Around The Traps in South East Asia – Part 12
This submission, the 12th in my “Around the Traps in South-East Asia” series, was prompted by Dana’s recent offering regarding his deteriorating health situation, and a lacklustre life back in the USA. At the time of reading it I was on a vessel in the South China Sea and getting my knickers in a twist because the payroll department had screwed up with the bank transfer of my wages. After digesting the full implications of what Dana was telling us I realised I was getting steamed up over sweet FA, compared to the predicament he currently finds himself in. Thanks, Dana, for a reality slap. Those of us who reside in the LOS – me included – should perhaps be a bit more appreciative of the great surroundings we find ourselves in on a daily basis. Great weather, fantastic beaches, excellent dining options, a relatively cheap cost of living and, of course, the lovely local gals. When you live in the LOS, life’s not too bad after all.
Those nasty Chinese tour groups:
I think any foreigner whose spent time in the LOS, as either tourist or resident, has no doubt at some point experienced the rudeness / ignorance of those dreaded Chinese tour groups. Shouting, pushing in, spitting, and wandering around in large sprawling gangs, is the SOP for these tourists. They seem to be a race lacking conventional manners and their ignorance of other nationalities’ etiquette can be damned annoying to put it bluntly. Even the Thais, who make a substantial income stream from the millions of Chinese who visit each year, don’t have much that’s good to say about them. Annoying as they might be it’s not all that difficult to distance yourself from them, even in a place like Patong. Once you drive over the hill to Phuket Town you can leave the loud-talking Chinese tour groups to their own devices at Big C and Jung Ceylon.
For anyone who finds themselves getting fed up with life in Thailand and, more specifically, the idiosyncrasies of “Thainess”, there’s a very simple cure for that; go spend two months in Shenzhen, China and you’ll quickly realise Thailand is a paradise in comparison. I recently spent a couple of months in Shenzhen on a work contract. All those negative aspects one encounters with the Chinese tour groups in Thailand are magnified ten-fold; you’re surrounded by it 24/7. I haven’t spent too much time in other parts of China but I can say unequivocally that Shenzhen is a chaotic madhouse and the constant spitting is the thing which is hard to ignore. They’re all at it, even the women. It’s as if it’s just a normal part of daily life. If you’ve got a big green oyster on your chest, no problem. Hack it up and lob it onto the footpath.
People often complain about the traffic in parts of Thailand and it is a bit of a nightmare in Bangkok and Pattaya to be sure. In Shenzhen the traffic chaos is equally as bad and the Chinese have taken the idea of “driving as you see fit” to new levels. I lost count of the number of times a driver would just suddenly decide to do a U-turn along a heavily congested road. Even at peak hour. The upshot being a mass traffic jam while said idiot driver would make a three-point turn in the middle of a dual lane, main road. All you could do is sit back and laugh at the sheer brashness and stupidity. Making this melting pot of traffic chaos even more unpredictable was the dreaded electric bikes. The local government has outlawed the use of gasoline driven motorcycles and as such they’ve been replaced, en-masse, by the use of e-bikes. Also known as “silent killers” these things zap around out of control everywhere. The drivers do everything which is in breach of traffic by-laws, probably because an e-bike is considered more of a bicycle, than a motorbike. Speeding down footpaths, running red lights, cutting corners, and riding the wrong way down the lanes; no problems for the kamikaze riders. The biggest threat they present for pedestrians is the simple fact you can’t hear them. I was nearly cleaned up a number of times by idiots failing to understand I had the green man at a pedestrian crossing.
One of the primary reasons there seems to be so many Chinese tourists in Phuket (although the numbers dipped after the tour boat capsized in August) is because there are three direct flights a day from Shenzhen. For anyone who’s interested, a flight from Phuket will have you touching down at Shenzhen Airport (Shenzhen Airlines) approx. 3 hours and 15 minutes after departure. The airport is approximately 45 minutes by taxi, from the main tourist area around Shekou Port. If you’re coming from Hong Kong, there are high-speed hydrofoils which travel to and from Shekou Port. The main attraction of Shekou for the tourists, and resident expats, is the SeaWorld Complex which is approximately 3 kilometres from the port. SeaWorld has a host of bars, pubs, restaurants, and eateries to cater for the swarms of foreign visitors, and locals, which gather there most nights. The most popular venues for a pub meal, a pint, and your favourite sport are Macawley’s, the George and Dragon, and the Snake-Pit. The main focal point of SeaWorld is the land-locked passenger liner (sitting high and dry) at the bottom end of the large square which fronts the main road.
