Picture Above: John Denver songs are ESSENTIAL in Southeast Asia. A bar named after his famous song Country Road.
At the young age of 23, I ventured into a land of exotic beauty and mystery. Thailand had been a place that I had never even fathomed about until I lived in Asia. Living in Asia and talking to expats, I was lured by stories of Southeast Asia. The stories were flat out crazy, sometimes dangerous and always about the beach. After I traveled to Indonesia in 2004, Thailand was a must! I laugh now because I sported the headband and wore the baggy, yet airy Thai fisherman pants. Had I eaten Banana pancakes then I would have considered myself the stereotypical Bohemian backpacker searching for the meaning of life. Trust me, we saw them EVERYWHERE, especially on Khao San Road. If you have ever seen the Beach with Leonardo Dicaprio then you know what I am talking about. My great friend Ben Jordan convinced me to go and travel to Thailand since he had been several times. I felt confident traveling with him. His stories inspired me to try more different food. In fact, come to think of it, he is the first person that I ever had Thai food with! THANKS BEN! Kop Khun Kap (Thank you in Thai: Feminine Version)!
Traveling to Thailand was a good way for me to see some of the other parts of the world and some of the underground activity that takes place in Southeast Asia. I grew up in a pretty sheltered area of the U.S. The stories that a lot of my expat friends in Japan told me about were confirmed in Thailand.
Look closer at the picture above. At first glance, you might look at it and think its some kind of fried rice or vegetables. I can tell you that this kiosk of “lovelies” is full of protein. This kiosk and many other kiosks were centrally located in Soi Cowboy to feed the drunk and adventurous. These my friends are BUGS….lots and lots of little creatures that were raised in pipes and tubes. These “lovelies” are not just bugs that crawl around but they are raised for consumption. On the left side, second from the top are water beetles. Below the water beetles are silk worms. Below that are scorpions. Cockroaches, crickets and caterpillars also made their debut on this lovely stand. My friend Ben ordered a bag of these “lovelies” and went to town. I honestly could not handle watching this endeavor, but I did my best to support my friend in his bug challenge. Of course, he had many a beer, Singha’s to be exact. Ben attracted a large crowd of native Thai people. In the round, Ben was the main attraction. The lady grabbed a mixed variety of bugs and tossed them in a chili oil and then handed him the bag with a Cheshire cat smile. Ben started crunching away. I kept cringing and squirming (no pun intended). He got to the scorpion. Ben was worried if he ate the stinger, that he would have an asthma attack. We kept going back and forth about the scorpion. We figured that they would not include the stinger. He took a bite into it. His first description was “MEATY”. It was mealy and substantial. He got to the cockroach and I about lost it. This cockroach was about 2 inches long. Living in Japan, cockroaches are a normal part of life. Cockroaches in Japan do not discriminate any household. They show up in the cleanest of houses and the messiest and they FLY!!!!!!!! Having to adjust to cockroaches in Asia, I could not handle watching my friend eat one! I literally almost vomited. THANK GOD…Ben dropped the cockroach and the eating frenzy of bugs abstained. I do give credit for Ben having the balls to do something so crazy like eating bugs. It was definitely an experience that I will never forget. I watch Anthony Zimmern all the time on the Travel Channel and it always takes me back to Thailand.
Bugs were a big deal, but the other shocking thing was the blatent sex trafficking of women and strip clubs. I had heard about the underworld of Thailand and heard little rumors about sex trafficking of women. I have heard of poor girls being taken at young ages in Southeast Asia. I have heard about how they condition them into being prostitutes and dancers. It’s one thing to hear about it, but when you see it with your own eyes it becomes a reality, a DISTURBING REALITY. I passed by many bars where there were ridiculous signs about girls. There must have been some coding within the signs, because I didn’t understand them fully, I still don’t. I took a peek into one of these establishments and saw at least a dozen girls dancing around poles. They had tight booty shorts on, with crazy tall heels and no tops on. Honestly, there was not much dancing going on like the dancing that takes place in the U.S. at strip clubs. The girls were just casually walking around the poles and shifting their weight from heel to heel. I did however notice a number on their shorts and thongs. I asked Ben what these numbers were for. The numbers were on the girls to buy! WHOAH!!!!!! When I found that fact out, I looked at the guys in the establishment. These were young guys in their 20’s, good looking that you would see at any nightclub in San Diego. They were buying these girls for days or even weeks. We are talking about buying girls for a hundred dollars or less. It was shocking to see this, but it also opened my eyes into underground activity around the world. If this is going on in Thailand, there must be much worse in other parts of the world. I saw guys all around Soi Cowboy hanging out with young Thai girls. The question then each time my friend Ben and I went out was, “Is that a hooker with that guy?” The situation of trafficking in Southeast Asia is a serious problem, that is all that I can say about that.
Elephants and Monkeys?
