QUIP: Dispelling the Myths of Bangkok
I have held a slight prejudice towards Bangkok since 2006. At that time, I met a young man who decided to share all of his Bangkok exploits with me. His tales were entertaining and he was very open about his hookups with both prostitutes and lady boys. He spared no detail. I was thoroughly entertained–and also traumatized. I decided, way back in 2006, that Bangkok was only for sexually curious “straight” men intrigued by lady boys or men seeking some sort of inexpensive escort service. I also decided (back in 2006, way before the Hangover movie) that I would ban all future boyfriends from visiting Bangkok. At the very least, anyone interested in dating me after visiting Bangkok would require extensive STD testing and a six month waiting period…As you may be able to tell, my views on this city were quite set.
When soliciting opinions about the city from others, the reactions were often just as extreme. Some praised it as a metropolitan Asian city and others winced their faces in disgust at the mere mention.
So imagine the irony that I not only visited Bangkok–but visited with my new husband during our extended honeymoon. As you can imagine, my anxiety level was just a bit higher than normal. Was the city as seedy as portrayed by my travel friend years before? Was the movie The Hangover 2 a legitimate portrayal of a night out in Bangkok?
My arrival in Bangkok was just as chaotic as I expected–probably more so. The traffic was bad. There were lots of cars and lots of people. But Bangkok is not at all third world. Bangkok is a very modern city with many Western influences. McDonald’s, shopping malls, a Crossfit gym and fancy cars are common in this city. (I must admit that I was pleased to find both a MAC cosmetics counter as well as an H&M to make last minute purchases for an event.) Although Bangkok does push the envelope not so subtle ways, contrary to my prior notions, there are many things to do in Bangkok that do not include lady boys or escorts. Bangkok is indeed a metropolitan city that boasts amazing shopping, restaurants, and sight seeing. It also boasts traffic that makes New York City traffic look insignificant…
Visiting Bangkok reminded me of visiting Los Angeles. There are beautiful temples and palaces to see–but the city does not seem to revolve around site seeing in the way you imagine tourists visiting monuments in Washington, DC. The traffic is reminiscent of Los Angeles as is the time and patience required to move from one part of the city to another.
Despite the big city traffic problems, the sights that Bangkok has to offer are indeed beautiful. The Reclining Buddha, the Grand Palace, and the Golden Mount all represent beautiful sanctuaries amid a bustling city. The food is spectacular–with many “traditional” Thai options, but also various ethnic and Western establishments as well. Markets, parks, and upscale venues are spread through out this bustling city. Khao San Road is a must visit for young backpackers looking for loud music and cheap drinks.
Of course, the “other” side of Bangkok…the side that I first heard of…is available as well. Strip clubs and sex shows are popular for some visitors and there is a show for anything that tickles your fancy. Wandering through these parts of town at night is not for the shy or meek mannered. Men will literally shove “menus” of sex show options in your face with establishment doors partially open so you can get a glimpse of what the performers inside look like. P*ssy Ping Pong was the most popular show when I visited, but I imagine that the hot show ticket changes frequently. Dancers, performers, escorts, and lady boys are in steady supply. What the casual traveler should realize, however, is that almost all metropolitan cities have districts similar to what you will find in Bangkok. Like most big cities, Bangkok truly is a place where “there is something for everyone.”
Overall, were my concerns warranted? Possibly. No one can deny that if you want to see a “P*ssy Ping Pong” show or lady boy, Bangkok is a good place to start. BUT Bangkok is much more than that. My trip was memorable–and for all of the right reasons.