As with any other tourist hub around the world, the SeaWorld complex and the Shekou area has a vibrant nightlife scene, and an associated pay for play scene to go with it. From around 10 PM onwards a good number of freelancers can be seen walking the square at SeaWorld. Approx. 1 km down the main road to Shenzhen City there’s a row of girlie bars along a strip known locally as “Chicken Street.” Bars with names such as China Dolls, Zombies, Number One, and Relax always have their staff hanging out of the doorways and as you pass-by they’ll shout “buy me one drink.” For the naïve or the new on the scene, one drink will quickly escalate to ten or fifteen. Beware, these ladies make Thai demimondaines look like rank amateurs when it comes to the drinks hustle.
The port area of Shekou has an interesting geographical makeup. Dotted in amongst the urban sprawl is a number of jungle-clad peaks with some seriously good hiking trails running up and across the ridgelines. One of the trails starts almost directly opposite the entrance to SeaWorld and has a run of steeply angled steps straight up to a Pagoda, some 300 meters vertically above. Except for a couple of places where the stairway changes direction to accommodate the contour of the hill, the steps continue almost uninterrupted for a gut-busting 600 meters. The view from the pagoda is quite spectacular at dusk and looks out over the broader city of Shenzhen and to Hong Kong beyond. After getting a few good pictures, a second stairway (not as steep as the first) takes you back down to the SeaWorld entrance where you can then head to Macawley’s for a well-earned cold pint of Tiger or Carlsberg.
Due to various commitments associated with my line of work, I’ve done a couple of trips to the Lion City in the past 6 weeks. From Phuket it’s a short hop of just over an hour with one of the number of budget airlines flying out of the new international airport. My favourite budget airline at the moment is Jetstar Asia. A round trip costs approx. 4000 – 5000 THB and it’s a real pleasure getting on the plane and not having to listen to all the flight briefings done in Thai, as well as English. Phuket Airport seems to be suffering from the same affliction as Suwarnabhumi in that 50% of flights to regional centres start with a bus ride to board the plane. Even in low season there just aren’t enough gates available. My hotel choice in Singapore is the VIP in Balmoral Crescent. Due to being a few minutes away from Orchard Road by taxi, the rates are a bit friendlier than along the strip. For around 3500 THB you’ll get a good size room, free wi-fi, and breakfast included. The hotel is roughly 7 minutes’ walk from Newton MRT terminal and during daylight hours they provide a complimentary minibus service up to Orchard Road.
As I’ve mentioned in previous reports, Singapore is a seriously expensive place. You can end up blowing a decent wad of cash in a short space of time. Three nights maximum is my limit and then I’m on my way somewhere else. Inevitably, if you’re a single bloke looking for a bit of companionship for a night or two, the infamous Orchard Towers (aka the “Four floors of whores”) is where many gravitate to. Generally things don’t kick off much before 10 PM so if you arrive early the place can look fairly quiet. If you’re not all that keen on the expensive drinks and the aggressive sales tactics of the Vietnamese ladies, a visit during daylight hours is well recommended for an all services massage at one of the small shops on the first or second floor. Most of the masseuses / sex workers are Chinese gals and a one hour massage with full service can be had for SGD 150. Be sure to take your own condom as the ones they have are not for westerners.
