Two sides of Bangkok
Depressed by the volume of traffic, prostitutes and hawkers near my hotel, I was determined to search for some nicer bits of Bangkok at the weekend. I love water, so I started by walking to the klong (canal) nearest to the hotel, where I took a water taxi the whole of its length. Suddenly a different world appeared, as behind the shiny new tower blocks are rickety old wooden houses and shacks, mostly covered with a veritable forest of pot plants, where cats prowl, women are busy cooking and washing, and the men laze around in hammocks watching the world go by.
The water is dirty, and smelly, of course, and the water taxis have plastic “curtains” at the sides to protect the passengers from splashes – so it isn’t the best tourist transport, but nevertheless it is miles better than the traffic jams out on the roads.
Not that I’m complaining about any of it. The choice of restaurants near my hotel in Sukhumvit was superb, with Italian, Japanese – even a Manchester United Restaurant and Bar! But everywhere you look there are these couples – older, unattractive white man (receding hairline, beer belly, etc) with a beautiful, slim young Thai girl on his arm – that really bother me.
Why? I don’t disapprove of prostitution, so it’s not that. But I think that those who indulge in prostitution should have the grace to be slightly embarrassed about it, and so to keep it quiet. Here, however the men look like the cat that got the cream, so proud of their ‘conquest’. But surely they must realise that everyone knows they couldn’t attract a girl like that in a million years unless they were paying her? The girls seem to have no shame either.
But anyway, away from that Bangkok has some nice, interesting areas. After my canal trip I went to visit Wat Pho, to see the enormous reclining Buddha as well as all the hundreds of other buddhas in side temples dotted around the complex. There were surprisingly few tourists there (perhaps tricked by the many men in the area who tell you, “It’s closed today, but I can arrange for you to do a good shopping trip instead…”) and the place had a very relaxing atmosphere. I spent three hours there. Although I have to admit that even there the other side of Bangkok intruded briefly. Walking down a little lane between side temples, I looked to my right when I heard someone gasp, and was surprised to see a Thai man standing there masturbating. Not quite the respect for Buddha that you expect inside the grounds of the country’s major Buddhist temple!
Wanting to see more of the water afterwards I took a one-hour tour on a longtail boat of the Thonburi area of the city – a labyrinth of canals lined with wooden houses perched on stilts above the water and a level of peace and tranquillity that couldn’t be imagined from the busy streets.
On Sunday a colleague took me to the famous Chatuchak weekend market. It is enormous, selling everything from camping gear and Buddha statues to orchids and puppies. We wandered its lanes for several hours and I bought Tshirts, sandals and a dress. I resisted the Buddha statues but gazed longingly at a giant painting of a magnolia tree in bloom on strips of old wood. It was the size of one wall of a room, and I could just imagine it looking spectacular on the wall of one of those enormous old London warehouse flats.
But this trip was over far too soon (eight days in total), and I am drafting this whilst waiting for my connecting flight in Nairobi airport. A nine hour flight which will get me back home to Dakar this evening, before I have to turn around again 24 hours later to fly all the way back here again…