|Bangkok without the Pussy – Part II
“A traveler must have the back of an ass to bear all, a tongue like the tail of a dog to flatter all, and the mouth of a hog to eat what is set before him.” Thomas Nash/Works
Sooner or later, you’ll come across the wonderful world of squat toilets. Which’s why you should include wet-naps or some loose napkins in your day bag.
Essentially holes in the ground, it’s claimed they are better for you than Western styles. Something to do with straighter insides. Maybe. But hell on knees above age 45.
Rarely do they come with a flushing mechanism. That’s what the bucket of water and scoop are for. Do your business, arise creakily, scoop some water down the hole. Any paper goes into the (usually) provided empty can. Varieties are endless, but usage is always the same.
Forget to bring paper? Most of the world can’t afford it anyway. But please, your left hand only! Eat with your right, wipe with your left, is the litany, the mantra. Again, that’s why the scoop is there - bad etiquette to wash your hand in the bucket.
Don’t matter if you are left or right handed. A rule’s a rule. One of the worst insults in many parts of the world is to tell someone: “…you eat with your left hand…”
A few tips: all that scooping and washing tends to leave cute little puddles, so roll or hike your pants legs up – it’s sometimes just safer take your pants off. But then you gotta hop about on one foot and if you have walking shoes on it’s a real bitch and then where are you gonna hang ‘em and maybe the stuff in your pockets’ll fall out on the wet floor…ah, fuck it. How much could a little water hurt?
Back onto the thing, putting your feet where designated. Then – yup – just squat down. Don’t touch anything with your bare skin. Reading will be impossible. If your shins start to ache – and they almost certainly will – try wrapping your arms around your knees.
If there is a person sitting outside a row of stalls, you gotta pay. Not a whole lot. If you get lucky, maybe they have some paper for sale at extortionate prices. But don’t bet on it. Don’t get discouraged, like most things it gets easier the more you do it.
Having finished with nature, it’s time to get back to wandering around Bangkok.
The place is jammed with temples, crammed with temples, bursting with temples. Everywhere you look is temples. Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones. And statues of Buddha – Thailand is after all about 95% Buddhist. The biggest, the oldest, the smallest, the heaviest, the this and the that. The solid gold, the reclining, the emerald, the list is endless. You could spend days and days looking in and at these things.
Hey, if that’s your thing, go for it. I believe strongly that if you’ve seen one Buddhist temple you’ve seem ‘em all. But it’s up to you. My best bet is to spend half a day at the Royal Palace. Temples and palace buildings and startling statues all covered with sparkly things and a real solid gold Buddha. And people. This is the most visited site in Bangkok, so it’ll be crammed with folks.
If you feel strong and independent, go yourself. Go early, before the tourist hordes descend. Read a bit about the place – especially the part about why the King doesn’t live there any more. But don’t worry, they’ll give you a map and wandering aimless and lost is loads of fun.
This is a good place to talk about the King and Royal Family. NEVER NEVER say anything even faintly derogatory about the King or the Royal Family. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. He and The Queen are revered – for good reason – and their likeness is everywhere.
And further: to a Buddhist, the bottom of the feet are ritually unclean, while the head - nearest to heaven - is the cleanest point. Thus, it is overwhelmingly rude to point with your foot, or to touch someone on their head. Words to live by. While Thais as Buddhists are non-violent, certain actions may cause you great damage.
When visiting the Palace, dress modestly – especially Honey Ko. Sunscreen, water, a hat, sunglasses, and lots of film or memory cards are musts. Photo ops are everywhere. One of the coolest are the ersatz “royal guards” that are a blatant rip of the famous Brit Guards that never move a muscle. While the Brits never do move, the Thais twitch and their eyes wander and what all – quite a spectacle.
If you aren’t up to visiting independently – which’s fun, chaotic, and terminally confusing – I would say to take a nice half day tour, usually available for booking at your hotel. No muss, no fuss, no hassle with anything. Should be around US$10 per person. Best in the morning. You’ll get picked up at your hotel, shown around in a large group by a flag waving guide who may speak what seems to be English, learn a little, be told when to take your shoes off, and be back at the Hotel in time for lunch. If your hotel has a pool, this is perfect for an afternoon of laziness and hanging out.
Or let the bus go back without you, and continue…
Take a cab – make sure they use the meter – to Backpacker Heaven, Khao San Road (cow san as in fan). Remember; have the Hotel staff write “Khao San Road” for you in Thai for the cab driver.
It’s hard to describe Khao San. As the center of Bangkok’s long-haul-budget-backpacker universe, any travel plans you may have will be cheaper and often a lot more convenient from there than anywhere. Air tickets, train tickets, vans to Cambodia, buses to Chang Mai, elephant safaris, bus-ferry combination tickets to Samui, whatever you got in mind, they got. For less.
Human flotsam and jetsam from all over. Freaks and lager louts. Scared kids out for the first time, grizzled stick-thin travel veterans. Junkies and cheerleaders and ravers and tattooed ladies and blanket wrapped head cases and smugglers and stoners and you.
A best bet are the phony press passes available for sale. These may sound silly, but they look as real as real can be. One of these, and some equally phony cheapo business cards with your name on ‘em, will get you into almost any event you can think of, back in the Western World. Cost is about US$5. And believe me, they work. Now they aren’t gonna get you into the FA cup final, or The Eagles 15th Farewell Tour, but really come in handy.
You’ll also want a bit of a story – what works for me is that I am a free lance journalist that writes for English Language Newspapers and Magazines published in Asia. You’ll find that most people don’t even know that there are such things – but will be impressed as hell.
The street itself is deceptively short – sidewalks crammed to bursting with vendors selling all sorts of crap (good deals on clothing, cheap jewelry, and pirated discs are highlights – but bargain bargain bargain). Stores selling everything that ran-out-of-money travelers sold for a pittance. Open air restaurants with seating spread way out into the street. Techno competes with Football on TV competes with the latest Bruce Willis movie competes with Indian chanting tapes competes with “how much you pay” competes with honking competes with shouting competes with over-revving cycle engines competes with drunken singing…all spiced with the best, cheapest street food you are ever likely to come across. Constant motion, swirling, pushing, dashing, shuffling, wheezing, panting…new arrivals coming, old hands on their way to the next exotic location….
While this street is the epicenter, other streets spread out from it like spokes of a wheel, all containing their own hidden gems of restaurants, stores, and hotels. If you are in need of budget accommodation, this is where to look. Key word to remember is basic. Cheap like crazy – even for a place as reasonable as Bangkok – but little more than closet-sized bare rooms.
Fun in the afternoon – and perfect for after a Palace visit – at night is when the real freak show begins. Again, up to you. Me? I prefer the daytime. Lot easier to find my way though the maze of little streets to the Pra Athit river-bus landing for that flat-out run back to the Sky Train.
But that, of course, is for another day…