Flying Solo in SE Asia

Thailand-Travelogue  |  Travel time: January - May 2010  |  by Kelly House

Bankok, Thailand: Day Two in Bangkok

The second day in Bangkok was a lot calmer than the first. I can tell I'm getting into the groove of travelling, and after a solid 12 hour night of sleep Friday night, the jet lag is wearing off. I still can't get used to the heat, though. It's been into the 90s the past two days, with wicked humidity.

After lounging around and exploring the neighborhood during the morning, Letisha and I headed to the Chatuchuk weekend market for the day. The market is literally miles long, with a labyrinth of tented stalls where hawkers sell everything from knockoff Levis and Nikes, to home wears, to sewing machines, foodstuffs, trinkets and artwork, and yes, even the kitchen sink. We ate lunch at one of the food stalls lining the outskirts of the market-an awesome red fish curry with loads of fresh herbs and veggies to load it up for the American equivalent of about a buck fifty.

Highlights of the market: a musical trio of boys playing a Thai dulcimer while one beat on a square drum box; getting back into the groove of haggling-hadn't used those skills since the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; seeing the entire market come to a halt when a seemingly important monk and his posse came strolling through; stumbling across a Turkish section of the market, where a teen boy was mixing coffee drinks while doing a whirling dervish dance, a man was joking with customers while stretching dondurma, and another was selling doner kebap. Brought back good memories.

After wandering the market for a solid five hours, we'd only seen about a third of it, but the heat was enough to make us call it a day. The subway was absolutely packed with people leaving the market and we were rushing to return to the hostel when the woman in front of us came to an abrupt stop and Letisha nearly ran into her. We were at first taken aback at the woman's rudeness, then realized the entire subway, save some European tourists, was motionless and silent. Apparently, each day at 6 p.m. sharp, the Thai national anthem is played over loudspeakers across the city, and everyone stops to honor the king. Photos of the royal family are plastered on buildings and billboards everywhere and although the Thai monarchy is more of a figurehead rather than a true leader (much like in England) speaking harsh words about them could land you in jail. It's a far cry from the US, where SNL parodies and public dissent to the leadership is commonplace.

Last night was calm. We hung at the hostel for a bit and chatted with our newest roommate-an elderly Swiss woman who never stops talking about nothing of interest-then had a quick late dinner at one of the street stalls before bed.

At dinner, we noticed a pattern emerging. Walk down any of the streets in our neighborhood at night, and a large portion of passers-by are older white men with a young Thai woman on their arm. Hmm... And every bar is frequented by the same demographic. Although prostitution isn't legal here, it's clearly tolerated and sex tourism is one of the main draws of Thailand for many men. Our street seems to be more of a mail order bride type of district than a true red light district, but it's unsettling all the same to see women who clearly have no interest in the man hanging from his arm with a blank stare.

Along the same vein, you have to be careful about those famous Thai massages. I haven't gotten one yet (I'm saving it for when I return to Bangkok in late March) but I've heard the best way to ensure you're not going to be offered a happy ending is to choose the parlours where the masseurs are older, ugly women, or where they're blind. Despite the possibility of being propositioned for sex, Letisha and Mila both had massages before I arrived, and said it was a far different experience than the Swiss massage that's common in America. Much less rubbing, much more stretching, pulling and jabbing at pressure points. It can hurt, but apparrently you feel like a million bucks afterward.

Lady boys: I'd heard about the prevalence of transvestites here, but I'd also heard you can go a month in the city and not see one. For me, that wasn't the case. My first lady boys were on Khao San Road, where they tried to sell me some dresses and skirts. Later, I began noticing them more frequently, at the checkout counter of 7-Eleven and nursing drinks at a nearby streetside bar. Thai culture is interesting in that, overall, the people are rather conservative. However, Bangkok is a different world altogether, with an open, accepted LBGT community and dress, nightlife and morals similar to Western nations.

A concert in Lumpini Park abruptly stops to honor the king during the 6 o'clock anthem.

A concert in Lumpini Park abruptly stops to honor the king during the 6 o'clock anthem.

Letisha browses the wares at the Chatuchuk weekend market.

Letisha browses the wares at the Chatuchuk weekend market.

Street performers at Chatuchuk market.

Street performers at Chatuchuk market.

Hail to King Rama IX! These types of displays are everywhere.

Hail to King Rama IX! These types of displays are everywhere.

© Kelly House, 2010
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The trip
 
Description:
A post-graduate's experience traveling without companions through mainland Southeast Asia.
Details:
Start of journey: Jan 27, 2010
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: May 2010
Travelled countries: Thailand
Vietnam
The Author
 
Kelly House is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 10 years.
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