Bangkok – City of Many Contrasts…

By day the city is a busy commercial hub sporting modern skyscrapers, modern Mega Malls like the Platinum Fashion Mall, the Siam Paragon, Central World, MBK Siam, Siam Discovery, Siam Center, and ICONSIAM and Observation Towers in the tops of today’s newest and tallest buildings.  By night the seedy side of Siam emerges in the bars, massage parlors, and bordellos of Patong’s Red Light District, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy.

The shopping in the malls of Bangkok can compete with any city in the world.  Every major luxury brand from Rolex to Gucci has a presence in every mall.  And the Malls themselves are entertainment destinations drawing throngs of tourists and locals alike to dine in over-priced restaurants and to piss away their hard-earned money on the latest and greatest fashions, gadgets and crap in a fruitless attempt to fill their empty souls. 

I guess the same can be said for the flesh shopping in the Red Light Districts after the sun goes down.  Anything and everything is for sale.  And the pace seems almost frenetic as men of all races, shapes and ages are aggressively wooed by mamasons, drink girls and doormen all jockeying to drag the Farang into their establishment for “a drink”.

In talking to one of the drink girls (in this case much older than a girl) in Nana Plaza I learned that the women receive 20 percent on any drink a customer buys them.  So, on a $5 drink the lady receives just a dollar.  In order, to earn a living these women must sweet talk men out of a lot of drinks.  And according to the lady I interviewed all the drink girls are also prostitutes available for the hour or night.

The economics are interesting.  The Farang must pay a bar fine for taking the lady out of the bar of around 500 Bat, 900 Bat for the room for an hour and 2000 Bat for the action.  Total that is about $108 for an hour of recreational sex with a stranger that has provided the same service to countless other men.  The girl’s cut then is about $64 for the hour.   And in case you are wondering – I paid Mae (my middle age drink girl) the hour fee just to sit and explain how things worked in the bar.

Mae, closer to 50 than 40, was working in the only bar in Nana Plaza that hired older women.  She is a recent widow having lost her 84-year-old Australian husband about a year ago.  She was a school teacher in her village and has a 17-year-old daughter living with her parents.  Neither her daughter, parents or anyone in the village knows what she is doing for a living.  And she says she earns more money as a drink girl and part-time prostitute than she did as a teacher.

It is surreal to see packs of young white guys stumbling from one bar to the next so drunk that they are propping each other up and men in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s parading around with girls barely 20 on their arms and in some cases the girls are helping them shuffle along lol.  Reminded me of the old Bob Seger song “Fire Down Below”. 

Another absurd contrast in Bangkok is the opulence of the King’s palaces and the wealthy’s mansions and the tin and scrap wood hovels of the masses.  I’ve included some of the photos I took while I was on a long-tail boat canal cruise of houses that are little more than shacks as well as the gold gilded palaces of the king.  Incredibly people live in these dilapidated buildings without plumbing and wash their clothes, their hair, and their bodies in the filthy waters of the river. 

Attached are photos of the Bang Pa-In Palace, the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho Temple (Reclining Buddha), Wat Mahathat, Wat Na Phra Men, Wat Kokaya Sutharam and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).  Also included are photos I took at Ayutthaya, a UNESCO site, and 14th Century Palace of the Siamese King.

In the group of photos you will see several with Buddha’s face embedded in a tree.  This was not done by man.  Siam bounced back and forth between Hinduism and Buddhism from the 12th to the 14th Century.  At some point in the back and forth when the Hindu’s were in power they destroyed much of the Ayutthaya Temple complex.  One of the heads of a Buddha statue was separated from the body and lay on the ground unrecovered for decades or centuries.  A tree grew up around the head and engulfed it and the photos show exactly how it looks today with the tree enveloping the Buddha head.

A couple of oddities I came across in Bangkok included a very good Mexican Restaurant operated by Indians.  I know, it sounds ridiculous but my steak fajitas was excellent and they didn’t even try to slip in any nasty curry crap.  I also found a great blues and jazz club featuring some very good local talent. Listening to Blues at Saxophone’s is a great way to spend a night away from the shopping malls and flesh markets of Bangkok and I highly recommend the place.

I thought I was might be in the wrong place at the wrong time for a brief moment.  As I was sitting at the bar enjoying a Chang beer I noticed a big Thai come thru the door dressed in jeans, broadcloth button down shirt and dark sport jacket.  He made eye contact with the bartender and headed straight for the stool next to me.  Clearly these two have done this before because by the time the big guy got to the stool his drink appeared if by magic.

The guy reminded me of the secret service guys I used to work with years ago – his eyes never stopped moving.  He was constantly searching the crowd.  As he was surveying his surroundings he casually reached behind him and discretely pulled out this huge cannon of a handgun and set it in his lap.  My first reaction was – this is not good.

I figured this was going to go one of three ways:  he was a plain clothes cop stopping by after work for a drink or working looking for someone, or he was an enforcer for one of the many underworld Thai gangs looking for a specific target, or he was just a run of the mill nut looking to go postal. 

A little uncertain of how this would turnout I did the logical thing.  I ordered another beer and watched and waited.  After another quick unspoken signal between the bartender and the gun guy – the handgun appeared on the bar for just a quick second before the bartender covered it with a towel and stowed it under the counter.  Crisis averted so I took another pull of my beer and asked the guy if he preferred Blues or Jazz when he wasn’t shooting people.

His reply – both!  He apparently enjoys both jazz and blues and likes them either when he is shooting or not. Lol , You meet all kinds of people on a journey like this.

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