Day 110 – Bangkok
With the shock absorbers still a few days from arriving, we were able to have a decent sleep in, and with the temperature up in the 30’s by 9:00, today wasn’t going to be the most productive of days. In fact, the most immediate concern was collecting the bikes from the airport. We knew that they had flown on the same day, but we weren’t sure exactly when we would be able to go and fetch them. So the morning was spent, wandering though the neighbourhood, lounging around the hotel, and siphoning off their internet watching the occasional TV show, while we waited to find out whether we would be able to fetch the bikes. We’ve arrived right at the end of Thai New Year, and many businesses are still closed, or on a skeleton staff. Our repeated calls to the Thai Airlines cargo department went unanswered, but until we had an answer, we were reluctant to leave the area, and so in the sweltering heat, we largely confined ourselves to our rooms, venturing out into the streets only to go and search for some of the really cheap, really tasty street food, or cruising down to the fruit stand at the end of the street, which made the most fantastic ice fruit shakes.
We were still a bit behind on blog posts, so Shan and I tag-teamed: I would write a post while she went out for a walk, and then when I was done, she would add the photos. By early afternoon, it was becoming clear that we would not be fetching our bikes today, so Shan and I took a wander around the Khao San area, which was actually pretty quiet, compared to the previous night. Walking down the street, one gets the feeling that the whole place has been constructed by cutting and pasting a small section of it over and over. Everything that is for sale will be repeated every 50 m, and one of these are the tailors, walking around in the streets with their catalogues of suits. As we were walking past one of them, he made the usual offer, and, somewhat curious, I decided to have a go. Walking inside the shop, I was actually quite impressed by the range of fabrics that were on offer. The first question was about the price, obviously. The basics seemed to be, R500 would get me a low quality suit (that’s the quality of the fabric, not the tailors work), R750 would get me medium quality, and for R1000, I could get a really good suit made, with cashmere or silk. Considering that the only suit I have is the one I shower in, I was quite tempted. It might be nice to be able to go to important functions without having to dress in whatever leftovers I could find in my cupboard. They took my measurements, just in case, and I said I’d think about it.
Just outside of the tailor’s shop was a local Thai massage parlour. We were both keen to try a massage at some point during our time here, but there was one thing that they had that we had to try: a fish foot massage. The idea is simple: inside the parlour are tanks of water, containing hundreds of tiny fish, which normally lie docile on the bottom of the tank. But when a foot is placed in the tank, they go crazy, swarming all over your foot, and then nibbling like mad. You can’t actually feel their teeth, it’s more like being enthusiastically gummed. For the first minute, it took all of our concentration and determination to not pull our feet out of the tank, it was just so ticklish. Shan in particular is really not partial to eating fish, and even less so to them eating her, but once I had gotten used to the strange feeling, I actually started to enjoy it. I think Shan was weirded out the entire time, though. After about fifteen minutes, to my disappointment and Shan’s relief, our time was up. I couldn’t actually tell if the fish had made any noticeable change to my feet, but I’m very keen to try that again.
I got back to blogging, and Shan wandered on a bit further. A few minutes away from our hotel, she found the ultimate traveller’s prize, a small market, bustling with locals, and absolutely no foreigners. After the seething mass of tourists that is Khao San Road, it was really great to see another side of the city. There was the usual selection of food stores, although there were several items that we had not seen before, and a hundred or so tables covered with small slips of paper, which on closer inspection turned out to be lottery tickets.
Dad and John had also decided to escape the pit of depredation that is Khao San and do some sight seeing. Bangkok is riddled with small waterways, as well as a fairly sizable river that flows quite close to where we are staying. They started out by catching one of the water taxi’s down to China town, which was essentially a massive market centre. From there they made a slow wander back towards our area on foot, passing the Imperial Palace, which has now been made available for tourist to visit, and is continuously thronged with visitors. They also walked through a temple containing a statue called the Reclining Buddha, made famous by the movie “The Beach”. I say famous, but really, it’s just a scene in the movie, which I’ve never seen. With some daylight still lingering, they then embarked on a private tour of the waterways and canals of Bangkok, getting a taste of the city beyond the bright lights and tourist traps.
As evening descended, we ventured out again to find some food. Things definitely take a turn for the worse at night, as the tourists who have been nursing their hangovers from the previous night have recovered sufficiently to head down to the bars and clubs. Everywhere are scantily clad white women and topless, tattooed jocks. They all seem to be cut from the same cookie-cutter mould: tanned, muscular and loud. Yes, that’s the women too. I heard a fantastic expression that perfectly describes the place: The world’s largest tourist ghetto. Everyone has an agenda. The locals are trying to make money by milking the foreigners, and the foreigners are trying to stock up on as much cheap stuff as they can and get as drunk as possible. When you pass a bar and the catch-line is “We don’t check ID cards”, you know that you are looking at the nadir of cultural exchange. Many small stands actually sell you the document of your choice, whether it be drivers licence, student card, and even passports. The police are conspicuous in their absence. You will never find a greater hive of scum and villainy.
I had decided that I would go for the suit offer after all, and so we stopped by the tailors to inform them, choose the fabric, and confirm the measurements. They assured me that they would have the material cut and ready for a fitting tomorrow, and the final product would be ready for collection by Thursday evening, as we will hopefully be leaving on Friday morning, if the shocks that we have ordered from South Africa arrive in time. With all the failed repair jobs, we had decided that it would be best to just order in the shocks from South Africa. The person that was making them for us hoped that they would be ready for shipping by Tuesday, and with two days shipping, Friday seemed like a real possibility. Dad had finally managed to get through to the Cargo department, and we were assured that we would be able to fetch the bikes tomorrow at around 8:00. Knowing that it was probably going to be a fairly busy day tomorrow, we headed back for an early night.