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We wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a holiday we'd never forget - we reckon 6 months of travelling the world (from trekking on the Inca Trail and through the Amazon to riding an elephant in Thailand) should just about cover it!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Patpong, Bangkok and the foiled Gem scam

After a short and pleasant flight (well, apart from being served up a grey circle of processed meat in a bap) we arrived at Bangkok airport from Koh Samui. We were planning a big night out with my friend Mark, whom I'd worked with in Ibiza 11 years earlier and had not seen in 10 years. As he is currently living in Bangkok he promised to show us the sights. Although some of the sights he showed us I wish we hadn't seen...
The night didn't get off to a great start when we touched down at Bangkok and I switched on my mobile to a text from Mark informing us that there was an election in Bangkok that night, so no bars or shops would be selling alcohol until midnight on Sunday. We were exasperated - I mean why hold an election on a Saturday night? It seemed absurd.
We gathered up all our worldy goods onto our backs and negotiated our way back to the Khao San Rd, where we hunted out suitable budget accommodation. Arriving at the Khao San Palace we discovered that this title was pretty undeserved and the room rate was double what had been advertised ("only deluxe room available Madam"). Eager to get out on the town , we accepted it anyway and hurried upstairs to get ready. "If this is the deluxe suite, I wonder what the basic room is like, " I pondered aloud, scanning the room dubiously. The walls were dirty, there was one holey sheet on the bed and no topsheet and the shower was a feeble shower head positioned above the toilet, despite there being plenty of room for it elsewhere in the bathroom. It was a bit of a jolt after the luxury of the villa in Koh Samui but we tried to readjust ourselves back into penniless traveller mode and carried on...
Changed and ready, we took a taxi to Mark's apartment off the Sukhumvit Rd where he was having a drink with his friends before heading to Patpong. We had heard about the seedy nature of the area but seeing as it was the only district to be serving alcohol during the ban we swallowed our pride and headed out to a show...
Stepping out of the taxi we were greeted with flashing neon signs, go-go bars, begging children and a bustling street market selling everything from counterfeit sunglasses to fake tattoo sleeves (which Louise bought two of later that night.)
Bracing ourselves we allowed ourselves to be ushered into a Ping Pong Show, where the promoter assured us we'd get our first drink for free. Agreeing that we'd just stay long enough to satisfy our curiosity and have one drink we stepped inside.
I was greeted with a pingpong ball whizzing past my head, narrowly missing taking one of my eyes out, as the whole crowd inside turned to follow it's path. Not the calm and controlled entrance I'd been hoping to make but still, at least it hadn't hit me. I shuddered as I contemplated explaining to an STD clinic how I'd managed to get an infection in my EYE. Yuk!
We took our seats, Louise Kirsten and I being the only females in the "establishment" - well, the only ones wearing clothes anyway.And with all our own teeth.
We ordered our drinks and sat back to watch the show, trying to avoid making eye contact with any of the girls on stage. As the club was pretty small this was more difficult than you might think and I found myself averting my gaze as the tiny Thai girls (and a couple of not-so-tiny ones) slithered up and down poles. One of the girls stepped forward and assembled her tools of the trade on the floor in front of her. I was alarmed to see darts and balloons, and before long she was spread-eagled on the floor popping balloons held above various mens' heads with parts of her anatomy that should never come into contact with darts.
And so the show continued - we saw a fat woman playing a French horn (and not with her lips, well not the ones on her face anyway), a girl who picked up plastic hoops with her nether regions and tossed them over empty bottles (I'd don't think that was what Fisher Price had in mind when they designed them), and one who produced miles of streamers from "down there". After half an hour or so we'd seen enough and made a swift exit. We gave a sigh of relief and headed for one of the "normal" bars, although I'm not sure that normal exists in Patpong.
After several more vodka redbulls and tired of being harrassed by streetkids touting their wares (Louise the sucker bought entire bouquets of red roses from the cutest ones) we headed back to Mark's and then on to the hostel, where Kirsten and Louise had just enough time for a shower and a powernap before their earlybird flight back to the UK...
Later that evening Liam and I headed out for dinner on the Khao San Rd, before going back to bed, ready for some sightseeing the next day.
The next morning we set off to arrange our tickets to Cambodia and settled on some bus tickets which would leave at 7.30am the next day,take us to the border at Poipet, wait whilst we arranged our visas into the country, then continue on to Siem Reap, arriving at 6pm that evening. Or that was the plan, but obviously when you take into account Thai Time which I mentioned earlier we knew this was unlikely to be the case.
Happy that we'd decided on a plan of action, we headed out into the streets of Bangkok to take in some sights. As we stood gazing at our Lonely Planet and trying to work out which way the King's Palace was, a little Thai man appeared out of nowhere and began chatting to us. He leaned casually against the railings of the bridge and offered us directions, not seeming to want anything in return. We should have smelled a rather large rat at this point, but allowed him to explain that the King's Palace was closed due to a public holiday, but if we liked he could draw us a map of some other temples which were worth a visit and free for tourists to enter. We studied his map and a tuk-tuk driver who just happened to be nearby took the map and agreed to take us to each of the temples for only 20 baht. Seeing as 20 baht is about 40 pence we thought he had made a mistake but he assured us that this was correct. I know that saying "if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is" but we pushed our cynicism aside and jumped into the tuk-tuk.
For the first part of the afternoon he kept to his side of the bargain, dutifully taking us to a huge standing Buddha made from gold, then to a temple where people with ragged clothes and lacking teeth spent their last baht on tiny slivers of gold leaf which they took it in turns to solemnly rub onto various religious statues.
The next 2 temples he took us to were closed and he appeared to be getting a little impatient. The final port of call on our little jaunt was a gem factory.Hmmm.. Finally, the penny dropped. We were expected to buy grossly overpriced gems in gaudy yellow gold with brightly-coloured stones which were probably fakes anyway. The driver begged us to buy something, saying that the factory would give him free gasoline if we did. Having heard first-hand of such scams and knowing people who have fallen for them, only to find their jewellery to be worthless, we made our excuses and attempted to leave.Jumping back into the tuk-tuk, our driver began to drive then thought better of it and dumped us unceremoniously into the street, shouting abuse at us. Oh well, we'd had a free afternoon's sightseeing, hadn't succumbed to their cunning plan and the poor chap hadn't even got his 20 baht, seeing as he had jumped back into his tuk-tuk and sped off into the sunset.I'd been planning to give him a generous tip as well. One point to The Walshes I guess...
By the time the morning came we'd had our fill of hectic Bangkok and were eager to continue to Cambodia. Little did we know just how much Buddhist calm would be required for the epic journey to Siem Reap, home to eighth wonder of the world, the temples of Angkor...

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