Daily Archives: January 4, 2006

A New Year….In Bangkok

After having visited the wife’s hometown of Nakhorn Sawan on a handful of occasions over the past year, I thought it was only justifiably correct to allow myself a break from the northern lands this time around, and instead spend a couple of days disappearing into the shadows of ‘The City of Billboards and Benzs’ and experience for myself, the glitter and awe of … ‘A New Year in Bangkok’.

While many a Thai or foreigner may argue that the capital’s greatest invention in striving to combat the horrendous traffic congestion over the past few years has been the BTS Skytrain (or perhaps even the Underground) I hasten to disagree and vouch whole-heartedly instead for the wonders of the one-and-only ‘Thailand passenger van’. Unlike the BTS ‘train in the air’ or the ever-dodgy accident prone-BKK underground which don’t exactly go that far, the modern ‘Thailand passenger van’ sprints around the whole of Greater Bangkok and even from there, to provinces as far away as the likes of Lopburi, Chonburi, Prachuap-Khiri Khan and Prachinburi.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the hapless traveler/commuter on needing to get to my hometown of Suphanburi or vice-versa, either had to suffer the sweat-drenched crowds of the Bkk’s Northern Bus Terminal and a two hour trudge to top it off, or a right nail-bitingly boring three and a half hour trip by train. Now, with the delights of the ultra-modern ever-present ‘Thailand passenger van’, the 100km journey can be mastered extra-speedy quick. The truly scary ride piloted by some Formula One ‘wanna-be-racing driver’ high on a coupla cans of Red Bull’, can now be had in just over the hour – dropping you off right outside the National Govt Lottery Office on Ratchadamnoern Road. Unfortunately though, the one and a bit hour journey this year on the afternoon of New Years Eve was ground to a halt for two hours on the Taling Chan-Pinklao over-head express-way after a little passenger car, smashed into the back of another and blew into flames. A New Year statistic, whether drunk or not.

Well, first thing on the agenda on arriving at The Kings Avenue (Ratchadamnoern Road) was to plant me bag and passport off somewhere. Having no idea what time I would actually be getting into bed on a New Years night-out, I made do with some cheap gaff just off Pra-athit Road. Ready and eager, within the space of 5 minutes after…just checking-in, I had already unpacked, dolled myself up in a fine pair of 149 baht locally-bought sunglasses and had my hair stuck-up in gel – resembling a smashing Barbie-boyfriend ‘Ken’ type hair-do. Pretty starved by this time, I thought it best to go devour some very eatable Arabian Kebab along near the backpacker ghetto of Khao Sarn Road. Before reaching the Kebab stall however I witnessed a whole platoon of 30 or so of Bangkok’s Finest Starksky and Hutch Boys stood outside the local cop-shop flagging over every single motorist and subjecting then to a well-earned drink-and-drunk cavity check-up. Great idea for sure – all this clamping down, but I could only feel that it would have been smarter, instead of putting on a ‘show’ for the trillions of foreign tourists in that area, to actually do some serious clamping-down and get out to the suburbs of Bangkok where hundreds of thousands were either racing home to the provinces or racing around their small towns, off their heads on cheap imported Scotch whiskey – playing ‘dodge-the-cop’.

In fact, the night before heading for Bangkok, I asked one of my Thai friends up here along the lines of….what he planned to get up to over the New Year. “Gotta work, no time off, I got a groovy contract this year to supply all the local traffic police with their breathalysers for New Years” he replied. Not a bad job I thought, and after he had finished drinking a couple more big bottles of beer, he was on the back off his motorbike, helmet-less and driving home. Now, That Is Thailand.

One thing which has really struck me over the past few years along the likes of Khao Sarn Road is just how much awesome development the area has seen. A fine example of this is Soi Rambutri, once a very quiet narrow lane that encircled Chanasongkran Temple opposite Khao Sarn Road. The place nowadays is almost as packed-out as Khao Sarn itself with floods of ritzy-looking Tuks Tuks, big-turbaned Indian tailors, beauty salons and a fleet of juice vendors squawking at the top of their voice, ‘Orange Juice, 20 baht’ , while thrusting a bottle in the face of every pedestrian – wanting or not. Times have darned change!

Looking back to my days of backpacking across Asia, I can always remember how us travelers in those days, took pride in being called – ‘actual-travelers’. There was no Internet, no e-mail, calls back home cost a small fortune and so most of us in those days had to make do with ‘poste-restante’ as our only way of receiving monthly/fortnightly news from home. Those were the days of real traveling in Thailand. Gone are the days of posting a message at a guesthouse as means of contacting friends. Nowadays, half the backpackers are strolling around carrying mobile phones, spending half their day in an Internet Café or chatting on MSN on their own PCs.

It has to be said that the bestest times of the year for speeding around the capital reaching your destination in the designated half an hour instead of the usual jam-packed two and a quarter, are during the holidays. Even though Bangkok has a certified population of something like just 6 million, a huge exodus of another nine million rural folk, residing there, can be witnessed fleeing the capital from mainly The Northern Bus Terminal (Morchid) and returning home upcountry for their vacation. Leftovers during the long public holidays are blessed with blissfully quiet streets with only the occasional sight of a Honda Jazz full of yuppie teenagers heading for some trendy Department Store to spend their New Years parent’s pressie money.

Like every New Years, the place to be seen was at the now defunct ‘World Trade Center’ located bang in the heart of the city. Now, for those smart enough, they would have arrived there darned early in the evening, as it surfaced that legions of young entrepreneurs had got there before anyone else and booked themselves dozens of tables for the ‘countdown’. This year it got so-packed out with party-goers hunting for spare tables that there were reports floating around that these ‘table-snatching’ entrepreneurs were in the late evening, actually ‘selling the rights’ to their tables at the going rate of 2-3,000 baht. Passing by World Trade Center just after dark, I knew darned well that this was not the place for myself and a few friends, and we headed instead, in the direction of the Khao Sarn Road/Banglumphu area to have a ‘cheaper, less bothersome night out with a few seats and a table thrown in.

Two nights of enjoying ‘The City of Billboards and Benzs’ was enough for me, and after hearing that a certain Ms Su was out on the prowl looking for me, I took the appropriate measures…….and headed home.

Blindfold Thai Boxing

Muay Thai (Thai kick boxing) is famous around the world. However, there are two other versions of boxing which you might see being played at temple fairs and cultural events in Thailand. These are Sea Boxing (muay ta-lay มวยทะเล ) and Blindfold Boxing ( muay dtap jaak  มวยตับจาก ). Despite its name, Sea Boxing is not played at sea. Two contestant straddle a long pole which is suspended over some water. They then fight until one of them is knocked off the pole. Blindfold boxing is also a fun sport. As you can see in the pictures, the two boxers are blindfolded and then try to box in the normal way. The Thai name of this sport comes from the dried leaves of the nipa palm which you can see on the ground. As the boxers cannot see each other, they have to use their ears to hear where their opponent is standing. The dried nipa palm leaves make a rustling sound as you walk on it. The people in the crowd also help by shouting “chok, chok” whenever the boxers near each other. It can be pretty fun as they wildly swing in the wrong direction or hit the referee by mistake. There are three rounds lasting two minutes each.

You can watch a short video clip: http://www.richardbarrow.com/video/boxing.htm

(These pictures were taken over the new year holiday at Ancient City in Samut Prakan.)