I was in Chiang Mai when the King’s sister died. She was greatly loved by the Thai people, or at least by the King. Or as Noom, my bar boy friend and love of my life put it, “Da Thai people lub da King”. (Leaving me to figure out that by extension that includes his sister). I don’t know how I became aware that she had died. I don’t really keep up with the news when I’m on holiday. I don’t read Thai newspapers. I may occasionally tune into CNN to make sure the world hasn’t ended, but then CNN wouldn’t be reporting on the death of minor royalty. I do know I took a picture in Chiang Mai of some governmental building’s compound fence draped in black in respect to her passing. And I was aware that she’d died before heading back to Bangkok and to Noom.
Like most Thai bar bois, Noom loves watching TV, or at least having the TV on. He prefers the Thai language stations. They give me a headache. He tunes into the news often. I never have a clue as to what they are reporting, but he’s fine with trying to translate for me. The death was a solemn occasion for the Thai people. All the newscasters were dressed in black and there were frequent film clip homages to the lady for days. So I heard a lot of, “Da Thai people lub da King” interspersed with “Da King sissah lub da Thai people”. I think that’s when I figured out who had died.
Some touri in Thailand may be a bit better about keeping in touch with world events than I. I have no doubt a whole slew of them knew about her death before it sunk into the languorous haze that passes for consciousness when I’m on holiday in Bangkok. It was in the English language papers if I’d bothered to pick one up. Fine. But even in my ignorance I still trumped the touri masses, because I had Noom.
Her funeral didn’t take place for close to a year later. And then there was a big brouhaha over the King having a seven tiered umbrella placed over the casket (which is strictly reserved for a dead king and maybe major monks). But that was all fun to come. For now, reverence needed to be paid, and a nation’s loss mourned. I got the first inkling that’d her death would become part of my holiday when Noom insisted we go to MBK, a large Bangkok shopping center favored by locals and touri alike, to buy him a black shirt. When the King’s sister dies, you have to wear a black shirt. This makes sense as the Thais have a shirt color scheme for each day of the week as well as for political party affiliation.
Taking the BTS to MBK we cut through Tokyu’s, the Japanese Department store. I eyed suitable black dress shirts for him while mulling over in my mind how hot he looks in black and how seldom he likes wearing the color. Not that I have a one-track mind. But, as usual, he had other plans. So out into the mall and up the escalators to the 6th floor and the 99 baht T shirt stands. I love watching him make decisions when he shops. His forehead scunches up as he mentally weighs the pros and cons of whatever it is he’s pawing through. And I just stand back and stare at his ass. Oh, guess I do have a one-track mind.
He picked out a black T with a graphic of a guy holding a gun to a woman’s head superimposed over the word ‘Bitch”. OK. I explained to him that the shirt maybe was inappropriate for the occasion and made sure he knew the English word bitch and what it meant. But I guess the color black over ruled, and he stuck with his choice. And then picked out two more T’s, not black. They were cheap and he knew I’d have no problem buying them for him. We had dinner, probably spent the night in some bar, and then back to the hotel and another night of him wrapping himself around me as we slept. That’s why I love Thailand.
Normally, what we do during the day is up to me. Typical Thai confrontation avoidance. But the next morning he awoke with purpose. Not that I could make any sense out of what his purpose was. But no problemo. After breakfast, wearing his respectful black King dead sister T shirt he hailed down a taxi and off we sped to points unknown.
The English language newspapers might not have bothered to inform anyone of what was up, but the Thai language TV news had. There was to be a memorial exhibition at The Ananda Samakhon Throne Hall on the grounds of The Dusit Palace. Maybe the touri missed it, but the city’s denizens sure didn’t. There were thousands of Thais, all wearing black, lined up to make their way thru the memorial. It took us close to two hours to get inside and when we did it was so packed with bodies that you had no choice but to shuffle along with the herd. And there wasn’t another white face to be seen.
