End Jul 28, 2006

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Well Thailand came and went quickly!

Talk about whistle stop tour or what? Three months in Sri Lanka then, by the time we get to Malaysia, it'll be three countries in three weeks! Rest of the world watch out we're on our way.

Thailand - Well Bangkok to be more precise, what a complete change from the relative tranquillity of Sri Lanka. As soon as you're out of the airport its multi lane highways, fly-overs, bridges and subways. Multi storey buildings crammed into every possible piece of land. We don't know what land prices are like in Bangkok but they must be astronomical. As you near the city centre you see signs for the tube/subway and the BTS skytrain looms overhead, very little sight of the sky from pavement level. It was early morning but the roads where chock-a-block and our taxi driver did his best to skirt round the congestion but we still ended up doing a fair amount of queuing. We can remember now why we don't particularly like big cities and Bangkok is definitely big.
We were warned about another aspect of Bangkok life that we might find 'unusual' although we thought the warnings were probably exaggerated. However it does just strike you, almost straight away, how many, frequently large and/or ugly, white guys there are with pretty little Thai girls/women on their arms. We didn't know whether to laugh, to cry or throw up. It probably depends upon who you think is taking advantage of who or if it is in fact an arrangement of mutual benefit. We certainly saw plenty of men taking women shopping, the girls coming back on the Skytrain loaded down with bags and parcels from all the big shops. So girls this is Chris writing because I think a description of these guys who I would call "saddo's" will explain a lot (although Paul's description of "on the margins of normality" is quite succinct).
They are the men in their 50's wearing white socks with sandals or worst still dark socks with shoes and shorts. We all know that no self-respecting European man who has a woman back home would be allowed to commit such a dressing crime. They are the men with large waistlines wearing safari shorts or trousers with baggy tee-shirts to cover their paunch. They are the young men in their late twenties who can't quite make eye contact. They are the spotty, thin bespectacled men who have heard anyone can get a woman in Thailand. Then there are the men in football shirts, with large tattoos who look like they got left behind after a football match and don't know how to get home. I mustn't forget the aged hippies with balding heads, tattoos and ponytails. I think most surprising are the number of quite respectable looking guys in their 50's, divorced or widowed perhaps? They all hold hands with their chosen girls, take them out to dinner, shopping, buy them flowers and mainly they still appear to be around at breakfast, sometimes 2 with each man. Now guys don't think about hopping on the next plane out here, you need to think...... you could end up with a very attractive "ladyboy" Our hotel could even advise on "foreigner" marriages.

We had decided not to book any accommodation before we arrived so we took the first opportunity we had, which was at the airport arrivals. A good looking hotel was selected for the first few days and the booking came with a 'special' bonus of a city tour, taxi was booked and paid for and off we went. The Royal Ivory Hotel ended up being fine, large clean room, kingsize bed, shower room, dining area and kitchen. It was in a pretty seedy area, but despite we decided to extend our stay. The taxi driver was okay until we got to the hotel when his hand shot straight out and, almost the only word of English he had managed the whole journey he uttered Tip! He didn't get one. We should have been savvier with the free special bonus tour of the city too. We did get to see some sights and the guide, advising us, amongst other things to watch our steps because of the "duck chit", made us laugh. Of course eventually we ended up being shown into three huge places, each with dozens of helpful assistants, selling first gold then silver then fabric products. The guide didn't make any commission out of us or the other guy who had also been suckered in. The phrase "There's no such thing as a free lunch" seemed to fit this experience of Bangkok but we couldn't help remembering how untrue it was for Sri Lanka. In fairness to Thailand, we don't think we really gave it a much chance of pleasing us as we were constantly remembering happy days in Sri Lanka. We considered visiting the 'bridge on the river kwai' but thought that it was too much to spend a whole day travelling to look at a bridge. We also considered going north to see the hill tribes but again our enthusiasm waned at the thought of it being some contrived tourists' experience theme park affair. Of course we did visit some more stunning and interesting locations, which included an enjoyable, and slightly nerve-racking trip on the river to see the royal barges. Small boat compared to some on the river, quite long but narrow with a 2 litre engine strapped on the back. The water was very choppy with all the traffic, there weren't any life jackets but scariest of all was the prospect of what we might catch if we swallowed any of the water. Enough said I think. The Temples are of course quite magnificent and if you like shopping this is defiantly a good place to come. There are huge shopping centres with all the big names as well as lots of "local" shops where you can get hand made suits, dresses etc at really low prices.
We had a few domestic things to sort out as well. Flight date changes, necessary as we had cut out Nepal, were no problem although there is a potential issue from cancelling our flight from Nepal. We have to try and sort this out before our original flight date of 21st Feb. Replenishing malarone (our preferred antimalarial) tablets was not possible, neither was getting camera software repair after someone dropped the camera! (Chris). We did manage to buy a card reader to circumvent the camera software problem, so at least we can still download our pics to the laptop.

Anyway we were soon back at the airport, ready for our next flight to ..........
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