Lights, Camera, Action!
Bangkok is unavoidable. With as many budget-airlines that fly through, sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to the Thai capital first and then travel onward. It is easy to get around once you’re in the city. Between the Bangkok Transit System (skytrain), the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (subway), the metered taxis, the ferries, and a crazy amount of tuktuks – everything is within reach.
I was travelling with two friends who hadn’t been to Thailand before. We explored the capital for a few days and then moved to the southern islands.
Massages in waiting
We were three friends travelling with an unshakeable companion, the infamous Thai heat. Bangkok has two seasons: hot and sunny, and hot and rainy. Our group wouldn’t be complete till the evening; one of my friends would arrive later that night. With no plans for the day, to beat the humidity and indulge our aching feet, we went to a massage parlour. We’d return here every day during our stay in Bangkok. An hour long foot massage may sound overkill in your country but, in Thailand, it’s the perfected art of delivering bliss.
Slow walks and furious balls
I’d visited Bangkok’s main tourist attractions the last time I was in Thailand. I now had the luxury of exploring the city at a slower pace.
In the evening, we set forth to find the perfect ping pong show. The content of these shows is an open secret. But I wish benevolent bystanders would realise that not all life’s lessons require learning by experience. Their schadenfreude in recommending these shows leaves the dodgeball-practice escapees uncomfortable and sticky.
Nana, Patpong, and Soi Cowboy are the worst faces of tourism in Bangkok. But thanks to travel guidebooks and TripAdvisor, tourists continue to visit these areas. The image sold is of sassy red-light districts with shiny strip bars where gorgeous Thai women perform movie-style stripteases for tourists and locals. The reality? You watch bored prepubescent girls (or 40-year-old women) perform an uninterested walk for salivating, old, fat, balding, white men.
The infamous ping pong show a friend always mentions? Once-in-a-lifetime.
All that jazz
Once we booked our train seats to Surat Thani for the next day, we took it slow. Bangkok is an assault on your senses, and never boring. We explored several more streets on foot, ducked into a tiny cafe for a post-lunch bite over Prosecco, complained about our unwelcome sheen, feasted on tropical fruits by the roadside, and caused touristy mayhem on metro stations.
ASIATIQUE, THE RIVERFRONT
When we arrived at Asiatique, our first thought was, “This is nice!” Asiatique, The Riverfront is an open-air mall built on an old trade port. With over 1500 small boutique shops, restaurants, and food kiosks, there was plenty to keep us busy. But who had the time for that? After getting on the wrong train twice, and waiting at the wrong ferry stop, when we did arrive at The Asiatique, we spared a few seconds to glance at our surroundings, picked a sandwich kiosk to grab a disappointing snack, and then raced to the cinema.
We’d reached in time. Seated around a small circular table, we caught our breath on cushioned chairs and took in the venue. Overhead lights shone on a curtained stage whose dazzling reflection bathed the room in shades of red and gold. Ushers helped new guests to their seats while waiters in suits served complimentary drinks. Once the show began, glamour came alive.
Choreographed to both nostalgic and modern music, the Calypso Cabaret held our attention till curtain call. It entertained us while commenting on subjective societal norms. When an entourage of impeccably dressed ladyboys dance their hearts out to ‘Free your mind’, what’s not to love?
Should’ve stayed with the lizards
With no plans for the day (our train was at 6:30 p.m.), we chilled at Lumphini Park – an oasis of calm amidst the craziness of Bangkok. It’s also where the dragons chill.
Most budget airlines fly to (or stop over) Bangkok. Sometimes it’s cheaper to reroute your journey across Southeast Asia so you’re flying via BKK. After Thailand, I was going to Laos. I split the journey by spending a night in Bangkok first.
When I flew in from Krabi, my flight landed in Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. DMK doesn’t have a direct metro link to the city like Suvarnabhumi Airport does. A taxi would’ve been faster but I had no reason to hurry. I’d recently heard of an alternative route and I wanted to explore that.
DMK may not have a metro station but it does have a local train station. As I was staying within walking distance of Sukhumvit’s MRT station, I took the local train to its final stop (Hua Lamphong) and then switched to MRT.
The local train stopped at, and between stations, for longer than you’d think was necessary, and for no clear reason. The train ride took over an hour but it was comfortable and dirt-cheap. It allowed me to see a different side of Bangkok.
The shortest route from my hotel to the MRT was via this street. This messy little pocket of Bangkok could pass for any street during the day. At night, it transforms into the infamous neon-lit hooker central of Soi Cowboy.
I recommend Bangkok to first-timers in the region so they can form their own opinion of the city. I also tell them to get out soon. For a clear overview of a place, you should give yourself the chance to miss it – to see if you will.