November 1, 2007

Phuket–Bangkok, Thailand

Who let the dogs out?

Five a.m. came early. Too cheap to take a cab, too stubborn to ask for other recommendations, I decided to take the sunrise bus back to the takeoff-and-landing strip they called an airport. Between the darkness and the rain, both more stubborn than me, my exit-on-a-shoestring strategy proved to be poorly timed. I donned the clear plastic poncho and stumbled from the On On toward the bus station once more.

I’m sure I asked and confirmed how to get there five times. Yet, as night follows day, I ended up walking through an abandoned lot populated—or should I say “dogulated”—by stray canines of especially meager means and most intemperate manner. They could smell my gathering fear as it sublimated through my pores, while I could smell their rotting dinner as it composted in the dumpster. Both olfactions reminded me that negotiation was not an option.

As the rabid mutts threatened me, chased me, bullied me out of their habitation, I thought to myself, Was this it? Had I reached the end of my streak of fortune?

Thankfully, no, I had one last narrow escape within me. Sprinting, drenched with sweat, stomping through the puddles, I broke toward the lone sodium lamp at the opposite end of the lot. They barked louder but their pace tailed off as they neared the edge of their territory. A few blind alleys later, I found the bus station. I even rested a few moments to allow my pulse to wane and adrenaline to dissipate before contemplating what lay ahead.

Smog never tasted so good

Nearly half of me cannot convince the other nearly half whether I’m a city boy. Yes, Bangkok held a certain appeal despite its congested avenues, swindling tuk-tuk drivers, and dodgy massage parlors. Whether I stayed long enough to find it, I am still not sure, nearly two years later. But a few dozen stories may well cement its place on my list of would-go-there-again cities.

Once I landed, I set out to conquer Bangkok’s next tourist trap: trousers. After “sizing up” the competition, I strode into the Robinson Tailors, for a visit to (for you Seinfeld fans, the perhaps alarmingly named) Mr. Peter, who had a penchant for recommending “interesting,” by which I assume he meant, “profitable,” prints.

Every law school exercise in negotiation proved that I had better not quit my day job as a litigator. I sucked. I had no future in bargaining. If I were selling a gallon of gas to an invalid stranded in the Mojave desert, I would still end up with the stalled car instead of the three bucks.

When the smoke and mirrors were cleared, I had put in an order for four trousers at about forty bucks each. Better than I could get at home, though I had no margin for error. If they weren’t right, they were mine anyway.

More tourist fodder

I resisted a trip to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar for four days. But I finally broke down, thinking I might find a keepsake small enough to carry with me for another month and cheap enough that I wouldn’t care if I lost it. As is my wont, I left only with a gift for myself—a short-sleeved, practically see-through shirt for eight bucks—

Suan Lum Night Bazaar

Tourist trap extraordinaire, in two languages.

—and a near-glimpse of the Princess. At first, when the waiter explained what was happening, I assumed I misunderstood. Then I realized, Who else in Thailand travels with henchmen?

The Princess’s Henchmen

Forgive the grainy snapshot. The henchmen forbade me to use my camera.

So that about covered it for Bangkok. By then I had booked a flight to Chiang Mai on Nok Air, again, like every other farang in Southeast Asia. There must be a reason (aside from the Lonely Planet) that we all flock to these places.