I Love Bum Spray!
My initial arrival was filled with worry. I was weirded out that the airport wifi demanded I put in my passport number and was reluctant to enter it in case it was a scam. Half of my SEA prep consisted of reading up on local scams. I hadn’t prepared well. I hadn’t prepared at all actually. I had done a lot of reading but hadn’t bothered to book a hostel or research public transportation. A traveling companion I had yet to meet in real life was already in town but it was midnight and the check in desk at his hostel was closed. There was a large hotel across the street from the airport. It screamed money. After a lot of back and forth with my brain I decided to try to get into the Monkey Nap Hostel that I had been browsing earlier on Agoda. It was more affordable than the place he was staying, looked clean, and had good reviews. This was to be one of the best decisions I’d make.
After asking around and finding out that the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System), also known as the Skytrain, stops running around midnight I ordered an Uber from the airport. I’d later learn and confirm that Uber is actually illegal in Thailand. They operate anyways. That’s kind of a theme in Bangkok. At the time I was anxious to take a taxi cause I’d read that bargaining with them was a nightmare. I’m going to clear that up right now. In Bangkok that’s generally not true. Most taxis there will agree to go with the meter price which is just a bit more than public transportation. Unless it’s during rush hour a taxi costs about a third of what you would pay for one in a major U.S. city. In Bangkok and only in Bangkok! I want to stress that part! There are certainly some exceptions to that, for instance if you find yourself late at night on Khao San Road but generally you confirm that the driver will be running and charging you by the meter. Even if your driver does not speak English fluently he will know that word.
In the end I ended up overpaying for a service that’s not even supposed to be operating. Damn whatever advice I read online about taking Uber from the airport. Most people in Thailand use the Grab App to hail a taxi. The only time I found Uber to cost less than Grab or local transit was much later on when I needed a ride to the airport in Chiang Mai. The Agoda app gives you some helpful screen shots to show Tuk Tuk drivers and taxis but Grab eliminates the hassle of having to try to explain your destination.
I arrived at the Monkey Nap a little after 1am and was immediately welcomed by a group of travelers outside smoking and downing Changs. Someone would later dub them and one individual in particular the “Welcoming Committee”. At first the woman at the counter thought there were no available beds. She explained that she was new and then went on to physically check the rooms. I lucked out, there was space in one of the female dorms. I checked in, dropped my bags off in the room and proceeded outside since I had just slept a bit on the second plane. The hostel sold snacks and beer. There I had my first introduction to Thai beer and Chang in particular.
After downing a beer or two and trying out the Nori seaweed flavored Lays it was time to tackle the toilet. Now that I had Wifi I could finally look up how to use it! What was that ominous piece of metal on the wall that resembled a small garden hose spray? My friend Kassandra had explained that a lot of times the showers are in the stalls themselves. Surely that wasn’t to shower with, it was much too low. Thank god for the internet. A quick google search provided me with the instructions I needed to use what I now knew was a bum spray (or bidet spray, but that’s not as fun to say. No one calls it that.) as well as how to use a squatty toilet. It would be a while later until I ran into one of those…
In addition to the instructions I also discovered my first oops. The sign in the bathroom at the hostel stated not to put sanitary items in the toilet. I didn’t realize that included toilet paper. Toilet paper does NOT go in the toilet in Southast Asia. After you spray yourself with the bum spray (always remember to test the water pressure first by spraying into the toilet) you throw the toilet paper into the trash. After a couple of days I started to prefer this system. At one point in Koh Tao I stayed in a hostel that only had a Western style toilet and I was saddened not to see one. Since I’ve gotten back to America I’ve been lost!
Where Am I and WTF is Khao San Road?
I woke up to a phone alarm at 6am. This is par for the course when it comes to hostel life. It’s not rare to have to wake someone up and let them know their phone has been blaring for the past twenty minutes. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay the extra dollar for a four/six person dorm rather than a twelve/sixteen person one. Since I was now fully awake I went over to reception and paid 20 baht (roughly 75 cents USD) to rent a towel and hit the showers. Next time I travel I’ll be investing in a compact quick dry towel. Breakfast was simple, white bread with an assortment of jelly and margarine to choose from. I wasn’t complaining as it was complimentary. I was bummed however when I realized how rare wheat bread was served in South East Asia. In two months I only had the option in one hostel.
After breakfast it was time to explore the city. I started out with a short walk to grab some necessities such as sunscreen lotion. I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate. In Bangkok, and most other major cities in Thailand, a side street is a “Soi”. The major street I was staying off of was Sukhumvit Road. My hostel was off of the 30th side street/alley. If I needed to find my way back home I had to search for Sukhumvit Soi 30. One side of the street is odd and one is even so sometimes the numbers are far apart. Where I was it was Soi 30 on the even side it was Soi 47 on the odd side.
