One Night in Bangkokby Matt Vend / 21.01.2013
‘They say, this is the city, city of angels, but all I see is dead wings.’ – The Distillers
A city of congestion, heat, sweat, a paradise for the depraved, where every wicked desire can be fulfilled for a price, the Asian city of angels, Bangkok, Krung Thep, Thailand. A swamp, a wasteland, a place of extreme contrasts: rich and poor. First world almost sci-fi like amenities sit side by side the ruins of the third world.
Creepy Steve has been a longtime ally in mischief. Both of us have been through a fair deal together, including a few misdemeanors with the law and some serious touring through the backwaters of Umbilo. These days, though, it seems age is catching up with us and our stomping days are slowly but surely coming to an end, yet there was still some life in us.
A few weeks prior we took a bus down to Krabi, (a tourist area inundated with Russians and suit salesmen), to let off some steam on New Year’s eve. We almost died on that bus when an ‘electrical’ fire broke out whilst Creepy was smoking in the toilet. Was he our savior or the person who was going to kill us? That’s the question I’ll never quite know the answer to. If he wasn’t in that position at the time, the fire could have broken out with no one knowing and been too out of control to stop; killing at least some of us! Or did his smoking somehow start the blaze? Either way, a bus riddled with faulty, exposed wiring is a hazard, yet these tour operators couldn’t have cared less. They had already taken our money, and that was all that mattered to them.
It was a terrifying experience as smoke engulfed the bus, women and children screaming and crying and people trying to kick open the emergency windows in the roof which were closed so tight they were almost boarded up.
Thailand has some of the worst road fatalities on the planet, it is estimated that 11000 people die every year from road related deaths; most of these on motorcycle. Most people drive motorbikes instead of cars here, of course often under the influence, with superstition instead of good road knowledge as their guide. More on this here.
Thailand is not the same place as it was on my first trip here, when I was 18. I remember something very different, something more sincere. Although there are still great people and it’s an immensely rich and ancient Buddhist culture, there is something sinister brewing in certain areas, where human lives, especially the lives of tourists are being overseen. It almost seems like some Thais view foreigners as walking ATM machines instead of people. The bus incident was one. I have never been treated so poorly whilst travelling. We were shoved into an overcrowded, un-roadworthy bus that could have delivered us to a fiery death, yet the driver and crew didn’t seem to care. After the incident, one of the peddlers who sold us the overpriced tickets on the Khao San Road (never buy bus tickets there, never!) tried to fix the sparking open wires, with obviously no clue about what he was attempting to do. They refused to let any passengers part ways with the death trap, or refund them. They simply kept the luggage compartments closed and played the waiting game with huge insincere grins on their faces.
An article published in October last year in the Daily Mail, talks of horrendous gang related sex crimes happening in Krabi, Au Nang to be exact. A gang of teenagers stabbed a man trying to save his girlfriend from being raped, a few months prior a 19 year old Russian model was beaten and raped and the rapist was given bail immediately. Things are changing in Thailand but I suppose they are also changing around the world. We are living in an increasingly violent and dangerous place. Yet this is a different topic for a different time, sorry for the sidetracking.
This is an assignment about a night out in Bangkok, yet I think the background information is relevant to the decay, imminent in any big city across the globe. A little warning to future travelers, just to temper the naïvety. Before we get loose, thinking that all the smiles in Thailand are sincere.
Every story has a prequel and this one was on a Wednesday night, down in Nana, an area infamous for its sleaze. Very few normal people can live in a place like Nana, it’s a circus of prostitutes, street vendors, lady boys, bars, strip clubs and nightclubs, and once you start to wander through the back alleys it starts to resemble the Middle East, filled with Lebanese restaurants, turbans and shisha pipes. One of these individuals who has been reveling in the madness of Nana for quite some time is Mr. Spike N Stein.
