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a Thai Score
Part I – Hijacked by a tuk-tuk
by Mad Dog
Bangkok is a city which is lively,
vibrant, and has streets lined with vendors selling most anything you could
want, at any hour of the day. A lot of it’s food, but you can also buy
clothing, household goods, books, magazines, your fortune, sex, or a tuk-tuk
ride to see Thai exports whether you want to or not.
amazing how much difference 696 km (426 miles) can make. It’s the
difference between Boston and Washington, DC; Sydney and Melbourne; and in
Thailand, heaven and hell. Or as they call them, Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
There’s a third part to Thailand, the southern beaches, but I didn’t see
them. I figure I can always rent “The Beach” if I want to check them
out. Besides, if I do that Leonardo DiCaprio might write me a personal
letter thanking me for being the 124th person to see the movie and then I
can sell it for big bucks on eBay.
Bangkok’s not an easy city.
It’s as crowded as a Japanese subway during rush hour, as noisy as your
head after a night of drinking Mekong whiskey, as spread out as Los Angeles
only without the sewage-fouled beaches (or any beaches for that matter), and
it has the air quality of a tire dump on fire. It’s the capital and the
country’s largest city, existing primarily as the center of government,
finance, and sex. And also to make sure you appreciate the rest of the
country because, thank god, it isn’t Bangkok.
Oh yeah. It’s hot. Very hot.
It’s a city where on my first
morning’s stroll I came across a sign directing me to a club called
Crackhouse a Go-Go. A few steps away was a sign hanging over the sidewalk
which read: “Not a real nun. Do not pay.” I looked down and there was
the pseudo Buddhist nun standing beneath it, taking in donations left and
right, which proves that either she can’t read English, the Westerners
giving her money can’t read English, or it’s the best sales gimmick
since Ron Popeil said, “But wait! There’s more!”
Bangkok is a city with a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms which is
decorated with condoms from around the world and even has a Vasectomy Room
you can dine in. And not a cabbage to be found. It’s a city where you
can’t buy a newspaper in the departure terminal at the airport—not a
Thai or a foreign one. Sure the Bangkok Post I picked up (not at the
airport, of course) had a column on page five with quotes from men who wrote
in debating whether prostitutes fake orgasms or have real ones—and of
course they were all delusionally macho enough to be convinced they brought
these women to a climax—but is that any reason not to let you read it on
the plane back home?
The temple was
closed until 1 p.m. because it was “Buddha Day.” Apparently on certain
auspicious days all monks have to go to their wat and pray en
masse, then head to the Hallmark store to pick up their last minute
“Happy Buddha Day” cards.
It’s a city which is lively, vibrant, and has streets lined with
vendors selling most anything you could want, at any hour of the day. A
lot of it’s food, but you can also buy clothing, household goods, books,
magazines, your fortune, sex, or a tuk-tuk ride to see Thai exports
whether you want to or not.
A tuk-tuk is a great form
of transportation in spite of being a three-wheeled riding lawn mower with
the blades removed and a passenger seat mounted on the back. At least I
think they removed the blades. Since it’s open on the sides, a short
ride makes you much more empathetic towards the plight of coal miners with
black lung disease. This is partly the driver’s fault, since if they
don’t stall out at every traffic light they shut off the engine, then
start it up when the light changes, revving it until it takes off with a
lurch, filling the air with delightful black smoke.
They’re actually very fun to
ride in, except that the canvas awning comes down the sides just enough so
that anyone over 5’2”, meaning Westerners, have to slouch way down in
the seat to see the sights of the city as they fly by. No wonder when the tuk-tuk
driver recommends a good Thai massage parlor most people jump at it.
A tuk-tuk driver’s
primary job isn’t to take you where you want to go, but rather to tell
you where you should go. Then again, that seems to be the job of everyone
in Bangkok. The first tuk-tuk driver I came across seemed like a
fun guy. I wanted to go to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo (a wat is
a temple) but he said it was closed until 1 p.m. because it was “Buddha
Day.” Apparently on certain auspicious days all monks have to go to
their wat and pray en masse, then head to the Hallmark store to
pick up their last minute “Happy Buddha Day” cards.
He tells me he knows a couple of
good wats which are off the beaten path and open, offering to take
me to them. We negotiate a price for an hour-long tour, which isn’t easy
since my brain is still stuck in the Indonesian exchange rate, but as far
as I can tell I wasn’t being gouged too badly so I climb in.
“Where you from?” he asks.
“America,” I reply.
“Okay! Rock and roll !!!!”
I walked in the
store, looked around for two minutes, thanked the sales people, then left.
Now my driver had another brainstorm: it was time to check out some
custom-made clothing. “No,” I said, emphatic this time. “Take me to
The sound system comes to life. The air pressure from the pumping
speakers distorts my face like a 3 G Space Shuttle lift-off. I sit back
and relax as we dart into traffic, reminding myself that one of the
glories of traveling is to experience new things, like listening to
“Hotel California” at a volume that would make Metallica proud while
blood pours out of my ears, leaving a trail behind us on the steaming
Captain Tuk-Tuk drove me to a
couple of beautiful Buddhist temples. The Thai people sure know how to
build them. They’re incredibly ornate and covered in more gold than an
ex-New Yorker in West Palm Beach. He was particularly excited about taking
me to see the Lucky Buddha.
“Not for tourist. This special.
You pray, Lucky Buddha make happen. After that you see Thai Expo,” he
“I don’t want to buy
anything, I’m here to see things.”
“Today last day of Thai Expo.
