Thailand has been the first stop on the Sagesex World Tour 2010 and we’ve been here for about five weeks. In a few hours we’ll be in Cambodia. Although it’s supposed to be very wise to renounce judgement as much as possible, we think it’s time to sum up a few subjective observations according to some totally subjective criteria. Whether you think about traveling here, have been here before and want to laugh at the way we misunderstand the world, or simply want to find out more about a fascinating culture – welcome to the great sagesex travel review Thailand part 1.
The capital of Thailand is being romanticized like arguably very few cities on earth: Sex and Temples, mysterious and exotic – that’s how presumably not just we have imagined Bangkok. In the past weeks, sagesex has already told some stories and shown some pictures from this city – but what’s it really like? Exciting and strenuous, stirring, golden, colorful and grey. Very loud. Very stressful. And very surprising. Yet at the same time somehow … normal, almost disenchanting. The mysticism, the exoticism, that we so love to believe the travel catalogues, is disappointed again and again once you begin to understand who is gaining from selling clichees: Thailand, Bangkok, hotels, prostitutes, taxi drivers, tour operators, merchants, the media, … and last but not least our own imagination.
Mind you, after maybe two weeks of Bangkok we certainly understand but a tiny fragment of its reality – and longtime expats keep telling us they are getting surprised by Thai culture again and again. This is probably the most certain thing you can say about Thailand in gereral and Bangkok in particular: Behind every street corner a new surprise is waiting, a new challenge.
Take temples for instance: Bangkok does have lots of beautiful wats (temples), and Wat Pho is surely the most beautiful one we’ve ever seen: Plenty of Buddhas, gold and spiritual beauty. All this for a more or less volutary donation of 40 Baht. Certainly the best known of them, however, and some kind of national sanctuary as well, is the Emerald Buddha Temple. We haven’t been in there. You can only visit it in one package with the old royal palace, and for farang this costs 350 Baht (free for Thais). I refuse paying entrance fees for churches in Europe as well, and I really don’t indend to support this absurdity – even if and especially because I’m a Buddhist.
Take sex as another example: When on a wednesday night at about two in the morning we take the bus home, we pass a street corner called Nana. Life is blustering around here: Bars and stalls everywhere. Suddenly hundreds of people stream across the street and walk in one direction. Almost exclusively young women. We think, well, curfew is at two and somebody told us yesterday that school holidays start today. But all these girls! Great, we’re too tired today, but tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at this neighborhood. When we come back the next evening we quickly realize that in this area, and probably all along Sukumvit Road, it may be true that there are three times as many women as men, but they’re exclusively (!) prostitutes. It can be rather amusing to talk to hookers for an evening, but we still found it a little strange. Which brings us to the next topic.
There is hardly any topic that is as closely connected to Thailand and especially Bangkok in western eyes as this. So what’s up with that? Well, it’s complicated. Except when you’re old and rich, into young girls, and not prone to overanalyzing things. In this case you’re in the game for about 2000 Baht per night in Bangkok (in Patthaya everything’s supposed to be a little cheaper – ‘the most “reprehensible” thing I’ve ever seen’ as a German student described Patthaya Walking Street to us). Sure, hookers are available for similar prices in Germany, but probably not for an entire night.
This is not really an aesthete pursuit, the more so as we have to attest a certain shabbyness to all the prostitutes we met (and as I said, there are whole parts of town full of them). It’s difficult to put in different words: It’s mostly expressed in outer appearance, yet seems to originate from emotional trauma. You often read that prostitution is absolutely normal and accepted in Thailand. On the other hand, Thai society is incredibly prude and virginity until marriage is often expected of girls. How does this fit? As I said, it’s complicated.
And besides prostitution? That’s where it gets even more complicated. Apparently it is very important for Thai women to care for their families, and this seems to be the most important qualification for a potential partner. Which blurs the line to prostitution. Farang are deemed immeasurably rich. But this doesn’t seem to be the only reason Thai girls are into western men (probably Thai men like western women as well, though maybe that’s not always the case the other way round – too short): Besides their being tall, it’s probably the media that sell westerners as an ideal here.
We also found it interesting that Thai culture as a whole appears very much effeminate: Ladyboys are just an extreme (though here absolutely normal) case. To western eyes, men seem rather feminine in looks and behavior; women are often very resolute. There also seems to be an actual inexplicable excess of women. All in all a complex and very interesting topic – certainly a worthwile project if there were no book about this yet. Maybe someone could recommend one to me.
Thank you for reading my two cents. In two days from now, Julian will continue with part 2 of the great sagesex travel review Thailand – this time it’s about food, hospitality, and more …