Spike has been living in Bangkok on an off for many years now, and owns his own little apartment high above the madness, where the true enormity of the city can be seen. Building after building, towering and menacing, you keep thinking you’re going to see a spaceship fly by through the futuristic cityscape. He plays in one of my favourite Bangkok based bands, Bone Clone, an amalgamation of old garage rock, 70’s punk and unashamed bravado that could only come from a guy like Spike. He also makes dark electronic music under the name Carrot Daddy which has managed to reach various obscure parts of the world. His new infatuation is hunting rats, and on this particular night Spike had his eye on a dumpster, which was housing rats the size of cats!
“Guys I’ve got the traps and I know a place where they are living.” Bangkok has a serious infestation of these little guys and Spike strongly believes he is doing the greater community a service. “I’m kind of like a vigilante; soon they will call me rat man.” A Thai lady is wondering what the hell Spike is doing around the trash, and he quickly explains, she replies, “good give it to me afterwards and I will use it for cooking.” A few laughs break out as another onlooker washing dishes nearby, points to a huge rat and encourages Spike in his limited English to carry on with his quest to stop the black plague from coming to Thailand.
So the traps were set and we decided to walk along the khlongs. Khlongs are a series of shit infested canals which run all over the city, people live by them and boats ride through them during the day getting people to various destinations all over the city, many years ago Bangkok was nicknamed the Venice of the East.
To see what interesting fellows were hanging out, it was the usual type, kids drinking jet fuel and Pepsi trying to impress their high school sweethearts. About an hour later we went back to the traps, the meat was gone and Spike saw a giant rat jump onto the trap take the meat and then quickly jump away. “These rats are clever, but I’ll get them soon enough.” He promised. We then walked around lit a few firecrackers and loitered in an airy parking lot with the evidence of decay, oppulence lost, everywhere. An abandoned hotel lobby added to the darkness, but these are the type of environments people like Creepy Steve and Spike thrive in.
A few nights later the same crew was out again, this time, in Thong Lo, for a seriously hipster affair at a bar called Woodstock, a band by the name of Noah’s Tape was jamming. A bit of a Portishead kind of rip off, I thought they showed some potential but Creepy wasn’t sold, and thought the act to be rather entry level.
After a few drinks it was off to Bar 23, a place I used to drink at quite often when living in Bangkok. It’s a hole in the wall kind of place that’s frequented by Japanese and Farang (foreign) artfags. The owner seemed pleased to see me as I had spent many a night sitting at that bar alone lamenting. Spike then remarked that the owner might be retarded despite his good taste in music. Creepy had been flirting with a pretty Japanese girl who had a boyfriend and was naturally disappointed and said “I just want someone to love me because I’m a beautiful person.”
“They will only love you if you kill rats,” replied Spike. And then the infatuation with killing rats returned with dreams of vigilante stardom, Bone Clone was just a side project.
Spike was about to retire for the evening, so we decided to walk through Soi Cowboy, dodging packs of Soi dogs and taxi drivers. Soi Cowboy is pretty much the red light district of Bangkok… well one of them. This was a final attempt to party with the lady boys and idiots which the road is inundated with. Drunk moronic tourists, or expats, gazing into the eyes of prostitutes (possibly even a prostitute with a penis), looking for love in all the wrong places, this is Bangkok baby, but only a small part of it, as said before it is a city of extreme contrasts and if you travel a few kilometers into the suburban areas you will find things start to change.
Creepy seemed to also be looking for love, but here you have to pay for it and it never lasts. It’s like bad instant coffee, with chicory in it. You can pretend it tastes like coffee, but you always know it isn’t. We walked past some ladies, who looked like men and Creepy told a bar girl he loved her but he couldn’t afford her, she told him politely to fuck off, yet she did let him feel her up while she tried to sell the idea: “these are originals”.
This could be my last night out on the town in Bangkok, I felt an overwhelming sadness come over me as we rode the bus home. I’m not sure I’ll ever be back, not sure if I ever want to come back. I’ve done my time here and finally this beast was letting me go, letting me move on, letting me disappear into the night.