Bangkok: Sukhumvit, Soi Cowboy, and More Trouble…

Today captures a different side of Bangkok. We leave Chinatown and head to Sukhumvit. We try out a party hostel, experience Soi Cowboy, and have ANOTHER run-in with Thai police…

Day 7. Diary date: 8th October 2019

Leaving AMA Hostel, headed for Sukhumvit

An early start today. We head for the local station, taking the MRT (Metropolitan Rapid Transport) from Sam Yot to Sukhumvit. Sukhumvit is one of Bangkok’s most crowded and lively areas, but in a completely different way to the bewitching streets of Chinatown or spectacle-packed Phra Nakhon. Instead, Sukhumvit is more of a modernised, cosmopolitan area. It also boasts a reputation for being more… sinful, more of a dark underbelly—as we’ll find out later.

The MRT is essentially an underground metro system. I was surprised to note that it was incredibly regular, cheap, and modern. I guess it’s on my own unconscious bias coming into play there—my unexamined assumptions of what Southeast Asia would or should be like. It was in much better than condition than London’s tube system!

Last night, we booked a room in a place called Bodega Party Hostel. I remember the conversation leading to this decision went something along the lines of:

Wait, wait, I’ve just realised — we’re travelling… shouldn’t we be, you know, meeting new people? Partying?

Uh, yeah, I guess we should…

So, we decided on 12-person dorms at a party hostel. Seems fair. Let’s see how it pans out.

Exploring Sukhumvit and Terminal 21

We emerge from the metro station and trek to our hostel to store our backpacks there. This is a big part of travelling if you change hostels too often. No one wants to explore with a 65-litre shit-brick on their back.

We wander back into Sukhumvit, poke around in some shops, and as we’re passing Terminal 21 (big mall—they’re everywhere), we go inside and quickly check it out.

A picture of Terminal 21, looking down on rows of escalators
Each floor was themed according to different cities—including London!—which was pretty cool.

Afterwards, I decide to seek out some dragonfruit. Always a disappointing affair—but fruits are usually better in Southeast Asia, because of your closeness to where it’s grown. I hate to say this, but my dragonfruit was still completely tasteless…

A picture of pink dragonfruit

Hey, at least it looks beautiful! You vacuous, misleading, disappointing, pretty fruit, you…

Oh, and side note: Terminal 21 has those sick Japanese-associated modern toilets that we all, secretly, yearn to use. They live up to the reputation if you’re wondering. I mean, buttons and settings on a toilet!? This should be the world’s standard.

Walking around outside the mall after that all luxury, though, I’m overcome by a different view and by harrowing images. By a strikingly different understanding of the world and how it all works. As I look around, I see so much poverty.

There are whole families sleeping on the streets together—children and all—just a stone’s throw away from such incredibly modern and expensive malls and skyscrapers.

What can I do? Giving money won’t change their underlying, structural circumstances. That has to come from the top-down. I hand over Thai Baht sometimes, but there’s just too many people here — too many stories, too many on the streets. It’s not something tourists can fix, but I still feel horrible.

I mean, it’s still a huge problem in the UK, but at least have child’s protective services.

The UK essentially eradicated homeless temporarily during COVID-19. That’s great, but for me, it just proved that it’s something we could’ve done at any point. Why temporarily? Don’t we owe shelter to those at their most desperate? Aren’t we yet human enough to do so? It would just take work and investment. Large scale stuff, I know—but it’s all horribly, brutally possible. It’s just not governments’ priority.

Back to Bangkok. Look at these madmen cleaning this skyscraper! I guess someone’s gotta do it.

A skyscraper with window cleaners climbing it

We head back to the hostel for a nap—I know, we’re weak—and then head out for food. Nothing noteworthy eaten today.

Bottle of Sangsom Rum and Gatorade on shop counter
Uh oh, not again… Our choice of mixer tonight is, uh, interesting.

During our aimless wanderings, we get caught walking down a street dedicated purely to “happy ending” massage parlours. I have no idea how anyone could enjoy walking down one of these streets. Figurative armies crowd you. They shout, touch, and grope as you walk by. A chorus of “hello, massage!?” cries out.

I know they’re there because the demand dictates it, and that there are strong and disturbing historical ties during the Vietnamese war to American troops’ “rest and relaxation”, and that they’re just trying to earn money… but the experience is alienating, tragic. The older, often very strange, ex-pats seem to like it anyway.

Back at the hostel, predrinks are in full swing. We beat two Americans at beer pong, which is satisfying. We have a few drinks—well, buckets of cheap spirit—at the hostel, but we’re not feeling the whole “reps pushing you to drink” vibe.

We leave to go to Soi Cowboy street.

It’s a beautiful and cyberpunk-ish visual treat

But the wall of girls in bikinis trying to bring you inside is strange. They’ll legitimately just grab at your crotch; it’s not subtle. It’s like the massage street mentioned earlier, only cranked up a notch.

Picture of Soi Cowboy during the day
Soi Cowboy during the day
Picture of Soi Cowboy street at night — neon lights, tourists
Soi Cowboy at night

Soi Cowboy at night versus day is quite a contrast. You might recognise this street from The Hangover!

At some undetermined point, in the early morning hours, we decide to head back. But…

What happens next is terrifying

We’re stumbling back from Soi Cowboy—solidly inebriated by this stage—down some dimly-lit, deserted side roads. We see a singular bike’s light approaching, cutting through the darkness.

They seem to slow on their approach. I notice that there are two people on the bike, and start to intuitively feel uneasy.

They’re driving very slowly now, clearly closing in on us.

Two fully-geared police-officers get off the bike. They bark at us in broken English:

Where you stay?

Where you from?

Well shit, I think, here we go — travelling’s done for already.

In case you weren’t aware, Thai police have a terrible reputation. Unsolicited stop and searches and bribes are commonplace. I’d read countless horror stories about planting drugs and evidence on unsuspecting tourists to elicit huge bribes. Like, travel-ending amounts — in the high thousands of £’s.

We tell them where we’re staying, say our passports are at our hostel. I also suddenly remember I’d read that on-spot drug tests aren’t unheard of and are easy to falsify. I’m shitting myself at this point.

Suddenly, I don’t feel so drunk.

They literally search everywhere and everything. All our pockets, shoes, the small personal bags we carry around.

They even shine a flashlight down our waistbands!

Can you picture the scene? Us, scared but trying not to show it? A dark street, illuminated only by two stern policemen’s flashlights? Two young people, across the world with little grasp on the language, being searched in the dead of night?

We’re polite and compliant the entire time. Eventually, they realise we don’t have anything on us. They look disappointed, send us on our way.

Were we lucky something worse didn’t happen? Or were they genuinely just doing their jobs and the whole corruption stuff is overblown? I don’t know, but from my experiences so far I’m inclined to believe all the stories. Back at the hostel, the staff say they see it all the time around Sukhumvit, and often is ends much worse.

It’s crazy encountering something you’ve heard horror stories about. Experiencing something first-hand that you never thought would happen.

This night soured my opinion of Thailand somewhat. Or Bangkok, at least. We get back, tiptoe into our shared dorm bunk beds, and unanimously and instantly decide to just get out and go to Chiang Mai the next day.

A crazy day, featuring what was our first truly negative experience in Thailand. The next few days are better, I promise. Tomorrow in Chiang Mai is a breath of fresh air; out of the metropolis, into the slower-paced, beautiful realms of Northern Thailand.

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