My own routine is well established and I generally arrive at Muddy Murphy’s bar at around 7 PM for a couple of warm-up drinks before heading across the road to the towers. Muddy Murphy’s has an outdoor patio area which looks directly across the road to the Orchard Towers taxi stand. Grab a seat, order a pint of Tiger, and settle in for some prime time people watching. After a couple of cold pints in the ambience of a warm Singapore evening I’ll wander across to the towers and head up to the Ipanema Bar on the 2nd floor. This bar, aka “the meat market” has a mixture of girls from around the South-East Asian region, although the Vietnamese ladies still seem to be the dominant force at the moment. There’s an entrance fee (for the price of one beer) of SGD 14.50 to pay which will get you a half pint of Tiger draught. Across the road at Muddy Murphy’s a pint of Heineken runs at SGD 16 so if you’re on a budget it’s better to down a few before crossing the road. The ladies will generally start filtering in at around 9:30 – 10 PM and by midnight the place is usually packed. The busiest nights are Thursday – Saturday. Sunday is a day to avoid the place as it’s the off day for Filipino maids and they, and a horde of Bangladeshi construction workers, inundate the place from mid-afternoon onwards. Mondays – Wednesdays are generally quieter and many of the girls tend to rest up in anticipation of the busier times later in the week. The quality in this bar seems to have dropped over the past few years and it has to be said many of the ladies I’ve seen there lately are rough, or just plain unattractive. Current prices quoted are SGD 200 for a short time and SGD 300 – 400 for an overnighter. I also use the Ipanema Bar as another warm up spot before heading up Orchard Road to the Brixx Nightclub in the basement of the Hyatt Hotel, on Scott’s Road. Prices for a bit of companionship at Brixx are seriously expensive, even compared with go-go bars in Bangkok. But, there’s a reason for it; a lot of the hookers who ply their trade there are seriously hot. It’s horses for courses though and it all comes down to the spec you like. I no longer have any attraction to dark-skinned girls with plastic tits from the north-east of Thailand. I find the white-skinned Viet girls with their reasonable-sized natural boobs much more appealing these days.
There’s an entry fee of SGD 35 into Brixx and that will get you one beer. The place seems to be a bit of a high rollers bar where cashed up businessmen in town for a few nights go to pick up some expensive poontang. Current prices are as follows: a short time for a Viet / Asian lass is SGD 300. Overnight is usually SGD 500. The Russian / Eastern European brigade are in a different pricing league altogether. A short time is SGD 500, and an overnight liaison is SGD 1000. When you consider that, a long time price of 5000 THB with a lass from Soi Cowboy seems like peanuts in comparison.
A place which has been on my bucket list of locations to visit for the past few months is Jogjakarta in Java, Indonesia. Primarily to climb Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi. And also to photograph the 1400 year old Buddhist Temple of Borobudur. After the 3 days I had recently in Singapore, I decided to jump on a direct Air Asia flight to Jogjakarta instead of heading back to Phuket. A full trip report can be seen on my travel blog.
A few observations following my trip:
Java, with a population of 145 million, is an incredibly crowded island. To give you an idea of how densely populated the place is, the island has a land mass which is approx. the same as Tasmania. Having done a couple of trips there over the last two years it seems as though there’s nowhere on the island which may be construed as being remote. There are people and vehicles everywhere, with populated townships hugging the flanks of most of the volcanoes as well.
Compared with most other parts of South-East Asia I’ve been to, Indonesia is definitely third world (the exceptions might be parts of Bali and Jakarta). Even though there are plenty flash new cars on the roads, the housing and general construction along the roadsides looks shoddy, ramshackle, and gives the appearance of being almost a shanty town. The infrastructure in Indonesia is nowhere near the standard of Thailand (shopping malls, road systems, airports) and everything looks as though it’s been built for midgets.
The food in Java is abysmal. It might be better in Bali, where a high influx of tourists need better standards of foodstuffs, but in Java there is a significant lack of quality protein to be found anywhere. Most of the meals are primarily based on rice and vegetables with deep-fried chicken or fish included in small amounts. Beef steak is virtually non-existent. The hotel I stayed in had beef on the menu and the meal I was served had a piece of local steak the size of my thumb. If you are planning to stay in Java for a while, pack a few cans of tuna fish before you fly out. Additionally, there is no pork anywhere as the place is a Muslim state. Many of things we take for granted in Thailand such as the roadside hawkers carts selling fresh sliced fruit, barbecued chicken and meats, and all manner of tasty treats, just don’t exist in Indonesia. What you do see however is small carts with pancakes or quick snacks heavily laced with sugar or sweetener. The diet is Java is seriously unhealthy and just about everything contains sugar, even the bread. Sweetened condensed milk is one of their favourite additives.
Something else which is a bit of a patience test is the five times a day call to prayer. If you make a trip to Jogjakarta and you’re a light sleeper, take some ear-plugs as the first call goes out at 4 AM. It seems there are dozens of minarets dotted around the Borobudur Temple area with the calls to prayer beginning before dawn and continuing throughout the day. I managed to find the only half-decent restaurant in town but unfortunately it was right next to a mosque. At 7 PM the caterwauling coming over the speakers was so loud you could hardly hear yourself talk.
