24 hours in Bangkok

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First published 15th September, 2009

Two opposite worlds exist within Thailand's capital, depending on the presence of the sun. Busy yet relaxed, this city is bustling at all hours. I didn't quite realise the extent of it until I spent 24 hours awake in a city that lacks the desire to sleep. The day began by cruising through the city in the modern, comfortable, affordable (40 baht), and delightfully air-conditioned Bangkok SkyTrain. Thanks to our guesthouse'send-of-the-line location, we were even guaranteed seats, a luxury no longer available at further stops.

It took about 20 minutes to arrive at Mo Chit Station, located directly next to Chatuchak Market. The place is sprawling and enormous, and although we ended up walking for hours, we really only saw a small fraction of the shops. Hitoshi, a vagabond expat who is staying at our hostel, wanted a mudskipper to take home to Japan, so the extensive live animal section was where we began.

Creatures were everywhere; most shops specialised in either aquatic or mammal. For the former, large plastic bags and tubs were partially filled with water. Packed in tight were all varieties, shapes, colours, sizes, and species of freshwater life. Piles of tiny turtles sat next to dozens of solitary bagged fish, while crabs scurried about shrimps and lobsters stayed motionless a foot away. The air was a subtle eau de aquarium, and shoppers were often restricted to a solitary walking line as people constantly pulled to the side to stare, admire, and perhaps purchase. Unfortunately, despite exhaustive searching, Hitoshi came up empty -- but only because he needed a sneakably-sized fish.

Chatuchak market in Bangkok

As for the mammals, the amount of clothing alone was impressive. Caged squirrels wore skimpy shirts, so did rabbits and numerous breeds of panting dogs. Those animals without accoutrements were the lucky ones, as the heavy humid air lay over us all thick with its monsoon weight. Skunks lay on top of one another, blissfully unaware of the tarantulas directly above them. Of course there were bins of maggots and other insects, wriggling about relentlessly in contrast to many of the shopkeepers, relaxed and seated when not dealing directly with a customer. For we tourists this is a place of infinite amazement, for them it's merely another day of work at Asia's largest outdoor weekend market, as the free map available at the entrance boldly claims.

Anyways, after working up an appetite perusing the fauna, we paused at a restaurant complex for a respite. Surrounded completely by the market, old women at carts cut vegetables and cooked meat amid plenty of sauces, noodles, rice, and people. A waitress, fluent in English and most helpful, coordinated the delivery of our meals from each different stand, depending on the cook's specialty. The Bee Gee's entertained on a giant video screen, although our hopes of hearing "Staying Alive" were dashed by the speedy service.

Chatuchak market in Bangkok

We meandered onwards, alternating between main paths with plenty of walking space and the cramped alleyways that I always imagine it truly would be possible to get lost in. Fifteen minutes of endless clothes and shoes were followed by some impressive artwork, both modern and traditional. Paintings hung on walls, in art galleries that practically lacked walking space. Vendors sold food of all types; frozen popsicles and fresh squeezed orange juice certainly helped counter the heat. Surprisingly the market had few overwhelming smells, perhaps going on Saturday instead of Sunday was a good choice where our noses were concerned!

There were plenty of musicians, some sedentary but others, often blind, walked and sang into amplified microphones. None sang in English, all Thai -- while this is a tourist destination the vast majority of shoppers are locals getting the best price in the city in an atmosphere Tesco can't beat. The best performers were the Blue Mountain Boys, a bluegrass duo performing live over their own recordings.

Chatuchak market in Bangkok

Facemasks were prevalent, not only for sale but also in use. A magician entertained a decent crowd, and sales of his invisible thread, which he demonstrated by grabbing soda cans and pens without touching them, were brisk at a mere five baht. Children were in awe, as were we by how quickly time passed and our still jetlagged legs grew heavy.

Deciding to return to our hostel, we paused for a few minutes in the Sky Train station to sit down with cold ice cream and water. So much of a traveller's life is food -- when you're moving for hours on end, often short on sleep, you need to consume almost constantly it seems.

After resting up, eating dinner, and debating on whether or not to actually "go out", the time was finally right at about 1 am. Sounds late, but we weren't looking for your average bar, but rather one of the go-go variety: our touristic curiosity in full control.

We found what were looking for, the unexpected, at Screw Boy. Escorted to the club by a tout, his proposed payment of 100 baht was negotiated down to 40, after all we were expected to cough up 300 for the promised Big Cock Show! We literally walked into a plethora of penis on stage; Thai men swivelled their hips to club music, naked except for condoms or cock rings. Evidently we arrived right at the climax of the show, it was the only fully nude part of the performance. Afterward, maybe for another hour, a rotating cast of white-underwear clad men mostly stood on stage, often awkwardly, clearly just at their job.

Meanwhile one or two lead performers, designated by their coloured bikinis and visible ass cracks, danced enthusiastically to tunes such as "Boom Boom Pow," "Hot N Cold," and "Poker Face." They all wore numbers, and could be purchased for table companionship for only 200 baht, or whatever you could imagine back at your hotel for up to 1,900 baht. We passed on that, drinking our Singhas amid relief that the bathroom was surprisingly not sketchy. Towards the end I was chatted up by a well-spoken performer, who kindly gave us directions to our next destination -- a club called Spicy.

Bangkok skyline

The late-night party, in full swing, took place in a giant sweaty concrete box. The DJ mixed between tracks quickly on a computer, his fast cuts and the somewhat dilapidated sound-system's lack of true bass no matter to the throngs of dancers. Walking meant practically pushing, and once we'd obtained a soon-to-be-devastating 1,200 baht bottle of whiskey we found a table right near an elevated dance-spot. Too tall to stand completely upright beneath the not-designed-for-Western-men ceiling, we danced and drank, drama abounding on either side.

First, two girls were kissing frantically, practically on top of us, while their respective female friends watched with high emotion. One friend shook with rage, stormed off, and then the face-sucking continued. Next, a smooth-looking Ghanaian footballer danced with Christine, provoking his wife to give him a slap across the face. The fact she was making out with his team-mates later was apparently irrelevant.

We danced until dawn, as in 6am, but well before then the quickly emptied whiskey bottle, surrounded by all-too-few Pepsi bottles, had done its damage. Apparently loud and happy, we went to an after-after-hours party for another hour or two. I say apparently because I don't quite remember all of the specific details :-).

It was an appropriately awesome "Bangkok" evening, and somehow even our hour-long taxi ride home -- it's tricky to remember an accurate hostel address at times -- didn't manage to ruin that. The hangovers lingered as the next day changed to night, a small price to pay for completely letting loose of our inhibitions for an evening in this modern but multi-faceted city.

An edited version of this story first appeared on Holiday Fu -- Like Kung Fu for holidays. We'll be running a new entry from Anderson and the team every Wednesday for the duration of their trip across Asia. We hope you find it an interesting view into what another's journey through Asia can be like. There's a delay of a few weeks between where they are and the story appearing on Travelfish, so if you want to know where they are right now, be sure to check out their blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.

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  • HI-LARIOUS! I loved it! You are such a good writer Andersen! I can just see you guys out for that night. I can picture it all in my head...especially Luke! HAHA! Man, I miss you guys so much!
    Take care and keep the good stories coming!

    Posted by steph on 18th September, 2009

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