Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Bangkok, Thailand

Posted on March 29th, 2005

These little Buddha shrines are everywhere.

I left Kuala Lumpur in a sleep deprived, irritated stink. Even something as simple as getting to the airport turned into a panicky ordeal when I heeded the advice of the clerk at Anuja Hostel to take the bus out to the airport rather than the super expensive train (RM 15 versus RM35). It all seemed like a great bargain until it came time to execute this money-saving plot. Long story short, due to dangerously bad signage in the light rail station and the meager caliber of people working at the same light rail station, I arrived at the airport bus stop 25 minutes late. I was holding onto desperate hope that the airport bus ran on the same schedule as Malaysian inter-city buses (always late) and that perhaps it would still be sitting at the station because there weren’t enough passengers to make the driver stop playing cards with his pals at the ticket counter and climb behind the wheel. Alas, this wasn’t to be. So, I had to backtrack virtually back to where I had started an hour earlier (one rail stop down from the door of my hostel) to take a different train that would connect with the expensive train out to the airport, proving once again that any effort to cut corners and save money nearly always results in tripling effort and probably exceeding what you would have paid if you had just gone and taken the expensive route in the first place.

My head-cold compounded with the cumulative mental and physical suffering I had endured in KL had me so zombified during touch-down in Bangkok that it took several moments for me process the fact that less than 100 yards from the main runway there was a professional golf course, full of people trying to putt for birdie while 747s were landing and taking off less than a par three away. The fairways were so close to the tarmac that the wake vortexes of the planes coming and going must have been propelling people’s drives right off into the trees, not to mention carrying away their sun hats and spilling their drinks.

Word was that Bangkok was even more crowded, loud, dirty and despicable that Kuala Lumpur. This thought had me quietly whimpering as I made my way into the city. I had to tap dance my way through three visa applications while in Bangkok. That in addition to my obligation to tour, photograph and report for good or ill on the city, meant that I had to put in a good week of time here. If it proved to be too offensive, fleeing the city the following morning wasn’t going to be an option. Fortunately, when I arrive somewhere expecting to loathe it, I am nearly always pleasantly surprised and Bangkok fit the bill. Yes, it was crowded, yes it was loud, yes I was accosted by a sleazy pimp 30 seconds after I got off the airport shuttle on Sukhumvit Road, but there were also wicked buildings, wats and temples. There was good food and my cherished Krating Daeng (the original Thai Red Bull). And there was Suk 11, the best hostel in SE Asia (so far) and easily on my list of Top Five Hostels of All Time.

Even though I should have been taking it easy to help my cold along, Bangkok beckoned and no sooner had I gotten settled in Suk 11, I did something that I have done very little of during my time in SE Asia. I walked. I just started walking to get a feel for the city. I used to do this regularly when I was traveling Europe, but somehow it had been dropped from my repertoire in the face of the compact cities I had been visiting where cab and train fares were pennies at a shot. I informed the clerks at Suk 11 of my walking plan and they were not encouraging. They strongly recommended that I get on the train or take a cab. Ha! These people obviously don’t know who they’re dealing with! I am Leif “I Walk the Earth” Pettersen! Don’t these people know that walking is the best way to absorb a new city??? My capacity for walking would humble whatever the god of walking’s name is himself! I began by walking in the direction of the old city (Suk 11 is in the eastern, newer part of Bangkok) and after over an hour of negotiating the frenzied streets, I checked the map and found that I had moved only a fraction of the way to my goal. Bangkok was much larger than I had anticipated. I got on the train.

Bangkok is full of European ex-pats. Of this group, you can break down most everyone into one of three categories;

1) Tourist
2) Lonely guy looking for, or already in possession of, Asian trophy babe
3) Burnout

The number of guys marching around with Asian girls was astounding. Even obese, old, physically repellent men would have a petite, beautiful girl in tow. I would eventually learn that many men feel that by simply gracing the Thai girls with their eminent, debonair presence gives them license act like total a$$holes, treating any and all girls that they come across like they were all part of a personal harem. The bars were the worst. Men grabbed and spanked the servers at whim or suffocated girls with their advances and lecherous attempts at affection. I once observed a massive Australian guy, he must have been 6’-6” and over 300 lbs., leaving his Thai girlfriend to sit alone at the bar so he could work the tables of women without male escorts. As he made his rounds he indiscriminately grabbed breasts, draped his meaty arms and belly on their tiny frames and stuck his tongue in their ears. I learned later that the women at one of the tables weren’t hopeful girls sitting around hoping to nab a “farang” (white foreigner), but in fact respectable friends of the bar owner. This was all seen as routine behavior and very little was done on anyone’s part to discourage this revolting spectacle.

Only slightly less vile than the Pinkie Casanovas were the burnouts. These people were on the same level as the indigents lurking around central Amsterdam. Tattooed from head to toe, filthy and stumbling along to the tune of their very own drug induced private lounge band. Factor in the irresponsible backpackers that come here just to party, get high and make asses of themselves in public and you have to wonder why Thailand doesn’t have stricter entry rules. If they slapped a $100 visa onto the entry requirements, people might be a little better behaved. But then that would go against the ingrained Thai mentality of friendliness, courtesy and “the customer is always right, even if he has his hand down my pants.”

Like many travelers of a similar disposition, my peculiar loathing of westerners was hitting a dramatic peak. What had started festering inside me in KL, peaked in Bangkok as the number of Ugly Travelers were present in herds that I have never seen before now, not even in Cancun. I found myself shunning general tourist areas, dodging restaurants on main roads – never mind the tacky places that cater specifically to tourists wanting to eat the exact same crap as they eat at home rather than eating actual Thai food - in favor of hanging out in non-touristy areas, eating in back alley hawker stalls surrounded by surprised locals, even avoiding eye contact with other Pinkies on the train. It was a bizarre identity crisis where I didn’t seem to fit in with any group. This caused me to initially close myself off and become oddly withdrawn. But the Thais would prove to be wonderful people and my anti-social downward spiral didn’t last for long. My deliverance started at good ol’ Suk 11. The Suk is not in Lonely Planet and it’s not on any online hostel search engines. They have their own web site and that’s it. Suk 11’s stellar repute seems to be on word-of-mouth alone and it has resulted in sweet and gratifying atmosphere. To start, it is probably the only hostel I have ever stayed in where people over 30 out numbered the people under 30. It’s a mature environment, more like a hotel in Bangkok than a hostel, really. People don’t get sloppy drunk in the lobby and cause a ruckus each night and there are stern signs everywhere warning against bringing in drugs and/or “over night guests,” meaning of course the army of prostitutes that blanket Bangkok each night. The Suk is admirably clean, well managed and exquisitely decorated. The lobby and the hallways are carefully ornamented to resemble an actual, classic “suk” (a little, narrow alley between rows of dwellings, usually, but not necessarily used as a market), with a wood plank path line down the hallways, walls covered as if they were the exteriors of wooden shacks, adorned with soapy, back-lit decorative windows, faux porch over-hangs, miniature statues, plants, rock “landscaping” and other embellishments. A single room with attached bathroom is 500B (US$12.80) per night, wildly expensive for Thailand, but worth every penny. Even though the screaming pandemonium of Sukhumvit Road is only 100 yards away, the instant you turn into the alley where Suk 11’s camouflaged entrance is located, the noise seems to just cut off as if you just walked into a sensory deprivation chamber. The open air lobby is peaceful and comfortable and while some of the walls could be thicker, the rooms are about as hushed as one could hope for in the heart of the wildest town in SE Asia.

