02/01/2011- Arriving in Bangkok
After the long haul flight I finally arrived in Bangkok, and after getting the Sky train to Siam Square, followed by an unrequested tour of the area in a Tuk Tuk, I meet Ben at Lub D hostel. Once there, we head to the train station to buy tickets to Chiang Mai, in the North, both quite intent on escaping Bangkok in search of greener pastures. We’ll be back here for a proper explore and Ben has enjoyed it, revealing that last night he saw a Thai tribute band covering The Libertines, which I’m quite jealous of.
After we get our obligatory greetings out the way, we fall back into the conversations we’re both more comfortable with i.e “do you reckon you’d recognise Tony Pullis if you saw him out here?” to “what odds would William Hill give you, that this Tuk Tuk driver has eaten from the salad bar at Harvester?”
One question, “are there any Western beggars on the streets of Bangkok”, was answered by a few guys back at the hostel who informed us about some Dutch guy known as the Farang Beggar who has a sign with “Need 10,000baht for flight home – please help”. He’s been saving for that flight for nearly 10 years it’s rumoured. I once saw a guy outside the Rockefeller in New York with a sign that read “Hungry, Homeless and HIV positive”. Let me tell you Kids, that’s no way to try and pull the birds.
The Tuk Tuk drivers make most of their income not from driving people around, but by taking them to travel agents, shops and restaurants where they gain a commission on any trade. So we were often taken to places that promised ‘Asda Price, special price and lovely jubbly’. After several detours our driver finally took us to the central station, but we faced instant disappointment as all the northbound trains were booked up. However, with a last minute cancellation we managed to get the last two tickets for the next and last sleeper train of the night to Chiang Mai.
“JIMMY GLASS” we chorused with high fives. This would become a common expression for when Ben and me received some unexpected luck, particularly when we thought we were down and out. If you don’t know the Jimmy Glass story, look him up on your next Wikipedia marathon. The ultimate Jimmy moment I’ve ever experienced was when me, Ben and a couple of other mates from University took a random trip to Tampere in Finland back in autumn 2006. After a very heavy night that involved White Russians, Casinos and two local girls coming back to our dormitory to shave our sleeping friend’s eyebrow off, somewhere between I lost my passport. The following day, Sam our group leader fought against the embarrassment of the enigmatic triangle shaved into his head (we played dumb and said somebody must have crept in during the night) decided we would head out to the countryside to rent a cabin. That was when I realized I no longer had my passport, and as a result I would have to head out to Helsinki for a replacement. We traced our steps back from the previous night, and hearts sank when last night’s Casino was closed. The kebab shop next door was open but had no good news for me. That was when Sam remerged from the alley next door, with my passport in hand. I felt a twinge of guilt for the role I played in getting those girls back last night to give him an involuntary trim. How the fuck did it get there? But that didn’t matter and the true extent of the Jimmy Glass element came with hindsight, as our stay in that cabin proved to be one of the best memories us guys will ever have together. I think both Ben and I would agree that trip would easily make the Top 5 moments of our lives…….
With about 4 hours until our Chiang Mai train we jumped in another Tuk back to our hostel, although the trip back was not to be a direct one. The driver told us he would take us back for half the normal fare as long as we paid a visit to his friend’s tailor shop; “Just look, for 10 minute, don’t buy, just look”. So we agreed, and carried out our duly 10 minutes of looking and pretending to be interested. Some great deals on some fine suits and if it had not been my first day, with the prospect of having to carry around a silk suit for 4 months, I would have certainly bought one. Considering I was back in Bangkok in about 6 weeks, I said “I’ll come back next time”, later realising this translates in Thai as “No thanks, I have no intent of coming back, and in fact (more in the case of street markets) I will even go as far as to cross the road on my way back to avoid buying your products”. Climbing back into the Tuk, the driver began pressing us, demanding to know what we bought. We told him ‘nothing’, which lead to a one sided heated exchange. He then swerved down a side street and at this point, I can’t remember which one of us, blurted out we had in fact bought something. His eyes widened a little, but so did his suspicion.
“How much you pay? How much Deposit?” he barked.
“Erm 1000b” I said without a clue as to how much that was, “but we said we’ll go back tomorrow, to collect them, our suits”.
I had only been in the country a couple of hours and already I’m down a side street practically being mugged. He wasn’t too happy, but nonetheless was eager to arrange a time to pick us up the next day to take us there. After being pushed into a corner we agreed to meet him outside our hostel the next day. This has got to be the first time a Westerner has conned a Tuk Driver.
From here we went to Chatuchak Market which was about 10 minutes away on the train. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks for 150b, about £3. They are normally about 30-40 quid in London. We also visited a stall selling second hand football shirts, including an away Burnley one from around the mid-1990’s, which I’d contemplated getting for my Dad.
I was quite impressed with the lack of hassle from street kids, although the women selling the flamingo puppets had certainly lost faith in her product. White skinned Tourists here are not just ‘other English people’ like when you go abroad in Europe, but Westerners. Even the couple who looked like they had the low self-respect to appear on TV reality shows such ‘builders/holidays/restaurants from hell’ who complain about leaks/cockroaches/rude waiters in some resort in Gran Canaria (shy short fat bald man and his loud blonde wife, think Denise Welch and her husband from Auf Wiedersen Pet) were not just confined to coming from Rochester or Wigan, but Hamburg and Miami. It was just as we were leaving I was approached by my first Lady-boy. You’ll be surprised how many straight and seemingly secure Western men get caught up with them. A few people I was to meet further down the line would argue that due to the fact that they had pretty much converted everything from their genitals to their larynx, they were pretty much good to go. It didn’t wash with me, as she’s still got man’s hands, feet, legs and hair. It’s these little qualities in the woman that you take for granted.
After hand feeding the remains of our picnic to the catfish of Lumphini Park’s main lake, we headed back to the train station and boarded our sleeper train. We had bunk beds, and travelled through the night. Often I got up to sit by one of the large windows as we bombed through the Thai Countryside. Mostly dark woodland only rarely interrupted by the odd little settlement. I was most definitely here.