I Go Only for the Culture – Bangkok, Part One

If Penang is Singapore stuck in the 1970s, then Bangkok is Singapore on a steroid-Viagra combination. It has the mega malls and the public transport of Singapore and so much more. Something in the water anyway keeps the citizens from just taking whatever is dished out by the authorities. Then there are the girls-girls-maybe-a-girl establishments, from regular bars to massage parlors to full-service barber shops.
Yes, sex is for sale in Bangkok. Let’s acknowledge that Thai elephant in the room rather than try to pretend we don’t see it. As much as the guidebooks try to direct attention to Thailand’s cultural attractions, there is no ignoring Bangkok’s sex industry. From noon everyday, women post themselves at coffee shop tables or perch on stools along the main strips. A man cannot walk alone without being accosted, hailed, and propositioned. Brochures at the concierge desks of hotels advertise escorts and masseuses of infinite variety and accomplishments.
I’ll save the statistics and sermons on the poverty that feeds it and the ills that accompany it. It’s everywhere and inspires a dread fascination if nothing else. Other travelers on visa runs probably don’t notice the sleaze, so we’ll go right to the basics of arrival and getting around.
An airport taxi from Don Muang into town will run 700 baht (about US$18) if booked at one of the booths beyond immigration and baggage collection. Airport limousines are available as well for about THB 1,200, but the airport taxis are nice enough and slightly above the standard street taxis in the curbside queues. The drivers will ask you to pay an extra THB 60 for the expressway toll if you want the quickest ride to town. Other options for getting into town are covered at www.into-asia.com/bangkok/airport/downtown.php, although the prices are a bit dated. As always, ignore the hotel and car touts that hit you the instant you emerge from airport officialdom.
ATMs are available in the terminals, so you don’t have to worry about changing currency. Rates for major currencies are decent at the airport, but you may only get about half the bank rate for some Asian currencies. Plan to carry dollars or Euros or use an ATM.
Hotels and other accommodations will be covered more fully in subsequent Bangkok articles. A clean room in a backpacker hostel should go around 500 THB to 700 THB; a medium range hotel room will go between 1,200 THB and 1,500 THB. Try to stay near a Skytrain or MRT station. It will help in getting around the city, although one should always keep in mind the riverboats, which are the least expensive and most enjoyable way of getting from A to B in Bangkok.
If you haven’t been to Bangkok since the Skytrain and MRT have gone into operation, go to a station the first day to get a system guide and map. Stored value cards or 30-day passes good for 10, 15, or 30 trips are your best ticket options. The one-day pass with unlimited rides for 100 THB isn’t real value unless you ride the rails all day long. Most one-way trips are in the 20 to 25 THB range, and just getting around shopping and such won’t make the 100-THB card a bargain.
Getting to the Indonesia Embassy at 600-602 Phetchaburi Road is no more trouble than catching a taxi from your hotel. The fare will be between 70 and 100 THB from most areas. If you are tolerant of the Bangkok heat, the embassy is about a one-kilometer walk from the Ratchatewi Skytrain station. Travelers who’ve done visas in Bangkok say it’s easier than doing it in Kuala Lumpur although not as slick as in Singapore, where visa runners will pick up your passport and documents at your hotel and leave you to your shopping and entertainment.
(Next up, Bangkok’s most stylish hotel on the backpacker trail.)
Copyright © 2006 Tropical Tramp