Bangkok, Thailand

It's worth putting up with the coronary-inducing traffic jams, pollution, annual floods and sticky weather to experience one of Asia's most exciting cities. Bangkok has dominated Thailand's urban hierarchy, as well as its political, commercial and cultural life, since the late 18th century. Although the late 20th century boom is over - you can still shop in air-conditioned comfort in Western-style malls - the city is a long way from being 'tamed' by commercial homogeneity.

Bangkok proper seethes on the east side of the Chao Phraya River, drawing rural Thai folk into its cluttered fold daily. The city is reportedly sinking at a rate of 90cm (36in) every year, but there's too much happening in this vibrant city for anyone to get that sinking feeling for too long.


4 Aug 2000 - Bangkok, Thailand

Read any tourist guide and you will see that there is lots to do in Bangkok. Well there are a few attractions to see but simply experiencing Bangkok is sufficient. Shamefully though we ignored the famous canals, Jim Thompson's House and China town. (Why see China town - lets see Thailand instead!)

Don't be pressured by the agents at the airport when you arrive and are trying to find a hotel. In this country a deal can always be done and everything has a price. This is bloody tedious as often all you want to do is buy something. In the end we got to the point of being rude. Being nice was like having 'mug' stamped on your head. Hywel's comedy approach was to start the bidding war at 10% of the price they were asking.

In summer 2000, the temperature in Bangkok reached the 40s and this was compounded by high humidity and windless conditions at ground level in this concrete jungle. The pollution is awful and the general speed of life can be described as hectic. Tuk tuks wind in and out of the traffic, people march around doing their thing and sidewalks are crowded with your ordinary pedestrians and stalls selling clothes and all manner of food.

The smell is a mixture of smog and exotic foods wafting from the many eateries. Be brave, put any doubts away and eat as the food tastes great and is fantastically cheap. Watch out for the scam merchants though who hang around street corners trying to con the farangs with their schemes. Don't trust anyone was our approach.

Temples are great but once you've seen one you've seen them all was our attitude. Word of warning, you must wear trousers to enter a temple. This in itself puts you off seeing them as sweat pours down your own temples the minute you leave your air conditioned hotel.

On our first and only night we went to see the Thai boxing. You can send little lads out to get the beers for you while you sit and then pay them on their return. After this spectacle it was off to an expensive restaurant because the chaps insisted on eating at an up market sort of place as a few had the attitude that 'these heathen can't be trusted to prepare clean food'. We were the only customers there and the ratio of serving staff to customer (ie us) was 1-1. We were watched closely and as soon as a plate was emptied it disappeared.

For desert it was Pat-Pong, the infamous brothel and go-go club area. Again, be on the watch for scams and everyone (usually the ladies) asking for, "You give tip." Some bloke took us to a strip bar/watch women do all sorts of things with their parts. I made it clear that there is no charge for entry (to the bar) and that there is no further cost to entering. "Of course" he said and led us enthusiastically past the other hawks, hookers and many white and red skinned Westerners.

Once in we were instantly assaulted by 10 hookers all vying for our attention. Stray hands and offers represented by facial expressions and hand movements were fended off and our wallets held tightly.

Beers were ordered, girls paraded down a stage like cattle and others smoked cigarettes (I wonder if the cigarette packets provide warnings of the dangers of smoking from one's genitalia? If not, someone should have told the nicotine addicts on stage), took off bottle tops and popped balloons with projectiles fired from blowpipes stuck were the sun never usually sees. On top of this, the bloke who led us there tried his luck and asked us all for a tip. He came down the line and started with Chamberlain. He paid, so did Hywel and then it was my turn. Not a f***ing chance.

It was quite a nervous atmosphere but the girls eventually leave you alone to try their luck with the next bunch of tourists who come in. The worst was when I was given an unsolicited shoulder massage while drinking my beer and then being made to pay a 'tip'. It was only about a pound but it goes to show that you always have to be aware.

After this first day and night in Bangkok we decided to get the hell out and leave for one of the islands. 24 hours of heat, a lack of interest in the museums and temples and the full on attack from hookers and con-merchants at night was enough for us.
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