Evidently, whenever there is a major event in the life of the royal family, in celebration a piece of art is commissioned. These are primarily sculptures made of gold and precious jewels. Of various sizes, the majority being table top size, only a few artists work on each piece and it can take months of their time to finish. Incredibly detailed, even if they weren’t made of precious metal and gems they’d still be as extraordinary. Picture taking was not allowed. A shame because I could never come close to describing how beautiful each piece was. There were also a few pieces, including a set of enormous chandeliers, made from a native beetle whose wings are an iridescence neon green. The hanging lamps each featured over 500,000 of these wings. Lots of intricately carved wood panels too, each detailing a moment in Thailand’s history.
You’d think that with that much wealth on display there would have been lots of armed guards around and everything would be under glass. But no, with the exception of a few docents moving people along there were no guards, and all of the displays could easily be touched. Didn’t notice anyone doing so though and I can only assume that was out of a sign of respect for the King. Or his dead sister.
None of these pieces are displayed to the public except at the birth or death of a royal family member. (In fact the throne hall is only open to the public on special holidays) After the art work, there was a large room of tables with hundreds of guest books laid out so that each visitor could write a special message to the King. Watching the many barely literate Thais carefully composing and printing out their messages was quite an emotional spectacle. Then, this being Thailand, there was of course a major souvenir stand to pass through before being deposited by the crowds outside once again.
Outside, since Noom declared, “I pee pee”, I got to witness another Thai oddity. The bathroom bus. They don’t do port-a-potties at events with large crowds. Instead they pull in one or more old school buses, the interiors lined with piss and shit holes. Quite rank, not air conditioned, leaking like sieves. I thanked Buddha that my bladder was empty. There are some things you just don’t have to experience to experience. Know what I mean?
If it wasn’t for Noom I certainly would not have know about this event as it was obvious few other Westeners did since I didn’t see any during the four hours we spent at the exhibition. I doubt even hanging with a bar boi d’jour would have been enough to have been included on what was a Thai focused event. There is a definite plus to being in a relationship with a local.
I just hope that when the next Royal dies in Thailand I can convince Noom not to wear his black Bitch T-shirt.
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“You want boy?” The sidewalk tout queries in a soft voice as you stroll down Suriwong. “Yikes!” You think, aghast that you’d been mistaken as a pedophile on the prowl. But before you start reevaluating your mode of dress and physical demeanor, realize that in Thailand, the term ‘boy’ does not mean an underage male but rather loosely covers any and all Thai men, especially those working the sex trade.
Yes, yes, a rose by any other name, and all that crap. I know it’s only a matter of perception, but the wide spread use of the word ‘boy’ to refer to the guys working in the commercial sex trade is rife with misconceptions.
I think the use of boy stems from it being the pairing to girl. And girls were the original prostitution offering in Thailand. No one thinks you mean a minor when you use the term girl. But ‘boy’ still, for many of us, carries the connotation of underaged guys. Maybe it’s just splitting hairs, but I’ve taken to spelling the word boi to separate it from the pedo-world use of the term. What’s important is to realize when you use the word boy in Thailand, you don’t mean a boy as in a minor. That’d be ‘young boy’. And if that’s what you are looking for, you should be shot. (Actually, cock ripped off and a hot poker rammed up your ass to start would be better, but I’m being nice here.)
Trying to find out the Thai definition of the term ‘boy’ is next to impossible. Ask 100 different Thais and you’ll get 100 different answers. Some use age, typically stating that 30 and under qualifies as a boi. I was told once that it is a matter of martial status: you are a boy until you marry, then you are a man. But I know plenty of bar bois with a wife back home who are still referred to, and refer to themselves, as boi.
Probably the most valid explanation I’ve heard is that within the bar industry every guy is called a boi. Regardless of age, martial status, or whatever defining event you care to use to distinguish the difference between a boi and a man. This also seems the logical explanation as the opposing ‘man’ usually doesn’t mean of a certain age, but rather sexual orientation . . . or at least sexual position. ‘Does he bottom,” I ask a local friend of a boi that strikes my fancy. “No”, he’ll reply, “He man.”
