Bangkok Had Me
In the movie “The Hangover 2”, when Teddy was lost, all the people the main charaters met (even the Interpol police officer) kept saying “Bangkok has him now”.
For the full affect of this story, be sure to play this 1984 music video in the background; “One Night In Bangkok”, by Murray Head.
It was my last full day in Bangkok, that I didn’t have to transfer hotels, teach, speak, or fly. I decided to see Bangkok. By my self, without any knowledge of the language or city, and armed only with a hotel map, I headed out for Wat Arun and the Royal Grand Palace.
Wat Arun is an ancient Buddhist Temple dating back to the 1650‘s and sits along side of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok’s central river. To get there, I had to navigate the BTS overhead railway through multiple stations and three different train lines. I knew it would be like navigating the New York City subway with a stroke.
The Thai language while it looks beautiful, looks less like an alphabet and more like musical notes. I tried to sing some Thai text (notes), but it sounded like Lady Gaga and made some of the local dogs begin barking.
So I got on the train and rode it until the station characters somewhat matched the characters on the map. Whenever I would ask for help, the locals would try their best to understand my question, but just kept speaking what appeared to Klingon. I am sure it wasn’t, but they sounded a lot like Mr. Worf.
I found my way to the river and climbed aboard a water taxi for the final part of my journey to these amazing landmarks. The sites and smells were some of the most interesting I have seen in my years, even considering that I just returned from Mumbai and Delhi, India. Wow… Just, wow.
|See Chao Phraya River Video 01|
|See Chao Phraya River Video 01|
When we arrived at the Grand Palace pier, I quickly leaped from the moving boat and headed to the Palace. The 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity was taking it’s toll. Once at the Palace entry gate, I noticed a large sign saying that as this was also a temple, no one would be allowed in without proper attire; shorts, sandals, and short sleeves were unacceptable and disrespectful.
I waited for the next crowd of people, one that contained a lot of Buddhist monks, not that I pretended to blended in at all, I began to walk through. About 10 meters into my plan, I heard a Thai soldier yelling something in Klingon that sounded like it was about me and directed at me. I tried to ignore it, but was quickly tapped on the shoulder and removed from que.
I was told that if I wanted to “borrow” some appropriate clothes, there was a building to my right that I could do so. Not that I wanted to wear borrowed clothes that 200 strangers wore in 100 degree temperatures, I did need to see what this was all about. I entered the building and found a bin of old clothes that dozens of people from around the globe were digging through. If I chose, I could dig through this bin and try some on. If I found a match that I liked, I could wear them into the temple. It reminded me of my childhood and the weekend “rummage sales” my church would run to raise money for the poor. I definitely chose to pass on the whole idea.
I left and walked for several miles in the Thai sun until I couldn’t walk any longer. No food and no water made me a little sick and light headed. All I could think of was getting back to the hotel and it’s amazing air conditioning and bottled water.
I found a mini-taxi and gave him something that later might have saved my life; the business card from the concierge at the hotel. He told me to take it when I left earlier that morning in case I needed his help. At the time, I thought it was overly cautious, but I slipped it into my top pocket anyway.
I couldn’t speak the driver’s language, but I could show him the card. Much like when I was a child and my mother needed me to walk to the store to buy her personal products. “Just hand the man the note…” she’d say.
The taxi driver read the card and said get in. I knew enough about foreigns cities, never just get into a cab before asking the price. He immediately said 500 Baht. I knew that price was 5 times or more than what it should be and I grabbed the card back form him and started to walk away. He continually called me back, but I knew if he tried to cheat me once, he’d do it again.
I kept walking, when a mile or two later, not being able to continue in this relentless Thai sun, I stepped out into traffic and stopped a metered taxi. I handed him the card and asked him to take me to the address on the card. He studied the card, made some audible coughs and clicks and began driving away. I asked him if he knew where he was going because he looked at the card as if not to recognize the hotel’s name. Even though it was a large international five-star chain in the very large district of Sukhumvit. There was something strange about how he just handed the card back to me and drove off. He was acting weird.
