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bangkok, thailand, patpong, sukhumvit, nightlife, markets (6)

Bangkok: A hedonist’s fantasy

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Bangkok, Thailand

You never do Bangkok. Bangkok always does you.

In the maze of crowded alley markets, the cacophony of traffic and the fireworks of seedy nightlife neon signs, is a hedonist’s fantasy. Bangkok embraces you, acts like it loves you, then ejaculates all over you in a fluid mix of ecstasy and shame.

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Sitting in a taxi one night on the way to Patpong, the notorious neighbourhood of go-go girls and anything-goes, the lights of the city streak by. I’m caught up in the pace – not just of the taxi, which weaves its way through other vehicles as it races along – but of a city with more energy than the liquid amphetamine that is sold in small bottles at convenience stalls. There feels like there is no way to stop… but I’m not complaining.

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“You want show?”, the man asks. He’s not talking Broadway.

The piece of paper in his hand lists the things a human’s sexual organ can do… and quite a few it shouldn’t be able to. It’s a menu where everything is spicy.

In some ways, resistance is futile. Bangkok is too fertile. You don’t need to partake to be impregnated with its spirit.

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“You like S&M?”, a tout asks, hitting me with a cane before I have a chance to answer. With an attitude like that, he’ll never find out. It hurts just to walk the dark and dingy alleys of this city.

Even away from the nightlife, away from the seedy underbelly we all urge to scratch, Bangkok gets under your skin. The next day, in the older part of the city near the Grand Palace, the crowded streets throw me around like a plaything. The sidewalks are too narrow to walk down with the stalls constructed on them. Clothes, electronics, toys, you name it and someone is hawking it. It’s impossible just to walk in a straight line as you’re jostled along the footpath, trying to avoid those who’ve stopped to haggle.

A symphony of horns and engines provides the soundtrack to the city.

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“DVD?”, the young man offers, displaying a smile that shows he’s already guessed the answer. He asks because you can’t assume anything in Bangkok. Offers are like rapid fire ammunition – you shoot off a hundred, knowing you’ll hit your target somewhere in the barrage.

This city leaves you pounded and so out of breath you can hardly talk. All day the streets are full of business and all night they are full of business. The nuances in the distinction between the businesses is immaterial. There’s no black and no white in this city and the marker on the spectrum just slides to the appropriate point for you.

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Do you remember that Pick Up Sticks game you would play as a kid? The one where you would drop a pile of sticks on each other and have to remove them one by one without disturbing the others? That’s Bangkok. In my days researching stories I’ve been to red light districts, slums, street food stalls, temples, markets and shopping malls. These weren’t all meant to fit together but in some random dropping they’ve all ended up interconnected. Remove one, though, and you’ll affect them all.

The only thing that can be safely removed without disturbing the city is you.

You never do Bangkok. Bangkok always does you.

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30 Comments
  • Elle Williams | Jan 14, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Love this blog post, I’m heading to Bangkok for the second time next year and very excited! :)

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Excellent! I don’t think you can go to Bangkok too many times. I’ve passed through the city about ten times in my life now, and I’m always discovering new things and falling more in love with the place.

  • Jennifer | Jan 14, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Absolutely loved this post! I’m not sure if I just haven’t paid much attention to Bangkok or just never heard it described this way, but now I am in intrigued!
    Jennifer recently posted..Goðafoss: Waterfall of the GodsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      Ha ha… maybe most people are too polite to describe it the way I have here. You can’t escape the energy of the city, though. You have good reason to be intrigued… :)

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Jan 14, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Oh, this post brings back travel memories… I have been last year in Bangkok. Myself… I still need to write about it. I hope to find some time for it soon.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..First Hotel Marin, Bergen. A Charming Hotel in A Fairytale Like CityMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      Let me know when you have written about it. I would love to hear what you think about the city!

  • Vera | Jan 14, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Yup, Bangkok is busy!! Although you can find rest in the odd park or shopping mall, if you’re desperate:). I could imagine since this is most likely the place where you arrive when you first come to Thailand, it feels very much like you’re being thrown in a washing machine, what with the massive difference to where you just came from (as a Westerner). I really liked Bangkok and therefore your post, too. And how could anyone not understand the greatness of this city after taking in your first post-picture? ANGRY-BIRDS-BALLOONS! Puh-leeze…! Awesome.
    Vera recently posted..The friendliness of the Thai people (& a hostel review)My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 15, 2013 at 1:15 am

      If the whole city was just one big game of Angry Birds it would still be saner than it actually is!

  • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End | Jan 15, 2013 at 12:20 am

    “It’s a menu where everything is spicy.” – it sure is, mate! You gotta like the heat if you’re visiting Bangkok! Awesome catching you the other night… hope we can cross paths again one day soon!
    Ian Ord – Where Sidewalks End recently posted..The Best Pizza in Bangkok is made under a bridgeMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 15, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Great to meet you too. I will declare, for the record, that you have nothing to do with anything in this post. Look forward to catching up again sometime soon.

  • Sophie | Jan 15, 2013 at 7:13 am

    I’ve only ever been in Bangkok with children along. This is an entirely different sensory experience. Excellent reportage.
    Sophie recently posted..Blue Rocks, Nova ScotiaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 17, 2013 at 2:55 am

      You probably wouldn’t want to see this side of Bangkok with children. In fact, definitely not. Although I s’pose the point I was trying to get across is that the vibrancy and energy of the city is everywhere and impossible to avoid. The kids would love parts of it!

  • Cheryl | Jan 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

    This is somehow exactly how I’d imagine Bangkok to be! I can’t wait to see it for myself someday.

    Well written article and very hilarious.
    Cheryl recently posted..Cheryl Howard … Does Ottawa!My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 17, 2013 at 2:56 am

      Let me know when you make it there and if it lives up to these expectations. I guess everyone will have a slightly different impression of such a diverse city.

  • Jeremy | Jan 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Great way of capturing Bangkok into actual words, which isn’t an easy task! I too agree with your point about the symbiosis of all parts of the city, seedy and not, that create its off-kilter allure.
    Jeremy recently posted..Top 10 Island getaways for 2013My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 17, 2013 at 3:11 am

      It’s weird, isn’t it. So many parts of this city seem to be at odds with each other, yet they all fit together.

  • Wandergirl | Jan 16, 2013 at 2:54 am

    Love this! I’ve yet to see Bangkok, but my guess is I probably couldn’t have said it better.
    Wandergirl recently posted..The Oaxaca Diaries: October 20, 2012My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 17, 2013 at 3:25 am

      Let me know when you get there. And then try to put it into words. It’s not easy to capture this place!!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Jan 18, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I’ve never been myself, but from things I have read, it seems like a great way to describe it. I don’t think I would last very long there :-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The stupidest thing I did in 2012… and the photo to remember itMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Oh, you would find your ways of coping, I am sure! :)
      It’s no crazier than some of the wilder parts of South America (just less wine).

  • Linda | Jan 20, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Lovely, vibrant, colorful writing…….a match for your subject I’m guessing! A really enjoyable read!
    Linda recently posted..2012: Postcards to MyselfMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 5, 2013 at 11:21 pm

      Only a city like Bangkok could inspire descriptions like this! :)

  • Yvonne | Jan 22, 2013 at 6:14 am

    Beautiful post! I clearly could hear your voice reading this post out loudly… in the intro of the movie version of your life! :D <3
    Yvonne recently posted..Similan Islands – On turtles, peeing and touristsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:37 am

      Ha ha… my life is certainly not this interesting! :)

  • Samuel Jeffery | Jan 25, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Great description – Bangkok is like a pleasurable addiction you’d like to shake but just can’t.

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:28 am

      That’s a great way to put it. There’s certainly something addictive about the place!

  • Michelle | Jan 25, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I’ve been living in Bangkok for the past 6 months and I’ve never found the words to describe why I sometimes just don’t want to leave the peace of my apartment to even walk on the street for five minutes.
    Michelle recently posted..On Being DifferentMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:29 am

      Ha ha – I can imagine how it could all get a bit too much sometimes and you would need just to hide in your apartment. But I don’t think I could ever get sick of Bangkok’s energy!

  • BlogDaz | Feb 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Wonderful piece of writing Michael, you transported us into the plot of a novel and the heart and soul of Bangkok with a few swift strokes of your pen. A very accurate yet imaginatively described summary of Bangkok.
    BlogDaz recently posted..Thailand’s Four Faced DeityMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      It can be hard to capture the city sometimes, I think. But it’s all about the energy!

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