Staff at Ye Old Belle.

This isn't how they usually dress, they were having a theme night.

A close second on my list of Bangkok retreats is the newly opened Irish bar a few doors down from Suk 11, “Ye Old Belle.” I wandered in on my first night in town hoping against hope that they’d have some form of cider (they did) and the staff were so friendly and fun that I returned every evening thereafter. After a full day of touring, work and racing from embassy to embassy, I would make an appearance at Ye Old Belle after dinner for a cider nightcap (yes, I was hiding out in an Irish bar in Bangkok; even I am guilty of secretly seeking out a few comforts of home now and again). The bar staff took an immediate liking to me, probably because the place was usually ¾ empty and they just wanted someone to talk to. I was like Norm from Cheers from the second night onward. Everyone called out “Leeeeeiiiifff!” upon my entry, I had my own chair in the corner and I was allowed on the inside of the bar gossip as we observed and tutted quietly about the bad behavior of the other farangs in the bar. The staff taught me all of the pertinent Thai phrases; “hello,” “how are you?,” “goodbye,” “delicious!,” “I love you,” “will you marry me?,” “were you, by chance, born a male?” and so on. Some of the girls feigned attraction to me, referring to me as their “boyfriend” whenever I was introduced to someone new, but as I spent more time in Bangkok, it appeared that some healthy flirting was part of the job description for virtually any female in a customer service oriented position. I discovered that even when the bar staff are not at work, they kind of still are in that if they run across a regular patron on the street, at the mall, wherever they still give the same formal greeting to that person as if they had just walked into the bar, that being “sà-wàt-dii” (followed by “khráp” if the speaker is a man or “khâ” if the speaker is a woman) with hands together in the prayer position in front of the face. I saw this happen a few times before it happened to me. One of the occasional waitresses at Ye Old Bell happened upon me while I was stuffing my face at a hawker stall one evening and I was so involved in my noodles that when she greeted me in this fashion (I didn’t recognize her straight off) I was at a complete loss as to what was happening. I had one of those “Oh man, not another new custom to figure out” moments before I finally placed the face and returned the greeting. Whew! Her mother was walking with her and thought me returning the greeting with chop sticks in my hands and soup running down my chin was the funniest things she had ever seen.

Khao San Road. So quaint.

On my second day in Bangkok, I sought out Sor Vorapin Gym, where I would take my Muay Thai boxing classes. The gym is located down a tiny alley across from Khao San Road, where tourists without the inclination to see the true Bangkok huddle among Starbucks, KFCs, Hard Rock Cafes and fantastically over-priced market stalls. Not only is Sor Vorapin Gym mentioned in Lonely Planet, but I had gotten an eyeful of the Thai boxing class milieu by reading the SE Asia blog of another traveler. It sounded like it would be grueling, but doable for an out-of-shape wimp like myself with a startlingly low pain tolerance threshold. Since I was still ailing from my KL head cold, I had intended for this drop-in to simply be a fact gathering visit and I would get into the action when I was at full strength, but as I tend to do, I got a little caught up in the excitement and signed myself up for the afternoon class for the very same day and boy was I sorry.

The three hour class is non-stop, strenuous cruelty. We started out with “warm-ups,” skipping rope, running around the gym in different capacities (knees thrusting to the sky, feet kicking the back of the thigh, side shuffle, etc), doing kicking and punching drills, stretching and so forth until most of us newbies had felt like we had put in a full workout. But this was only the first 20 minutes. Then we started learning how to punch, kick, knee and elbow the living ca-ca out of a hanging body bag. Once we got the basics down, or in my case before I had even gotten a go at the bag, we were sent into the ring to practice more of the same on a trainer in pads. While we were allowed to be sloppy during the warm-up and intro, the padded trainer wasn’t going to settle for anything less than perfect form and “power!!!” If the trainer felt that we were punching, kicking, kneeing and elbowing him with anything less than all our might, which was constantly, he yelled “more power!” If you started to get tired and executed a lazy kick, he’d catch your leg, force your standing foot up onto your tip-toe (where you should be when you kick anyway), rotate your leg into an unnatural position and make you hold it for a very long time to ensure that you got a good idea of what was expected of you. If you were doing extra bad, the trainer would drag you around the ring, hopping on one foot to see if you could keep the position while in motion. It was brutally strenuous.

Don't try this at home kids. I hurts like the dickens.

To make matters worse, after walking the objectionable gauntlet down Khao San Road, I did my tourist-loathing, off-the-beaten path duty and flouted the westernized crap food in favor of a back-alley hawker stall next to the gym. When you eat at one of these slapped together food stalls – usually little more than a wagon-mounted kitchen and some plastic lawn furniture - there’s always a chance that the food preparation will fall short of minimum sanitary standards and you will end up with a stomach cramp and possibility even have to make an emergency dash for the toilet later in the day. My first mistake was rolling that particular set of dice while I was already sick. My second mistake was eating far too soon before a strenuous work out. The upshot was that I got the toilet emergency out of the way before the class started but the stomach cramps stuck with me until the bitter end. My gut was wrenched with pain and it felt like someone had tied my right kidney into a knot. Why is it that I always manage to sabotage myself right before a profound physical test? First it was climbing Mount Kinabalu with the flu and now this. I really need someone to follow me around and be my Judgment Coach, so I don’t get carried away and blunder myself into miserable conditions every second week.

The guys that were in training for boxing competition were probably some of the toughest guys I have ever seen. Their level of conditioning was staggering. Lashing out with punches, kicks, knees and elbows with all your might is enough to wear a guy down in just a few minutes, but these guys kept it up for the full three hours and then some. What was even more dumbfounding was the apparent immunity to physical pain that these guys had. Pummeling a heavy, yet comparatively soft, punching bag 50 times with your shin doesn’t even register on the pain chart when you compare it to the shattering damage done by kicking some else’s shin with your shin. I don’t know if they eventually lose the sensation in their extremities or if they just become accustomed to this fantastic pain over time, but either way, these guys can give and take repeated bone-on-bone hits that would cripple a normal person after a single blow.