Years ago the word on the internet was that when referring to preferred sexual position the terms in use by the Thai bois were King and Queen. Don’t think I need to explain. But once in Thailand I discovered this was just some weird fantasy someone drummed up. None of the Thais I met had a clue what I was talking about. And for good reason. The King/Queen thing is like saying man or woman. It has nothing to do with a sexual position in that asking a guy if he’d be willing to be a queen just got you a blank look. To the Thai way of thinking, a ‘man’ doesn’t bottom (at least not often and never if it means his mates will know). So then, if the guy’s not a queen, cuz that term isn’t used, what is he if you’re looking for a bottom? Gay.
Yup. Forget all those years you spent in turmoil to finally be able to proudly proclaim you are gay. In Thailand, you may not be. If you ask my bar boi friend if I’m gay, he’d tell you “No, he man.” On the other hand a friend of some friends joining us on my trip last December was immediately identified as ‘gay’ by my Thai friend, as there was just something a bit soft about him (and yeah, turns out he was 100% a bottom).
So then ladyboys are gay, right? Nope. Fool. They’re ladyboys. That’s one of the few lables clearly understandable to all Thais. Trying to label anyone else is problematic because while Westeners love defining labels, Thais just don’t think that way. You are what you are. Thai guys are not straight, gay, or bi; they are flexisexual. Not being hampered by the confines of Christian, Jewish, or Islamic belief, if it is going to be fun, why not? That’s why so many of the guys working in the gay gogo bars are ‘straight’. It’s not that they are gay for pay, but rather selling their bodies to gay guys is an easy source of money, and there is an orgasm involved. And orgasms are fun. Got it?
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My original intention for my Trash Time category was to use it solely to bitch slap deserving gay blogs and forums. Which I’ve been doing. Though I’ve also posted a few kudos, too. Since in addition to each blog or forum as a whole, I can slam individual posts (that’d be can and will) there is a never ending source of inspiration available to me. But I didn’t really leave a category for taking on all the other people, places, and things in SE Asia that really piss me off. And I need to rant. I am, therefore I bitch. So I’m expanding my original line up, starting with this post. Lucky you. And a big Up Yours! to Air Asia:
A quick three day trip down to Penang to frolic in the ocean a bit and eat, eat, eat was the plan. I had a few extra days to kill as I’d cancelled plans to go to Burma (since they were busy killing monks at the time I had to get my visa). Penang became my destination choice because 1. I’d never been there, and 2. Air Asia had an incredibly cheap flight available. Even though I’ve learned that cheap is not necessarily always a good option.
I flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with no problem. Even was amused at the cabin crew’s fascist behavior in prohibiting passengers from eating or drinking anything they had brought on the plane (Air Asia’s rule is if you want something to eat or drink, you have to buy it from them at over inflated prices).
My flight back to Bangkok, with a 2 hour layover before my flight to Penang was where the trouble began. The flight was 90 minutes late leaving Chiang Mai. Turns out Air Asia runs a bit late throughout their schedule compounding the delays as the day progresses. So obviously I missed my flight to Penang. And it was the last one of the day. Now I’m a pretty mellow traveler and generally do not get upset over the little things. Even when it costs me a few thousand baht. Which in this case it would and did since I had to cab back into Bangkok and get a room for the night. Yes, I could have spent 14 hours at the airport instead, but ya know, that’s just not me. And even though Air Asia’s delay cost me some bucks, I was feeling pretty good about them as an agent met me as I deplaned to arrange a new ticket for the following days flight. Nice service, I thought.
I had to go to the main ticket counter to do this, but a supervisor was waiting for me to issue the ticket. And then demanded 1,400 baht for ‘cancelling’ my current ticket (for a plane that had already left). I smiled (it doesn’t pay to show anger in Asia) and explained that it was the airline’s fault that I needed to book on a new flight, not mine, and that their error already was costing me a considerable sum. The supervisor smiled back and agreed, but, “So, sorry,” she said. “You pay 1,400 baht.”
We went back and forth smiling at each other for several minutes until she finally agreed to issue the new ticket for a mere 800 baht. Accepting that this was the best ‘win’ I was going to get, I had the ticket issued and headed out to the taxi line to get into town for the night.
