Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand - Part 1

First impressions. I arrived into Bangkok on Friday evening from Malaysia. We arrived into Suvarnabhumi International Airport which is the new international airport in Bangkok. I got in a taxi and proceeded to sit in the worst traffic I think I have ever experienced. Bangkok is renown for its traffic and pollution, amongst other things, as I would soon find out.

I finally arrived at my hotel, tired and hungry, the doormen referred me to a little restaurant next door called The Copper. I had my first Pad Thai in Thailand and it was delicious. I also happened to walk past the first Thai "massage" parlor for men only, that I would see.

The next day I got up and left the hotel in search of breakfast. Although it really was not that early, there wasn't much activity on the streets, the food vendors, the prostitutes leaving whoever they were with the night before and me. Interesting.

Back in NY I had been speaking to a friend about my trip and told him that i had plans to go to Bangkok. He made a face and told me Bangkok was a cesspool. I did not stay in a hostel, I was staying in a tourist area - not in a red light district but that day, on Saturday, I had to agree with my friend, Bangkok was a cesspool.

Desperate to find a bit of respite from the riot of pollution and the pervasive feeling of the sex trade being all around me, I went to have brunch at a lovely French crepe restaurant. I sat there for hours, in the garden, taking in the soothing environment. Eventually I went on my way again and got a massage and stopped in at an internet cafe for a while. I thought somehow I was safe but all of a sudden I hear this old American man talking to this young Thai women about the events of the previous night. Suffice it to say I was not that keen on hearing the rest of the conversation and decided to walk back to the hotel.

It was amazing to see the women hanging out on the sidewalks in front of the bars and restaurants, looking for their next client and all the Western men, young and old chatting up these women. I went back to the safety of The Copper for dinner and after dinner on my way back to my hotel, what do I see? An older Thai couple walking a baby elephant! Obviously I had the requisite reaction of "Awwww" but I quickly realized they wanted me to pay them to feed or pet the elephant. I wasn't about to do that.

I was so disturbed that evening by the little bit that I saw of the rampant exploitation of women and animals. I emailed some friends who have some extensive experience traveling in Asia and my mother, who had been in Thailand 35 years ago. My friends told me that it is often "normal" for country girls to enter into a few years of prostitution to help their families or they go into the city to become seamstresses and end up getting tricked into prostitution. Maybe some of these girls and women voluntarily have gone into this line of work but none of them looked happy to me, they all looked hard and sort of hollow, no matter how beautiful they were. My mom was understanding of my feelings and suggested I take a boat tour on the river the next day.

I never intended to post any social or moral commentaries on this blog. I really always intended to keep it for entertainment only but as one of my friends put it, it is only by bringing awareness to the problems that anything will ever change.

I mean have you ever been in a hotel that has a sticker on the safe that says "If you think a child might be at risk of sexual exploitation, please contact hotel management."???

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