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Saturday 22 Feb 2003
Bangkok, Thailand

Arrived!

Here I am in a little net cafe in some side-street in the middle of Bangkok... and right beside me a guy is selling fried tadpoles! I kid you not!

Im staying in a posh hotel tonight and tommorrow, just to get over the jet lag in style!!

The hotel may be posh, but the surounding area is in complete contrast. Squalid streets, right beside amazing hotels and then bright neon signs beside massive temples... and thats still on the one street!!!

This place is completely unlike anywhere Ive been before!

Im off now to get me some dinner... er.. if I can decide on anything!

...raconter...

During the Quantas flight from London to Bangkok, I got chatting away to an elderly Kiwi lady who regailed me of her childhood growing up amidst geysers and volcanoes... she lived a life I dreamed of and would soon become a participant in.... I was finally on my own, no security but my own self-dependence. I dont think Ive ever felt before so liberated as I did then.

Stepping off the plane into the humid Bangkok arrivals lounge, the PA announcements were heralded by a chirpy, soft, high-pitched voice speaking Thai. It was so alien-sounding a voice to me then, but would become the norm for the next 4 months as I was to travel around SEA where EVERYONE has a soft high-pitched chirpy voice. I knew I had arrived!!

Id come to Bangkok with the notion that pretty much everyone was involved in the Lady-Boy shows and the illicit sex trade (several years of email spam does that to people). Indeed when I was in the airport terminal building looking for a taxi I saw something that didnt quell this idea: a white guy was sitting down beside a pretty young-looking girl arguing with a Thai man opposite about how much money was involved in the "transaction". Maybe its just me, but I was sure the guy was trying to buy the woman. It can go down as the "first-of-many" of the culture shocks that hit me when I arrived in Bangkok. Within a few weeks, that sort of thing wouldnt even cause me to raise an eyebrow.

I unwittingly took a taxi into Bangkok from the airport without asking to "use the meter". Apparently the bus is the "true backpacker" way of doing it, since it cost about 10 dollars for the taxi, but about 10 cents for the bus!! Luckily though Id been prewarned about the men who meet you at the arrivals terminal in their suits pretending to be taxi-drivers. They usually take you on a tour of the local clothes-shops - where you will be hard-pressed into buying a suit - before eventually bringing you to your destination. In fact this is exactly the case with the Tuk Tuk drivers in Bangkok. Every single one of them is onto this scam, which is why its much better to take a taxi, while making sure to say "use the meter"!! This should go down as the TOP TIP for anyone visiting Bangkok.

Once Id arrived at my hotel and thrown away all the black bags that I used to pack everything into (Id decided that packing things into separate black bags in Eire would be a good idea to organise things in my backpack... it wasnt), I headed out into the wilds of downtown Bangkok at nighttime. Im not sure if mum was trying to teach me a lesson (and scare me to come back home!!) but the hotel she had chosen as a gift to me for the first night was right smack in the middle of the blossoming "new red light district" of Sukhumvit Rd!!! No sooner had I walked out of my flash hotel, than I walked by several brothels - posing as massage parlours - full of "intimidating" ladies (at that time they were intimidating to me!!) giving me "the look" and trying to drag me inside. Then right next door was a Buddhist temple! Beyond that was a market place with people selling all sorts of foods (as I mentioned in the original log) and shouting to each other in loud high-pitched Thai. Then yer obligatory brothel came after. To say the least I was in culture-shock-heaven! And to be on my own made it even more exciting!

It was then that I sat down in a small net cafe - I soon learned that the "net cafe" like the "irish pub" is a universal institution and that they exist pretty much everywhere!

Walking back to my hotel I explored a little further and saw the worst poverty I had ever seen in my life: people lying down on the filthy pavement, scraping up scraps of food from the filthy corners of bridges that some teenagers threw away. Wearing only scraps of clothing and begging for your baht (I didnt have any on me at the time unfortunately).

This being only 50 metres from my 5-star hotel! What a crazy mixed-up town

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