So my cheap flight to Penang ended up costing me an extra $125. That’s about $50 more than the cost would have been if I had originally booked on Thai Air. Plus my three days in Penang became a two day trip, hardly enough time to explore Georgetown much less the rest of the island. On the plus side, I have an excuse to return to Penang now, and I know that if I book a flight on a cut rate airline in the future, I need to fly early in the day and make sure I’m not connecting to another flight.
I still use Air Asia, though I have a love/hate relationship with the airline. I love the incredibly cheap deals I can get. And hate everything else about them. To be fair, they make a point of telling you up front they are a destination to destination carrier. Meaning connecting flights are not connecting flights, but are rather two sperate flights. Even though their agents will happily book you on a connecting flight. Yes, I love Thailand! Since my initial lesson in flying Air Asia I only book connecting flights when there is a minimum of five hours between flights. And even then it has been a close call a few times. You’ve been warned!
I’ve visited Angkor Wat twice now, and both trips provided a plethora of monk shots. It’s nice that in addition to being a major touri destination, Angkor Wat is still used by the locals as a place of worship. It’s also nice, considering my monk picture taking jones, that it attracts lots of saffron robed visitors, too. On my last trip while I was standing in a shady spot snapping away, I sensed a nearby presence. Turned out to be a chubby little monk on holiday, point and shoot camera in hand. He wanted to take my picture. I guess ‘exotic’ is all a matter of perspective!
The first hotel I stayed at in Bangkok, some 25 years or so ago, was The Manhattan off Sukhumvit. Wasn’t my choice, one of my travel partners, Ann, picked the place and arranged our stay there. It was a perfect lesson in why going cheap isn’t necessarily your best bet in selecting a hotel in Bangkok.
Back then The Manhattan ran US$38 a night. So it wasn’t the cheapest place in town, more of an ‘economical’ choice than down right cheap. It was long enough ago that I’m fuzzy on all of its faults, but do remember the wallpaper. Rather than nice tight seams in the corners, the wallpaper was looped around the squared off junctions giving the room a distinct oval look. The place is walkable to Sukhumvit, so location probably wasn’t at fault. But there was enough wrong with the place that we all agreed to find a new hotel when we got back from out quick trip up to Chiang Mai.
We flew Thai Air to Chiang Mai and I found an ad for a hotel in the airline’s flight magazine I jokingly showed to Ann. Narry’s Hotel at $20 a night. Ann didn’t see the humor, she saw the savings and demanded we check it out when we got back. Oh, shit.
This place was not Nari’s on Silom (an okay average place) but rather a stack of rooms above Narry’s Tailor on Sukhumvit Soi 11. The hallways were filled with baskets of dirty laundry (Narirys provides cheap laundry service). The rooms. Ahhh the rooms. Think 1950 mid-western Sears special motif. Then add lots of dirt. Narry’s might have provided cheap laundry service but didn’t seem to utilize the service themselves. Quick pass and back out onto the soi.
We spent another 45 minutes checking out the other cheap dumps on the soi. Narry’s still won the OMG award, but the others were close running candidates. We were getting no where fast so I suggested we split up to see if anyone could find a winner. My first try was The Swiss Park, tucked into the corner of the soi. Mmmm, what’s this? A spacious reception area with marble floors? Intrigued, I checked out the cost ($US45 – $US60), and asked to see a room. Wow. Spacious, Clean, fairly modern decor, and marble floors again. I was sold.
Pricier than what we had started with, that’s one of the things I loved about Ann, she could admit when she was wrong and embraced our new home with gusto. Meaning she went with the $60 ‘Executive Suite’, too. The Swiss Park had an incredible buffet breakfast included with the cost of the room, a friendly staff (with cute bell hops), andits location was dead on. So we went from an Oh Yuk! accommodation to a happy smile for a mere $22 more.