Over the years I’ve been living in Thailand I’ve known a number of guys (mainly work colleagues) who, for one reason or another, got fed up with the LOS and decided to move to Indonesia. The majority of them relocated to Bali but a few settled in Java and also Batam. With the exception of Bali (which is Hindu) I can’t for the life of me see why anyone would prefer Indonesia over Thailand. Granted it has better surfing and scuba diving but even so, the majority of Indonesia seems undeveloped compared with Thailand. The poverty is something akin to the level one sees in the Philippines and, to be blunt about it, the majority of the place is a third-world shithole.
Thai hookers and leopards:
Lisa, an attractive Bangkok freelancer I’ve known for some time, recently posted a new headline on her LINE profile: “I want make my life better, looking for a good person for relationship.” Curious to know if she’s really decided to turn a new page in life, but still having my doubts, I sent her a message “Hi Lisa, what is the price for a good person to be with you?” Her reply, “100,000 baht a month darling.” I told her I’d get back to her. It seems that leopards and hard-core Thai prostitutes rarely change their spots.
A weekend in the Big Mango:
I flew up on a Friday and booked 3 nights at Citidines on Sukhumvit Soi 16. The flight up was uneventful except for the usual gaggle of Indians making a meal of getting their seating arrangements right. Why is it that Indians always seem to have issues with their seats? There’s always some bloody drama when it comes to where they all want to sit and it’s like watching a soap opera as they all switch around from their original allocated seats. Oh yeah, one more thing about them. The Thais are right, their armpits stink. Use some deodorant, you smelly buggers.
Being back in Bangkok is like ground-hog day. The traffic congestion, street crowding, and bad air are always the same and the masses of people wandering about seem to spend an inordinate amount of time staring into their phones. I think this just emphasises my point about city life being seriously boring. Went to Starbucks in Terminal 21 and saw the same old scene, lots of Thais sitting around with books and paperwork spread everywhere. Starbucks in Thailand, a place where Thai people go to study, do their homework, and broker business deals. One might wonder about the effectiveness of studying in such an environment? Surely studying in a quiet location, such as a library or in your own home would be more effective? I guess for many of them it’s a case of being seen to study, rather than studying effectively. I ordered a standard Americano and took a seat next to a couple of early fortyish looking farangs. Within two minutes of sitting down their conversation had shifted to the most popular subject with many farang living in the LOS; their current difficulties with their Thai girlfriends. Absolutely boring but I guess that’s what happens when your penis becomes your brain and you’ve got nothing else going on in your life.
Dropped in to the new Kiwi, on a sub soi off Soi 8, and although the interior is bright and shiny the place doesn’t have the same feel as the old establishment. It all feels slightly boxed in and tucked away down the end of a blind alley. The street-side setting of the previous location definitely had more character and far superior people watching appeal. But as Stickman mentioned in a recent column, things change, situations change, and time moves on.
On my last evening in town I decided to take a wander down Soi Cowboy at that time of day when the sun has just dipped below the horizon, the neon has yet to hit full wattage, and there’s still enough ambient light around to see the place in a less glamorous mood. At 6 PM the place is just starting to come to life for the evening’s activities. The doors of some of the bars are ajar and the lights are on inside revealing rather drab décor. Up and down the soi, Thais can be seen scurrying about getting the bars ready. Carts arrive with cases of beer and chillers filled with ice. The bar staff hump it all in while a few girls sit about in their street clothes eating som tam and tapping away on their phones. At this time of day the soi is filled with hawker carts catering to the hungry hordes and as I make my way through the obstacle course the stink of Isarn food is thick in the air. The smell of pra la, laab, and all sorts of other smelly concoctions assault my senses and I quickly push on to the bottom end of the soi and grab a seat at the new country road outdoor seating area. Across the laneway a group of bargirls pick at the assorted plastic plates of food spread across the table and discuss whatever it is that bargirls discuss. Once they’re all dolled up in their night fighter attire and make-up they look reasonably attractive but in the dusk light, they look hardly remarkable. Bargirls aren’t the beauties of Thailand. Most are farm girls with a poor education and rough upbringing. As they sit there eating and talking amongst themselves it reinforces my assessment that, save for a bit of paid action, there’s absolutely nothing they and I have in common. I don’t get their world and I’m sure they have no interest in me, apart from how much I’m willing to pay. And prices these days on Soi Cowboy are not what one might term a bargain. A lass I know in the Shark Bar told me that prices being asked by the girls are now 3000 THB for a short time, and 6000 for an overnighter. Plus barfine and drinks. As darkens falls and the neon flickers to life, I check my bin and head off to Terminal 21.
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