Bangkok is one of the most visited and by extension – busiest cities in the world, the very phonetic sound conjuring words on my tongue like brash and bold, quick and run. I spit out the word the way the locals spit in the streets: Dirty, inappropriate, harsh, bristle, push, pulse, skyline, lights, nights, malls, scraper, inhale, life.
In this sense Bangkok has an automotive conveyor belt purpose of sucking, sometimes chewing churning then spitting you out and before you know it you’ve returned, usually for onward travel connections, but never the less you are back on that belt trying to balance. I cant quite work out how I feel about Bangkok. I flew Asia’s high season of January with Etihad airlines 470 return. Not bad at all, my cheapest trip to date. Upon arriving the airport is sheek, clean and smiling, then subsequently you are quite suddenly born out onto the streets of taxis and tuk tuk relentlessness. I remember arriving after a fourteen hour plane ride and being greeted by two drunk hippy travelers stroking my blue hair and offering me help as well as a swig of ominous alcohol.
WELCOME TO BANGKOK Khao San road is like an old spinster madame who still attempts seasons in Bognor and Magaluf, I feel sorry for her one moment then angry, affronted then just as quickly amused.
I HATE BANGKOK – with its scams at every corner every agenda every person. TRUST NO ONE. There is no lucky Budha For gods sake do not purchase a suit or be lead to any ‘tourist information centers”. On my second and third trips back to Bangkok I avoided Khoa San Road in favour of Siam or Suhkummit districts and I fell in love with the BTS skytrain / metro system in the way one does in say Berlin.
I LOVE BANGKOK – with its 50Baht (1 english pound) pad Thai and its rows of foot massage bars in the road and its cheeky chattering locals. My first sleepless night in Bangkok was a lonely planet hostel – Suneta. I was awoken by the cry every traveler waits for ‘BED BUGS GET UP AND OUT”. By this time Id barely slept three hours in the 24 I had traveled. Off with my clothes it was. Having said this I would still recommend this hostel for its location, staff and price (US9). The tourism in Bangkok is as obvious as the humid smog, you cannot move for travel agents selling tours. For this very reason I did not visit much as I was adapting to life alone and this new ground which felt screamingly similar to Delhi to me. Ping Pong shows are offered nightly, every tuk tuk driver making crude popping sounds in their mouth’s with menus such as;
“Pussy swallows razor” “Pussy eats banana” “Pussy spits out ping pong”
All very Dusk Til Dawn-esque lude descriptions of human trafficked vagina. I met countless travelers who like me didn’t agree with it but then changed their minds thinking “it is something I have to see” (As a feminist and a decent human I did not change my mind but I did ask many a traveler questions). What they saw? Every single traveler I spoke to sold stories of young women looking dead pan and miserable to the point of making the audience unsettled as they performed lude atrocious acts upon their genitals to the sound of western jeers and laughter all the while not once emitting a smile. Am I surprised? Not an ounce. Most but not all are immigrant women trafficked from neighboring countries who rarely see any of the western money, some stories I researched grazed my female soul and left me angry at my peers and countrymen. Because of this I have distinct memories of making friends with two Swedish girls and devouring “chang towers” these are like liter towers of the local beer and then barking at the tuk tuk drivers about ‘feminist ping pong”. Those same towers had me puking long into the hostel toilet the morning after, a cleanse if ever there was of the taste of Bangkoks darkest traits.
I decided fairly early on I wanted to flee into Cambodia’s arms, my first ‘big border leap being to Siem reap – home of the famous Angkor Wat temples. For this journey I needed a long distance bus, now I had read about this border crossing being Asia s most notorious for scams and fake borders with every message board advising the government run bus at 750Baht was legitimately the safest option. I was all set to be a good solo girl and take this route when I met Louise a lovely swede who said she was going by 200Baht minivan but was aware of every scam. The lure of adventure and the inviting price made me agree to this sketchy plan, along with the knowledge that as a natural born worrier and over thinker I had revised every single scam like it was a university test.
