Friday, January 22, 2010

Walking to the North - of Bangkok

Well, here I am back in Bangkok, looking to get rolling. Looking to get on out there. Looking to explore the great wild city once more for my own pleasure and amusement.

So of course I sit down, take out the netbook, and hit up the wifi. You know, in the era before computerized travelling people must have made a lot more friends, and read a lot more books. Just sayin' is all. After responding the email, making my way around facebook, and posting some messages here and there – not to mention navigating my way through some gChats from people in time zones 12 hours different – I was finally ready to, oh I don't know, explore the option of exploration.

So into the locker goes my gear I don't need for the day and – oh, it's raining. I thought I'd left that behind in Cambodia, when the first percipitation began as I boarded the plane. You know, not that I'm complaining, but I bought a swanky rain coat that I praised with much love in the early days of this blog (my recent feelings have been altered some) just for this part of the world. And it's heavy. And it takes up space. And if it's not going to rain, then explain to me why I have it? And let us be Frank shall we? (Hello Frank. / Oh hi Frank.) It's hot in this part of the world. Even when it's raining. You would not be putting on that raincoat. You'd let yourself get soaked, and then be a wee bit happy that you won't need to sweat for the next few hours. Though you'll feel clammy and gross. But even with the coat your pants would get soaked, so you still wouldn't be that much better off.

Don't get me wrong, there are alternatives for the whole pants getting wet thing. For one, you could put on some rains pants – or a rain skirt. You know the rain skirt is a brilliant idea, and I've often considered making myself one. That's right – but I'd not call it a rain skirt, I'd call it a rain lungi and that way any genderized problems can be – dare I say it? - skirted. Skirt. Skirt. Skirt.

O.K. that's out of my system. Look, I know these things do exist, but they run around two hundred dollars American. That's a lot of money for a sheet of plastic. True story.

[editor's note: it has come to my attention, by the author of the following link, that there is a free how-to guide to create your own rain skirt. I approve of this! Danke Diane.]

Even still – you probably wouldn't have wanted to put that on, and so you'd be wet. So here's the thing – why do I have this rain coat? It makes no sense. I've worn it sure – but has it ever really helped? I'd have to read my posts from Interlaken, and see the videos in order to really figure it out.

You know one day I'm going to sit down and watch all those videos that have been going up, and I'll probably thing – wow... I've done some neat stuff. Stuff is always more awesome after the fact. You get to add it to the great narrative that is your life, and context is important. It is. I swear this is true. I seem to recall not finding Angkor Wat all that impressive when I first saw it (hence the title of the post) but the more I thought about it, the more fantastic it became.

Enough of this Tom Foolery! Eventually I set out. And the rain stopped. And so I needed my coat not, and did not take it from my pack. I did go to the 7-11 though and eat some baked goods, and drank some drinks in order to take my malarial pill with food and beverage as the doctor so prescribed. I tell you, won't it be fun remembering this pill all the way to Antarctica? Three and a half months of tiny blue pills. Great. Some people tell me they don't prevent malaria but just push back when you get symptoms. My doctor said this was not the case – but everyone else seems to think it is. I ask only because I will be in the middle of nowhere (a ship in open waters, crossing the Antarctic circle) when the pills run out. And if I get malaria then? Well – I don't want to. Although using that million dollar evacuation insurance I've been paying for and being heli-lifted from nowhere would be pretty cool too, yeah? Anyway – I take doxy. If you think that this will lead to me dying let me know, eh?

Right, so now that we have the matter of my impending doom covered, lets take a moment to discuss 7-11 once more, shall we? They really are everywhere. EVERYwhere here. I had forgotten them in Cambodia, and then – bam! - they're back. I bet you there is one 7-11 in this town for every giant image of the King. Or maybe one giant image of the King for every 7-11. It's hard to say which came first, and which is just trying to keep up.

This king, here's really out there. I see his image a good six times an hour when I'm walking? From billboards, to signs, to posters, to framed images you can hang on your wall at home, or place on your office desk. He is there, and he knows how to wear yellow. It's a skill possessed by few. Dick Tracy had it, April O'Neil had it, and the King? Well he has still got it!

