My incredibly contorted itinerary took me through Bangkok for the third time on my trip, as my link between Dhaka and Seattle. I was looking forward to this stopover, as it would be a brief but enjoyable opportunity to catch up with my friend Jiew, who I had met on my first trip through Asia in 2002. This was the girl who hooked me with her razor sharp tongue and impeccable sarcasm.
I phoned Jiew from a payphone at the airport. "Hello Jiew, it is Adam! I am in Bangkok!"
"Well of course you are in Bangkok; I would not get a phone call from you otherwise!" She was relentless! I hadn't talked to her but for a handful of emails and she was starting right in!
She instructed me to get to my hotel, which was within walking distance of the backpacker Mecca of Khao San Road. Being wise to the system, I exited the airport via the Amari Airport Hotel and grabbed a cab there, avoiding inflated airport prices. It was over an hour ride to KSR, owing to the evening rush hour traffic. I checked into my hotel and phoned Jiew. She told me to meet her at the same restaurant where we had concluded our last encounter a few years previous. Picking up where we had left off.
In a way, I will admit that I was hoping we really could pick up where we left off. During my previous stay, we had traveled together and spent a night together at her parents' home. I found her incredibly attractive, both as a shining example of Thai beauty, as well as her sarcastic and outgoing personality, a trait she had told me kept her eternally single because she wasn't the subservient, meek Thai woman her male peers were looking for. I had to think there would be some logic in looking at her seriously… she was smart, worked at an American multinational, had traveled with me, had the personality I was looking for, and could be a great excuse to perhaps shake my life up a bit and get out to Asia more often.
I had ideas for Jiew and I. I had put together an itinerary in my mind, taking us on a quick trip to Lopburi, to see a town with ancient Buddhist temples and completely overrun by monkeys. I'd pay, of course, and she could get us the local rates. A terrific quid-pro-quo. If she couldn't get the day off of work? No problem! I'd love to pay a visit to your family again, and maybe run around Bangkok in our free time.
I was beside myself as I found the restaurant, Tom Yum Kung, and walked in looking for Jiew and Jamie, her girlfriend who had also traveled with us the last time I was there. After some hugs all around, and some sort of sarcastic greeting from Jiew, she commented that I must not have been traveling very much, and that my skin wasn't nearly as dark as it was the time she had met me. Her hair was longer, but she looked virtually the same as I remembered her. The conversation flowed easily and I was excited to see her again.
Before we ordered, I made a declaration: "Now this time, I am telling you from the beginning that I am paying for dinner! Last time you girls insisted on paying and this time it is my turn!" They agreed and set about assembling a feast of a number of Thai dishes. I let them do the ordering; they couldn't go wrong (this restaurant didn't offer bugs, to my knowledge).
The ladies and I caught up on topics such as work, what the other girls were up to over the past few years, and eventually things turned a little more personal when Jamie asked "Adam, where is your girlfriend?"
"Well, I don't have one…" I said. Maybe it was a bit immature for Jiew to have Jamie broach this topic on her behalf, but hey, I was OK with it. "What about you, Jamie?" I asked, merely continuing the line of questioning.
"In the forest!" she exclaimed, indicating that he didn't really exist. "And you, Jiew?" I asked, getting to the big question, the answer to which was a no-brainer.
"Heh, that's great, just like Jamie's boyfriend in the forest! Jiew, you crack me up!"
"No, he is in Frankfurt." For once, she was serious.
Say what?!! The record stopped playing, the room went silent, a clink of a fork on a plate, and a cough from a distant patron. "Oh?"
"Yes." Jiew went on to explain that she had met a German man who was about my age, and came to Bangkok on business. He had lived there for a number of months and they established a relationship which they had continued even after his work took him back to Germany. When I asked, she told me it was serious, though I sensed some mistrust in the situation. She explained that her friends didn't really like or trust him, and that he was reluctant to commit to marrying her, especially as they were in different countries. She appeared to be holding out hope that one day he'd return and marry her, but it was anyone's guess what his real intentions were.
We had a fine meal, complete with plenty of jokes, but I couldn't get over the disappointment of hearing that Jiew's heart was left in Frankfurt. To make matters worse, Jiew made a number of offhand remarks that Jamie and I should connect. She also told me that night that she was not able to get the time off work to travel with me the next day, so with some hugs and a photo as the hopped into a cab, that was the extent of my visit with Jiew.
I spent the rest of the evening wandering KSR and met a first-time traveler named Yusef who was busy having his mind blown. We made friends with some Nepali teens who had moved to Bangkok in search of safer means for making a living. My mind was elsewhere though, realizing I was on my dwindling last day of my adventure, nursing a heart broken in two places, and dreading returning to reality in short order. We had some fun watching and commenting on the stream of prostitutes and bizarre characters that plied KSR, but it was only a halfhearted effort on my part.
