Legends and tales of midnight debauch involving loaded misadventures, bare mattress hotel beds and cheap sex hover around Bangkok like flies around cow shit.
Fodder for confession is mass produced here under neon lights that promise a good time and light up the night sky so you never know what the hell the time is , and for those involved, it doesn’t really matter as all of it feels like it is for “one night only” anyway. Tomorrow will be another day, as they say, but few of “they” who say this ever consider waking up next to one of Bangkok’s renowned ladyboys in this equation.
“Pay attention to the feet and the hands and don’t even bother looking for the lump in the neck as most get this reduced...”
“Oh and by the way, if you’re not sure, just ask - they hide nothing.”
Astute advice from June, a street tailor setting up her bed for the night on the street near Khao San road, the nucleus of all Bangkok’s tomfoolery. I have asked her the secrets of picking a ladyboy from a distance, as I have heard of many not discovering the obvious protruding factor until they were up close and personal. Many ladyboys make beautiful women.
I am in search of one who is willing to be interviewed.
In retrospect now, I question my technique in finding the right willing participant. I had been told I wouldn’t need to look for them, they would find me if I walk Khao San road alone. So I did.
After one lap, two laps of the street I still hadn’t received a wink from any of the girls loitering. Beginning to wonder whether I hadn’t looked keen enough, I widened my smile and nodded at every passing girl, in the hope that she was a man. Strut, wink, nod. I doubted whether I was doing it right. How do you let a ladyboy prostitute, or any prostitute for that matter, know you’re interested? Is there a special wink? Do you hail them down like a bus?
I felt like a dog sniffing crutches. Dozens of girls on Khao San road were by now under the impression that I was making an unsubtle gesture - a strut, wink and nod- into their pants.
In concentrating on my routine, I almost knock over a guy urinating on a light pole right in the middle of the street. He had bright yellow hair, a whole mane of it and he stared at me with utter disgust. “Sorry” I stammer out not sure why. It’s all very confusing here.
Finally, as I stop to rest on a light pole a husky voice wafts my way. “Hello, where you going?” By a black van of tinted windows a woman stands in a black silk dress like the geisha’s wear, fanning herself. Slipping into Bangkok’s moral ambiguity I approach without inhibition. She had the face of a sweet 20-something year old woman, but the hands of a 40 year old brick layer. Her name was Linda.
It’s a curious thing to peek back stage of a performance once the lights have gone out, the audience have exited, and the curtain has fallen. Same goes when you are privileged to witness a tourist town after all the tourists have gone home.
Off the southern coast of Thailand, a little north of Krabi, close enough to Phuket to make it a daytrip for armies of sunburned tourists, is a floating Muslim fishing village built on stilts, Koh Pannyi.
It is certainly no secret this spot. The congo line of souvenir shops lining its narrow cobweb of alleyways make this blatantly obvious.
It used to be a village of fisherman, comprised of roughly 200 families descended from seafaring Javanese Muslims. That was before it became a tourist sideshow. Now, at lunch time everyday on the dot, the stilts creak and moan under the strain of thousands of tourists running around performing a blitzkrieg with their cameras, clattering cutlery in the few restaurants as they feed like baby birds before being mustered back onto longtail boats of their respective day tours.
Koh Panyee got tangled up in its neighbouring island’s affairs after it became a hide out for James Bond in the movie “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Hollywood makes everyone a star.
This was a Faustian bargain in a way for the village, as it’s fishing industry begun struggling to stay afloat at the advent of this century. Contrary to the saying - “there is no longer plenty of fish in the sea.”
Like most of South East Asia’s waters, overfishing has had its way with them and only 30 percent remains of the stock caught in its glory days. It was the postman’s idea to give Koh Panyee another life as a lunch break stop for tourists visiting the James Bond island. But the tourists are somebody elses problem at night. There is the option to stay in the few bungalows on the island but only a few do it.
But a curiosity akin to boy who spys on the old lady down the street through a crack in her fence, led me to stay the night.