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If you are in Bangkok reading this go over to your back pack and take out all the tourist maps and light them on fire.
I was convinced I could find my way around Bangkok with the rudimentary tourist map I had and the guidebook that we received as a gift. Our goal; go to the Siam Center early in the day, walk around and enjoy the air conditioning. After that we had the rest of the afternoon the check out somewhere else before heading to the boxing stadium to watch muay thai fighting.
In my few travels prior to adventuring with Andrew in Thailand, I had never experienced being lost. Uncertain of one’s exact surroundings, of course, but never that hopelessness that lost implies. While I don’t have a natural sense of direction, I do know how to read a map. My mother made sure of this by forcing me to read the Thomas Bros. guide out to her while she drove, probably because she has an even worse sense of direction than I do. Sorry Mom. I can usually orient myself; plus it’s impossible to be truly lost in a place where you speak the language. Directions are only one stranger away.
I was really excited about the muay thai fighting. One of the primary components of a successful Thailand trip was to see muay thai fighting. We had purchased tickets to see muay thai fighting through the hotel concierge that morning. I’m sure by this point in the trip I might have mentioned muay thai fighting a few times and how excited I was about muay thai fighting. Muay thai fighting.
When I met Andrew, he traveled for work and knew the California freeway map like the back of his hand. Everywhere we went, his sixth sense of direction never failed, so I stopped carrying maps around.
Muay thai fighting.
I could always count on Andrew to know where he was going. His duties naturally fell to “navigator” as we planned our trip to Asia. My duties were to read guide books and find interesting things to do. It’s good to have a division of labor in a travel team. More can get accomplished with less stepping on each other’s proverbial toes.
We took the free boat across the Chao Praya river and caught a taxi to the Siam Center. We didn’t really feel like negotiating any prices and taxis have meters. It was looking like an awesome day was ahead of us.
The driver of the taxi we got in after about maybe 5 minutes of driving still had not turned the meter on. So I asked in broken Thai for him to do so. Repeatedly. He was very adamant that it would be, “Ok,” and “Meter no use.” Maybe his meter was broken. Arguing with him was also making him very upset because I was equally adamant that I would like to use the meter and that I wouldn’t pay unless he used the meter. Eventually he got so mad, he kicked us out of the taxi. We were pretty close to our destination but this soured us on taxis for the day. But, hey, Free Cab Ride!
We finished meandering through the Siam Center and based on the map I was using we would walk maybe 1km North and then maybe 2.5km West towards the river to get to the stadium. This is essentially accurate but that is not what happened.
When we arrived in Thailand, I was taken aback at how drastically different the East felt from the West. Streets seemed to be organized by what they sold; flowers on one avenue, car parts on another. Every temple you thought you’d use as a landmark looked remarkably similar to a different temple down the street. Street signs, if you could find them, were translated into a Romanized version of Thai. I stared at impossible combinations of vowels and consonants two feet long, convinced that the letters had been chosen at random by local shop owners who amused them selves by watching “farang” try to sound them out.
Hours later, we arrived close to our destination only to be greeted by rows of red shirt protestors. They quietly congregated along each side of the street, and the crowd seemed to grow thicker and more unsettling in the exact direction where we felt we needed to go. While the protestors hadn’t caused any trouble for tourists up to that point, I was a little unnerved and urged Andrew to drop our tuk-tuk moratorium.
We walked roughly 7km before we gave up, got in a tuk-tuk, and paid about 200 baht to approximately go around the corner. To add insult to injury we asked several people how much further the Ratchadamnoen stadium was and they each told us, “Very close,” and pointed in the direction we had been walking fruitlessly for quite a while. We passed on a group of kids using mopeds to convey paying customers via handle bars or on the back fender. I refer you to this video of Thai traffic as evidence of why I was opposed to that method of peregrination. The map we were using was devoid of things like accurate street names and entire freeways. The hardest part was the self-imposed guilt of a navigating mishap. How is my girlfriend ever supposed to trust me when I say I know where I’m going if I clearly have no idea where I’m going? Oh. And I got a blister from all the extra walking, Thanks Obama. I was very frustrated, tired, and filled with apprehension that the boxing would be really awful and not worth the long ass walk.
This cartographic misfortune could have befallen anyone, and a combination of factors aligned against us, few of which were in anyone’s control. The first factor was the awful state of public transportation in Bangkok, which prompted our decision to walk. The second being the lack of any scale distance labeled on our “map.” Andrew had the right general direction, we just didn’t anticipate how far our destination really was. The intense humidity shortening our already shortened breath made a difficult situation, worse.
We made it just in time for the first match and found out in the process that I had bought ringside seats. After a couple beers the frustration wore off and I enjoyed the hell out of those boxing matches.
At ringside, I fell asleep halfway through from exhaustion. I felt silly for having to take a tuk-tuk for a total of thirty seconds, but over the course of the following week red-shirt protestors and the Thai military clashed resulting in 86 deaths as well as burning large portions of the Siam Center and its environs. I stopped giving my instincts a hard time and reassured Andrew that what seemed like a wasted day was in fact a sort of trial by fire to find our strengths and weaknesses as co-travelers.
This extended promenade was also inevitable.
Given the nature of our predicament at the time and the theme of the evening’s festivities, thankfully, neither of us resorted to pugilism.
Also, don’t really light anything on fire. Unless its coals or firewood. Those are OK.