I’ve been visiting Bangkok for about three decades now, three or four time a year, and am still amazed at how much there is to do during the day – unless you sleep in until it’s time to hit the bars again at night. I only had a few days left in Bangkok on this trip and decided to spend them playing tourist with Noom, my bar boy friend and current love interest.
So the plan was fairly simple: get up early each day (that would be before 11 am) and head off to some place one of us had not been to before, taking turns on playing tour guide for the other. The only other rule was it could not be a shopping destination . . . my gay gene takes over when I hear the word ‘shopping’ and Noom loves buying a souvenir from any and everywhere we go – even if it’s just the 7/11 on the corner.
Noom went first. And awed me. We headed up Patpong 1. About a third of the way up the street he took me into a building, rode up the elevator to the fifth floor and entered the offices of Swing. And I was blown away. Swing is a nonprofit organization set up to help ‘service’ workers in the area . Uh, that would be bar boys and bar girls. Staffed by volunteers (mostly gay) they offer aids education, counselling, a place to just relax among friends, free computer and internet access, English classes, a small gym for working out, food . . . simply amazing. And everything is free. We spent almost two hours there just talking with the staff and director all of whom were quite proud to show me their center. And they all made a point of telling me what a great guy Noom is, which a) I already knew; and b) would have seemed a bit false and put-on except there was such genuine affection between him and the staff members.
Now Noom is straight. And as he introduced me to each staff member, with that person’s name he’d include their sexual orientation. Which ended up being, ‘he’s gay, he’s gay’ she’s lesbian, he’s gay…’ And then introduced me to each as his boyfriend (many smiles). Which I only mention because it goes to show how little our Western values of gay and straight hold in Thai society.
The staff was doing some major renovations to their offices and if I was at the beginning instead of the end of my trip I’d have taken the day off and helped. Instead I did the typical American thing and made a few thousand baht donation. Which was not Noom’s intention on taking me there. But I was truly touched that someone had started up an organization to help in the way they are doing.
So my turn: which came quicker than expected. I took an easy way out. We took the Bts to the Bangkok Art And Culture Center. Located across the street from MBK (with an entrance from the BTS skywalk) this is a great modern art museum to spend an hour or two at. Admission is free. And the place is air conditioned. They seem to rotate their ‘shows’ every few months, so it’s worth visiting more than once. Neither Noom nor I had been there before and we both enjoyed it greatly. Lots of paintings, a good deal of sculpture work and several interactive art pieces. Good fun for an afternoon, and the right price for you cheap bastards among us.
Back to Noom. He asked where I was taking us next. I replied it was his turn. He smiled and told me it depended on where I was going on where he was taking us. In Thailand that makes perfect sense, so I told him the general area and he promptly led us to the nearest bus stop. His ‘turn’ ended up being a 14 baht bus ride to Pratunam/Chidlom area. I told him he was cheating which he thought was quite funny, but he had a point – in 30 years of visiting Bangkok I’d never ridden the bus (far too confusing and cabs are so cheap!). We took one of the air conditioned busses, and he pointed out one of the cheaper, non-air conditioned ones, saying, “Could be worse”.
Smart ass. So I made a mental note to insist we take the bus from now on as payback (that’ll teach the little bastard!). Off we walked down the road to the Nai Lert Park hotel for my ‘turn’. When you enter the hotel on Wireless Road, walk through the lobby and follow the signs to the swimming pool in the back. Right before you get to the pool area to your right is the somewhat hidden shrine.
Properly referred to as the Chao Mae Tuptim, or Goddess Tuptim Shrine, at sometime in the past it became a shrine visited by women who wish to become pregnant. Their offerings are hundreds of wooden cocks of various sizes (some of which will make you envious). Some have colorful pieces of fabric tied around them. Others are dyed red, blue or green. But all of them give off the same message. Offer up a penis to the shrine, and you too can witness the miracle of conception . . . or maybe you’ll just luck out and find a fun penis to spend the night with.
I thought I’d have wowed Noom with the impressive display of cocks. And he was appreciative. But far more interested in the huge, old ficus tree where, according to legend, Chao Tuptim’s spirit resides. He walked up to the tree, the hair on the back of his arms raised, and he gave me that knowing look . . . yeah, this one is real. He spooks me sometimes.
Figuring he’d scored once already with the public transportation scam, Noom opted to do it again as the day’s sight-seeing option was again his burden. Down the street, over the klong and then back down under the bridge . . . looks like we were going to use one of the water taxis. Mmmm, ok, a bit more exotic than a bus at least. I’d seen these long boats powering up and down the klong before and knew they were a mode of public transportation, but had no idea where they went or how to go about hitching a ride. The latter turned out to be quite easy. Boat pulls up to the pier, you quickly climb over the rail, step down and squash the plastic tarp used as a sidewall, climb over the wood seat (and any unfortunate local sitting there) and pay the guy walking up and down the gunwale 16 baht for the ride. Pretty nasty water in these klongs so as soon as the boat takes off one of the customers will pull down on the pulley system that raises the blue plastic tarp up along the sides to protect everyone from getting wet.
Turned out Noom had an actual destination in mind. After about a thirty minute boat ride we got off at the university area (sorry, he told me which one but I can’t remember) where it was graduation season. So the street vendors were out in full force and the sidewalks were crammed with graduation gifts (which seems to be primarily large baskets and bouquets of stuffed animals and fake flowers). He claims many of the students are from the south and so the street food vendors are too and they offer hot and spicy dishes. He is so devious! Noom knows I love spicy food – the hotter the better (which he doesn’t like). And also knows that I avoid street food (general principal which has served me well as I’ve never gotten sick in all my years of visiting SE Asia). So, with great trepidation, lunch was half a dozen different dishes from an almost permanent street stall at 20 baht a plate. Free rice. Free water. And I had no adverse reaction to the food (other than the general terror that in the future he’ll use this meal to justify our eating street food more often).
The day was getting late when we got back to the Pratunam area, but since Noom had started the day off, I had to finish it and figured it was payback time for the bus ride. So we headed back to MBK. On the bus. Hehehehe. Noom was not amused.
When I led us into MBK, he protested, “You say no shopping . . . and been here before!”
Smiling shiftily I replied, “Not shopping. Already shopped. We picking up.”
Finding it hard to argue with my logic (and hoping that this meant I’d bought him something) he meekly followed as we wound our way through the various escalator banks to the sixth floor. OK, so yes, I cheated on this one. But I found the coolest ‘souvenir’. This guy and his brother make these cool cartoon characters out of clay using a photo of you (or you friend). Finished the sculpture is about 5 inches tall and really looks like the person who modeled for the piece. They’ll take a photo there if you do not already have one and it takes two days for the character to be ready for pick up. I’d supplied a photo of Noom when I placed the order and they did a great job, even got the tattoo on his arm right. He was totally mesmerized and delighted (like I hadn’t notice his affection for any mirror he passes). They offer several different sizes and uses (statute, magnet, key chain, flash drive) starting at about 800 baht. And they do couples and groups, too – and before you ask I didn’t inquire whether they did nudes or not (yeah, I know how you think!). Way cool gift.
The shop, which is more of a table, is on floor 6 at the far end in the opposite direction of Zen, down where all the crappy seen-it-on-the-streets-for-cheaper souvenir stands are. It’s called Took Ga Toon. They also have a website and you can Google it if you are interested.
Back to the hotel, some ‘thank-you sex’ and then off to dinner during which I admitted I’d cheated on the MBK visit and so had a proper place to visit for the night: a place Noom had not yet visited nor have many of you I’m sure! But that’s another story.