While I was alternately in awe and doubled over in stomach cramps and miserable exhaustion, I was also oddly enjoying myself. I’m not a big fan of violent sports. My only intention in taking part in these classes was waste a little time during my epic visa waiting periods and open myself up to yet another wrinkle of Thai life, so I wasn’t sure exactly how I would relate to the other boxers. In some violence centered sports, the guys can’t seem to turn it off. In or out of the gym, they are macho assholes who, armed with the knowledge that they could hospitalize just about anyone who looks at them funny, conduct themselves like revered gods and lo’ to those ingrates who do not worship them fittingly. But the Thai boxers were a charismatic mix of lighthearted and affable people. When the trainers or the other boxers weren’t doing drills or rotating my hip into a half-pretzel, they immediately fell into a playful, friendly camaraderie which was freely extended to all of us newbies. They joked around, gave each other encouraging pats on the back or executed hug-tackles on each other… It was heartening to see that guys that could probably take out a whole neighborhood with their bare hands were good natured, friendly, humble and warm as soon as the gloves came off.

I was an absolute wreck when I got out of class. SE Asia is so hot this time of year that even if you are just strolling around the city you pretty much have to drink water constantly to stay comfortably hydrated. Now compound those conditions with the water weight loss that ensues with vigorous exercise and you are guaranteed to suffer, even without the stomach cramps and the river of snot coming out of your nose. I stumbled back to the hostel in a daze. I had signed up for three boxing classes knowing that I would not be attending the following day due to visa duties, but having just set myself back about three days in the misery department, I knew I wouldn’t be back at the gym for quite a while.

Views from the public river boats

While walking the streets of Bangkok is a constant flurry of engrossing activity and wonders, the heat, noise and fumes eventually take their toll. The saving grace in Bangkok, and I assume all of Thailand, is that there is a meat locker cooled “7-11” convenience store every 30 feet. I don’t remember when or why 7-11s faded in the US to be mostly replaced by “Super Americas” (or at last in the mid-west), but the 7-11 franchise is alive and kicking here. It’s an exceedingly rare moment when you can look down a street in Bangkok and not spot at least two of these little inner-city oasises, some the size of an outhouse. Best of all, they can be counted on to sell my upper of choice, Krating Daeng, which is better than a cup of coffee and a pinch in the butt by an amorous she-male.

The unbridled, conspicuous attention from females that I was promised in Thailand wasn’t at the intensity that people pledged - though I wasn’t exactly hanging around massage parlors or anything - but there’s no denying that the Thai women are far more forward than any other place I have seen thus far. Their opening line is always “Where are you from?” and if time permits, this is followed by, “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” From there they wing it, covering subjects such as marital status, travel plans, siblings (and their marital status) and, inevitably, how much one resembles David Beckham. What I quickly learned however is that you can’t let your guard down for even an instant in the face of an affectionate female in Thailand, not only because she may end up being a prostitute, but particularly in the case of the most aggressive girls, there’s an even chance that the girl was once, or possibly still is, in fact a male. Trans-genders, transvestites and sexual re-assignees comprise a startlingly large demographic in Thailand and many of them, sadly, end up working in some kind of adult entertainment/escort capacity. Some are quite easy to spot (even committed transvestites can’t be bothered to shave every day), but others conceal their genders devilishly well. If you come to Thailand and are on the hunt for a Me So Horny Girl, be sure you have a firm grasp on all of the telltale signs of girls-formerly-known-as-boys and no matter how hot a girl is, put them through the paces. Check the for the Adam’s Apple, the large hands, razor burn and unusually defined muscle tone. If you get beyond that, no matter what protests come up, insist on undressing with the lights on, and before you take out your contact lens.

Who's who?

Being a naïve visa virgin, I didn’t know exactly what to expect in my quest for a trifecta visa outing. My initial plan was to make one day Visa Day, where I would just race around to the Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam embassies, filling out paperwork, paying fees and handing over passport photos. Then running around again three days later to collect the visas. Well anyone who has gone through this process before knows that this strategy was doomed from the start. It turns out that embassies like to hang onto your passport while they process your application, so visa multi-tasking was not viable. I was very disappointed. Not only did this mean that my visa boogie would persist for well over a week, but I was going to have to request the quick one or two day processing for each visa, driving up the fees. It was a major blow, but at the same time, with my illness, my remaining boxing classes, the legwork I needed to do before departing for Myanmar and the daunting task of seeing all the cool stuff in Bangkok, I resolved that this forced extra time in Bangkok was probably for the best.

On that note, after three full days in Bangkok, I finally managed to get out and do some sight seeing. My first stop was Wat Traimit, home of the Golden Buddha. Golden Buddhas are a dime a dozen in Thailand (nearly all of them are gold), but this one is different. It isn’t just covered in tissue-thin gold leaf, this sucker is solid gold inside and out. Still not impressed? Did I mention that it’s three meters (nearly 10 feet) tall and weighs five and a half tons? Even better, they only just stumbled onto this payday in the last few decades. Previously, it had been covered in unimpressive stucco and so it had been whiling it’s time away in storage. One day when they needed to move the thing, a rope slipped, it hit the ground, a piece of the stucco crumbled off and, bam instant tourist sight. It’s believed that the Golden Buddha was disguised in this fashion to make it look uninviting during one of the Burmese raids and over time its true natured was simply forgotten.

From there, I headed in the direction of Wat Pho (circa the 16th century), the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. This large, but modest wat kept things simple with the walls and pillars of the chapels, which are mostly white and plain, but the gloves came off when it came time to do the apexes and the roofs. The apexes of the front and rear parts of the chapels are ornamented in elaborate carvings and gables which are painted in bright colors, gold being a mainstay. The roofs are covered in thousands of tiny, vibrantly colored ceramic tiles. All of the courtyard archways are guarded by stone statutes of terrible looking warriors, devil-dogs, monkey-monsters and in one case some joker chiseled a couple of dashing gentlemen that looked like they belonged in the Monopoly Wat. The courtyards of Wat Pho have rows of gold Buddhas, often behind glass, where worshipers can sometimes be found napping under their content gaze. Having not done my homework, I wasn’t prepared to be met with Wat Pho’s “reclining Buddha.” This is the Godzilla of Buddhas folks. It measures 46 meters long and 15 meters high (150 feet long and 49 feet high), just barely fitting within the confines of it’s chapel (the interior scaffolding is cut away in one spot to accommodate the protruding spike on the Buddha’s hat). Obviously this hulk is not solid gold or it would probably sink to the core of the earth. It is constructed with a foundation of brick, shaped in plaster and then covered in gold leaf. It may not be solid gold, but with the amount of gold leaf that must have gone into covering the Lazy Buddha, I bet with a good chisel and weeks of privacy you could walk away with enough pure gold to keep you in noodles and Thai massages for life. If you’re back hasn’t given out after you’ve skinned Goldie, you can also reap a fortune from the bottoms of his gigantic feet which are comprised of 108 different láksànà - or “characteristics of a Buddha” – all inlaid in mother of pearl.

Who do these guys think they are guarding in those get-ups?

