I’d heard an awful lot about Thailand by the time I finally landed in Bangkok. It’s cheap, the exchange rate is great, it’s a backpacker’s paradise. Also heard it was crazy.
All true. I landed in Bangkok on May 6, 2012.
Back in 2002 I studied abroad in Japan. Before leaving the US, the older Sigma Nu’s in my chapter told me about Hiro Oda ZK 615, a brother from Japan who had come to Fresno State, joined Sigma Nu, then moved back to Japan after graduating. They said I should connect with him while I was out there, so I did.
We met up three or four times while I was in Japan, and Hiro was awesome. He took me out, showed me around and played outstanding host each time we got together. One night he took me out to dinner followed by a bunch of bars and clubs; another night he took me to the Tokyo Dome for a Tokyo Giants game; and yet another night he and his wife took me and two of my American friends out to a traditional sit-down Japanese dinner. Even though we had never met before, and he was 10 years older than me, we were fraternity brothers and Hiro took care of me while I was in his country.
That’s the power of fraternity, which Hiro explained this to me back in Japan:
“the Fraternity did so much for me; it gave me lifelong friends, a community, a brotherhood and a family away from home; it changed my life. It’s the least I can do to take care of a brother when he’s here.”
Fast forward 10 years. Hiro now lives in Bangkok, where he has been for over three years. After reconnecting with him, he offered me the guest bedroom at his house. In yet another country I have a connection, a friend, and a (really nice) place to stay.
I made my way into the city by train and taxi and met up with Hiro on the street, where he walked me back to his place. Talk about fat city; my own private room, bathroom, wireless internet, A/C and a key to the apartment to come and go as I please while I’m in Thailand.
I spent the first several days hanging out with Hiro, his wife Akiko, and their dachshund Leo, who is constantly stealing my socks. Hiro took me around Bangkok showing me the sights, eating great food and getting to know the city. Suffice to say Hiro and Akiko are awesome hosts.
I also went to the Beregrund International Hospital to get the last few vaccinations that I hadn’t gotten before leaving the US: yellow fever, typhoid, rabies and malaria (which is not a vaccination but pills you have to take before, during and after potential exposure). I was mildly concerned about getting injected with substances in Thailand, but my concerns were quickly relieved. Beregrund is one of, if not the finest health care facility I’ve ever been in. Modern, super-clean, efficient, and friendly with great staff and a fabulous facility. There are at least three Starbucks and several cafes in each building, hand santinizer on every counter, even free coffee and tea in the waiting areas. Not to mention the services are dirt-cheap, comparatively speaking.
Thai Cooking and Muay Thai
Paul Wilson lived in Bangkok for several months studying muay thai, although unfortunately had left before I arrived (check out his new and upgraded blog). However, he did suggest that I go and visit the famous Lumphini Thai Boxing Stadium to watch a muay thai boxing match.
So I went, although was disappointed there were no matches going on that night.
As I was leaving the stadium, I looked up to see a bunch of guys training in a gym on the second floor of an adjacent building. Some of the bros were calling down to me and beckoning. Hmm…I’d never seen muay thai before, and I don’t have to be anywhere until…well, never.
And so I walked into the PetchYinDee Muay Thai Boxing Gym. And I walked out two hours later after my first muay thai training.
This was amazing. It brought me back to my high school wrestling days (some of which were, in fact, the best moments of my life). Getting the feel again for intense training and one-on-one combat was incredible. Not only that, but in combination with my fitness program, regular muay thai training would probably put me in the best shape of my life.
After Jen’s Homegrown Cooking Academy I got a taste for cooking lessons and so I signed up for the Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy. This was pretty fun, although it was no Jen’s. Turns out my Thai instructor had lived in Fresno for a year learning English and becoming a Fresno State Bulldogs fan. Good company.
Before going to the actual class we went to the morning market to pick up all of our ingredients, which was fun and interesting. The lesson itself was good, and I learned how to make some tasty Thai food, although our boy was a bit scattered and flustered.
So before leaving Fresno I found out a friend and one of my favorite bartenders was moving to Thailand to teach English. Sweet dude, I’ll meet you there.
Sure enough, Brad Patterson moved to Pattaya in February, where he has been living since. Brad is the founder of TheThrillLifeProdcutions and teaches English during the week.
