At four o’clock in the morning Bangkok is an exhausted prizefighter, recuperating after surviving another brutal round of ceaseless blows to the groin delivered by a night pissed off by its existence. Emulating tipsy touri returning to their hotel from unsuccessful forays into the less than salubrious neon-lit depths of the city’s after-hour clubs, cars swerve drunkenly along near-empty avenues, freed for a brief hour from the constant bullying of buses and trucks and the demolition-derby antics of crazed tuk tuk drivers who keep everything that is anything a safe distance from the road. The clear skies of recent days, now under siege from masses of dark clouds, promise an ineffectual drenching that will paint the city with muted water colors leaving the day’s break looking as though some giant dog slobbered all over the town.

Even at such a godless hour, like a seductive woman Bangkok hints at unparalleled delights while always keeping part of itself covered, hidden from view – a secret yet to be revealed – while cruelly offering tempting whispered promises of sexual fulfillment that would make a porn star blush. But that temptress (a goddess greatly revered by the local nut-brown skinned population) as with all those recently disembarked and spewed rudely into a toxic cacophony designed to stun the senses and make one and all easy pickings for government sanctioned scams, must wait its turn for a taxi driver to embody her promise with the lurid come-on of, “ You want girl? You want young girl?” the evil, puppy-drowning vileness of the pedophiliac offer disguised behind a smile so wide and warm it hugs your body that nonetheless prods some atavistic instinct deep within to decline participation regardless of the ensuing fine to be coughed up in lieu as fare for safe passage to lodging, where the registration clerk with an expression as blank as a dead man’s mind will echo the same greeting of happy endings to come, along with a reminder that the hotel has chosen to play the role of pimp and collect its share of the city’s sin tax in the form of a joiner’s fee, an act that decades later will remind you that despite the protestations of a more recent movie there is, and always was, a valid reason for the town to be known as Bangcunt instead.

But that is all fun yet to come, the Big Mango’s inaugural greeting is the welcoming arms of SE Asia’s oppressive humidity that makes you feel like you are walking around between two loaves of warm bread, a mind-numbing assault to the body afforded equally to both the travelling reprobate and the vice-free people who conflate a narcissistic instinct for self-preservation with moral superiority, whose knack for sucking the life right out of a party is no less noxious than the coming event of having the life-blood sucked from your soul by the sudden babble of foreign tongues and strange lighting coupled to create a frisson of excitement in the former and a feeling of well-deserved dread in the latter, encouraging both to readily accept fate as delivered by the first approach of salvation offering transport into the depths of a city known for its casual disregard for the value of human life in favor of the prospect of the more heady and intrinsic value of an orgasm bought and paid for.

Hurriedly dodging persistent, fat lazy drops of rain that pester like flies that can not be killed, accompanied by the miasma of bloated diesel fumes floating above the odor of unidentifiable dead things, zombie-like, travellers follow the local version of Charon to his clown car that, with an intricate clattering of gears and belching clouds of smoke, scurries onto dimly lit roadways to do battle with a kaleidoscopic army of four-wheeled beasts with no brakes, or piloted by taxi drivers with a strong superstition against touching them.

Flying past the same strange houses of worship, filled with gods whose long elegant fingers twisted in ritual shapes are reminiscent of gang members flashing hand signals, as those disinclined to pay for an equally lengthy tollway ride whose fare suspiciously duplicates the same coinage charged for a boat ride to Hades, forward and onward your ride breaches a coming dawn garishly illuminated by twisted flickering tubes of neon and a graveyard of 1970s fluorescent tubing that cast a pallor on the few denizens still awake, begrudgingly finishing up the task of cleaning their kill of the night, your chariot that no gods would ever deign to ride makes a circuitous route through one way streets being traversed in three directions, screeching past hasty flashes of the competing dioramas of a developed, world-class capital city and a third world slum reeking of despair, both equally enveloped in a smoky haze from fires lit for cooking or warmth, their often mixed use smoke permeating the city with the smells of an ill-conceived dinner of street food viciously hawked back up and splattered over the broken, crumbling paving stones that often serve as a bed for human and dog alike. There but for the grace of the gods, and the grand good fortune of not being born Thai, go I.

Crawling through small, poorly lit, twisted streets that mirror the morals of its residents, past mange-ridden soi dogs whose existence provides muse to the warning of letting sleeping dogs lie, with the languorously paced speed of your ride timed to provide yet one last flip of the meter, your arrival at what only in Bangkok would you willingly call home is announced by the sputtering attempt at life of a hundred light bulbs doing the job of one that fill the ceiling of a once grand portico now sentenced to guard the entrance to a slatternly hotel ominously reeking a sense of seediness and foreboding that would give Hitchcock a chub, it’s decrepit exterior recently refreshed with a new layer of grime thanks to the morning’s rain that is equally responsible for the cascade of liquid sewage blubbering off its eaves like a wound that bleeds afresh.

Past a somnolent, rail-thin guard wearing the uniform of a general, who’d be incapable of providing security against an ill-tempered child, the exotic, fetid odor of durian provides as welcoming of a greeting as the surly check-in clerk whose mind decided your worth was not justification for arousing from its two-day slumber, the only version of the world famous Thai smile that greets your arrival are those chirped your way by the bruised flesh colored geckos busily dropping their recently digested turds onto the counter below.

Formalities concluded, and with a final reminder of the pound of flesh soon to be owed for the flesh you’ll later be pounding that undoubtedly belongs to the clerk’s sister, brother, or child – or in some cases all three – your tired body beaten senseless by passage through a dozen time zones makes its way on autopilot to fill an elevator with the posted capacity of eight for a five minute ride to the second floor whose empty, dead silence is broken only by the buzzing of tiny mosquitos pulverizing the still of the night with the beating of wings in a frenzy over the scent of fresh meat, to a room decorated by the unskilled labor of a few dozen refurbishments in the hands of locals to whom your comfort is as unimportant as the plight of the deformed beggars who crawl the streets just outside your hotel’s door competing for space with the city’s rats, and a bed whose thin mattress is stuffed with the sins and shame of hundreds of sex touri who have come before, and came often.

Sleep, blessed sleep; your mind craves rest from the bloody assault you’ve put it through, all for the unbridled joy of the cheap sexual conquests and drunken binges you’ll fill your next two weeks of nights with, but for this morning the ankle high repository of 80 count man-made fiber sheets laundered stiff by chemicals banned in your country twenty years ago and the promise of awakening to a tepid shower of polluted water in which you’ll have to kneel to wet your head is all that matters, for you have arrived.

Ahh, those were the days.

[As of October 1st this year Don Muang airport, now officially spelled ‘Don Mueang’ will serve as Bangkok’s LCC airport for both domestic and international flights. The say you can’t go home again and in this instance I’m going to follow that sage advice; the ambiance of Don Muang in the days of old was a fitting greeting to the Big Mango, a slightly decrepit enormously cramped run down at the heels complex drenched in teak and filled with strange colors and even stranger people that hinted at the exotic delights that awaited just outside its doors.

It was a welcome partially responsible for my falling in love with Thailand, one that today would probably convince me instead to book the next plane out of town. Don Muang is a cherished place in my memories, one that I don’t wish to contaminate by revisiting the place in an effort to save a buck or two, no more than I’d want to track down the first guy I offed from a bar. That that gives me good reason to never set foot on an Air Asia flight again is just a happy bonus]

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