Monday, November 10, 2008

Asia Adventures - Post 4 (Bangkok, Thailand)

Tuesday morning we flew off to Bangkok, Thailand. First off, the flight was awesome! It was maybe just over 90 minutes long and yet we got in flight movies on demand and a full meal! I love Asian airlines! Upon discovering their movie selections…
Gabby: “girls there is sex in the city!”
All: “oooohhhh”

While waiting at baggage claim…
Me: (about the sex in the city movie) “I got to the naked sushi part”
Gabby: “Dammit! I missed that part of the movie. That sucks balls!”
Evan: “well I’m sure we can find that within an hour in Bangkok”
Gabby: “the movie…..or sucking balls?”

I’ve heard all sorts of praise for Bangkok, but personally I felt like everyone was trying to rip us off. My tour guide book was full of scams people pull on tourists. At the airport, my book said the best way to get into the city is to take a pre-paid official taxi where there are standard rates for certain districts. The gypsy cabs were known to take you to random parts of the city and either demand you pay double the going rate or claim your hotel is full and that you should stay at their friend’s hotel (where they get a commission at). Here is the conversation between me and the cab director at the airport:
Me: taxi to Ko San Road, five people
Taxi Director (TD): you all no go in one taxi, you need a minivan one, why don’t you use my friend’s car
Me: well there is a minivan taxi right there, can we have that one
TD: there is no minivan, no you must use my friend, he will give you good price
Me: no I want that minivan RIGHT THERE
TD: will be too much, you should take two taxis
Me: how much?
TD: 500 baht each taxi
Me: no how much for the minivan
TD: oh 700 baht
Me: so one minivan is 700 and two taxis are 1000….we are going to take the minivan
TD: are you sure you don’t use my friend
Me: give me the minivan!

Another “welcome to Bangkok” moment happened when we stepped out of the cab and walked a block or two to the hotel. A homeless man squatting on the street lunged out and tried to grab Evan’s leg. Dana gave the most priceless face of horror and disgust. Hello Thailand!

Once we got to the hotel, it didn’t get much better. Evan had booked a guest house (like a cheap hotel for backpackers) which had the biggest billboard in area. He had reserved a 3-bed/person room and a 2-bed/person room. When we showed up, they gave us a 2-bed/person room instead and wanted to charge us for a 3-bed/person room. They said they didn’t have any 3-bed rooms left to which Evan told them he had RESERVED one months ago. They said that it was important to confirm the reservation to make sure the rooms are available. Evan replied that he HAD CONFIRMED YESTERDAY and here is the email the hotel sent back which agrees with his story. They all got snotty with him and basically would not admit they were wrong. Since we were exhausted from an early morning flight, we agreed to take the two 2-bed rooms only if we would be charged for two 2-bed rooms. Nope, not so easy. They kept saying that if three people sleep in a room, they it is considered a 3-bed room (even though the room only had 2 beds). Imagine the frustration. The worst part of it was that we were staring in the faces of the entire hotel staff and didn’t know how to say “we know you are ripping us off you fucking jackasses” in Thai. One thing led to another and we ended up taking the rooms (either it was the heat or the uncertainty of finding another available room in this shitty city). The third person got to sleep on the tile floor with a yoga mat that they of course charged us extra for.

Once we unpacked and changed out of clothes that were already sweated through, we started walking towards a temple that was known for beautiful sunset views. Immediately we were assaulted by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. FYI, a tuk-tuk is like a golf cart powered by a lawnmower. Since the vehicle is small and practically a cage on wheels, the drivers are notoriously known for zipping in and out of (and sometimes against) traffic. Once we told them our destination (about a 10 minute walk) they were like “1000 baht” which is equivalent to about $31 USD. Um seriously, it is about ten blocks away, and the ride from the airport was a good 30 minutes away and didn’t even cost that much. Yep, they just shout out prices hoping you don’t know the conversion rate.

So we started walking to avoid dealing with the pushy drivers (seriously, they don’t know the term personal space and will practically mash their body up against you if given the chance) and partly to explore the city. The “old district” where we were staying was chalked full of temples , statues, plazas, etc. While passing some big temple, a Thai guy in business dress approached us and explained he was getting off of work and he was some administrator for the royal guard. He even waved some sort of palace ID in our face but how am I supposed to know what a royal ID looks like (let alone read Thai). I don’t know exactly what he said to convince us, but the group followed him to a nearby temple. He explained that it was the Queen’s birthday, so tourists were allowed access to inner temples that normally are closed off except for the royal family. We ooohhh and aaaawweeed at our first temple visit (them Thai sure know how to build them uh-ha). The helpful business guy then asked us where else we would be visiting that evening. We really didn’t have a plan except for dinner and sunset viewing. He pointed on our map a few areas where we could eat good authentic food and buy discount jewelry. There evidently was a jewelry factory that we could buy wholesale jewels at. He then told us since it was the Queen’s birthday, we could visit this silk market bazaar that was only open that day (think street fair open for today’s unique celebration). The thought of missing a one-day only sale on silks and jewels was too much to pass, so the group jumped on two tuk-tuks conveniently waiting at the entrance of this off-the-beaten-path temple. Getting suspicious yet?

