HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thai Tales 3/3 - Bangkok Dangerous (Part 2 of 2)

Fortunately, my second day in Bangkok was far better than the first. I spent the morning reading and then headed out on foot into the immense city. I made my initial, brief, foray into Chinatown with Heidi, a lovely young Australian woman that struck up a conversation with me on the sidewalk. I couldn't hang around though, because I had to go back to the embassy to pick up my visa. I took the clean, efficient metro to Sliom, a major commercial street in central Bangkok. After an Indian lunch that reminded of some meals I had in Kuala Lumpur, I walked over to Wattahyu Rd., which is home to a super high-end car dealership, luxury condo towers, and a ton of embassies, including the fortress-like U.S. embassy.
Silom Rd. and the Skytrain.

Urban jungle
 After getting my visa (success!) I continued on to Sukhumvit Rd., which also has a Skytrain line running down it. This part of town looked a lot like major cities in America, at least until I came across the sidewalk market in the Nana area of the street. This market is noteworthy not for the banal things on offer: shirts, sunglasses, etc., but for the much more interesting items for sale: packets of Valium and Viagra, porn movies, lube, and dildos. That's a bit of the Bangkok I was expecting!

I took the metro back to Chinatown to explore it in depth, and what a fascinating place it is. Unlike other Chinatowns I've been to it is not gentrified at all, and it is still quite raw. It's a chaotic mess of commercialism, with major streets and narrow sois simply overflowing with goods. Here are just some of the things I could've bought: lawnmowers, shark fin soup, bird's nest soup, whole cooked birds, gold jewelry, any other kind of jewelry you could possibly think of, fake plastic vegetables, actual vegetables, chainsaws, giant stuffed animals, dead fish, live fish, crabs, grandfather clocks, chocolate shaped like animals, and coffins.

There was so much street food available I would've ended up in one of those coffins had I tried it all. I couldn't even guess what a lot of it was, but everything looked amazing. I settled on some delicious fish, an omellete, and rice, eaten on the sidewalk, the exhaust fumes of passing cars adding a nice burnt petroleum aftertaste.
I made my way to the river and caught a fantastic sunset view of the city before wandering around Chinatown a bit more. I then took the metro back to Silom: there was a certain street I wanted to check out.

Patpong is one of the most famous red-light districts in the world. While I'm not usually one to seek out places like that, I would've felt a little foolish if I left Bangkok without checking out one of the things the city is perhaps most famous for. So, I turned onto Soi Patpong and found...nothing too interesting. I walked by a "Topless Bar" and a "Topless Pool Hall," but everyone was definitely fully clothed. There were girls outside a few places but they looked vacant and bored, not even trying to get me to come inside. I suppose it was a little early (around 8 p.m.), but I was still expecting more. I've seen much worse on Bourbon St. back in New Orleans. Clearly, the large number of tourists that visit Patpong to gawk have had the unintended effect of taming the place down quite a bit. That disappointment didn't bring me down much though, considering how big of an improvement the day was over the previous one. I went back to the hotel and crashed so I could get some sleep before my early flight back to Saigon.

Overall, then, Bangkok was quite the mix of emotions. My first day, while certainly enjoyable at times, was one of the worst days I've ever had on a trip, and it very nearly left me dead. The second day, however, showed me Bangkok at its best: great street food, modern amenities mixed with old-school neighborhoods, amazing and entertaining street scenes, it really can be a wonderful place. Just keep your guard up if you go, and buckle in for the wild ride this city of 15 million is sure to give you.

On an unrelated note, I hope you're all at least paying a bit of attention to the incredible events going on in Egypt. This is an amazing story, although the future is far from certain, but rarely do dictators go as quietly as Mubarak ultimately did. There could've easily been far more bloodshed in a region with a history of that. I'd like to congratulate the Egyptian people on their stunning accomplishment. If you haven't been following this, here's a great recap of events from Al-Jazeera.


  1. Just fyi regarding the 'red light district'; human trafficking is huge in Southeast Asia. By human trafficking, I mean women who are held against their will and forced to sleep and do other things with men; their passports are held, they're beaten, drugged and all sorts of horrendous things one can barely fathom. The money? Not theirs to keep. I think that explains a lot. The State Department published an annual Trafficking in Persons Report which gives specifics on a lot of countries including Thailand and Vietnam. Check it out for more info.

  2. Are you the Heather Perne from BGSU?