The following day, I completed my Bangkok obligatory tourist duties by visiting the two-for-one attractions of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Both structures sit side-by-side in the same compound and the dress code is strict. There’s a small hut near the entrance that just about everyone is required to visit in order to correct some palace fashion faux pas. Short sleeved shirts are allowed, but not sleeveless and definitely not tank-tops. Shorts, skirts above the knee and even ¾ length pants are out. Flip-flop sandals are out, but strangely, sport sandals, like my Eccos, were OK. Anything else either had to be covered or replaced in the clothing shack. Pants, shirts and slipper-shoes could be borrowed for free (with a deposit), but the slippers required that you wear socks and if you aren’t wearing any, you can rent them for 15B. Depending on the time of day, you may spend more time getting properly suited up than actually touring the compound. Like many arrangements in SE Asia, the clothing shack was woefully under-staffed and poorly coordinated for the avalanched of people trying to get through. Fortunately, I was arriving near the end of the afternoon, the hottest part of the day, so only the unknowing Bangkok rookies and tourist Nazis like myself were still out walking around in that unremitting heat, consequently we were rewarded with only a mildly vexing wait in line.

I’ll say this, the Thais really knows how to put together a pleasing wat. Eye-catching wats are all over the place in Bangkok, but like churches in Europe, there’s eye-catching and then there’s stupefying. Wat Phra Kaew, A.K.A. Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the stupefying kind, like it was pulled out of a Buddhist version of the Cat in the Hat. Intricately etched spires and intensely colored chapels with finely embellished trim are the rule in Wat Phra Kaew, but unfortunately so is jamming everything into such close proximity that backing up far enough to get a single temple or over-sized spire into the picture frame is impossible. As promised in Wat Phra Kaew’s Anglicized title, in the main chapel you will find the Emerald Buddha, though more accurately it should be called the “Jasper Buddha,” but a centuries old misnomer is a bitch to rectify. Like every other structure in Wat Phra Kaew, the outside of the main chapel is wildly ornamented from top to bottom in gold and intricate detailing. Inside the chapel, the Emerald Buddha sits at the top of a mountainous, glitzy, gold draped shrine. The Buddha is mostly covered by a golden shawl that is changed twice a year by the king himself to honor the passing of the seasons. You can sit in the chapel (feet placed under yourself, as pointing your feet at anyone/anything is like giving the finger in Asia) and ogle the tiny, distant Buddha all you want, but photography is forbidden, so take the best mental picture you can.

Man, ancient Thai sea monsters are stacked, aren't they? Check out those ta-tas!

Finally, I located and briefly admired the Grand Palace. The exterior is seems to be a nicely implemented blend of colonial and Thai architecture and Wonderland-caliber landscaping. Even though the Grand Palace is only used for ceremonial occasions, tourist are not allowed to enter, which was fine because by that point I wanted to get the hell out of my borrowed parachute pants and retreat to the air conditioned environs of a 7-11 to nurse a giant bottle of cold water.

Grand Palace

On my way back to the hostel my sense of duty once again overwhelmed my desire for physical comfort and convalescence. Though I wanted nothing more than to take a nap in my air conditioned room at Suk 11, I had deferred a very important task for too long. Pat Pong is Asia’s spin on Amsterdam’s Red Light District, except alarmingly more raunchy with reportedly a higher potential for an unceremonious knifing if you misbehave or react badly to the guaranteed cover charge swindling you’ll experience when you seek out a fabled “ping pong show” (all but the most pure of souls should be able to guess at what happens here). I had been in Bangkok for five full days without seeking out the two legendary alleyways that comprise the nucleus of Pat Pong’s naughty offerings, an offence that could result in the permanent annulment of my membership with the International Brotherhood of Dirty Old Men (IBDOM). It was only 5:00PM, so I knew I wouldn’t find a show, but I hoped that if I at least made a reconnaissance pass-through of the area for future reference the IBDOM disciplinary tribunal might show me a little mercy. Even at this unlikely hour, bar touts flashing cards with happy hour prices and low-talking pimps were lurking at the entrance of Pat Pong. I tried to veer down the alley for an overall impression, but the hassling was intolerable. To make matters worse, I was getting disapproving looks from Thai passersby who were witness to my struggle with the Pat Pong marketing bureau while I attempted to get a gander at the street scene. Unfortunately, the street was mostly empty (a night market kicks off after sunset), but I managed to glimpse several establishments encouragingly featuring the word “pussy” in their signs, before I turned around, freed myself from the plying of the touts and beat a retreat into the light rail station. I resolved that a thorough impression of Pat Pong would have to wait until cover of darkness.

That night at Ye Old Belle, I ran into an Aussie guy who had been living in Bangkok for 10 years and I quizzed him mercilessly about Pat Pong and the sex industry in general. His response did nothing to help my goal of cracking the story. As I mentioned before, he was adamant that there is no escaping Pat Pong without falling victim so some kind of bait-and-switch pricing tactics or some other scam designed to separate you from your baht. I thought I might combat this ugliness by only going into Pat Pong with the bare essentials; no wallet, no Palm Pilot, indeed, nothing of value and only 500 baht. I fancied that this failsafe would free me from being ripped off for a few thousand baht when the touts changed their stories on me, but I learned that this is the best way to get stabbed and dumped in a deserted alley. Apparently, not having enough baht on your person doesn’t excuse you from paying for the certain price increase once you’ve settled in for a ping pong show. Moreover, he reported that the sinister mood and dangerous guys mingling around in the shadows of the clubs makes it difficult to glean enjoyment from the show. For a better time with less edge to it, I was told to try Soi Cowboy, a slightly watered down version of Pat Pong, which was conveniently located just a few minutes walk down the road from Suk 11. While the diminished possibility of being gutted was alluring, my growing journalist sense of obligation gnawed at me, insisting that if I was going to do the Bangkok sex scene, I should do it right. I had read a few reports from other travelers who had managed to make the rounds through Pat Pong without even a hint of physical danger. Even Lonely Planet mentions Pat Pong in their “don’t miss” section for Bangkok. I concluded that fear be damned, Pat Pong would have to be visited. However, I would make an exception to my typical balls-out approach to new experiences and I would ease into the experience with a preview visit to Soi Cowboy.

As a general rule, in the world of budget travelers it is usually a given that independent travel should be researched, planned and booked entirely on the Internet in order to find the best tips/deals/prices, but Thailand is very far removed from the real world. In fact, it’s more like Bizzaro World at times and as it happens buying plane tickets in a hole-in-the-wall travel agency can save you big money. After combing the Internet for a cheap round-trip ticket to Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Myanmar, I was told by a hostel mate to stop into a travel agency. He knew a guy who chopped US$200 off the best Internet price on some tickets in some no-name travel agency. As unlikely as this seemed, I gave it a shot as I had nothing to lose except 20 minutes of my time. Sure enough, I beat the best Internet price to Yangon by a full US$100. Not only that, but while three doting Thai women worked hard to provide me with the best price imaginable and seal the deal, I was graciously offered a steaming bowl of noodles from the office lunch table! Sweet Jesus, if Thailand gets any better, I may have to actually reconsider my anti-marriage stance in order to win residency here.