I got in touch w/ Brad and hopped on the two-hour bus to Pattaya to meet up with him.
He picked me up on his motorbike, which in the US might be questionable, but in Thailand it’s all good. For a first-timer, riding around Pattaya on a motorbike can be concerning. Let’s just say you go wherever you can go. And they do. It’s lawless. Despite the several panic moments on each trip, motorbike is the way to go.
Reminiscing about some old times, Brad and I actually traced back to the first time we met. It was on Flora, when Lindsay Barto lived there, December 2005, my first year working for Sigma Nu HQ, back visiting Fresno for the Sigma Nu semi-formal at the Fresno Zoo. I can recall almost every specific detail about that entire night. It’s funny how much you can forget, but then remember other things so clearly.
If you thought Bangkok was crazy, go to Pattaya. “Walking Street” is world renown for the debauchery that goes down there, but if you want to hear about that you can read it on Brad’s blog.
We did go pretty spectacularly huge on the first night, catching a few epic live music performances by Soul Mama and Phoenyx, but other than that spent a few days just kicking around, showing me the sights, meeting some of Brad’s friends and eating food. Brad is also big into fitness, so we went and did a workout together. We got some good footage that will end up on my fitness page if I can ever get it edited and put together.
In what is a somewhat typical tourist attraction, I did have a fairly remarkable experience at one of the more important temples, or Wats, in Pattaya. For about fifty cents a pop, both Brad and I purchased three little caged birds. You say a prayer for each bird, then release them from an elevated platform overlooking the city. As my three birds flew away, I was able to watch them for quite some time; they descended into the trees for a few moments before reappearing, the three hovering together suspended in flight some 50 yards away. I couldn’t believe how long I was able to follow them. It was a spiritual moment, and I could sense that my prayers would be answered.
Being on the gulf of Thailand, Brad insisted that I go and check out one of the islands, so I took a day trip out to Koh Larn.
Koh Larn is a wonderful little island in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Larn is located about 7km off the coast of Pattaya Beach of which is about two hours drive south of Bangkok. The Island is about 4km long and about 2km wide and has about a thousand residents most of whom live in the main village called Naban. Most of the people that live here also work and go to school on the island. Any of the everyday necessities are here including a police force and a small medical facility. There are about six beaches on the island that boast white sand and clear blue water. Koh Larn is a lush green tropical island which has an abundant amount of rain fall each year during monsoon. The terrain is mostly mountainous which is covered in most part with heavy vegetation, jungle if you will. Monkeys naturally inhabit the island as well as other wildlife. Infrastructure here in most part consist of narrow roadways covered with brick pavers.
I’m painfully ashamed to admit this, but I have never independently operated a two-wheeled internal-combustion engine vehicle before. Actually I did ride a little 50 when I was about five years old, but I don’t think that quite counts (just remembered that by the way). At any rate, Brad being the nice guy that he is, let me take his motorbike for a little spin the night before heading to Koh Larn. Hell, if all these 14-year-old Thai chicks can weave alarmingly through traffic, surely I can handle it. No prob.
So, the first thing I did on Koh Larn was rent a motorbike to cruise around the island. I think the guy was a little hesitant about letting me take her out, but we bartered out a deal. He must have been concerned as I shakily drove away, narrowly missing a parked motorbike 10 feet after takeoff, but I didn’t look back so I can’t say for sure.
There really isn’t much traffic to speak of, so Koh Larn was a great place to learn. And I have to say I had a freakin blast. Cruising around a beach island is not a bad way to spend the day.
The Volleyball Injury
Returning to Pattaya that night, Brad and I went down to the beach for some late-night pick-up volleyball. As players arrived over the course of an hour (during which Brad and I were doing backflips in the sand, which I always knew I could do but never had the guts to try until Brad threw a couple right in front of me), one couldn’t help but notice that just about all of them were grouped into a particular demographic.
You’d be tempted to use the term ladyboy, although it’s not exactly accurate because you really can’t tell that the ladyboys are actually boys that look like girls. No, these were all men, but most certainly all fully gay (as opposed to half-gay), and of the utmost feminine characteristics. I’m talking high-pitched screams, short shorts, and tight-fitting lime-green cookie monster “I’m free tonight” tank-tops. If you still weren’t convinced, the “you lose, you have love me tonight” comment from across the net would have cleared things up for you. They are not shy.