CROSSING THE BORDER – SCAMBODIA “YOU NO PAY? THEN YOU STAY FOREVER”
Classic Asia- the bus was late but surely enough an older man appeared with minivan and then ‘visa application forms’. SCAM 1
“But there will be queues, this is the way, the bus no wait for you”
Me and Louise exchanged knowing looks of “here we go”. At every chance we had to insist upon doing the application at the border against cries of “önly 1600Baht if you do now” (almost double the price at the border USD30). SCAM 2 Constantly change drivers leaving no one and everyone accountable along the journey. When we got into our minivan it had other victims in the form of Daines and Italians. I quickly ascertained to everyone that the road will be full of scams and noone STRICTLY noone is to give any money until at the border. Oh how quickly people fell off that wagon. I felt like I was harboring a Jew among Nazis Germany telling everyone DO NOT BETRAY US, STAY QUIET.(Yes I am indulgent and dramatic but its my one time at being a leader .. kind of). Soon we arrived at a fake border SCAM 3 – a sketchy cafe, one guy had GPS which showed we were a mile left of the real border. Out come the ‘applications’. I am first to decline and say politely how I will wait for the real border. The guy leaves me alone, not wanting to make a scene in case I alert the others, which I do. Those nearest me who remain with shifty eyes that look at me as if to say “äre you sure…Maybe I will just do it y’know”. Some people fall victim and begin filling out, then when of course money is asked and a great deal indeed for a supposed “express service” that’s when shit hits the fan and it all goes off.
My one mistake on this path and me and Louise kick ourselves for it now was giving this man my bus ticket (SCAM 4). Automatically I assumed it procedure, however once the Daines start rejecting the applications and shaking their head and we all agree not to pay, we ask for our tickets back…. People begin to get angry, fists bang tables, shouts for police, at one point I even have an 18 stone Thai madam in a bum bag shouting in my face “THEY SAY YOU BUY VISA, YOU GO YOUR OWN WAY THEN…GET OUT”. There are suddenly camera phones out on each side, somewhere in the border town of Poipet a man has a photo of me wearing not only a makeshift bandanna but a frown mixed with an “im aware someones taking a photo so angle your face a tad” photograph. The Danes demands the man to stop photographing him to which the small man turns towards a nearby plant insisting he’s simply photographing his trees THANKYOUVERYMUCH. Im not even hiding my laughter at this point and still posing (just in case) urging everyone to calm down and put their backpacks on. A fellow westerner points us in the way of the border and we walk for ten minutes in blistering heat to the lines where borders combine and part. More traps await in the form of scam signs and “helpful” locals. Once again I urge everyone to just follow the official sign which we do that leads us to safety. Or almost. IMMIGRATION So at immigration an official sign reads VISA USD 30 then below on paper is scrawled USD30 +100BAHT. I had read about this scam too. However once again in my group I was the only one standing my ground (okay it was only 2 English pounds but still, were all tired and exhausted and its principle!). Two times immigration turned me away half barking to me that I “stay here forever then”. Then low and behold after all the people who are willing to give 100Baht pass through, me and Louise are let in. YES !!!! I HAD BECOME TOUGH!!! It was perhaps the toughest moment in my life because I am a sensitive bean and natural crier but my God that day I felt not only survived but strong AND SASSY (and also because everyone else seemed impressed and that’s what counts right? :-p !
I wont go on but there were two more scam buses from here (because the Thai Madame had taken our onward tickets as punishment) and then a “free” tuk tuk, which in poor Louise’s case wasn’t free at all as she was the last among a group of Khmer men in the dark alone in the fuck end of nowhere.
Fifteen hours later and I arrive at Siem Reaps “Mad Monkey” chain. A chain of hostels I will come to love and rely on throughout travelling Cambodia. They are pricier than the average ($6-7) but with that comes the promise of clean beds, tours, and most certain debauchery.
Next chapter will give an insight into Siem Reap from nightlife on pub street, to me crying in an alley over a boy, to the wonder that really is Angkor Wat. – Stevie xxx @lightofthedragon #longandlost