July 14-17 2012
Singapore - Bangkok
Park Plaza Soi 18
Survival is the name of the game in Bangkok. If you are a tourist you are trying to survive the heat, humidity and overall craziness of this Southeast Asian gem. If you are a local, you are trying to survive the traffic which is absolutely insane and if you are a Muay Thai fighter... you are just trying to survive to fight another fight.
Arrival into Bangkok was delayed for about 30 minutes due to congestion at the airport so we were able to enjoy some extra time in the air above the very green Bangkok suburbs. Upon landing I boarded the City Express train for the 20 minute ride into the downtown area. This was my first time in Bangkok and with every first time there is some trepidation about how things are going to play out... I didn't get off to a good start!
I knew exactly my station and the correct exit to take out of the station, I just happened to turn left instead of crossing the street as I searched for my hotel. This little blunder cost me about 2 miles of walking, 30 minutes of sweating, but I became a better man for it. Finally after finding someone who spoke English... it's tough to find among the locals... I finally found the Park Plaza tucked away on a little side street bordered by small restaurants and a bunch of massage parlors...legitimate massage parlors.
Upon check in I checked my watch and it was nearly 6pm... I needed something to do, so I hopped on Trip Advisor and searched out the top touristy thing I could find...MUAY THAI fighting popped up... why not?
The subway was only 4 stops from my home so it was almost like a home match for me to go and see... only problem is that as soon as I exited the subway station a monsoon came roaring down on me and within 2 minutes I was soaked from head to toe. The arena was only 1/4 mile from the subway exit but it was the longest 5 minute walk of my life. I finally arrived, thankful that it was still 90 degrees out and I would soon dry.
Muay Thai is comparable to UFC fighting. The fighters can strike with their lets, feet, hands and/or elbows and there was much pageantry involved. The first of 10 matches began at 8:30pm and it was between a pair of 14 year olds... yes 14 year olds without any type of headgear or anything... and American mom's are complaining about concussions in football?
The first few fights featured younger kids and nothing too violent happened... one kid might have broke his leg as he couldn't walk on it after getting leg whipped pretty good. As the evening progressed we had two people go out on stretchers, no blood, no tears and plenty of yelling and screaming from a fired up crowd.
The crowd was a mixture of foreigners who paid around $50 for ring side seats... which was a ripoff, but with two different types of pricing we had no other choice. In the "cheap seats" were the locals, who seemed to be having more fun and paid like $5 for their seats. If a foreigner wants the "cheap seats" it will still set him back $40. Not quite so sure how that is a fair business practice.
As the fighters continued beating the Thai out of each other we were also shown a French, Belgium and Japanese fighter who all performed quite well... except for the Japanese guy who got knocked out. I had to leave at 11:40 with 3 fights still to go as the Metro closes down at midnight and I didn't want to be walking home.
Day two in Bangkok was mellow. Some pool time, a pair of massages (morning and night) and some good food were the highlights. Back to the massages... for $6 you can get an hour massage. Throw in a $1 tip and you are set. All around Bangkok there are massage businesses everywhere... I mean everywhere. Just on my street alone there are 4 located next store to each other. They all offer the same prices and these are "legitimate" massages. I'm sure that other massages exist, but that's for the people on the Hangover III tour to find out.
Day three was spent reuniting with a kid who came to California to play some hoops this past April. He lives in Thailand and gave me a quick little tour and bought me a great big lunch at a place called "Cabbages and Condoms". Not the most appealing name for a restaurant and when he told me where we were going I wasn't quite sure if his accent said something that I didn't quite comprehend. But low and behold, the proof is in the pictures (see below) and the back story behind the place is impressive as the man who owns the restaurant uses a majority of the proceeds for HIV education and prevention in Thailand which is a huge problem. Not sure if a restaurant with this name would last too long in the USA, but it's a thriving place in Bangkok.
After lunch, we went to the super mall of super malls... the MBK center. Arguably, the largest and most confusing mall that I've ever been to, this place was a bargain shoppers delight. Each floor dedicated to a different commodity with about 50% of the goods for sale being knock offs. Watches for $3, Tshirts for $3, and all sorts of other crap at bargain basement prices. This place was enormous with most of the stores no larger than 8 x8 foot boxes and with no set floor plan it was easy to get turned around and disoriented. I survived with no purchases...other than Mr. Donut and hopped back on the Sky Train to return to my hotel.
Later that evening I returned out into the Bangkok night going to one of the famous night markets where one could purchase much of the same stuff that was at the MBK center, but you could also buy girls (and even women) if you were so inclined... I was not. It was amazing that this street had been rebuilt so quickly after Phil, Stu and the crew burned it down in the Hangover. After a delicious Burger King dinner...that was actually terrible (I can't eat $2 Pad Thai every night), I made it back to the Park Plaza ready for another night of slumber.
Speaking of the Park Plaza... this hotel gets the award for the best bed of the trip thus far... room temperature was perfect, the only problem was the TV didn't have a sleep timer, or at least I couldn't figure it out, if only I could read THAI.
My final day in Bangkok once again started at the pool. Swam a few laps, enjoyed the morning sun and got myself mentally prepared for today's river cruise. I did not prepare well enough!
Bangkok has a huge river running through the middle of it which is similar to the streets of Bangkok, totally congested with traffic. There were boats going every directions, small boats, large boats, even trained together barges all using the same dirty water. I paid $5 for the tourist boat cruise. This cruise would take me and 50 of my new friends along the river stopping every 5 minutes or so at a pier where we could disembark and see the tourist attractions at each place. My goal was to just stay on the boat, snap my pictures (see below) and turn it into a round trip affair.
I wasn't aware that the boat never turned around and it just continued up the river. So instead of being a 30 minute one-way trip, I was not 70 minutes in to the journey and headed for Burma. I decided that I needed off that boat and of course no one knew English to help me out. I exited at the next Pier and looked for a Tuk Tuk or a taxi. I had to get to the metro station and once I did I'd be home free...that wasn't so easy.
Armed with my pocket sized metro map I made my way through the unknown to tourists part of Bangkok... I was the only white face (although I'm tanning nicely) and the only person over 5'8". All I could think of was the line in the Hangover II, "Bangkok has him now and she'll never let him go" . I was determined to not let Bangkok get me!
I asked a few tuk tuk drivers and none of them had any clue what I was talking about. After walking 1.6 miles, thank you NIKE RUN app, I found a bank and a girl who at least new 4 words of English. I milked her for every single word and she found me a driver to take me to the closest station which turned out to be 5 miles away... that would have been a long walk.
Heading into my journey I was determined to not use taxis... I caved in due to necessity and I apologize. But to go 5 miles and spend 20 minutes in a taxi and only have it cost $2.35, I don't feel so guilty. I made it to my station, paid the $1.10 fare to get back home and finally was back in my hood... or on my SOI I should say. I had to get a going away massage and it was as good as the first ones. I picked up my luggage at the hotel and had my final pad thai of the trip and made my way back to the airport.
On the way to the airport... on the train again, I saw a famous person... or maybe it wasn't really a famous person. Remember the scene in the Hangover II where the kid is getting a tattoo. Well on the train next to me was a kid, no older than 10, with a full tattoo from shoulder to elbow... yes a real tattoo and he was with his girlfriend who was about 15. I don't think he was the real kid, but definitely inspiration for the character. Only in Bangkok.
Asia's been great... a bit hot and humid but it's time for a new adventure. The wild card of the trip is up next... the wild world of the Middle East and Amman, Jordan. See you soon.