Thursday, May 31, 2007

Siam, shopping without buying, Chinatown, and Khao San

Tonight I figured out that my laptop plugs into the outlets just fine and I don't need an adaptor or converter for Thailand (editors note: this later proved to be false for electronics without internal converters as I discovered by instantly blowing out my alarm clock). So I'm on my laptop right now stealing wireless from Asha guest house after sneaking the password from another guest earlier today.
This morning we slept in until almost 11 despite being awoken several times with a start throughout the morning by someone shouting on a loudspeaker, bizarre music, and what sounded like gunshots. After some dallying around, we headed out for Siam Square. The day was basically a shopping extravaganza, except I didn’t really buy anything. Ironic, I know. We started off at what seemed like the ritziest mall in Southeast Asia - the legit one with Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci, Versace, and a fancy aquarium (which we didn't enter because it cost $8). After Siam Square, we made our way over to the MBK: this other gigantic shopping center filled with all the fake stuff (which wasn't as cheap as one would think). The only thing I wound up getting was a fake light blue polo for about $5, though some random guy told us that wit the guys’ fake polos, the colors wash out after putting it in the laundry. Thomas said I could've haggled him more, but I'm not into this whole haggling thing (editors note: I’ve actually become quite good at haggling in the week since). I wasn’t particularly impressed with the MBK.
I'm actually quite hungry at the moment. Oddly enough, I haven’t been finding the right places to eat in Bangkok. Maybe it’s because most of the best food comes from the street vendors, which I’ve been warned to avoid for hygienic reasons. Today all I had was some cereal and fruit in the morning, a little bit of sushi, a smoothie, and an overpriced plate of noodles at the most expensive joint in all of Bangkok’s Chinatown. If Bangkok's crazy, Chinatown in Bangkok is even crazier (and nobody even speaks Chinese). It was crazy and congested; lined with vats of boiling oil that could pour onto you at any moment while traversing the sidewalk. It’s also noteworthy that there are no traffic lights in Bangkok - except for maybe about two which countdown from 60 and nobody heeds anyway - so crossing the street is the biggest bitch the world has ever known. It's a horrifying experience. In this city, street names and maps go out the window. Not only is trying to cross the street or find places nerve-wracking, but so is riding in a taxi, not just a tuk tuk. In both cases you could die at any moment. The driving lanes are also sizably smaller than in America.
In Chinatown, we couldn't find the restaurant we were looking for recommended by the Lonely Planet that I stole from the guest house (on the cover of which the “Thai” part in Thailand is crossed out and inexplicably now reads "Fakeland"). While walking around we noticed that there are very few actual restaurants in Chinatown, but instead street food stalls (and remember what I said about street stalls, though Thomas has been partaking and so far encountered no problems). That's what everyone does, though, and that's where all the good food supposedly lies. I couldn’t cave, and so we walked all over and couldn't decide on anything, eventually settling on the most expensive and fancy place in town. Thomas and I both ordered the cheapest dish – it was like $6, whereas everything else on the street was basically less than $1. At least I got to do a number two in the only nice bathroom in Bangkok’s Chinatown, and we were on our way in our first Tuk Tuk. A tuk tuk is one of those auto-rickshaws; basically the world’s most dangerous taxi. You have to haggle them with prices and a lot of times they don't take you where you want to go, but rather to shopping places that pay the tuk tuk drivers a kickback for customers. Tuks Tuks are smaller than cars and ride almost like motor bikes, so they weave in and out of traffic like you wouldn't believe. This particular ride was crazier than any roller coaster, especially because our driver was young, dumb, and full of ___. They're cheaper than taxis, but you also breathe in all of the pollution and can fall out during a sharp turn. Miraculously we made it to our next destination in one piece: Khao San road. One word: overrated. Thomas chose 'dodgy'. As it turns out, that's where all the (mostly dreadlocked) westerners reside along with a bevy of Thai youth and some very strange characters indeed (most of them trying to sell you bootleg stuff like TEFL certificates, licenses, and various other documents). Kind of strange that a lot of the people who visit Bangkok and stay on Khao San don’t really venture beyond the strip until heading off to the idyllic beaches. At least they get to witness the bizarre Thai man making animal sounds who reveals his secret trick if you’re willing to shell out 25baht.
I guess Khao San is one of those places you gotta check out for yourself, but it’s just not like what you’ve imagined all those years. The same thing goes for Patpong and the notorious ping pong shows, but we won’t go there (at least in this blog). Once again, I’ll just say this: overrated.

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