On that note, I had been forced to reconsider my outlook on farangs hooking up with Thai women. Due to prior stereotypes about old, fat and ugly desperate men coming to Thailand to flex their big wallets and buy themselves a teenaged Thai woman and my initial impressions on the streets of Bangkok, I was very put off by the fantastic number of Pinkies being escorted around town by Thai women. Then I became one of them. On my fourth night in town, hence my fourth consecutive night at Ye Old Belle, at closing time the bar staff invited me to join them at an after-hours disco. Not only was this group of people disarmingly friendly and fun, but I’m always up for getting on the inside of the local scene and this was a prime opportunity, so I jumped at the chance. An hour later, I was sitting at a table full of my new friends, a bunch of Thai girls and two gay Thai men. I was having a great time. I was the only Pinkie in the joint and I had clearly scored a cherished look on the inside of the Bangkok social scene. Then I looked around and realized, I had unintentionally become what I had singularly loathed. A farang with a $hit-eating grin, enjoying the company of Thai women. It was all innocent and platonic of course, but then it occurred to me that perhaps I had been coming down too hard on the other western men and it was possible that they too were just hanging out with their Thai friends rather than parading around a trophy sex kitten.

Two days later, I would be in the same position again. Twenty-two months of hard travel and laundering in cheap washing machines had taken its toll on my wardrobe. Nearly all of my clothes were plainly faded and worn, with some sporting unsightly holes and fraying. I needed to go shopping. The only problem was that I have an abysmal record for buying tasteful clothes. I can’t be trusted. When the dreaded time comes to go shopping I typically bring a woman along to keep me from buying garments that will invoke outward mirth in my immediate vicinity. After poking her finger through one of the holes in my ailing shirts, Nun, the cashier at Ye Old Belle offered her services as fashion consultant, as well as leading me to stores that weren’t laying in wait to over-charge a dumb farang for shoddy merchandise. So it was that I found myself being escorted through MBK, one of Bangkok’s largest indoor shopping malls with a tiny Thai girl on my arm. With my former negative stereotype still fresh in my mind, I envisioned that Nun and I were being stared at and looked down upon by judgmental westerners and disapproving Thais alike. In my mind I heard whispers and felt narrowed eyes on the back of my neck, tutting and chastising me. Once again, it turns out that I can dish it out a whole lot better than I can take it. The unpleasant life lessons continue…

My second Thai boxing class went infinitely better. I had taken three days to heal from the previous class and my cold was 90% done and it made a world of difference. My form was better, my kicks were harder and my stamina didn’t peter out after only 12 minutes. All of the trainers noticed and were openly proud of me. Of course I was still physically destroyed after the class – the increased power behind my kicks resulted in increased bruises on my shin from my knees to my ankles - but this time I only wished that a paramedic was on hand rather than praying for a quick death.

I was still limping the next day when I decided to seek out therapy in the form of a Thai massage. I had been regaled with Thai massage miracle stories ever since New Zealand and I felt I was ready to give it a try. I had been warned that Thai massage can be a violent, punishing ritual along the lines of being a human target at a women’s self-defense class, but the positive effects were astounding. Alternately, if I didn’t want to be in blubbering tears by the conclusion of my massage, I was coached to ask for the “oil massage,” which was akin to what you’d get if you went for massage in the States. But of course going for the oiling would have gone against my aim to experience the full, pure Thailand, in addition to giving basic common sense a nod, which we all know simply won’t do. I had been scooping out a couple places in the Suk 11 neighborhood that looked like genuine massage shops where a loin massage wouldn’t be a part of the regimen. Word was that even in the most upstanding looking massage places, an invitation to conclude the massage “upstairs” was a fairly common occurrence and despite my wretchedly long affection-free streak, I hadn’t ever paid for sex and I certainly didn’t intend to start while I still looked like David Beckham.

I had narrowed my choices down to a very popular place out on the main Soi 11 road that was perpetually filled with happy tourists getting foot massages in front of the picture window and a less popular place suffering from a location handicap just a few doors down the quiet alley from Suk 11. As they were both charging the same rate for a one hour Thai massage, I decided to give my business to the alley place, as their dreadful location was clearly affecting their client base. I had breezed by earlier noting the prices, but when I walked in the door now, I was met with a small crowd of tiny Thai girls that looked like they were made-up to go clubbing. I hesitated, but a less provocatively dressed manager-like woman accosted me and after a short discussion my confidence returned and we agreed on a one hour Thai massage. I was even more reassured when none of the clubber girls made a move and a humble looking, plainly dressed woman came forward instead to escort me upstairs and get me prepped.

I was shown into a curtained off cubicle, where I was instructed to undress and put on what looked like over-sized hospital scrubs. I relax even further now. Clearly this girl wouldn’t ask me to put on even more clothes than what I was already wearing if she intended to grope me. She left the cube and I got to work. The pants threw me. They seemed to be designed for a five foot tall, 400 pound man. I tried to knot the extra fabric to the side, but there was just a hair too little of it for me to make it work. As I was struggling with this dilemma, the women returned. She had changed into workout shorts and was ready for action. I looked at her helplessly as I held up my pants. She laughed and came to help me. As she fastened them she took what I thought was in inappropriate look down, noted my boxer shorts and then announced to her colleague in the next cube that I wearing boxers (turns out “boxers” is the same word in Thai). I cautiously asked if I should have done something different, but she said I should do whatever was better for me. I replied that I would keep the boxers on, because it would clearly be better for her than the sight of my cream cheese white butt.

She got to work and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Thai massage wasn’t the violent carnage that I was warned about. It was simply strong, firm and wonderful pressure rubbing. My trouble spots from the Thai boxing were taken care of with virtually no unnecessary pain. Things were turning out perfect. The Thai style took a bit of getting used to though. Rather than being laid out on a raise table, you are on a mat on the floor and rather than rubbing from the side the girl climbs all over you, using ever bit of her tiny body for strength and leverage. Moreover, she rubs everything up to the naughty bits. There is almost no safety zone between the point where she stops short and where Mr. Happy starts. The heightened intimacy distracted me at first, but she never crossed the line and her skill was otherwise phenomenal. She had clearly studied somewhere legitimate, because she was doing wonders. Then she flipped me and went to work on the front of my legs. She deftly worked her way up my thighs until she was kneading the sides of my pelvis, just out of third base range and it happened. She stopped looked at me and said “You want massage?” glancing down at my groin. Of course I didn’t, but I also wanted to know what my options were. I asked how much. “Three hundred for hand massage, 800 for me” was the reply. I took this to mean that she would have intercourse with me for a mere 800 baht (US$20). Christ, how depressing. I told her no, she persisted for a few more seconds and then gave up.

