“ . . . the first joy can never be recovered,
and the wise traveler learns
not to repeat successes,
but tries new places all the time.”
There was no real question about it; I should have gone to bed the second I set foot in that hostel in Bangkok. After nearly 24 hours of flight, and no sleep in almost 48 hours, I was barely coherent as we were touching down in Bangkok. Still, as I caught the last sky train from the airport for the night, my excitement built with every passing kilometer into the city.
Once checked into the hostel, the thrill of being in a new city had overwhelmed any feeling of fatigue, and I set out to explore the immediate area. It was past midnight by now, and the vast majority of things were closed, though the sidewalk night markets were still alive selling anything you can imagine, from useless trinkets to pirated DVD’s to pastel-colored men’s briefs. Still, I can’t say I’m to the point where I want to start buying street underwear yet.
You can buy almost anything at street vendors. Anything.
I was surprised to notice along this stretch that nearly any American chain restaurant had a presence here, less Taco Bell.
Aside from the American chains, though, the first thing that will stand out to any newcomer in Bangkok (or anywhere else in Thailand) is the 7-Elevens. Take every joke you’ve every heard about the number of Starbucks in the U.S., multiply it 10x, and you might begin to approach the 7-Eleven situation here. You can literally be standing at the door of one, have one across the street from you, and yet another a few doors down.
7-Elevens are EVERYWHERE.
One of the most irritating things walking through these remnant crowds was the barkers. Not familiar with the term? A barker is someone who tries to draw customers into a business by grabbing their attention on the street, usually through loud noises and obnoxious behavior. I came across them for the first time when I was living in New Orleans, where they try to draw you into the numerous bars of the French Quarter. Here, the general tone heard from them was, “You want lady?”
No, I didn’t want lady.
I continued on down the street until I came to Rama IV Road and Lumphini Park at the end of the neighborhood. By that time, I had seen a good portion of the neighborhood’s main streets and figured I had gotten as much exploring in as I needed and decided to begin heading back. There had been an Irish Pub a few blocks away I had seen on the cab ride that I went to check out. Might as well see what the foreign scene in this area was like. Unfortunately, it was closed when I arrived.
So, heading back in the direction of the hostel, I once again had to pass by the 3 or 4 blocks of barkers. Toward the end of the stretch, I was approached and spoken to in a much more fluid English by a barker who was sitting down over a street vendor’s grill eating the Thailand token, meat on a stick.
Rather than immediately pushing a location or women, this man initiated a conversation more about the area, which slowly moved into him asking my name and where I was from followed by a handshake.
I told him Steve from Toronto. Absolutely no point in telling him anything about myself, but I was still interested to see where this conversation would lead.
He asked where I had just come from, and I said I had gone to check out the closed Irish Pub. “Oh, you looking for bar? I have a bar right this way.” And there it was, the classic barker.
Barkers are relentless. The best way to get rid of them is to go into a market if nearby. For some reason they don’t want to follow you into that crowd.
He motioned down the street we were standing at the corner of to a shadowed building a few down. I figured it would be worth the 30-second walk down the alley to check out where he was pointing to, since there was really nothing else going on at the moment around the area.
However, as soon as his “bar” came into clearer view, it was quite obviously one oriented more toward those seeking visual entertainment rather than a moment to sit down and socialize. I told him not interested and walked back toward the main street we had come from.
He followed asking what was wrong and what I wanted as I was turning back onto the main street, finally saying, “Okay, okay. You want just bar. I have another this way.”
He began to walk down the main street in the direction I had to go. I thought for a second about just turning and passing some time at the vendors to get rid of him. However, at this point sheer curiosity had me wondering what kind of place he would try to sell me on next.
I followed him another block or so to a building at the base of the tallest skyscraper in the area. He grabbed a door handle and opened a heavy wooden door for me to enter.
Upon walking in, there was indeed a bar, just as he promised.
Accompanying it was a lounge area filled with couches, dim lights, and populated with 2 men and about a dozen women. It was very blatantly some kind of brothel (if there are different kinds?).
At that sight, I immediately turned around and walked out, laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
The sex trade is quite blatantly out in the open in certain areas.
The barker attempted once more to follow me and get my attention. I ignored his attempts and simply walked at a quick pace down the main street until he gave up,
On the way back to the hostel, I came across a quiet, open-air bar that was showing Couples Retreat, albeit in Thai. Still it was a calm place to wind down the night with my first beer in Thailand, and to reflect on how this was certainly going to be an interesting place for the next few months and the lessons I had already learned that would come up again and again throughout the country.