The next morning, I awoke with the intent of finding a train to Lopburi and monkeys, even if Jiew couldn't go with me, and killed a few hours only to discover that there really was no reliable way of getting to any place of interest in a short amount of time. And despite getting a full and undisturbed night of sleep, I was feeling worn down. My stomach felt unsettled. Well, if there wasn't a reasonable destination by train, there had to be plenty of Bangkok that I had yet to see. I checked out of my hotel and dropped my bags with their Left Luggage, with the intent of picking them up at around 4 in the morning, the time I'd need to head out to the airport.
A water taxi follows the Chao Phraya River, making for a relaxing view of the city without the noise and chaos of the streets. I wandered through a residential neighborhood and found a taxi dock on the shore. I had been dressed for Thai weather, with long pants and a short sleeved button down, but it was unusually cold that morning. I sat at the dock and waited. And waited. And waited. Numerous boats passed by, but none of them stopped at my dock. I grew wearier as a couple hours passed, so I slumped on the bench and waited, wondering why the hell a single boat wouldn't approach the dock. Eventually some locals approached and caught a southbound boat, the next one that passed. What did they do differently? They stood at the edge of the dock. Apparently sitting on the bench is not clear enough a signal for the captain to realize that I wanted a lift. Christ.
On the water, the temperature was even colder. I tucked my arms inside my shirt, moved as far away from the open sides of the boat as possible and sat in misery as my stomach became increasingly queasier. By the time I reached a destination satisfactorily outside of Bangkok proper, I had the distinct feeling that I was holding my guts in by my sphincter, the slightest loosening of my grip and most of me would be sitting in my underwear.
First order of business on shore was finding a restroom. Looking down the street, the sidewalks were lined with stalls of food and wares, and parallel to the stalls were shops. Little jewelry shops, drug stores. Nothing that would have a reliable bathroom. And as I wove through the stalls, the pungent odors of exotic meats caused my stomach to churn more and more. Holding my breath and noticing sweat on my brow despite still feeling chilled, I knew things were looking bad. Desperation. I popped into a drug store and plead with the owner to point me towards a restroom. He allowed me into the one in his residence, the back of the shop. It was a western toilet which was both surprising and unsettling because I somehow clogged the fucker and panicked as I struggled to get the damn thing working again without the sounds of my struggles being heard over the short partition that separated the toilet from the rest of his house.
Sorted, I dodged more rancid smelling meat stands until I found a shopping mall, grabbed a seat in a food court, and passed out. I slept a couple hours in that shopping mall, glimpsing portions of the latest Thai movies being shown on the flat screen across the way from me. Fuck, I had another twelve hours before I'd need to be at the airport. What was I going to do with myself until then? I perused some clothing stalls and negotiated on a black knock-off Dickies jacket so I wouldn't continue to freeze on the ride back. I caught another water taxi and headed back to the center of town.
I spent the bulk of the afternoon sleeping upright on the couch in the lobby of the hotel. I was too stubborn to pay for the hotel room for the fraction of the night before I'd have to depart for the airport: besides, that would be admitting defeat to the illness that was working its way through my body. Finally, unable to sleep any more, I headed out into the streets again, in search of something to help me while away the long hours until my flight. First I had a simple pizza at a touristy joint on KSR. I watched the freak show and munched something I hoped wouldn't worsen my stomach. And then I decided to get a massage. Perfect way to pass time, and feel better, I hoped.
This turned out to be the best move I could have aimed for. For 500 baht, about $12.50, I was treated to a full luxurious spa experience, with foot bath, scented oil massage, and a private bath with a tasty tea and a variety of pleasant smells, which killed two hours easily. I felt a little better. I was able to do some shopping, returned to the hotel and had another conversation with Yusef. I took another nap on the couch, and then went out in search of another massage. I had found a formula that worked.
By this time, the massage places were all closed except one. I was the last customer in and the massage, while not nearly as good as the first, was pleasant and still effective at killing time. I was feeling better. As I tied my shoes, the masseuse offered me a plate of pineapple and a cup of tea. I had my doubts, but chomped down a piece of pineapple anyway. Immediately upon landing in my stomach, I fled to the toilet, shoes still untied, and barfed everything in my stomach right back out again. Fuck, get me the hell out of this godforsaken city.
Hours later, I was finally at the airport again, laden with my belongings and gifts, exhausted and quite ready to be out of Bangkok, with a distinctly sour taste in my mouth.