Now a lot of travellers, especially the cheapskates, will tell you your hotel and room really doesn’t matter. That it is just a place to lay your head. That you really don’t spend all that much time in your room anyway. All valid points. If penny pinching is your top priority. On a subsequent trip Ann, Char, and I brought along a friend, Karen who quickly became know as Tiger Balm Karen (already posted her tale, you can use the search box to the right to find it). TBK didn’t want to pay $60 a night for a room and opted for a hotel across the soi that only charged $30. We visited her room (well, we took turns, all of us couldn’t fit at one time). It was red. Red walls, red bedspread, red carpeting. With a beautiful view of the side of the next door building through a tiny window. Guess who was relaxed and refreshed after an afternoon’s nap each day. Not Karen.
The Swiss Park became my home in Thailand for a good ten years. I became quite friendly with the manager, Can-Can (another tale) and was always warmly welcomed by familiar faces each time I arrived in the Kingdom. The place is still there, a bit more worn down these days, still charging 1800 baht for the executive room, and I’d still be using it as my base but they are the sole Bangkok hotel hold out on wi-fi. None. Nada. Not even if you pay for it. Totally unacceptable in these connected days.
I’ve stayed at numerous hotels in Bangkok since then. I’m always in search of the perfect place. Good location, good free breakfast, welcoming to over night guests, clean, spacious, and with free wi-fi. Some have been okay, others barely making the grade. But none have been an outright dog. Because I quit looking at the budget properties. Not that I’m looking to pay $100 a night places or more. I’m still being economical. It’s just that you can find a $60 – $80 room in Bangkok that will rival a $200 a night room back in the U.S. So why wouldn’t you?
The best place I’ve found is the Centre Point Silom located over by the Shangrila, riverside. Beautiful property set behind and attached to a Robinson’s department store. Nice spacious rooms, full kitchen, washer dryer, big spacious shower with good water pressure, incredible breakfast buffet, and a 1 minute walk to the closest BTS station. When the baht was trading at 40 to 1, I was paying $57 a night through Agoda. Now the same room tips the scale at just over $100. The economy sucks to boot so I’ve abandoned Centre Point and started my quest for the perfect hotel once again. Wonder what Narry’s Hotel looks like these days?
Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is known locally, is the capitol of Malaysia and worthy a stop when visiting SE Asia. It boasts both the old and new, the familiar and unfamiliar. I won’t bore you here with all of the things you can do and see in the area, but will bore you with one of my favorites.
My first visit to KL was a mere three weeks after 9/11. Malaysia is an Islamic country. So getting off the plane and seeing folk in Muslim dress was a bit unnerving. At first. But the people of Malaysia are wonderful and friendly, no where that I went did I ever receive poor treatment because I was white and obviously American. If anything, the opposite was true.
Typical of me, I picked a hotel close to the major night market area. Hey, what can I say? I love night markets in Asia, for both their unbelievable bargains and for the local color. KL’s main night market is in the China Town area, with its signature lantern-lined streets and pre-war shop houses, now oddly complemented by palm trees and modern roofing aimed at sheltering shoppers from Kuala Lumpur’s heavy rains. Nevertheless, the area retains its old world charm when it transforms, come rain or shine, into a bustling night market: Petaling Street, where a vibrant mix of Chinese, Nepalese and Burmese traders all vie for attention selling jewelry, herbal medicines, dried food, designer T-shirts, handbags and wallets. Knock-offs and fakes abound. Striking a bargain is not always easy. The trick is to throw in a few local terms like “Murah sikit?” (A little cheaper?) or “Mahal sangat!” (Too expensive!) and pretend to leave in a huff. Sure enough, a voice will call out behind you. “Okay lah, Okay lah! Ow-mach-you-wan?”
The difference between this street market and those in Bangkok, is that the prices are even better here. And the come on starts with, “Sir”, instead of, “Hey, Mistah!”. What’s the same is their pointing out the obvious, “Sir, watches for you, Sir!” from the guy standing next to a table full of . . . you guessed it . . . watches! And the T shirt vendors all tagged on, “Big Sizes” for me, which made me first think I really needed to go on a diet until I realized, gazing over everyone else’s heads, that the reference was to my height and not width.