But no worries – here are Brad and me – big, strong, tall, Captain America white guys taking on a bunch of skinny little lady-esque gay Thai boys. This should be a massacre.
It was, but not the way I thought it was going to be. I’m no volleypro, but I can throw it down a bit, and so can Brad. But these guys dominated! I’m talking spike it in your face along with a big girly scream and gay high-fives! I even collided with one of them under the net and I swear I thought I broke my foot. I’m limping away trying to act like nothing but I can barely walk and this guy’s laughing and asking me if I’m ok (I’m writing this over two weeks later and I’m still limping ok, these guys were tough). Trust me, getting smoked by a bunch of ladyboys playing volleyball, that’s humbling.
Good thing we didn’t take that bet.
The next morning I was outta there and back to Bangkok. I had a blast hanging out with Brad; it was just one more awesome connection that I’ve had on this journey.
Back to Bangkok
By the time I got back to Bangkok, Hiro was gone for India on a business trip, so it was just Akiko and me for the rest of the week. I spent a few days just catching up on things, stepping up the fitness level, going for another muay thai class, practicing Spanish and getting ready for Vietnam.
On one of these days, out exploring, and elderly man grabbed my attention as I had gotten off the train and was walking by in a touristy area.
For those who have traveled at all, you know there is a never-ending stream of people constantly trying to get your attention, probably rip you off or otherwise get your money in their pocket. You become somewhat immune to it after a time.
For some reason I decided to stop and talk to this old man. I thought to myself, if he is going to try anything, I’m going to be ready for it. I’ll be cautious, make sure not to leave anything vulnerable, and just keep my wits about me (thanks Uncle Scott). He really seemed to be a genuine fellow. We chatted for a few minutes, and he offered to show me through Chinatown and on to an important Wat in Bangkok, where he was going to pray.
So I started walking with this guy. We walked all through Chinatown and some of the oldest parts of Bangkok, and really saw some fascinating sights. The entire time I was cautious and prepared for anything, probably even over-paranoid at some points. He kept telling me that next time, when I bring my friends here, I’ll be the tour guide.
After walking for some time, we took a bus down a bit further, and then hopped on a boat.
This was really something. Unbeknownst to me, Bangkok is actually known as the Venice of the East – the only city in Asia with an interconnected series of canals that really act like city streets. On a 15-minute boat ride I saw some of the coolest sights I have seen in Bangkok or really anywhere. Also, there are huge freaking lizards that live and swim in the canal. Seriously.
We got off to find a not-so-spectacular Wat, but that he insisted was a very important place and one of the only Wats that the royal family actually attends. Shortly after we went to a a street-side sit down restaurant, where he insisted on paying for us to drink a couple of beers. We just sat drinking ice beer and talking; he told me he was a part of the red shirt political party – alarming at first, as I’d heard about them just the day before, and I’d say it’s generally not the best idea to start discussing politics in a foreign monarchist nation. However, he told me a bit about his party and their beliefs, and suffice to say it really was an interesting conversation, sitting there drinking beers with a man two generations my senior and a world of experience separating us.
Here it comes. It was the boat ride. He tried to get me to pay 700 baht, about $23. I parted ways with 400 baht, about $13, believing the day’s experience was really worth it. I was still a little indignant, asking him if the boat driver was his friend or brother. But, if that was the worst of it, honestly, it was worth it; I wouldn’t have seen any of these things or places otherwise, nor would I be telling this story.
Faster than it began, I had to jump on a bus and leave him behind, needing to get back to feed Leo. Even if it was a scam, I’d do it again. Now I had to figure out how the hell to get home, but after getting some help from friendly bus-goers (and not so much help from the not-so-friendly fare collector stalking about the bus) I figured out where to get off and how to make it back.
On the last day, before my flight, Akiko and I went out exploring some of the sights and smells of Bangkok. It was funny, on that day we traveled by the following means:
- Tuk tuk
- Minibus (bascially a truck-bed outfitted as a taxi)
- Actual bus
I’ve never counted those before, so I’m guessing it’s a record for me. And Akiko didn’t join me on the last three as I was en route to Vietnam. We did see some cool stuff, including a palace and a floating market.
So that was my first experience in Thailand. I didn’t think this post was every going to get written, so I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
What is Vietnam going to be like? I actually already know; but you’re going to have wait until the next post.