Not only do you get the privilege of standing up to watch his biography before every movie (I wonder how the film holds up on IMAX screens) but you are also blessed by his presence with every other step you take. He just becomes a natural part of the scenery here.

It didn't help that I chose to walk North today, leading towards the Royal Residence. Every ministry and academic institute of whatever was on this road. Each of these had a few banners and posters for his Majesty. Of his Majesty?

As I drew closer and closer to the end of the road I heard shouting. Cheering. Men on bullhorns. Hurray! A protest! And there were police around. You know, as much as I have been proved to not listen to this, protests are a very foolish thing to be part of outside your own country. And in this part of the world? Well I had no desire to be anywhere near it. Luckily the protest happened to take place just outside the main gate to the zoo. All I needed to do was hop over seven (seven!) downed high tension cables laying on the sidewalk, and I'd be there. I don't know much about electricity. We once dared a friend to grab a low hanging wire back in high school – but stopped him right before he as about to. Later we were told he would have died had he grabbed it. Birds, it was related to us can survive sitting on wires because they're not grounded. Once again – I'm not sure how these things worked, but it sounded alright. So as I tip-toped, and hopped, and hoped, my way around these wires I was doing it with fear that I was in a life or death game of hopscotch. In all reality would I have died if I stepped on them? I don't know. But I wasn't about to test my luck.

A quick google search has provided me with a quick video of a man in India standing on the roof of a train that would seem to suggest that I would, indeed, have died after momentarily looking as if I'd been hit by a blast of Yoga Fire. I do not recommend that you repeat this search. Thailand! (said in the way a lama might say the word Karl) What are you doing letting these things just lay in the middle of the side walk, outside the zoo?

With that excitement behind me I paid my 100B and into the zoo I went. It was there that I saw some Asian Elephants. They were hanging out, eating their straw, doing their thing. Booooring, I thought. I've seen elephants before. Real elephants. Wild elephants. Not elephants cooped up so long that they've gone insane, and resort to putting hay on their head for lack of anything else to do. And then I felt sad for the elephants. This would be only the beginning of that.

I walked on, and found myself in a part of the zoo that during the busy days would be full of kids. It was an amusement park. Currently abandoned. Not creepy at all. Nope, seemingly abandoned amusement parks are always a fun part of everyones experience. And when they're motion activated so all the games spring to life in a cacophony of sound and music, mirrored by an epileptic light show, well that's just all part of the delight, am I right?

Then came the birds. All the small cages of birds. I mean, at least you could see them, yeah?

And then I got to the bomb shelter.

Wait? What? The bomb shelter. Yes, the zoo used to be a public park, and during dubya dubya two bomb shelters were built up in pubic areas to prevent, as the sign put it, accidents. I walked through it, becoming only slightly distressed when I rounded a corner and found a family of manikins, which didn't process fast enough that they were manikins, hiding there, curled near the ground.

With that shock and awe behind me, it was off to see the hippos. Seen in. Then the lions. Got closer in Africa. There were Zebras. Yawn. Giraffes. Oh I remember you when you didn't have a fence surrounding you. Tigers. Tigers! Cool! I felt like Calvin, getting close to the glass, snapping away madly with my camera, and then I ran over the the white tigers. I remembered the smell of these animals. Strange that they can be associated with smell. Well maybe not so strange, as that's how most animals tell territory.

[authors note: Listening to Stop Making Sense again. This album has got a lot of millage.]

After seeing the tiger I was confronted with the fact that zoos might not be the same for animals I've seen in the wild. It's like when I pass the deer pen at the Toronto zoo. What's the point of even turning your head to look when you can see a wild one run in front of you on the walk to the African pavilion?

Still – were the beasts not in concrete pens, it might have held more interest as well.

As I neared the end of my animal rounds I noticed that for an extra 40B I could see the Kenya Boys Acrobatic show. How could I resist the Kenya Boys? I could not. So ticket purchased, I found a seat. Within five minutes I was surrounded by hundreds of Thia teens in their school uniforms. This was not strange at all. No more strange than the “Real Africans” jumping through hoops, and posing on stage though. So it was a wash.

The show? Not all that bad honestly. It was interesting stupid human tricks which culminated with the limbo. Whatever. Worth my buck thirty, anyway. Then they past around a hat at the end of it all (but I didn't have a penny to pay.) Kind of tacky for a show you need to pay to see, but that's just how it is.

