One Night In Bangkok….

Warning: Parental discretion is advised for this blog posting!

Click here for the lyrics to the 1984 song “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical “Chess”.

One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble. I had last been to Bangkok nearly fifteen years ago when I was still a young man – not the tottering, old codger of forty that I became a month ago in Istanbul.  As Francesca and I stood at the mouth of Khao San Road and stared at the mass of humanity that swirled in and out of its myriad shops, bars and restaurants I could scarcely recognize it as the road where I spent much time on my previous two visits.

It is still the major thoroughfare for tourists as it was back then and the t-shirt sellers and food vendors are still hawking their goods for “cheap, cheap!“.  But the small, mom & pop, hole in the wall restaurants have been replaced by massive beer halls and glittering open walled restaurants each with music blaring different songs in a cacophonic symphony.  And the sure sign that Khao San Road has matured as a tourist Mecca (or perhaps it is a sign that it has jumped the shark?) there is a gleaming McDonald’s at the far end of the road.

I was anxious to introduce Francesca to the Bangkok that I knew, but by the time we got to Khao San Road it had already dug itself a hole that would be hard to dig out of.  As we arrived at Bangkok’s spanking new airport (built, without my knowledge, four years ago) and went to collect our luggage, there was a man waiting holding a placard with our names on it.  I looked at Francesca and said “I didn’t know you had arranged for a transfer to our hotel?”  She looked at me with fear in her eyes and said “I didn’t.”  That could only mean one thing.  Misplaced luggage!  Qatar Airlines, the airport rep informed us, had left her bag in Johannesburg.  But “no problem”, he said, because the bag would be here by the same time tomorrow evening.  We then informed him that, “yes, problem”, because we would be in Laos by this time tomorrow evening.  Hmmm…he hadn’t anticipated that response.  After all, who comes to Bangkok for only one night?

After an hour or so of conversations with him and the local Qatar rep on the phone we arranged to have Francesca’s bag forwarded on to Luang Prabang, Laos and, hopefully, transferred to our guest house, although they weren’t sure that they could move it from the airport as Qatar did not have a representative office in Laos.  We did manage to get them to give us the 3,000 Thai Baht (the maximum they give per “case”) before we left the airport – they told us they have a policy to wait twenty four hours before reimbursing for delayed luggage replacement costs, although when we inquired why that policy is in place the Qatar foot soldier just shrugged.

Then it took us nearly one hour for our taxi to get to the center of town.  Not only was the new airport considerably further than the old one, but we also were stopped in traffic for about fifteen minutes as the King’s motorcade made its way past us on the opposite side of the road.  It seems that you can’t be moving as the king passes you or something.  It turns out it was the King’s birthday (just our luck) and everyone had taken to the streets in celebration.

Fun Fact: The Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej,  is the very same monarch that was on the throne when I was there previously and, having reigned for sixty three years, he is the world’s longest-serving current Head of State and longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. I recall seeing his photo in every shop fifteen years ago and the updated photos this time.  I think I’ve handled those fifteen years better than he has, but not by much.

Once we were finally moving again our taxi driver dropped us off near Khao San Road telling us with a gentle smile that our hotel was “just back there a bit”.  After thirty minutes of wandering around the streets of Bangkok and asking people where Phra Ahbit Road was (“oh, just back there a bit” was always the answer) we finally found it, not too far from where we were dropped off, but not in the direction the taxi driver had indicated.

Francesca was not impressed with Bangkok at this point and was eager to get moving on to Laos.  But I was determined to make things right.  She had heard stories about Bangkok’s famous “girlie bars” where they drop ping pong balls from their private parts into champagne glasses and was curious to see it (who wouldn’t be?).  I guess it is more accurate to say she was curious, but hesitant.  But after I assured her that women went to these shows as well she agreed and we flagged down a tuk tuk (the ubiquitous, three wheeled motor-buggies that ferry everyone around the city).