From there it was uneventful and we fell into normal conversation. My curiosity about this poor woman led me to some basic background questions; how long she had been doing massage (two years), where she was from (outside of Bangkok), her name (she whispered this so quietly that didn’t catch it and I got the sense that she probably wasn’t supposed to divulge this information to clients so I let it go), how old she was (31, but like most Thais, she look about 10 years younger) and so on. We didn’t speak at all for the last 10 minutes or so. I just watched her work the kinks out of my arms and fell into a bout of sympathy for her. Like most of the staff at Ye Old Belle, undoubtedly she was sending 90% of the money she was making back home to her family. As I looked closer at her, I could see that she indeed was showing her age and then some around her eyes. It could have been my imagination, but I thought I sensed a sincere disappointment that I had turned her down and she would only be walking away from this farang client with her tiny share of the 300 baht (US$7.50) that I was going to pay for this massage, which would in turn be less money to send home.

We finished and returned to the lobby where I paid my 300 baht by breaking a 1,000 baht note. I thanked the guy behind the desk and put away my money, palming a 500 baht note. My masseuse was waiting for me at the door to bid me farewell. She put her hands in the prayer position, bowed slightly, “thank you” she said, I returned the gesture, then took her hand to shake it, giving her the note, hoping that the desk guy didn’t notice the move. I was bummed out now, but my body felt great.

As my days in Bangkok began to dwindle I decided I had better get out and crack open a few of the more notable sights. I took two very long bus rides without A/C to get to Wat Benchamabophit (A.K.A. Wat Ben) in the north of Bankok. This is a bit of a letdown wat after staggering through Wat Phra Kaew, but Wat Ben was worth the stop for two reasons; it’s set entirely in Carrara marble, which is stunning even from a distance and the rear courtyard has a who’s-who of Buddha images from across the historical Thai Buddhist art spectrum. Most important of all though, Wat Ben is within easy striking distance of Vimanmek Teak Mansion, built entirely out of golden teak and with 72 rooms, it is the largest such teak structure in the world. I hadn’t noticed when I was issued my pile of tickets and leaflets when I entered the Grand Palace a few days earlier, but admission to the Teak Mansion was included with my Palace ticket. If I hadn’t later read this in my Lonely Planet and gone into my day bag to verify that I was indeed holding a ticket to the Teak Mansion, I never would have been the wiser, as the two attractions are miles away from each other. One would think that no one with even a shred of logic would pair together a dual ticket package A) without mentioning this to the buyer at the time of purchase and B) two bus rides and a 20 minute walk in the stifling heat away from each other, but this was Thailand and things like this are commonplace. Fortunately, letting that ticket sit in my day bag for three days, being dog-eared and crumpled hadn’t invalidated it and I was allowed into the grounds.

The Mansion is on a multi-attraction compound of its own. Not only was I in line to see Teak Vegas, but before that excitement could ensue I was steer toward the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, another Carrara marble structure, built in the Italian Renaissance Neo Classic style. It’s main function is as a reception hall and it’s a whopper. But before I could lay my eyes on this extravagance I was once again discreetly pointed toward the wardrobe adjustment area. Knowing that I had a full day of debilitating heat to look forward to, I had dressed myself in full-on, farang, heat-beating regalia; sandals, shorts and a tank top. This was far too risqué for the Throne Hall and so a female member of the fashion police dutifully covered my bare legs up with a flowery, ankle-length sarong and topped it off with a purple, lacy shawl for my shoulders. I was “soyie-mok-mok” (“very pretty”) according to the other ladies.

Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall

The interior of the Throne Hall is huge and lavishly done up in gold detailing, marble columns and statues with the ceiling coated in rich mosaics, each featuring a famous moment in history with Thailand’s early kings. I should mention that while Thailand’s monarchy has had their fair share of troubles in the past, unlike the shaky status that other monarchies in the world are enduring at the moment, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (A.K.A. Rama IX) appears to be roundly loved and is referred to as the “father of all Thais.” The guy has been in power for 59 years making him the longest reigning Thai king and the current the longest ruling monarch in the world. It doesn’t get any better than that. As awesome as the interior enrichments of Throne Hall are, that’s pretty much all it has to offer. I was back at dress code headquarters returning my garments after only 10 minutes.

I tried once again to skeedaddle over to the Teak Mansion, but I was derailed by insistent guards into yet another ancillary attraction, the Abhisek Throne Hall, a sort of baby-teak mansion that houses an enjoyable display of Thai handicrafts. This again would have been just a quick stopover if I hadn’t been forced to cover up in similar fashion as in the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall. I spent more time getting my attire on straight than I did in the handicraft exhibit.

I walked out of the Abhisek Throne Hall swearing that I would get into a skirt and shawl only one more time that afternoon and it was going to be for the goddamn Teak Mansion. I bulldozed straight for it and was predictably headed off to be cloaked over in the neighboring information center. I was starving and heat beaten by this point, but I hung around for the free English tour that was embarking 10 minutes later. The Teak Mansion is indeed quite a sight. Built in just 19 months in 1900-01, it is royally mammoth. We were only allowed to view 31 of the mansion’s 72 rooms, but this was more than enough to get an idea of the lifestyle Thailand’s royalty were enjoying at the turn of the 20th century. I couldn’t help but note that the majority of the decorations and knick-knacks scattered around the mansion were nearly all European in origin. After seeing an impressive display of Thai handicrafts just moments earlier, it was disappointing to see that there was virtually no acknowledgement of Thai culture in the Teak Mansion, but I suppose (hope) it was just a phase the monarchy was going through at the time. Strangely, even though King Rama V had sunk a pile of his personal cash into building the Teak Mansion, after his death the royal family moved back into the Grand Palace and it was closed down and more or less forgotten, being occasionally renovated to use as storage or living quarters for the queen’s consort. It wasn’t until 1982, Bangkok’s Bicentennial anniversary, that the entire building was beautified and opened to the public as a commemorative museum for Rama V. We were led around by three different Thai guides and each successive guide’s English skills dropped so dramatically that I didn’t even bother to follow along with the unintelligible ramblings of the last guide. I went ahead on my own and finally emerged from the Mansion with a head full of steam for lunch.

After an embarrassing amount of procrastination, I found myself cautiously entering Soi Cowboy on surprisingly wild Sunday night. Apparently every night is Saturday night in the T & A industry because the go-go girls were out in force. The street in front of all the neon draped go-go bars was packed with crowds of scantly clad, exceptionally friendly Thai female hawkers. Within seconds I had a dozen new best friends, taking my hand, hooking my arm telling me how handsome I was while trying to determinedly lead me into their respective bars. I resisted these ladies as I wanted to make a full sweep of the offerings before making a choice. The Aussie guy I had spoken to a few nights earlier had recommended one specific bar and I had not bothered to write it down, so I was hoping there would be a memory jog as I scanned the many signs, but there was no glimmer of familiarity anywhere down the street. When I turned around to face the second round of hazing, I allowed myself to be corralled by a tall (by Thai standards), skinny, young girl who wasted no time in ushering me into her bar, “Tony’s.” She sat down with me, I ordered a Coke and we engaged in small talk while I absorbed the stage full of go-go dancers in lace lingerie that was just barely see-through enough to get a peek of what was underneath. All of the girls looked like they had seen better days, so it wasn’t long before I forgot all about them and concentrated on my escort.

