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Monday, March 22, 2004

National Lampoon's Bangkok Vacation

From the guy who brought you 'Big in Japan' it's...

National Lampoon's Bangkok Vacation:

the Griswalds go to Thailand (Rated Pg, Ma 15+, R, X as the week progresses)

Bangkok, Tuesday. Walking around Bangkok is to be surrounded by the humidity that isn't so much like being engulfed in a blanket, but rather like having a film of sweat, diesel fumes and grit lightly on your body. Hands up please those of you who have ventured this way. A few of you? Well it's easy for you to know what I'm talking about. You seem to be breathing air that has been transported from the Queen Victoria Market- a combination of all kinds of food, vegetable, mineral and other that been heated up and kept locked in a musty room for awhile. It's also like having an end-to-end red light district that bleeds into all directions. Every street with a choice of whores d'vours and cabbies and tuk tuk drivers calling you to them.

Tuk Tuks.
You don't have to be a sucker to ride a tuk tuk, but it helps. For those of you who don't know what it is, it's like a cross between a bike and a car, an open aired three wheeled vehicle with a noisy motor and a crazy driver. It's a great scam. Really worth your money if you have several hours to kill. The downside is that car fumes replace oxygen in your lungs and it's hot on a hot day. Here's how it was for me....

1. I'm minding my own business, walking down Sukhumvit road, fashionably lost when a friendly guy (ever since embarking on my Thailand adventure I am thoroughly suspicious of any friendly person) sidles along. 'Hot day eh?' he asks in pretty good English. He's in a suit. Doesn't seem to be holding anything he can sell, so I get into a conversation about where he's from, where I'm from. Then he surreptitiously mentions; ' You should get a suit while you're here in Thailand. Really good suits here, very cheap.'
I nod dumbly- a standard move.
'But how will you travel to the main part of Bangkok? There's always the bus ofcourse. Cheap. Efficient. But no one speaks English.'
Nod dumbly.
'A taxi? We...ll, you don't know what the price will eventually be. Heck, it could cost you a lot of money.'
Nod dumbly.
'Or just maybe....' he says, as if the thought just occurs to him in a brilliant flash of inspiration 'a tuk tuk.' He waves his arm in a gesture and 'lo and behold- a tuk tuk is there. 'A tuk tuk. Here we have a friendly tuk tuk driver- poor, but honest, who we can haggle with if need be. Hello (wink wink) total stranger.'
' 'lo stranger (wink)'
'How much to drive this fine, young gentleman to get measured for his brand new suit?'
'But, I don't want a.....'
'Make it thirty.'
'I'm telling you I don't want a....'
'Here we are sir, enjoy your ride.' tuk tuk speeds off with me in it. I thought I left my 'Idiot Foreigner' T-shirt at the hotel room. Obviously not.

2. 20 minutes of riding through intense, faith-inducing traffic.
'Where are we going?'
'Ha-ha. 'so.ok. Fo-ren Id-yot.' Scenes like these are commonplace in Bangkok. Too often you will see one tourist in a tuk tuk passing another bewildered traveller in another tuk tuk. One of them will be waving a new suit at the other shouting something like 'All I wanted to do was to visit the zoo!' and the other will reply 'Don't complain dude, I've been riding this bastard for two straight days.'
We finally get to a massive suit shop where there is a throng of tuk tuks, thirty or so in total. So many, in fact that I thought it was a tuk tuk depot. 'Go inside, they look after you.'
'You're not listening. I don't want a suit.'

3. From thence to a Buddhist temple. The tuk tuk driver is annoyed with me because I wouldn't buy a suit. I'm annoyed at him for taking me there. At the temple I encounter another 'friendly stranger' who 'happened' to start praying when I arrived.
'Are you a Buddhist sir?'
'Me? Noooo. I just wanted to visit the city when I was abducted by this....'
'Because this is a rare and sacred temple. Very hard to find. Not too many tourists visit here.' Too many tourists, it seems, have been warned by their guide books on the agony of trying to go from point A to point B without having to detour in points C, D, E, F, G.

4. On the way to a gem store. Gem store?
'I'll pay you double NOT to take me to a gem store.'
'Ha-ha. Gem store. Ver' cheap. Give girl frien' '
'Don't have one.'
'(Thai mutter. I'm no liguistic genius but I'd say it translates to: That's because you're a cheap, worthless, yokel.)'
So I go inside the gem store.
The gem clerk looks me up and down. 'That tuk tuk guy used to be good.' she said.
'You'd think he'd pick a rich moron' I agreed.

5. We arrived somewhere near the hotel. Pseudo-friendly banter has well and truly been out the window since tuk tuk guy got a fine from a cop.
'Walk tha' way' he said through grit teeth, barely suppresing his rage. I gave him a hundred baht which he sped off with without giving me change.



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