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1 Aug, 2013

Spiffy (and Safe) Ways for a Single Female To Enjoy Bangkok

Punam Mohandas

BANGKOK – About the one thing you’ve gotta keep uppermost in mind as a single lady traveller through Thailand is the all-important S.

Huh? Tsk, tsk, sunscreen of course, what were you whackos thinking?! There is actually this kindred spirit among the backpackers, where we pass on sunscreen tubes like a baton in a relay race; I got one from a Dutch girl on Koh Lanta who was heading one out, which I then passed on to a Canadian in Krabi since I was coming back home to Bangkok.

Punam Mohandas

I’d say Thailand is about one of the safest countries you can think of to travel in by yourself. Sure, you get the odd cabdriver who wants to rip you off (mostly though, I’ve had cabbies inquisitively wanting to know if I have a “fan”; Thai for boyfriend!) but this is true the world over. The rule-of-thumb is to avoid dodgy alleys and not be mutt enough to stay out too late in a strange country.

I love this city, I really, really do, but even I know enough not to be coming back home from Nana or Khaosarn alone, well past the witching hour.

And are you safe from your fellow travellers? If you’re thinking this, then you shouldn’t even be out crossing the street on your own yet! Between visa headaches…finding a cheap hotel…battling the humidity…finally getting under a much-needed shower…praying the AC works…wondering if social security back home covers the price of yet another Singha…naaah – hell, lady, they got too much on their minds to worry about assaulting your virtue! There’s an easy, pacific spirit to Bangkok, where everyone’s allowed to do their own thing, no sweat. Besides, Thai men are too shy and well-behaved to jump your bones. As for the farangs, they’re too busy out there among the Thai bar dancers! About the one plaintive wail us women expats – across all nationalities – have in Bangkok, is that it’s near impossible to get a date here!

Speaking of Singha, someone suggested that a good way for a lone girl to make friends is to slink into a bar with a book, befriend the barman, and ask him to point out some ‘safe’ regulars. Whatever floats your boat; I’m not a drinker so I haven’t personally tried this route. I’m always to be found with a book though; was on a beach in Koh Samet this one time and a Shakespeare-spouting Aussie bounded up to me, shaking sand all over my book like a large friendly puppy, utterly aghast that that a gorgeous, seemingly halfway intelligent woman like me would be reading a Jackie Collins! Needless to say, we went on to become very good friends so, moral of the story is – always carry a book!

Hmm, so what else can you do in Bangkok, apart from reading a book?? Frankly, anyone that tells me he’s here for the temple tour is giving me a pious load of crock! That said, some of the Wats are truly picturesque. I don’t much like being parted from my money, so I’d probably give those a miss that demand an entry fee of 500 baht and counting. The Grand Palace is a neat job but I might give Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) a skip if I had to; for one, it isn’t emerald at all but a statue that’s carved out of a single piece of jade and, for another, it’s fairly small, so looking at a postcard should do just fine. I would definitely take in the Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) as also Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) though.

A visit to the Floating Market should absolutely be bunged in, more for the local colour, culture and cacophony of noise than actual shopping. Certainly it’s very touristy, but it’s also an experience that many countries don’t provide.

I for one would always, always, go to Khaosarn – dude, it’s the backpacking centre of the universe! KS Road almost never sleeps; it’s like a 24-hour revue with pubs, cheap shopping and undeniably, simply the best street pad Thai in Bangkok. Speaking as one who knows!

The other place on my must-do list would be Patpong, the night market at Silom. Bargaining is a hoot here; there are perfect fakes of every known brand available! Patpong also has this slightly reprehensible image owing to its pubs and the go-go bars with ping pong and other sex shows.

Chatuchak (Weekend Market) isn’t naughty at all but, for a ubiquitous Thai shopping experience, there’s quite simply nothing like it. Everything from clothes, fake art, plastic flowers, thingummies you never imagined but now can’t do without, to pet snakes and Chihuahuas!

None of the above-mentioned places are air-conditioned; if you’re the la-di-dah type, then head to malls like Siam Paragon, Emporium or Central. MBK for me is something I would do with as much enthusiasm as getting a tooth pulled, although it’s high up on the list for visitors of every nationality – be warned almost everything is a clever fake. It’s a rabbit warren of thousands of little air-conditioned shops and it saps my spirit almost as soon as I step in.

After all this activity, you need something that Thailand is justly famed for – the massage! Take your pick from somewhat tacky joints offering a foot massage at 150-baht, to the funeral-quiet high-falutin’ places selling the ‘atmosphere’ at a 1,000-baht. Frankly, it’s all about easing those aching, tired muscles in feet that don’t belong to you anymore and, at that point in time, I wouldn’t care if it were Attila the Hun who dunnit!

If the culture tour, shopping or depravity isn’t your thing, here’s other stuff to do in the City of Angels. Check Mansion 7, the haunted shopping mall (Ratchadaphisek road); the Chao Mae Tuptim (phallic shrine); the Amulet Market (Wat Mahathat); the Bangkok Corrections Museum (Samranrat) or the intriguing boob-slapping lady at Lad Prao, who claims she can slap your boobs around to make them grow without the use of plastic surgery. Ouch!

Many tourists come here for what is euphemistically termed as “medical tourism” but is more along the lines of “wrinkles begone!” Boob fix or a quick Botox jab, the trend is extremely popular in Bangkok; it’s quick, easy and relatively inexpensive.

Which brings us to skin art. Tattoos are a kind of cult badge to the backpackers ‘in’ club. Here’s a tip for free – since the Thai hold on the English language is somewhat shaky, make sure you write your tattoo out legibly if it’s an inscription. The safest bet is to go in for an image. The Buddhist tattoos are much sought after; while many parlours can ink this for you, it’s believed that if a monk were to do it in the traditional bamboo method, there is ‘magic’ or a blessing that’s imparted therein too.

Incidentally, pub crawling is a fun and must-do thing in Bangkok. Trendy, happening pubs are at Patpong, Nana, Cowboy soi near Asoke and Thonglor. The ‘sky bars’ in hotels are fast catching on for the uninterrupted skyline view they offer.

As for the other S, to get in line what you nutjobs (pun intended) were thinking originally, well, apparently in Thailand it’s a case of “one size doesn’t fit all.” I’m told the sizes are mentioned on the back of the packs for farangs, so check first. Chok dee!