As we walk out of Hulamphong train station at 8am, after a 12 hour ride, we are immediately accosted by tuk tuk and taxi drivers. Yep......we are definitely back in Bangkok.
I recall that we loved Bangkok four months ago, maybe it was the west meets east, rose colored glasses we were wearing at the beginning of our travels. Because of this, and the fact that we are meeting two of our friends we are excited to be back; this lasts for about five minutes. We head back to our old hotel which is near Khao San Rd. (backpacker central), but on a quieter side street. When we get there it seems to be way less quiet; a tailor shop has popped up here, a travel agency there. It has grown exponentially in only four short months. We are asked numerous times if we need a tuk tuk, a taxi, a suit, or a hotel room. I already feel like screaming, “If I need something I'll find it, because everything I want is all around me. Actually, it and you are smothering me. LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!” I hold it together and just ignore them, when four months ago I would have been courteous, made eye contact and said no thank you. There are tourists everywhere. Lots of them, looking very lost and worn out. They are just like me, but I don't know them, and have no desire to get to know any of them. I want to hide in our stark white, sterile hotel room and never leave. I have turned into one of the things I hoped I would never become..... an angry jaded traveler.
This attitude change is not my fault. I am going to blame it on Laos, with its quiet, tout free streets, its people's laid back attitude, and the fact that we had our own transport and could get away from the tourist areas anytime we wanted. Now we have to haggle with a driver anytime we want to go anywhere, only getting him to come down from an insanely high price to a little less insanely high price.
We meet up with Liz and Erin and this instantly makes me happier. Liz is one of my best and oldest Knoxville friends and Erin and I met several months ago, and took an instant liking to one another. They have been traveling around Thailand and Cambodia for a few weeks.
What we normally look like........
They check into our hotel and we catch up over breakfast. I must admit I missed our side street restaurant with its iced coffee, fruit salad and fresh orange juice, and the fact that in Bangkok everything you could ever want is easily accessible. We trade travel war stories, talk about our most memorable experiences and they catch us up on the gossip from home.
They had spent the day and night before with a friend in a different, calmer, less touristy part of Bangkok. We walk around a bit letting them take everything in.
Later we decide to go to an area that is known for making the bowls that the monks use to collect their alms.
We try for a meter taxi. First no one understands where we want to go, then when they do, no one will run the meter. They, once again, want us to pay a flat inflated fee. We give up and all cram on a tuk tuk.
With a few directional challenges we find what we are looking for. It's a quiet side street where people are making the bowls by hand.
A man tells us it takes three days to make one of these bowls out of eight pieces of metal. He holds it in his open palm, flicks it with his finger. It vibrates and a low ringing noise resonates from it for what seems like minutes. He explains that this is how you tell the difference between the man made and the machine made. The machine made one only making a dull thudding sound.
We all decide to buy one and a woman comes over to translate. We do a bit of bartering, which is a normal part of the purchase process here. We say a lower price and she disagrees saying, “You can afford, because you have money”. I have heard this a thousand times and it has never bothered me, but being the demonic traveler Bangkok has made me I say, “How do you know how much money we have, we have been traveling a long time?” Before I can say more Pete shushes me. The lady just smiles and says “OK, OK” and we meet in the middle. As soon as I walk away I feel stupid and I realize that compared to her and her family I do have money, a lot more money, and we paid only fifteen dollars for a handmade bowl that took three days to make.
Over dinner and drinks we discuss the different emotional responses we have all had at being thrust into a completely different culture. We all have different opinions, but all agree that we have been, if only a little, changed by our travels. We talk cameras for a bit. Liz and Erin both bought new cameras for their trip and I give them a few technical pointers. It feels good to kinda know what I am talking about.
After the sun goes down the true dirt and grit of the city comes out. Somehow Pete and I missed it all four months ago. We are approached by a tuk tuk driver carrying a card that shows us that he will take us to a place where we can watch a certain part of the female anatomy do “tricks”. We have a photo of the card, but decided not to subject anyone else to its grotesque vulgarity
We are all saddened and dismayed by this little card, none of us, more than Erin; who is an archeologist by profession, but more of an anthropologist at heart. She can't understand why this man would think a young woman would want to see another young woman be objectified like this. We have a long talk about the sex industry here and whether or not western tourists are to blame for this booming enterprise. Although it is a depressing topic, I realize how much I have missed these two intelligent friends of mine and how happy I will be to have them be a part of my life again in only a few short weeks.
The next day we say our goodbyes. Without them I really don't think we would have left our room. Thanks ladies for making Bangkok fun.
The next day we do stay in our room, only leaving for food and when night comes, we hop on a train hoping that it will take us somewhere beautiful..... someplace that will renew our faith in humanity.