There’s no cover charge for these go-go bars, so the only way for them to make money is through over-priced drinks. But even soaking you in this way this isn’t enough for them to turn a real profit, so the secondary ploy is for the girl(s) who have attached themselves to you to beg you to buy them drinks. Their drinks are inevitably more expensive (but not alarmingly so) and they come in half sized glasses, which I assumed not only saved them yet more dough on the drinks budget, but also prevented the girls with smaller bladders from having to run to the toilet every 12 minutes.

I didn’t put up a fuss when my escort asked for a Coke of her own and while we sat and talked, she tentatively started to massage my hand and arm. The other girls around the room were being considerably more aggressive, sitting on their date’s laps, kissing them and allowing themselves to be fondled by their dates. My girl was so hesitant and nervous that I finally inquired as to how long she had been working at the bar. She claimed that she had been there for three months, but her behavior indicated that perhaps it was her first night on the job. She was dressed in a oversized t-shirt with thigh-high stockings and garters. After a few minutes of easy conversation, she suddenly went quiet. She ceased talking to me and would only offer one or two word answers to questions that I posed. Eventually I asked if everything was OK and she executed a Tourette’s-like arm flail, sweeping the air between us and said that everything was fine and then returned to emotionless staring into space. I suspected that I might have a social deviant on my hands and I didn’t feel that I had the time to delve into eccentricities during this outing, so I quickly finished my Coke, thanked her and retreated to the street.

Mere seconds later I was being hauled into yet another bar by a tiny woman who deposited me in my chair, made sure that I ordered a drink and then disappeared, leaving me alone. Fortunately the caliber of go-go girls at this bar was much higher. They were much more appealing and while all their naughty bits were covered up, their outfits left very little to the imagination. Half the girls were wearing lime-green, transparent thong bikinis and the other half were in frighteningly tiny school girl outfits, with skirts that never completely covered their asses and tissue paper thin white tops.

I sat a lone for a surprisingly long time before one of the lime-green bikini dancers who had just been relieved from stage duty plopped down next to me and launched right into the now well wore comparisons between me and David Beckham. After a few token minutes of flirting she asked me to buy her a beer and when I agreed she sprang up to fetch it. Minutes later she retuned with a much more expensive Malibu and pineapple. She sadly informed me that the bar was out of beer, but she was sure that I wouldn’t mind if she ordered a cocktail instead and just to show that she knew I was such a great guy, she gave me a big ol’, sloppy hug.

We sat and talked while watching the girls dance. After a few minutes she pointed up, to show me that the ceiling was glass and that the school girls were dancing up there, giving us the worm’s-eye-view of the action under their skirts. Eventually my date had to do another shift of stage dancing. Seconds after she was gone, a tiny girl from the school girl brigade swooped in. She had been staring a hole into my peripheral vision from the bar and now that Lime Green was gone, she jumped at her chance. What her interest was in me, I don’t know (she never once mentioned Beckham), but I was happy to have her company as she turned out to be the best English speaker of any Thai woman I had yet come across. Thrilled to be having a normal conversation with a native, I became very involved in the discussion, completely forgetting about my instructions from Lime Green bikini that I was to stare longingly at her for the duration of her stage shift. She retuned in a undisguised huff, sat on the other side of me and pouted while drinking her cocktail. Sensing that I had the makings of a cat fight on my hands, I tried to work Lime Green into the conversation with School Girl. Eventually Lime Green lightened up and the three of us had a ball (School Girl got me to buy her a Coke that arrived in what must have been a four ounce glass).

Now it was School Girl’s turn to return to the stage. This left me alone with Lime Green who decided that she was going to stake a permanent claim on me while School Girl was out of the picture. She moved herself half into my lap and went to work caressing me with what seemed like six hands. I couldn’t get her off me and when I wasn’t flailing away to keep her hands out of my erogenous zones, I had to bob and weave away from an onslaught of kisses. School Girl returned from the stage, saw what was happening and admitted defeat by hooking a passing Japanese man and disappearing with him.

Lime Green and I had both finished our drinks and I was getting tired of her advances, so I waited until she was called back to the stage and made my escape to the distant refrain “Beckham! Wait, Beckham!!!”

It became clear that not only was there not going to be any ping pong shows on Soi Cowboy, but neither was there going to be any actual nudity. I felt more of the same would have been overkill, so I headed for the train and finished the night with a cider at Ye Old Belle.

The following evening, I got myself prepared for the now ominous Pat Pong visit. I covered for what would undoubtedly me my conspicuous all-night absence from Ye Old Belle by stopping by the bar early and telling the staff of my plans to hit a restaurant across town called “Eat Me,” which was effectively true. I had every intention of paying a visit to Eat Me, in the hopes that they might have postcards, before heading into Pat Pong.

In the end the stern warnings issued by my bar buddy, the Lonely Planet description and the anecdotes from the travelogues I had absorbed did not do accurate justice to Pat Pong. First and foremost the sex clubs themselves were all-but invisible in the face of the night market that was going on. What had been a bare street during my investigations a few days earlier was now exploding with vender stalls that were so large, tight and numerous that I actually walked past Pat Pong twice trying to find it before I figured out that it was hidden behind the endless rows of stalls selling knock-off clothing, lighters, wood carvings and DVDs. The people wandering around idling shopping weren’t the shady, nefarious types I had expected, but instead, backpackers and indeed whole families out for souvenir shopping. Once I realized that my ping pong shows were somewhere behind the surge of bargain shoppers, I headed down the street, ostensibly looking for a new pair of sunglasses (the ones I purchased in Singapore had crack within days after their purchase) and getting a sense of what my options were for the shows. Soon enough, touts were in my face, holding menu cards of all the acts featured in their sex theatres. Again I refused to be led into any place until I had had the chance to take in all the offerings. Lonely Planet had suggested avoiding the shows that didn’t admit women, so I went down the street comparing prices and menus, while inquiring to the touts whether or not it would be OK to bring in my “girlfriend” who was just down the street buy a handbag. None of them refused my girlfriend request, but I wasn’t feeling too comfortable about any one show, particularly the one where a two guys and a girl came storming out swearing and giving obscene gestures to the staff. Each theatre had the exact same offer, no cover charge and 100 baht (US$2.50) per beer. This arrangement was the exact scenario that I had heard would end in disaster, with hidden charges and goons blocking the door.

Finally, as I was going through the “Can My Girlfriend Come?” speech for the tenth time, I glimpsed two couples going up the steps of the theatre I was being coerced into. I took this as a good sign and decided to follow them up. If we were going to get messed with, at least I knew I wouldn’t be alone up there. When I crested the stairs I was met with a sensory over-load of depravity. Half or completely naked women were everywhere. Six or eight on the stage at a time with another 10 or so mingling with customers. Unlike in Soi Cowboy, when the girls finished their turns on stage they didn’t don a robe to wear while socializing, they just strutted around as they were. I was given a recently vacated seat on the far side of the square, theatre-in-the-round style stage. I ordered a Coke and became engrossed in the show. In addition to the constant gaggle of nude dancers on the stage at any given time, once every five minutes or so a girl would come out and do a trick with her honey hole. Some were standard (shooting ping pongs into a basket eight feet away) and others were unexpected (inserting chop sticks and using them to pick up tiny rings off the stage floor and hook them over a bottle). Other interludes included long strings of beads or flowers being produced, a girl filling herself up with clear water from a bottle and then releasing the now (red colored?) liquid into a different bottle, a raw egg being inserted whereupon the girl thrashed and bounced all over the stage and reproduced the egg intact, a horn being played, a small banana being completely inserted and then launched out and a cigarette being smoked down to the filter.

