At 6.30 am Hong Kong time on New Year’s Day 2015 our plane descended smoothly over the Indian Ocean and made its way to the Hong Kong airport’s landing strip which is nestled between expanses of mountains. The sun eased its way up past the rocky horizon and cable cars were black silhouettes against the golden sky as they maneuvered up towards the giant Tian Tan Buddha.
It was an incredibly beautiful landing and peaceful start to the new year.
After a short three hour layover in the airport, we boarded our flight destined for Bangkok.
Landing in the Thai capital was a completely different experience. The plane rattled and rolled through air thickened by smog and humidity, and my rescue remedy drops did little to relax my pounding heart. My knuckles were white, tensed against the armrests and I was 87% sure our flight was about to become the next horror crash story blazed across news channel screens. My horror grew substantially when I realized that the rescue teams would use my passport identify me. Mid-plea to the universe, while I was begging it please to find a less troll-like photo of me (shout out to the South African department of home affairs ) for the papers and news reports, to my surprise and everlasting gratitude, the plane landed easily onto the Tarmac.
That landing was a premonition of what the city itself is like. Fast, bumpy (Thanks to the tuk tuks) and overwhelming with an undercurrent of a sense of danger at first but then the anxiety eases and you realize it’s not that bad at all. In fact, it’s rather exciting rumbling along Bangkok’s streets on the back of a tuk tuk, hanging on for dear life while the driver takes turns at speeds that should be illegal.
On the first afternoon, before we joined up with the Gadventures tour, we toured the old city. Our goal was to see the reclining Buddha and the grand palace but our plans didn’t turn out exactly the way we wanted.
An security guard stopped Robyn and I as we were about to enter Wat Pho (the temple complex housing the reclining Buddha). He told us that because that day was a thai holiday because of the new year- thailand has a ten day long weekend this year celebrating the new year- many locals and foreigners were visiting the complex to leave blessings and pray for good luck for the new year and that we should rather return later, when it was less busy. Shrugging we agreed to go back in the afternoon. The guard was super friendly and suggested a bunch of activities for the meantime. He gave us a list of places to visit and even organized with a tuk tuk driver to take us everywhere for only 100 baht (result). We felt rather pleased with our deal and clambered onto the little vehicle.
The driver Han Roy was even friendlier than the security guard and chatted away as he drove is towards true Black Buddha. Arriving, it was clear that this temple was nowhere near as grand as Wat Pho but still beautifully built. Slightly apprehensive we approached the main building and removed our shoes. A temple guide told us that the Black Buddha temple was more popular with locals than with tourists. After we completely embarrassed ourselves by bunging up praying at he entrance by sticking our lit incense sticks into the holder upside down, the guide gave us a history of the Black Buddha statue which was one of only three Black Buddhas brought to Bangkok from the old capital, Ayutthaya.
Leaving black Buddha, Han Roy took a death defying turn as he shot out of the temple complex and we made our way to the Thai expo centre (apparently only open this week to non-locals) to browse through the sapphires and rubies.
After this Han Roy was super enthusiastic about us taking a boat trip around a part of the city’s canals. “It has floating market, not as big as the one outside of Bangkok but still nice! And you see the temples!” He told us excitedly.
Our deliberations over going were interrupted by loud gurgles from my stomach . We had slept in, missing breakfast, and needed to eat so we said we could go to the boat trip after. Han Roy jumped in at this suggestion saying: “No no no boat first, eat after, then visit sleeping Buddha (wat pho)”
I became slightly wary at this point but we agreed to go anyway since he was so excited for us to do it. My wariness grew as we approached a sketchy looking mini dock down an alley way. Han Roy greeted one of the boat trip organizers with a friendly clap on the back. The organizer told us the trip would be 1200 baht. Our apprehensive frowns made him reconsider and he said he could do us a deal for 800 baht (just under R400). He shouted out to us as we made our way to the boat, put his forefinger to his lips and told us to keep the discount a secret between friends.
The only passengers were Robyn and I and a pair of French tourists who seemed to be legabon enthusiasts from the way the whooped and pointed at everyone we saw along the canal banks.
And the boat trip? Well, it was not what was advertised. The “floating market” was one lady on a boat selling chopsticks and coke, and the “temples” we’re only the back yard spaces of the complexes. Definitely not worth the 800 baht.
Han Roy, who said he would wait for us, was nowhere to be found when we docked again. Thinking he might have had an emergency or something, we hung around for a bit, not wanting to cheat him out of his money. Time passed and still no sign of him. We had been ditched by Han Roy. How rude.
Over lunch, we decided that the security guard, Han Roy and the boat trip people had definitely been in cahoots. Each must have received a cut of the large amount of cash we paid for a horrendously average canal cruise. Rather insulted, we walked back to Wat Pho.
The temple was still relatively busy at 3pm but it was easy to move through the crowd. The huge gold, reclining figure and the inteicately designed surrounding complex completely made up for the earlier disappointment.
What today taught me is that while not everyone is trying to scam me, it’s always better to always keep my wits about me. Also, Han Roy is a douchebag.
Sweaty but happy we returned to the airport to meet the rest of our tour group and head for our first group dinner on Khao San Road.
After food and a few too many drinks in one of Khao San’s many bars, six of us squished onto a tuk tuk and went to watch a Thai sex show.
At the time, under the influence of cheap cocktails, the show was a hoot. Thinking back on it the next day, it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. Tourists filled the seats surrounding the small stage and there was full frontal genitalia as ladies shot ping pong balls out of orrifices that Ping pong balls should not be inside of. Two women even did a presentation of sex moves under red mood lighting to the sound of Ronan Keetings “when you say nothing at all” (never listening to that song in the same way again). Overall, the women performing just didn’t look overly excited about their jobs and that highlighted the seediness of the whole business
Granted, being able to shoot darts out of your lady bits and pop a balloon mid air is an incredibly cool (maybe not so useful) skill but I don’t think I’ll be watching another ping pong/ sex show again anytime in the near or distant future.