When I was last in Bangkok Patpong and Soi Cowboy were the two places to go for this type of nocturnal entertainment, but I wasn’t sure if that had changed in fifteen years.  So I asked our tuk tuk driver and he said “Yes, Patpong for girlie bar.  You go to ‘Ping Pong Cho’s’.  Good show.  Good girls!”  I figured he probably got a cut from Mr. Cho, but seeing as that was the only recommendation we had I told him to take us there.

Sorry to disappoint anyone, but there are no photos permitted in Ping Pong Cho’s so unfortunately you can’t witness first hand what we saw.  Nor can I go into detail because Francesca has forbidden me to do so (what happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok).  But what I can tell you is that Bangkok is still the undisputed King of Sleaze.  I can also tell you that there were more female tourists in Ping Pong Cho’s (both in groups or as part of a couple) than men and that Francesca and I were the oldest people in the place by about fifteen years.

I will also add that these  girls (the ones working there, not the tourists) had been practicing hard since I had been there last as they had added a considerable number of new tricks to their repertoire. Without going into  gruesome details (I think some of my nieces and nephews read this blog) in addition to the ping pong balls and darts that I had witnessed in my last go around, they have added opening bottle caps, pulling long strands of prayer flags and smoking (I wonder what the Surgeon General has to say about that?).  And there were one or two others that are too horrifying to mention and Francesca said she would never let me near her ping pong shooter again if I did.

The following morning we only had time to shower, grab some Pad Thai at a street side vendor and swap out our wardrobe with some new light weight t-shirts for the hot, Southeast Asia portion of our trip (notice the cool, yellow Tee in the shot above – that I only found out after I bought it says “Free The Weed” on it).  Then it was off to the airport for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos.

I will leave you with a poem that my dear friend Henry Hughes, a published poet and current English Lit. Professor at the University of Oregon, penned after our visit here together nearly twenty years ago. He wrote it after we visited one of the palaces in Bangkok and sat for a while contemplating a mural depicting one of the stories of Thai folklore.

THE STAG IS A MAN

by Henry Hughes

Bangkok, Thailand

Stepping off a hemisphere
they should have come here first,
to the cloisters
where the Grand Battle
raged in peace. Purple plated grins
I compare with the pamphlet,
trying to figure out these brass ogres
and white monkeys. Crazier than the Greeks!
Handsome hunter, King Rama, lured from his wife
by an enemy turned stag.
Feet aching under a bench, I squint
for a plane flashing silver
and hear an American wiping stories across his face.
Never thought of coming here, he says to his son.
We just wanted a good time.  His wife undoes a button
and sits beside me.
Easy landings at Bangkok International,
1967. Furious furloughs
cooled under fans. Maybe he was thin, gutsy,
chasing smoke down a valley,
as he traces now
the war down the wall, leaving his wife
with me. Twisted antlers
rake orange sky. Hoof dents a paddy.
Would it have made a difference
if he saw it in a dream before the war? The Thai mural
breaking him down
to sandals and silk, when the elephant
considers his rider
and gods advise: The stag is a man.
Your wife is alone.
Go home to your enemy.

Country Stats:

Official Name: The Kingdom of Thailand

Official Language(s): Thai

Country’s Name in Native Language: Ratcha Anachak Thai

Population: 63,389,000

Capital Cities: Bangkok

Government: Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Monarchy

Current Leader(s): Bhumibol Adulyadej (King), Abhisit Vejjajiva (Prime Minister)

For more information about Thailand click here.

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7 Responses to “One Night In Bangkok….”

  1. Ping pong shows! They are like car accidents: You shouldn’t look, but you can’t help it.

  2. pretty inconsiderate of the king to block your way to the hotel ..

  3. i seem to remember we went drinking in shibuya with henry many moons ago ? distinguished-looking fellow ?

  4. Quality posts is the key to be a focus for the viewers to go to see the site, that’s what this web page
    is providing.

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