At what amounted to under $2, I picked up a few pirated DVDs, the obligatory T shirt (BTW, Big Size, was still a bit small for me) and spent most of the time wandering. Ready for a break and some food, I back tracked to Jalan Sultan where I’d previously spied a whole line of sidewalk restaurants. Being the picky type of person I am, I found an empty table in the middle of the line of stalls and grabbed it. Turned out it didn’t really matter because the waiter went and grabbed food from any and all of the restaurants.
The menu was about 20 pages long. In Malaysian. But there were some pictures, so after getting a beer, I pointed out a picture of some chicken satay. “Small, Medium, Large?” was the waiter’s reply. Mmmmmmm, this could be fun! So I ordered a small and quickly pointed to a picture of a beef dish. Small again. And Small shrimp, small noodles, small fish, small whatever that is . . . the waiter caught on. “You like hot?’ A nod, he scribbled. “You like sweet?” more scribbling, “vegetables? . . . you get the picture. And I soon had a table filled with delectable treats. And I do mean filled. And the food kept coming.
So there I sat, relaxing outdoors at a table a mere few feet away from the passing crowds, pigging out while I people watched. And the people watched back. Guess a single diner with enough food to feed a family of three on his table was an amusing sight . . . the kids sure got a laugh out of it! The entire meal came to 55 ringetts, which is about $18. And I was stuffed. A memorable meal, not only for the food, but the fun of making a spectacle out of myself. Ask me about KL, and I’ll immediately think first of that streetside dining evening.
OK. Not a monk. I call them nuns, but haven’t a clue to what the female version of a monk is really called. You run across these ladies more in Cambodia than Thailand. Always with the monks’ shaved head. This one was cleaning up a minor shrine area behind the Bayon in Angkor Thom. As I was snapping away while she swept the area, another touri with a camera came by. She noticed. And decided to sit down and pose for him. I usually don’t care for the posed shots, but this face just can not be denied!
As much as I hate to perpetuate an often published misconception (like that the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok is one of the top 10 things to see), I’ve read too often that walking the streets of Phnom Penh at night is a dumb move. And really didn’t feel like challenging this assumption. Not that I ever felt the least bit unsafe in Cambodia. But hey, why take chances? And there is little doubt in your mind when you visit Cambodia that life here is not held in too high of a regard.
So I found myself back at my hotel before night fall on the first few nights of my trip. But I needed some rest anyway and I had a load of pirated DVD’s to watch, to boot. But then I made my new BFF out of Mr. Jeat and he wasn’t taking no for an answer when he invited me out for a night on the town. Which was cool. I am a night person. And figured braving the dark with a local at your side had to be ok. Or at least a bit safer.
I was actually looking forward to our outting figuring we’d end up at some locale version of a bar. You see these down small alleys throughout SE Asia. Small. Lots of those damn little plastic stools not made for a white person’s ass. Often with unlabeled beer bottles on the tables. Hangover be damned, I was going to get a local’s night out on the town experience. Or so I thought.
Mr. Jeat had different plans. First, he made the wrong assumption that I’d not appreciate a local watering hole. Second, like in Thailand, in Cambodia it’s a given that whoever has the most cash in their pocket will be paying for the night’s bill. And that would obviously be me. So why go to his nightly hang out when he had a chance to hit a place he’d never be able to afford on his own? And while we’re dreaming, why not share his good luck with a few friends? And that’s how I ended up getting plastered with three Khmer guys at the famous / infamous Heart of Darkness bar/club.
The Heart of Darkness has a long reputation as it was the original go-to bar in Phnom Penh. It’s expanded over the years and is now more of a club than bar, but still a bit on the dank and dodgy side (which really sooooo fits Phnom Penh!) A mere five minutes away from my hotel by motorcycle, we set off a bit early in the night (11 PM) after Mr. Jeat’s friend #1 showed up. Nice guy. A cop. Somewhere in his early 30’s. Spoke absolutely zero English. But still was communicative as all hell. Somewhere during the introductions I’m sure his name was said, but having totally missed it I dubbed him Juan for the night (a traditional choice on my part with a lengthy lineage amongst unpronounceable named guys I’ve met the world over). And he totally got that and was thumbing his chest and saying, “Juan” before the night was through.
