This is just a wee extract from some of my earlier notes. This article could be the very first bit of ‘travel writing’ I ever let anyone read.
To fill you in, I’ve just arrived in Bangkok and met up with Jack Prescott who had gotten there the day before me.
On leaving the hotel – very pleasant by the way, thanks for asking- we are approached by ‘Nam’, He offers to take us to a bar, a nice bar. A nice bar for 20 baht. Astonishingly, we refuse. We want to see the local area. He looks at us with sadness but also a certain amount of respect. His middle aged body radiates admiration that we, we two amateur travellers, should refuse to go to a nice bar recommended by a local. He makes room for us to pass.
We stroll 50 yards down the road and sit down at a reasonable looking restaurant. We look at the menu and then look over the prices. Never before have I struggled so much with a foreign currency. Jack and I ate and had a beer or two and all the while we were in the restaurant we couldn’t decipher how much it was actually costing. Guesses swaying wildly from less than 10p to about £4. Finally, we worked out 500 baht is about a tenner.
That was clearly too high a number for us to deal with – especially after a couple of beers – so next we had an argument about maths. After much discussion and flailing of arms, we begrudgingly compromise that 500 divided by 10 is 50. 50 baht to the pound. Took long enough. After paying for our (potentially) bargain meal we wandered around to see if there was anything else going on. This mainly involved stepping over, around or on several stray cats. they were literally everywhere and they’re regarded as a pest throughout the city.Understandably, they are all very jittery too. I can see why. One of the bars we went to had a resident cat – it wasn’t even a stray. The owner of said bar – a 60 year old woman – was ‘playing’ with her pet in a manner reminiscent of Sid from Toy Story. I genuinely believe there was no cruelty intended but good lord, I felt for that cat. She hugged it and it eyeballs actually bulged. I didn’t know that actually could happen outside of cartoons.
Oh and there was a gay waiter. A seriously gay waiter. He flounced. Actually flounced.
Lightly pissed after a few more Changs, we head back to the hotel. En route we are targeted by a friendly tuk-tuk driver. He offers to take us to a very popular ‘ping pong’ show. We decline. Later on, we met a Dutch guy who went to one of those shows expecting to see some kind of showy table tennis match; trick shots and the like. In many senses – except the ones that matter – he did. When a guy from Amsterdam is shocked though, you know he’s seen something pretty messed up.
By the front door of the hotel we see Nam again, our first point of contact in Bangkok. Buoyed by alcohol, I rush over and greet him like a long lost friend. He looks surprised but reciprocates. I’m lost in the moment.
That is until he introduces himself as Dam.
I’m several hours into this trip and I’ve already been accidentily racist. I look past Dam straight into the eyes of Nam, standing a short distance behind him. There is an animal hurt in his eyes. It had briefly crossed my mind that Nam had looked a little bit younger and healthier then when I saw him 2 or 3 hours ago but put that down to the several beers i’d enjoyed. I look back at the man who is clearly not Nam but decide I’m in too deep. Shunning Nam (again), we get in in Dam’s taxi. He promised us a ‘drinky’ in a lovely bar too and we arrive in a few short, hair-rasing minutes. It looks fairly swanky but also like it’s best days were behind it. We say to Dam that ‘we’re not really dressed for this’.
Before Dam could reply, we are whisked inside by the bar’s staff who offer to ‘look after us’. We are ushered in and offered a beer. Jack, fairly inexplicably, orders a glass of tequila too. It arrives in a tumbler. While he contemplates why he’s just done that, I have a look around. It’s busy. It’s also a little bit like a year 7 disco with all the men on one side and all the women on the other.
All the scantily clad women who are sitting in a row.
“Jack, we’re in a Bangkok brothel!”
“I know! You idiot!”.
This would’ve never happened with Nam.
“What do we do Jack?!”, I gesture to the room around me.
“Drink up and leave I suppose” he replies wisely.
We sit for a minute or two in silence, Jack sipping on his tequila.
“Make sure you say ‘no’ Jack… Unless you want to of course”.
He does look the type.
“Of course i’m gonna say ‘no’, you muppet. I’m not going to pay for a prostitute in a Bangkok brothel”
“Oh” I say. ‘Liar’ I think.
We both sit and stare at our bottles of Tiger beer. We sip from them occasionally.
The waiter sidles up to us, “You want more beer? There are girls here…”, he pitches, arching an arm to show off the ranks of women across from us.
“No prostitutes!” I splutter, slightly too quickly and in a higher pitch than usual. “Thank you but we’re OK”.
But that’s a lie. I’m not OK. I really, really need a pee. But the toilets so far away! Behind the scantily clad women! Literally ANYTHING could happen in a Bangkok brothel toilet!
I consider my options, sweating nervously.
Jack stands up and drains his beer, “I’m off for a slash”.
I watch him go. Awestruck by his pioneering spirit. I see him stroll nonchalantly past the row of women.
I realise now that as far as they’re concerned, I’ve been staring at the scantily clad women. One waves. I panic. I don’t want her to come over because that would be awkward. I’d have to reject her. I’d be suggesting she didn’t meet my prostitute needs. I’ve never even considered my prostitute needs! I hate myself for being British because I have to acknowledge the wave. It’s polite.
I have no time to consider my actions.
These were the thoughts that were running through my head for the minute or so after she waved. I notice that I’m still staring at her. As soon as I realise that, I instinctively raise my bottle and then cower behind it. Then Jack strolls back from the toilet and I’m saved. I pretend I’m raising it at him. He looks perplexed that i’m saluting him after a brief visit to a toilet but nods back anyway. I see the woman say something to her friend. Oh god, I’ve been misconstrued! ‘That bottle salute wasn’t for you’, I desperately transmit mentally, ‘it was for my good friend Jack! Please don’t come over!’.
Jack sits down and gestures for us to leave. It becomes apparent just how much I need to pee.
‘Just popping to the loo mate”. I stand up and stoically make my way to the toilet, avoiding any eye contact. The girl who waved runs her hand down my chest as I walk by. I drop my shoulder and push past her to the relative safety of the brothel toilet.
‘Jesus’, I think. She ran her hand down my chest! She may have even touched my money belt!’. She now thinks I’m the kinda guy who holds up bottles at people and is careful with money. No wonder she wants me.
I pace back and fore for a while but then do what I need to do in the toilet and hesitantly stroll back out, bracing myself for the barrage of propositions I’m bound to encounter.
The lady blanks me.
Probably playing hard to get.
We leave after paying an extortionate amount for 2 beers and a tumbler of tequila. Dam is waiting outside. I worry that we were only in there for 10-15 mins and what he might infer from that.
“You disco?” he asks.
“Not really” I say, thinking about the chest stroke.
That answer seems to disappoint him. He vents his frustrations on the road, invariably jumping red lights and swinging round lanes wildly. We arrive back near the hotel. Nam is still there.
He asks, ‘we go nice bar now?’ and my heart breaks a little.
“No, sorry. we must sleep now Nam. Sorry”. We stride pitifully past and make our way up the street leaving him dejected in our wake. Then we stop. I have literally no idea where we are.
We stumble around a bit and then recognise a shop we passed by earlier. We assess our situation. We’re on the right street but going the wrong way. We have to turn around to get to hotel.
Back down the street. Back past Nam.
Over one final pint in the hotel lobby, I consider just how many times i’m going to dash Nam’s dreams of taking us to a nice bar during our short stay.
I drink up.