Friday, 10 April 2015

First impressions



8th April 2015


A traveller is someone who doesn't know where they're going. A tourist is someone who doesn't know where they've been.- Paul Theroux.

Been in Bankok three days now. It's very big. I reckon that you could get London and Paris in the same area and possibly squeeze Manhattan in as well. As far as the eye can see, on the inexpensive, spotlessly clean and efficient Skytrain system, there are skyscrapers. Sixth in the World, so I'm told.

Like this everywhere.

The only trouble is the pollution. Lots of people wearing masks and continual traffic gridlock. Apart from the excellent subway system, I've taken lots of Tuktuks, those funny three wheel vehicles that are able to get through the traffic. They are faster than taxis, but you get the full brunt of the staggering pollution.


I booked into a hotel for three days on the Internet. Wouldn't be out of place in Las Vegas; hardly surprising as it's called the Nasa Vegas hotel. Is that a question of Thai pronunciation? Who knows.

The hard sell is everywhere. Despite their great charm, the Bankokians?? Are out to make a fast buck wherever possible. On my first day, in the hotel lobby, the 'tourist info' guys beckoned me over. After telling them repeatedly that I'd just got off an eleven hour plane trip, they persisted. 'You here by yourself?' was the first question. Second question: 'you want a lady for tonight?' I tried to explain that despite my passing resemblance to Dominique Strauss-Kahn (we all look alike to Asian people, after all, with our silly round eyes), that I didn't need their admirable service, they persisted.

Now I don't know about you, but under such circumstances and leaving aside all questions of sexism, I would at least like to have some sort of menu. If you go to a restaurant, after all, you don't want to be served foi gras when what you want is steak and chips. A poor analogy perhaps, but you get my drift. Imagine some Amazon, the girls that is, not the tax dodging bookshop, turning up at your door?

Or maybe a midget.

Anyway, the food lives up to the reputation. Just eaten, for the second, night at a great street restaurant. Only trouble is that it's next to a dual carriageway. Everywhere has a dual carriageway running through it in Bankok. Cheap and simple, although admittedly there were some things of dubiety in the meat. I jettisoned what was almost certainly a piece of tripe in my cold beef salad, but the upside was that, having been there yesterday, the patron had a bottle of Leo beer before me before you could say Jack Robinson. Strange name, as the logo looks like UFO from any more than a metre away and on the label is a picture of a panther. I suspect that it's an attempt to get in on the act established by neighbouring Malaysia's Tiger Beer, made famous by our own heavy drinking Anthony Burgess.

This is a Buddhist country. I saw a monk on the subway today who had a wheelie suitcase that exactly matched his robes.

The lucky Buddha.

That being the case, it seems strange that there is no thirteenth floor to the hotel. You're Buddhists for Buddha's sake. What's that all about? As they say.

No culture shock so far, and I doubt that there will be any. Only had it twice in my life; an electric, 20-30 second LSD trip. Once in Morocco, once in New York. Enjoyed both of them, maybe Cambodia or Vietnam Nam?

Chinatown was pretty good though. Biggest one I've ever seen. I've been to my fair share of Chinatowns, but this was a big city in itself. Bought a guitar there yesterday. Skip this bit if you're not a guitar person, but suffice to say, I bought an unknown make ahead of a Yamaha at the same price. I wasn't going to traipse about with my Martin, but got a perfectly respectable instrument with, solid wood top, rosewood body, proper tuners and a soft case, all for the equivalent of 140€.

Maybe it's because I'm a country bumpkin, but the art of conversation seems to be extinct in Bankok. On trains, buses and even restaurants, people sit with their friends, but spent almost their entire time playing with their phones. At a conservative estimate, seven out of ten people on the crowded subway system spend their time gazing at their screens. Even the trains have screens every few meters, which bombard you with publicity, normally for phones and trainers.

Stepping out into the street, the assault on your wallet continues. Huge screens on the sides of tower blocks, pushing everything from beer to the latest boy's band, accompanied by very loud local pop music. As a result, I have yet to hear any real local music and even more worrying, have failed to come across a single street vendor selling edible insects, which was one of my must try things whilst here.

Finishing this off at the airport, where I'm taking a flight down south to Suratthani to sit on a beach for a while and do a bit of snorkeling. Hope they're cooking up the insects ready for my arrival.


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