We dove east, then north, then backtracked west, then north again. We drove to the Bangkok Train Station and he slowed at the curb as if looking for someone. He sped off and drove around behind the train station and began taking back alleys. The area of the city became more and more seedy and dangerous with every turn. I also notice that he never turn the meter on, so, there was no record of my fare.
The air was getting heavy with industrial smells. With the humidity, the air was strong enough you can taste it in your mouth. It tasted like rusty metal and wet dog. I also knew that we had not driven the right direction and had been driving now for more than 40 minutes. It should have taken less than 20.
I yelled to him “What are you doing? This isn’t the way to the hotel!” He barked something unintelligible back at me and kept driving down this industrial alley.
There were small garage type stalls where metal sparks shot out across the hood, pipes and other debris were stacked along the sides, and a three legged dog watched me watching him as I drove by in the rear of that taxi. I just knew this wasn’t going to end well.
I yelled at the taxi driver again “This is NOT the way to the hotel and it’s taken way to long… What are you doing?!” He barked something back at me, waved in the mirror, and kept on driving. It was about now that I realized the Imodium I took earlier this morning for other reasons was going to have a big pay-off in ways I had no idea at the time.
We reached the end of the alley and made a left turn onto a 6 lane local road. I knew that if I was going to change the outcome of this taxi ride, now would be the time I would have to do it. There was no communicating with the driver.
I waited and timed my escape with lightening precision. Once the taxi slowed or stopped for any reason, I would jump! Just then the traffic did slow and I made my move. With my left hand I slammed open the door lock and with my right hand, I pulled open the door latch. We had not come completely to a stop and we were in the middle of moving traffic. I leaped from the taxi just as a speeding motorcycle rushed by and I could feel the cyclists nylon jacket brush against my shirt. I slammed the door and ran for the curb across a sea of moving cars and motorcycles. As I made my way through the traffic, I could hear the taxi drive yelling at me in a series of linked together consonants.
I ran down the street through the traffic and ducked into the first alley. My first hope was to loose myself in the crowd in the event that the taxi driver circled around and came looking for me. Once sufficiently into my alley of choice, I instantly realized that I might have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. This alley did not seem any safer than the back of that cab. Of course, as I quickly walked down the alley, everyone stopped what they were doing, froze, and all watched my go by.
I made it to the end of the alley and looked back to see if the taxi driver was following behind me. Nope, I lost him. But, now what. I stood completely still for a moment and realized that to my right was a motorcycle repair garage; stall, and there was a police motorcycle in front the other motorcycles. Now, all I had to do is find the police officer that owned that motorcycle.
I slowly walked around the partially disassembled motorcycles trying to blend in (as if), and saw the officer in uniform. OMG! I rushed to him and handed him the hotel concierge’s card and began asking him for directions. I suddenly realized two things, one, I couldn’t find my way back with any directions he could give me, and two; he had no idea what I was taking about.
The police officer gave to the business card to a nearby mechanic, then to another, and another, all the time chirping enthusiastic sounds. No luck. No one spoke any English. All the while I kept checking over my shoulder for the deranged taxi driver.
Finally I yelled to the officer / mechanic combo “Taxi?”, and the officer got that. He motioned me to follow him as he walked me back out of the alley and flagged down a metered taxi cab. He said something to the driver that they both understood and I jumped into the backseat of that taxi. I thanked the officer the best I could by continually bowing as off we roared off into the Bangkok traffic.
We drove a considerable distance in the opposite direction until I saw a landmark, a CitiBank, that I had seen on Sunday. I yelled to the Taxi driver to pull over. He was confused as we had not yet arrived at the hotel on the card. Close enough, was close enough for me. I paid him what was on the meter, jumped from the back of that cab and made my way down the streets and alleys to return to safely to my hotel.
All the while, playing in my head what my family and friends would say if I never returned… “Bangkok has him now.”