Only one week every year to buy cheap. You see Lucky Buddha. Then we
Like most every wat I saw
in Thailand, the Lucky Buddha temple was being renovated. Either that or
the flying buttresses they use on Thai temples look a lot like our
As I took off my shoes and entered the temple, a Thai man joined me. We
knelt on the floor and had a nice chat. I learned that he sold cars and
came every day to pray to Lucky Buddha for business to be good. He
instructed me in how to pray. After we finished we sat for a quiet,
“Where you go now?” he asked.
“Golden Mount, the Giant Swing,
and the Grand Palace,” I said.
“All good. But first go Thai
He told me that even he had gone.
He bought a ring that he’ll take to Singapore and resell for a tidy
profit. He pulled a receipt from his wallet to show me. Then he wrote down
the name of the jeweler I should see.
“But I don’t want to buy
anything, I want to see things.”
“You go Thai Expo, see good
investment, pay for trip.”
I ask a taxi driver
who was waiting for his passengers where we were. He points to a spot on
the map—we were miles from Golden Mount. Then he told me that’s not
where I really want to go. “You go see Thai export.”
After admiring the shrine outside the temple with the almost full
soda bottles as part of the offering—though it’s possible the
construction workers deposited them there knowing no one would steal
them—I climbed in the tuk-tuk, ready to be firm.
“Now go to Thai Expo,” the tuk-tuk
“No,” I told him. “I want
to go to Golden Mount.”
“Not open now. Today Buddha
Day, remember? We go Thai Expo, then other temple, then Golden Mount.”
I could tell it was either go
along with him or walk, and I had no earthly idea where we were so I gave
in. He took me to an expensive jewelry store. It turns out Thai Expo
wasn’t the big Thai trade exposition I thought it was, what they were
saying was Thai export. I walked in the store, looked around for
two minutes, thanked the sales people, then left. Now my driver had
another brainstorm: it was time to check out some custom-made clothing.
“No,” I said, emphatic this
time. “Take me to Golden Mount.”
“Too early. We go to temple
near Golden Mount, walk from there.”
He screeched to a halt at Wat
Benchamabophit, the Marble Temple, where he unceremoniously dumps me,
quickly reminding me that it’s time to pay. Then he zooms off in a huff
because I’m not half the mark he wanted me to be. You’d think he’d
be happy with a quarter mark, this being Buddha Day and all.
After looking at the gorgeous temple and its courtyard filled with 52
bronze Buddhas in styles from different regions and periods, I stand out
front examining my map trying to get my bearings. I have a very good sense
of direction—I can find my way around most places after just a little
while—but for some reason Bangkok leaves me totally turned around.
I ask a taxi driver who was
waiting for his passengers to return where we were. He points to a spot on
the map—we were miles from Golden Mount. Then he told me that’s not
where I really want to go.
“You go see Thai export.”
I saw the Big Buddha,
the Reclining Buddha, the Emerald Buddha, and the Lucky Buddha. I saw
beautiful temples, ornate palaces, and a McDonald’s that sells Samurai
Pork Burgers for 45 baht (about $1).
All day long, every tuk-tuk driver, taxi driver, even people
I stopped on the street informed me that where I wanted to go wasn’t
really where I wanted to go. After all, I’m a farang, how could I
know? Each one knew best, and each one knew I needed to see Thai export.
“I’ve seen Thai export,” I
told each of them.
“You have?” they’d say
incredulously. Then they’d tell me to see more.
There was even a friendly and
helpful guy on the street who, when I asked for directions
to—yes—Golden Mount, wrote out a list of temples I should see because
they were on the way. He hailed a tuk-tuk driver, arranged a dirt
cheap price, and instructed me not to pay more than 10 baht because
“that’s what he agreed to.” Then he handed me the list. Smack in the
middle of it was “Thai Export”.
It turned out this was the last
day of a promotion in which tuk-tuk drivers got a coupon for free
gas every time they brought someone to a shop that sold Thai-made
merchandise. Why the rest of the populace was so into it I’m not sure,
but later in the day I got into the swing of it too. I made one really
nice tuk-tuk driver’s week by volunteering to go to two (count
‘em, 2!) Thai export shops in return for his driving me around for a
while for free. I got pretty good at walking in a store, cruising through
it in record time, pretending I fooled them into thinking I was remotely
interested, then thanking them nicely for showing me a wonderful time.
Actually, I got to see a lot in
between Thai export stops. I saw the Big Buddha, the Reclining Buddha, the
Emerald Buddha, and the Lucky Buddha. I saw beautiful temples, ornate
palaces, and a McDonald’s that sells Samurai Pork Burgers for 45 baht
(about $1). I saw produce markets, flower markets, and meat markets, most
notably Nana Plaza, a two-story mall where they sell one thing: sex. And I
saw an incredible number of Western men walking down the street hand in
hand with Thai women, finally realizing after the 1,234th couple that
those weren’t girlfriends, but rather that’s how the Bangkok Escort
Charm School and Sate House instructs them to act when they go out on the
first paid date.
I ate great food from street
vendors. I regretted not having time to get to the Siriraj Hospital
Forensics Museum to see the embalmed body of Si Oui, Thailand’s
notorious child serial killer. I saw mailboxes that had slots for
“Bangkok” and “Other Places”, making me wonder if the mail has to
stop at Thai export on the way to the other places. And yes, I bought a
bus ticket out of there to Chiang Mai.
Best of all, I did it without
once hearing that lame-ass semi-ABBA song from the musical Chess, “One
Night in Bangkok”, which proves one thing: if you pray properly to Lucky
Buddha your wish really can come true.
Part II -
Chiang Mai, oh my!
©2001 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them in
the Bangkok airport and make people wonder where you bought them.