What was not easy was finding sunscreen that didn’t contain whitening agents. I had no idea how big of a market whitening products there is in Thailand. Though I had watched documentaries and had discussions with my friends about skin whitening and/ or bleaching, particularly with women of color trying to break into the acting and modeling industries, I didn’t have a clue how widespread the issue was in South East Asia. I had to carefully review each bottle and it took me a couple minutes to find deodorant without it as well. That evening II learned that though women in Thailand do tend to dress a bit more conservatively in general, part of the reason is to keep from tanning. I’ve been told by several Thai women that they wish to have skin tones more similar to the Japanese. Of course this was the opinion of a few women I met in Bangkok and of course not a representative of an entire culture. Though at this point I stopped worrying about my shoulders showing unless I was planning on going to a temple or if I was in a more rural part of Thailand.
With all of my necessities purchased I decided to tackle the next thing on my agenda. Getting a Thai sim card for my phone. That did not work. [Spoiler Alert: It would NEVER work]. I was told my phone was not compatible and mosied on.
And by mosied on I meant dragging my tired and defeated self several blocks in the stifling heat as I adjusted to using maps.me again. You see earlier in the day I had been advised to go to JJ Mall to take care of my phone issue. I had also been advised to check out the nearby weekend market. While I had read about the mall in my pre-travel research I hadn’t read a thing about the Chatuchak weekend market outside of the Mo Chit Skytrain stop. It was on the way so I decided to check it out. There I had my first attempts at bargaining and for a while I thought I had done okay. . And then I realized I hadn’t. At all. I’d get better at this later. As a rough guide you should never pay more than 4 USD or 120 baht for generic clothing such as a pair of pants. Maybe a bit more for dresses. The two “Thai Silk Scarves” I purchased for 250 baht, should have cost about 100b (50b each). I also purchased a Rose Scented Penis Soap. It was for a friend who had requested something “weird”. In hindsight it wasn’t weird enough. Shortly after my acquisition I decided that it was an interesting market to check out but not so great to shop at. [2nd Spoiler Alert THEY ARE ALL THE SAME, there are exceptions, but not many.]
So I left. Well tried to leave. I got lost. Really lost, outside, in the market, by the park. It took me about fifteen minutes to find my way out. After the morning’s non-adventure I returned to the hostel somewhat defeated so of course it was time to drink.
Somewhere out there a video exists of me and my partner in crime laughing and waving for our other friend to stop taping as we’re sitting on the curb of a sidewalk, high off of nitrous oxide. I saw the video the next day. Our “producer” was right. It was actually pretty cute. The video in question belongs to a girl name Sira (Zira, Syra, not really sure). She left early one morning before I managed to get her contact information. Or that damn video. She’s 19, lives in Germany, and I might have corrupted her a little bit on our night out. Just a little bit. I never said I was a good influence. If you know her, send her my way, I still want that video! You see the second time I tried to bargain in Thailand was with laughing gas. It took a long time but I finally managed to get 40b per hit vs 50b. An incredibly hard bargain on Khoa San Road. There I would have the first of many buckets.
Like I said I had gone back to the hostel to drink. And I did. And then I drank some more and a couple people joined us. And then we all drank some more. At this point a couple of us decided to take our drinking elsewhere as not to annoy Ms. Ping, the owner of the MonkeyNap. I had not yet been to the infamous Khoa San road. I’d say it’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to Vegas. I’d say this a couple of times during the next two months. I’d be hammered every time.
I don’t want to talk about Khoa San Road too much. You can google videos galore of drunk tourists, many not legally of age to drink in their own countries, chowing down on fried scorpions, whilst ogling the Lady Boys, circling the crowds with their iphones recording, and trying too hard to get laid under flashing lights. Sidenote: Scorpions taste like crunchy air. All you can distinguish is the soy sauce they’ve been dipped in. Later that night we had to help pick up a woman so inebriated that she had fallen stomach down and couldn’t get up. One of my accomplices, Guy, gets bonus points for holding her up while she vomited all over the both of them. Chivalry. Not dead. Her friends meanwhile giggled like idiots while this was happening. Apparently they didn’t know very much about alcohol poisoning. You might now be getting a picture of the street. Now factor in a woman asking you to buy a silly hat every five minutes. There. Now it’s more accurate.
We spent most of the night dancing in between two bars with competing DJs. We danced hard and sang loud to popular American music. I rarely heard local music.I might be in a lot of those aforementioned videos from that night. If I googled the date I wouldn’t be surprised to find us all. We ended the night at a bar talking to Guy’s friends who had flown in from China to see Guns N’ Roses play live in Bangkok. That’s right, there’s still people that would fly 5 hours to see them. Multiple people in fact.