Okay, I read in my travel guide book all about “gem scams”. Basically, the Thai con-artist tells you to buy all these precious jewels at really cheap prices and then sell them in the States for a huge profit. Too bad the so-called jewels are really just cut glass. I warned the group about this and I kept my skeptical eyes wide open. The tuk-tuk ride was thrilling and utterly suicidal at the same time. We all got a good kick out of it. We arrived at the “jewelry warehouse” that sold cheap precious gems. They ushered us in like kings and made us watch a 10 minute video about the wonderful Thai jewels. It was hard to keep quiet during the film because A) why the hell were we watching an informative video on vacation and B) it was filmed in the 80’s along with the tacky fake lava special effects. The mother salesman (the only Thai person there over the age of 40 and obviously the person in charge) ushered us to the jewel room. All the prices were listed in baht (Thai currency) and thankfully I brought my calculator. I swear every time I whipped out my calculator (either it be at a food stall, street vender, taxi driver, etc) the local’s faces fell. Their inner monolog was like “shit, this one knows how to convert”. A simple single strand pearl necklace was priced at 10,000 baht which is about 3 to 4 times the going rate in the States. Almost all of us stopped looking once we realized it was a scam. Evan and I saw a beer pull at the drink counter and ordered some beer to occupy our time while others browsed to be nice. The mother salesman jumped on us like a hawk and said with fire in her eyes “no beer until AFTER PURCHASE!!!”. Frightened at her sudden attack, we sulked off to the corner. Within five minutes, she approached Evan and said in sweet hushed tones “if you want beer, I can get you beer, do you want, I get…” Evidently, she figured that scolding us would not encourage us to buy her jewels.

While waiting, we read up on the tour guide books and they said to beware of:
A) Seemingly helpful people wearing business attire on the street during working hours (because in theory they should be inside at work right)
B) One day only sales due to a local holiday or festival
C) Anything to do with jewels
Um, check check and check. It was a straight from the book scam and we still fucking fell for it (although I maintain I was skeptical from the beginning because of the jewel scam warning in my book).

Yep, that place was a total scam. Luckily, the only thing that we wasted was our time. The waiting tuk-tuk drivers wanted to take us to the next stop, the discount silk shop only open today in honor of the Queen’s birthday….yeah right. Evan was trying to negotiate with them since we obviously didn’t want to visit yet another scam palace, but in the end they ended dropping us off a block from the store. Did I mention this store is in the middle of ghetto Bangkok? The neighborhood was not listed in any of our tourist guides because no tourist in their right fucking minds would go to this area.

After walking a few blocks in the Thai hood, we were fortunate to flag down a passing cab. Owing to our earlier mistake, we requested that he use the meter instead of quoting us some outrageous price. Mistake number two. The guy drove us around in circles, through pedestrian malls, and at one point on the freeway (wait I don’t remember getting on this street before…).

We finally just jumped out at the scene of a night market. Not just any night market, but the ping-pong district market. For those who don’t know, the ping-pong district is a bunch of strip joints filled with naked women, men, he-shes, its, etc. We were quickly assaulted by shady men asking us “ping-pong show?” For a bargain price, we followed one guy to the second floor of dark strip joint. In the center were four nude or semi nude “dancers”. My count was two girls, two girly men (they were the ones with boob jobs and wearing oddly lumpy thongs). I guess the size of the crowd (us four and another pair of guys across the way) didn’t really whip them up into a dance furry because they half-heartily tapped their toes to the stripper music.

A chunky aging fully nude Thai woman then got on stage and did the following tricks:
1) Stuck a lit sparkler up her whoo-ha (not the sparking end, the handle end). Using her special muscles to hold on, she waved the wand around in circles like on the 4th of July.
Impressed yet? Wait till what was next…
2) Stuck a tube up her va-jay-jay. A birthday cake a flame with two dozen burning candles was put on stage. The woman then hovered/squatted over the cake and systematically blew out each and every candle with puffs of air originating out of…well you know where. Tall about harnessing the va-jart for a useful purpose.
The best is yet to come…
3) The woman laid down legs agape and proceeded to load her coochie with ping-pong balls. She then shot said balls out at the audience. Yeah we were a good 10 feet away and the balls were bouncing off of the tables/seats around us. I was laughing so hard because while she was launching rapid fire ping pong balls at us, Gabby kept holding up her purse to shield her and Dana. Oh yeah, there was a lot of screaming and ducking and plain old grossed out giggles. Me, hilarious….but thankfully her aim was not that great and I wasn’t touched by one of the balls (however she was able to hit the guy across the room several times square in the chest….eewwwww).

Okay I apologize for those who were unaware of what exactly a “ping-pong” show was. Sadly, I was intrigued to see more of the show (I mean what can you possibly do to follow shooting ping pong balls out your crotch…..tie a bow, whistle the theme from Andy Griffin, file my taxes…) but a pack of burly madams blockaded our table and demanded we pay ten times the amount we agreed upon beforehand and we therefore made a hasty retreat. Evan says this happens a lot where they lure you in and then try to trick you into paying more (making you think you are in the wrong). Um, actually this happened EVERYWHERE in Thailand!

The quote of the day came from Evan. He quoted the one piece of advice his friend’s brother gave him: “never challenge a Thai prostitute to a game of connect four”.


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