It turned out the room was full of voyeuristic western couples that had decided to get to the heart of Pat Pong much in the same way I was, with the glaring exception that they were in committed, healthy relationships and just out for an evening of the bizarre and titillating while I was clearly a lonely, desperate pervert. I caught several audience members stealing glances in my direction, wondering what this despicable loner was doing on his own and where exactly were his hands? I conspicuously placed both hands on the table. Just then an obese, 60 year old man in a boat captain’s uniform strolled in and immediately had about six girls fall all over him. It seemed that he was a regular, as he was an instant Mr. Popular and I was still sitting alone and isolated at the back of the room with nothing but an eight ounce glass of Coke to fondle. The Captain and his band of merry sex dancers retired to a corner where about five of them managed to squeeze into his lap and lavished him with kisses and invited him to suckle their breasts.

There was one other lone man in the theatre, who was acting like a raging fool. As if to reinforce his status as the village idiot, the guy was dressed, bizarrely, like a school boy, with the shorts covering the knees, dress shoes, white socks, white shirt, half undone tie and cap. The guy, who looked like he was about 18, was stupid drunk. When I entered he was wrestling with one of the girls, trying alternately to sneak his hand down and finger her or stuff his face between her legs. Unbelievably the girl wasn’t exceptionally bothered by his advances and gamely played goalie, laughing on occasion and seemingly having a good time. Eventually the girl got bored or tired and left him alone. He took this as an invitation to join the dancers on the stage. A few dancers were good natured and encouraged him, while some of the more temperamental ones punched or kicked him if he got too close. This entire scene floored me. In the good ol’ U.S., at the first sign of behavior like this, the guy would have been hauled out to the alley by three sadistic bouncers and had his ass fed to him. But there were no bouncers here. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be a single male staff member in the entire place. It was just the dancers and the waitresses, most of whom humored the guy.

After he was convinced to leave the stage, he stayed out on the floor performing sloppy break dancing moves for our enjoyment, but what he didn’t know was that he had long since worn out his welcome with the audience and all he was succeeding in doing by staying on the floor was blocking our sight lines to the girl shooting darts out of a blow gun jammed into holiest of holies at some balloons across the room. Eventually he climbed back on stage again. While the girls on stage took this as a cue to stop dancing, indeed stop the show, and take a well deserved break, the audience was getting grumpy that this halfwit was robbing them of their woo-hoo cabaret. This persisted the entire time I was there. The guy went from his spot on the bench, to sitting on a stool by the stage, to sitting on the stage, to standing on the stage, to chasing various girls around the stage, to being helped off the stage, to wowing us with his wack dance moves and then back to his seat. He made to leave a few times, but always returned and inevitably inserted himself into the show again.

It occurred to me eventually that my Pat Pong experience had gone off completely without incident. There was no hidden cover charge, my drink bill accurately showed the correct total, the show was as advertised, no dangerous thugs were lurking around and I was enjoying myself. In fact, I felt surprisingly energized and giddy, considering that I was ready to fall asleep during the train ride over. Boy, Pat Pong wasn’t so bad after all!

After about an hour, my snail-pace nursing of my Coke had finally resulted in a glass of ice. Despite my newly jovial spirit, it was almost midnight and I decided that I had better get out of there before the trains stopped running and I’d be forced to fork over cab fare. Just as I was paying my bill, two if the dancers, the only two that were actually wearing full bikinis, joined me at the same time and wanted to chat. One reeked of alcohol and the other spoke English so poorly that I never was able to piece together anything she (possibly he) said. I lingered for a few moments until they were both asking me to buy them drinks, at which point I left.

Or I tried to leave, that is. As soon as I was on my feet, the room went wavy, I stumbled and had to catch myself on a chair. I weaved across the room, barely avoiding collisions with several immoveable objects and people and managed to get down the stairs with both hands on the railing to steady myself. What was going on? I was having a hard time clearing my head. Out on the street, I staggered through the street market, confused and directionless. I finally found my way to the main road and gathered my thoughts. I had ordered a plain Coke and even if they had screwed it up and given me a shot of some alcohol, I didn’t recall tasting anything out of the ordinary. Holy crap, had I been drugged? I fought to put the facts into place, but my head was a mess. I decided I had better get away from Pat Pong and back to Suk 11 where I was safe. Half way to the train I stopped. Just a darn minute! I wasn’t going to let them get away with this! I went back to the bar. My plan was to make note of the name and then report them to the police. I managed to find my bar (I think) and stood for several seconds trying to read and memorize the name. This was very difficult in not only was my concentration shattered, but the touts, who had seen me leave just moments earlier were all over me again like I had never been there, trying to get me inside. I refused and after I was sure I had the bar name straight in my head, I headed back for the train. By the time I was standing on the platform, I had forgotten the bar’s name. It took the whole ride home for me to piece together the name “Queen’s Court III,” though I wasn’t sure about the middle part. It was definitely “Queen’s something III.”

After making a confused, no-brainer error switching trains and going the wrong direction for a while, I managed to get back to Suk 11 where I immediately bought and drank a bottle of water to dilute whatever was in me. In retrospect, the crazy school boy may not have been drunk at all, but only the victim of a few too many “Queen’s something III” specials. The couples in the room didn’t seem to be acting out of the ordinary, it was just us single guys. Just a little too chilling for my tastes.

Well, that was that. Pat Pong was done and never had to be done again. Guys, if you decide to go, two things; bring a girl and order water.

Despite, or more likely, in spite of my fantastically long stay in Bangkok, I was lulled into a sense of lazy comfort and thus found myself on my final full day in town with a million unfinished tasks that had to be tackled before leaving for Myanmar. As a result I had to cancel my last muay boxing class (my shins were still bruised anyway) and pick it up on my way back through Bangkok after Myanmar. Due to my recent, late night fact finding duties on the Bangkok sex scene, intermittent insomnia and early morning responsibilities, I was not ready to work late into the night before my departure, but that’s exactly what happened. I’m just finishing the web site edit of this journal now and it’s after midnight. I will upload all this junk over the terminally slow, but free wi-fi hotspot in the lobby of Suk 11, grab a bowl of noodles and sleep for six precious hours before my wake-up call to catch my plane to Yangon.

I’m signing off. My 10 days of Myanmar government-forced, Internet/email blackout begins now.

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©Leif Pettersen 2012