During the ride over Jeat negotiated road hazards and the crappy driving habits of his fellow countrymen while dialing up another fiend to invite him along for the night. A chance to party in the big time was evidently a great draw as we didn’t have to wait long outside the club for Nok to show up. Not my tuk tuk driver Nok, but a new Nok. Which technically made him Nok Nok and I was immediately giggling over the whole knock knock thing and then trying to explain it to my new friends who were totally not getting it and beginning to wonder what kind of lunatic they’d hooked up with. No problemo though, a night’s drinking was at hand.
Security is pretty heavy at the Heart of Darkness ever since they had a shoot out inside several years ago. So we all went through a metal detector and then as the sole white guy I got a pat down to boot (yeah, ‘cuz the 50 something old white touri guy is really gonna be your problem). The club wasn’t too packed, but that rapidly began to change and it was pretty much standing room only by 2am. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Juan had been here before and knew the layout so we grabbed some beers from the bar and headed upstairs where there was better seating. And then started the typical conversation of comparing life (prices) in our respective countries. I find this is not only a good ice breaker when travelling but is always of interest, too. So we did beer (eh), smokes (what!), traffic tickets (wide eyes, total disbelief, much repeating of each infraction’s cost), etc. as round two and three were consumed with me sampling various local brews and the boys happily ordering up foreign brands costing more than they made in a day. A slow conversation though as Jeat had to stop and translate for Juan.” And, why did we bring him again?” I thought.
By round four, or maybe five, we were all feeling quite happy with ourselves as the bar ground into top gear. The white folk arriving were mostly backpackers with the guys looking like they’d found heaven and the few women looking like they couldn’t wait to escape. The locals, on the other hand, were all obviously from a different social class than my new friends. Dressed to kill (though hopefully not literally) and flashing whatever they could afford to flash. And one thing they all seemed to flash was bodyguards, which was quickly pointed out to me by Nok (in almost a reverent tone). OK. Ah, what the hell. Fate. Karma. When it’s your time to go . . . and besides, I was sure if trouble started no one was going to go after the old white guy first anyway.
Turns out though that there was a reason for Juan’s presence. I guess being a cop doesn’t pay all that well in Phnom Penh so most moonlight as bodyguards for the monied class. And half of the scary guys scowling at the room were his friends. I guess being a bodyguard in Phnom Penh isn’t the same as providing security and protection back in the States ‘cuz I was soon being introduced to most of them (and since it was by Juan, all in Khmer, of course) and buying even more bottles each round as our little corner soon became bodyguard central. And the big smile and wink from Juan clued me into that even though he spoke no English he’d perfectly followed my entire line of thought.
Now one of the truly fucked up things about being in your fifties and still feeling and acting like you’re in your twenties is that when you hit a club solo and feel like dancing it’s difficult to find a partner who won’t view you as some old leach. I think when I hit 80 it’ll be ok and I’ll then just be the cute old codger who wants to boogie. But at 50 it’s a problem. And I felt like dancing. Mostly because as more and more people piled in the music kept getting louder and by now conversation was impossible so dancing was all that was left.
So I started looking about for a white woman to pull out onto the dance floor and saw that with the exception of a few who had not yet been able to drag their backpacker boyfriend outta there the female ratio of any race was down to about .001%. Somewhat befuddled I looked over at Jeat and yelled questioningly, “women?” And he laughed. A lot. And then scooted closer to point out the groups around the floor starting with the local gay guys (a large contingent) around the DJ, the touri gay guys (small group) behind them and then the ‘not gay’ group that encompassed the rest of the club’s patrons but didn’t encompass any women. And I cracked up. I’d managed to end up in a not gay bar filled with nothing but hot young Cambodian guys with a large majority of them being gay.
