Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Big Trip, Country 1 - A Party in Thailand’s Pants

There is a saying. “There is a party in my pants and everyone is invited.”

If someone were to actually try to fit a few million party people into their pair of pants, that hot, humid and thoroughly frenetic gusset would be Bangkok. The city assaults the senses with it‘s sheer vibrancy, teeming and steaming in humidity so intense that to step out of the air conditioning for the briefest moment is to look like a marathon runner in their last mile. The city’s buildings and temples sparkle in the sun by day and are festooned with neon and fairy lights by night. The river throngs with boats, the dragon boat dangling flowers from their pointed and multi-coloured prows as they skim over the sullen and silt-filled water. Bangkok never sleeps. It might miss something.

On our first day and fighting lack of sleep, we are dazzled by the noise, the smells. Street vendors hawk dried fish heads and fruit next to the stench of an open sewer; tuk-tuk drivers chase tourists offering a ride; taxi drivers call out to us and wave us over. They want take us on a trip see temples and palaces. All free if we just stop to look at some shops, some hand-made suit stores, some gems, some jewellery. It’s stupidly cheap - 10 baht for a trip to the Reclining Buddha, but they raise the offer price to 200 baht home from the markets when they find we are staying in the Bangkok Hilton. At what should be 50, it’s a blatant rip-off.

As we walk off to find a cheaper option, a Thai man appears from nowhere and offers to take us out to show us a good time. Well, show P, my partner in travel and occasionally crime, a good time. There’s a party, and no pants are involved. “Girls. I show you pretty girls. Ping pong show?” he wheedles, unwilling to accept the fact that P is currently so tired he would probably only be interested if the girls offered him a pillow and perhaps a cup of cocoa.

I am tempted. A story where my partner was woken from his dreams by a damp ping pong ball to the head is tempting, but P just wants some sleep. If only we can find someone who’s not trying to rip us off to take us home.

You can’t blame them for trying. Our hotel is not a cheap option and they briefly think they have big spenders on their hands when we tell them where we want to go. But we‘re just splashing out on our accommodation. We’re staying in the Bangkok Hilton - the real one, not the prison. It couldn’t be less gaol-like. The pillows are the size of surf boards, the bathroom is bigger than several of the apartments I have rented while back-packing. The enormous breakfast buffet includes the usual suspects - fried pig for the unhealthy, fruit and nuts for the health conscious (both for me) - but also has a chef whose job is to cook waffles and serve them with melted chocolate or honey or fresh berries. I could get used to this. Why do we not have a waffle chef at home?

On the fourth floor, the infinity pool stretches into the sky. Sitting out in an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the river below with smiling Thai bringing me fluffy towels and watermelon on a stick, I keep feeling that I have stolen someone else’s holiday. I’m a backpacker. I don’t normally travel like this. But a room at the four and a half star Millennium Hilton costs around130AUD a night and we have a long arduous trip planed, most of which will be low-budget. May as well enjoy the party while it lasts.

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