But wait! The show wasn't over, oh no. It was just beginning. Well that's not true – it was half over. But what came next... terrible.

The saddest elephant you've ever seen. Sure it walked on its front legs, and then it walked on its back legs, putting a hat on a girls head (so it must have been happy, right? I mean, heck, at one point it was even dancing. You don't dance if you're not happy right? Like those bears you used to see on tv!)

This part of the show was – awkward. And then the elephants collected money for tips at the end. This was the most terrible part. Standing in the vats into which they'd been trained to urinate on command, you had to walk by them. All the Thai kids loved it. I was terrified. These are not happy animals. These are not safe animals. I thought that I should be standing hands over head clapping and shouting, or sitting down cross legged (these being the ways to not be killed by elephants, you must understand. The first pre-charge, the second during.) But no, they were all taking pictures with the elephants.

Every now and then they would creep closer, at which point they'd get a smack from their controller. And then they'd step back. One girl reached out to touch the truck. Her had was grabbed, and painfully squeezed. After some further smacking it as released. Seriously – don't touch the giant ill-treated animal!

And just for fun, after the show, you can go outside and see them tied up to trees with their mental chains. Metal chains too. But I do believe the mental ones are stronger – as I'm pretty sure the elephant could have knocked over the tree or broken the chair if he wanted to. But no, he simply paced, back and forth, tugging the metal taught, and then stepping back. Forward. Back. Over and over.

Cultural differences.

As I was leaving the zoo I saw one thing that I'd not expected in my wildest dreams to see here. I saw – yes, my most favourite bird – seen for real for the very first time – a cassowary! The Australian bird of death! It has razor sharp claws that can rip apart humans. And they do!

I wanted to get closer to the cage to take better pictures, but the closer to the fence I get, the closer it gets. I was not willing to be the stupid tourist mauled by a starved man killing bird. But to see its brightly coloured plumage – blues, and reds – and the horn on is head... it was fantastic. I still love emus – but the Cassowary? Definitely Emu2.0. Wonderful.

Alright – zoo time was over! I was walking down to the river to take the boat back down south. I'd been told it was the only way to travel. On my way I passed the university students getting out of class, buying street food en mass, and then I found what I'd been searching for for some time: juice in a bag! Yes, finally it was mine! For 12B I had 500ml of green beverage poured from the glass bottle into a bag, with ice from the cooler housing the bottles (perfectly clean and sanitary, I'm sure) added in for cooling. And – it was awesome. People looked at me weird for taking pictures of the juice bag. I mean, to them, it's normal and natural. Love it!

The purpose? So the vendor can collect the rebate from the glass bottle. Hey – 12B, you can't beat that price.

Then I hit the river, and yes – the boat is the only way to travel. Four kilometers for 13B. And it was a lovely time. And if the opportunity presents itself again, I would like to ride up and down the length of the route. Because, why not? It wasn't so fine as Oslo's experience... but Oslo's experience wasn't forty cents. And I'm not in Oslo – so I'll do what I can while I'm here.

I got off near the Royal Palace. For once I was wearing long pants and could go inside to explore it. This, of course, is why it was closed today. So then I simply walked back to the hostel, felt good about myself for getting back out there, and sat down to watch some well earned movies. And email. And facebook. And forum post.

Travel without computers? I wonder...


  1. Traveling to Thiland for 10 days and will stay in "Bangkok City Suit Hotel" . I have some idea about some of the attraction in Bangkok such as croc firm, national park, floating market and old city. But this is my first time to Bangkok. I would like to know how can I make the best use of my 3 days and experience most of the great place and attractions in Bangkok with an affordable price.

  2. if you're there on a weekend, go to the weekend market, if you're there on a saturday they have free concerts in the park.

    Ride a tuktuk to the MBK centre and explore the three malls, go to the floating market before 7... 5am bus from the south station.

    Ride the river ferry from top to bottom for 15B. It's a good cheap way to get around.

    The zoo is nice, and only 100B. Eat ll the street food you can. Walk Khoa San road at night at least once, just to see what it's like.

    There really is a lot more to do than people think. Feel free to email me for more info.


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