And my chances of finding someone to dance with suddenly increased 100 fold. ‘Cuz even at 50 when you feel like bogeying and you’re in bar in SE Asia half filled with gay guys, you’re gonna have plenty of partners to choose from. Not that I had time to choose. Juan, Mr. mind-reader no-speak-English, figured it out, grabbed my hand and with a big smile and much laughter pulled me downstairs and onto the dance floor. And the boy could dance! And, damn if he wasn’t hot, to boot. So of course, then my mind’s going, “Soooooo?” and Juan did his physic thing again, dancing closer and grabbing me where no straight guy, not even a TSA agent, is ever gonna grab another guy. Straight? Gay? Bisexual? Who knows. That’s one of the things about guys in SE Asia, there always seems to be a fluidity in their sexual repertoire that boils down more to having a good time than anything else.
We danced, we drank, we watched two separate minor fist fights break out. And sometime in the early morning hours headed back outside where Nok and Jeat mounted their motorcycles to head home to their wives and I hopped onto Juan’s bitch seat and headed back to the hotel. I guess if he spoke English we’d have spent a few uncomfortable minutes back at the hotel doing the ‘ya wanna come up’ thing but instead we both let our smiles do the talking.
The next morning a bleary eyed Jeat was on duty already when we came down for breakfast. I asked him to ask Juan if he wanted to go out again that night and the translated reply was he couldn’t cuz his wife would get mad if he was out two nights in a row. Gotta love Cambodia!
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Thai currency is called baht. Currently trading around 30 to a U.S. dollar, it takes a lot of baht to buy something . . . which means it takes very little US$ to do so. A decent hotel, meaning clean and somewhat spacious, will run you around 1,800 baht a night or US$60. A scrumptious meal for two about US$18 and a Big Mac Deal US$3.00. Most all prices are negotiable, so learn to barter well because though there’s little value in baht, it all adds up.
There are money exchanges all over the city, especially where tourists congregate. A bank of them at the airport too, right outside the arrivals hall. The rates here suck so you’ll want to exchange just a bit of cash to cover your transportation to your hotel, (should run around 500 baht) bell hop tips, etc. to tide you over ‘till you cash a few of the $100 bills in in the morning.
Your hotel will exchange money for you. They are glad to do so because the exchange rate will greatly favor them. Don’t do it. Walk outside, hit the first exchange booth you pass and you’ll get a better deal. The best rates I’ve found are at a Super Rich in the Pratunam area, though any of their branches in the major touri area will be giving a better rate than their competition. To get to the main branch, take the BTS to Chit Lom, walk through Gaysorn Plaza, down the street past Big C and then down the small soi just before the bridge over the klong. The real Super Rich has orange awnings, the fake Super Rich across the soi has green awnings. Don’t ya just love Thailand?
You have options in getting some baht into your pocket. You can exchange cash, cash in travellers checks, or withdraw it through an ATM. I’m not a big fan of travellers checks, they’re just not as usable as cash. The exchange rate is a bit better than it is for cash normally, but then there is a fee for using them to make the exchange and you could actually end up with less baht than if you had exchanged cash. Your call.
If you exchange cash, you get a better rate on $100 bills than smaller denominations, So stock up on ‘em before leaving home. Get the new bills and the freshest looking ones you can. Most money exchangers won’t take the old bills any longer and soiled and/or heavily used bills won’t pass muster with them either.
Getting money from your bank account through an ATM is a breeze. But watch it: the fees charged can quickly add up. Your bank may charge you for using an ATM that isn’t theirs even if it is on their system. Visa and MasterCard both tack on a exchange fee and your bank probably does too with both easily adding up to 3% and higher. Check first before you go, it might be better to take the cash with you. The ATM’s in Thailand also impose a 150 baht fee. So it can get pricey to use ATM’s. If you do opt for the ATM, they are all over the place in Bangkok, just like in your home town.
The nice thing about baht is that the notes are different colors and sizes with the larger denominations being the larger size bills. Makes it easier to pull out the correct bill in a dark bar.
Coins are a pain in the ass in any country. The usable coin in Thailand is 10 baht. It’s about the size of a quarter, silver with a bronze colored middle. Great for taxi fares and for using on the Skytrain. The five baht coins can be collected and used in lieu of the 10 baht coins. The 1 baht coins are worthless. Drop ‘em in any beggar’s cup to get rid of them. You’ll free your pockets up from the weight and make merit at the same time.