So Soi Cowboy was definitely a crazy, eclectic and strange street. So as we bar hopped around Soi Cowboy, it was not unusual for some of these Thai women to just approach my friend Ben in front of me! I guess they could tell that we were just friends. The Thai girls were adamant about trying to get some business and I was not a factor at all. It was quite amusing to watch. When it hit midnight, that is when things got really strange on Soi Cowboy. The numbers of men increased tenfold for reasons explained above. However, animals also started to make their appearance. I just remember hearing crazy birds squawk and I remember seeing monkeys swing around. Just as I thought that was weird enough, I saw baby and mama elephants swaying their trunks back and forth through the street. WHAT? ELEPHANTS at midnight? I thought I was in a B rated film. You could buy peanuts and feed them to the elephants. You get drunk people, elephants and monkeys…..you are bound for business. I paid to hold a monkey, but still to this very day I cannot find the picture for it! It was funny, as we were trying to get a photo with this cute monkey, he kept moving his hands and head. It took us literally 10 photo shots to get this monkey to look directly at the camera and to get him to wrap his hands around my head. He was a silly monkey. When I felt his leathery monkey butt on my hands, I then got a little creeped out. Hand sanitizer was not a big trend back in 2004. I thought Soi Cowboy was pretty intense, but heard from others that Pat Pong was even crazier!
Every night is alive and full of energy in Bangkok. You can go shopping for cloth purses, pillow covers with white elephants, jingling jewelry, sandals, bright colored tank tops, funny slogan t-shirts and hats. The night markets and bars are buzzing with activity. College kids were living like kings and queens off of daddy and mommy’s money. I ran into a lot of Brits, Aussies, Kiwis and Germans. In fact, many of the places that we stayed at had German as the first translation over English. It is not hard to hear people clinking their glasses together or to see someone in a bar fight. You’ll hear the thumping discotheques play fusion music that mixed up British drums and bass with some rap and hip hop from the states. The only thing that was a little difficult for me was to drink cocktails while your body was sweating from the humidity. It is so important to drink lots of water in Thailand when it is hot. It is so easy to get dehydrated. Also, make sure that you are buying bottled water! Watch out for condiments in Thailand, in fact stay away from them. Many Thai places do not clean the lids of condiments and it becomes a cesspool of bacteria. You are better off just getting the sweet chili sauce that gets served with your meals.
Other Things To Do in Bangkok:
- Go to Sukumvit Night Market
- Go to the Jim Thompson House to see a traditional Thai House and to learn about his successful Silk Industry. Jim Thompson disappeared in Cambodia and no one knows what happened to him. This house was a highlight of my trip!
- Take a Thai Cooking Class! Thai Food has some of the most interesting flavors in the world!
- A MUST WHEN IN THAILAND! Take a Tuk Tuk to one of the major night attractions! These are some of the worst automobiles for fuel emissions, yet they are a cultural staple of Thailand. You might not be helping the environment on this day, but the experience on a tuk tuk is a MUST DO FOR THAILAND!
- Erawan Tea Room: In the mood for High Tea, go check out this gem. Sophisticated feel located within the Grand Hyatt.
- St. Regis Bangkok & the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok: Just for shits and giggles, go check out this luxury hotel!
- Grand Palace: There are definite rules to consider when visiting. You will have to take off your shoes at parts of the temple, so bring some sandals (not expensive ones). You will also have to wear a sarong! Read up on etiquette before visiting this beauty!
- Ride the Sky Train! Great way to see Bangkok above the city. Convenient and affordable. Taxis and tuk tuks are great, but a lot of traffic occurs in Bangkok.
- Siam Square Bangkok: Major Shopping Area that has designer labels.
- Floating Markets: Go check out the Floating Markets. Keep in mind, that you will need to get up early if you really want to see a REAL floating market and not one made for tourists. My friend Ben and I were duped. RESEARCH!
- Thai Massage: Wat Pho Thai Massage School is a great place to get a massage. Keep in mind that Thai Massage is usually assisted yoga massage. It is not like a relaxing Swedish massage. It can be quite different for someone who is not into interactive massage. It was an experience for me! A lady literally walked on my back. Could be stressful for some!
- Street Food in Bangkok: Always eat where you see lots of Thai people eating! This means that it is GOOD FOOD!
- Chatuchak Weekend Market: A great place to see locals shopping for fresh vegetables and items.
- Bangkok National Museum
- Bangkok Puppet Theater
- All the Various Buddha’s and Temples (Too many to list here!)
- Bangkok National Theater: Place to go see traditional Thai dancing
- Royal Barges Museum: Where they store the King’s Royal Barges
- Bangkok Canal Tour: Was super touristy, but we got a chance to see some of the traditional Thai homes on stilts located on the canal.
There are SOOOO many more things to do in Thailand, but that is up to your liking. Here are some travel articles about Thailand for your reading pleasure. Swadee kap! (Thank you)
- Conde Nast: Articles about Thailand
- Bangkok: Travel Channel
- Bangkok Travel Guide: National Geographic
- 48 Hours in Bangkok
- History of Bangkok: Lonely Planet
- Time Out: Bangkok
- Travel Guides: New York Times: Bangkok
- Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations: Thailand