On our final full day in Bangkok we really did feel like we had done a good job of seeing the city. We were satisfied that we wouldn’t leave with a list of sights left unseen and tasks left uncompleted. We absolutely loved it all, and we were contentedly ready to move on to the next stop.
So we spent our final day (after lying about all morning) on Sukhumvit Road, doing nothing more than eating, and people watching.
Now, Sukhumvit, much like ‘K’ Road, is another of Bangkok’s ‘notorious’ roads..But it is not known for quite the same reasons.
And in fact, Sukhumvit itself is a ridiculously long road, which is really rather typical – I mean, it’s lined with a few malls and roadside food carts, but nothing too special… It’s actually the many small side streets which sprout out from Sukhumvit that are of interest; its these streets which call the crowds. And perhaps that’s because they are all so diverse and unpredictable… or perhaps it’s because people know exactly what to expect when they find them…
These side streets can lead to a huge range of international restaurants, classy clubs and cute bars.. or.. they might instead.. lead you through the “red light district” of Bangkok – where massage parlours, cabarets, ‘lady-boys’ and stalls of sex toys, condoms and illegally copied DVDs reign wild.
We managed to find both.
When we set out, we decided to explore largely around the region of ‘Soi 11’ along Sukhumvit Road (‘Soi’ is just the way that any side streets which branch off a main Street are numbered in Thailand – instead of street names).
And our meandering day went something like this…
We started with a late lunch of 2 delicious Indian curries. Then eventually moved to Starbucks to read and have a coffee while we waited for 5pm to roll around so that we could legally be sold a beer from the 7/11 across the road (a convenience store chain, and the cheapest place to buy beer in Thailand). But we eventually gave up on that waiting game.. and found a cute wee jazz bar instead! Which had a live band playing. So we sat and had a drink there.. And we soon realised that we had arrived during their last song, and they were actually preparing to leave.. So we somewhat reluctantly moved on to another bar, which also had a band playing, and we ended up staying there for most of the night. It was an “Aussie” themed bar (although all of the staff were still Thai), which meant, that as two kiwis, we could have easily chosen to hate the place… but in reality.. for us, the theme really just meant that the band played songs that we knew all night (and they were absolutely fantastic! – the two female singers had such surprising voices), there was a menu of familiar foods and the vibe was ultimately very relaxed and homely..
And slowly, as darkness fell, market stalls opened up along Sukhumvit Road. And the generic souvenir stalls that you would expect to see on any road in Bangkok emerged.. But with them stalls stocked with sex related goods also began to pop up. And it gradually became apparent that as the cover of darkness fell over Sukhumvit.. the ‘red light’ sexuality that Thailand is increasingly renowned for came out to express itself..
Even the Tuk Tuk drivers – who line every Thai street – took on a kind of.. sexual confidence here.. offering rides to various sex shows to every passer-by (an additional service which they proudly presented in lists – like a menu of what you want to see..).
So, we wandered through the road side stalls (purchasing only an icy, blueberry dessert along the way) for a while, and inevitably stumbled upon some of “those” side streets – the ones which were thick with “massage parlours” lit up in pink neon lights, and filled with ‘lady-boys’ who were out coaxing tourists into clubs and shows, dressed in their stereotypically bold knee high boots and sparkling dresses.. And actually, I suppose “these” streets were exactly the ones that you’re told to expect when visiting Thailand – a place which is renowned for its significant, and growing transgender community.. but none the less it was a sight to see.. it was all just such a stark contrast to most of the rest of the world – where transsexuality is denied and suppressed so conpletely..
And it was both inspiring and saddening to see that these people could publicly express themselves as they wanted to and actually be accepted for it.. but at the same time be forced by the locality of this acceptance, into a very specific, sex oriented, niche.. after all.. the jobs available for a man in Thailand who wishes to express himself as a woman.. are few.
And anyway! These ‘lady-boys’ were hardly half-man, half-woman abominations… some of them.. were truly, truly beautiful.. Some of them had so completely undergone their transformations that you really would struggle to “spot” them in a crowd. I mean… they weren’t really ‘lady-boys’ at all anymore… they were just women.. stuck with a title that forced them to remain as an in between…
I guess it all provided some insight into a different lifestyle from those we choose to lead.. and we walked, and watched, and sat, and drank until we were too tired to continue. And then it was time to return to our cute wee apartment for the final time.
Day eleven was a day in transit – A two hour taxi in morning rush hour traffic from our apartment to the Bangkok airport, followed by a one hour flight from Bangkok to Phuket.. Then a 45 minute taxi from the Phuket airport to the general area of our hotel… and a further half an hours walk around our drop off vicinity in search of our actual hotel..
And all of this meant that by the time we had finally, comfortably arrived and dropped off our packs at our new accomodation the day was already given up to aimless meandering and periodic searches for food.
We had made it to the next destination. And that was all that mattered.