Suits – “Mistah, you wan suit? You look like you nee suit.”
5 minutes later: “Mistah, you wan suit now? Good deal I give you.”
“No, I already said no.”
I walk 20 feet down the road.
“Hey hey you there, you wan suit??”
Goddammit. There are guys peddling full, custom-made, suits every couple of feet on the streets. I came to Bangkok knowing that I’d buy a few but never would I have guessed that they’d be so plentiful, so accessible and so damn in-your-face. Like tuk-tuk drivers, suit makers are a dime-a-dozen in Bangkok (and this isn’t even the real hotspot of SEA – Hoi An; which I’ll write about someday). There seemed to be very two distinct groups of suit makers: 1) Indian/Pakistani and 2) Thai. The talk on the street was that the Indian/Pakistani one’s were really shady and the Thai’s were more trustworthy. Damned if I knew, both groups of people seemed pretty shady to me. These guys were some of the most pushy, high-pressure sales guys I’ve ever met. The minute you let your guard down, they got you.
Prior to leaving the states, I did a decent amount of research on recommended tailors but the information online was pretty scattered and often contradicting. Getting suits was a pretty big task I wanted to take care of so in the end I went with the advice of my guesthouse. I went with this place called James Fashion (http://www.james-fashion.com), supposedly “a top #10 tailer in the world”. I was pretty skeptical at the time and to be honest, still kind of skeptical today, even though I’m wearing a pair of dress pants and a dress shirt I bought from there while typing this.
The whole operation was very tourist-centric. I figure they had some revenue agreement with my guesthouse because there was a large ad hanging in the lobby area as well as pickup service from the guesthouse. The girl manning the check-in desk called them up for me and within 15-20 minutes, a large air-conditioned van showed up. I got in and they took me to a large store north of the general Khao San area. Upon entering the store, I looked around and saw only tourists. Shit, classic tourist trap. “Stay cool, don’t give in” I thought to myself.
A tall, sharply dressed with slicked-back hair, Indian guy approached. The first thing I noticed, other than his appearance, was that his english was very good. Very articulate and well-spoken, must’ve been all that practice with my fellow farangs. He showed me around the shop and I was really blown away by all the types of fabrics, colors, patterns and variety they had. In the end, I decided that if I was going to drop dough on suits, I might as well make an investment. I decided to go with the high-end and was able to haggle the guy into throwing some extras in for me. In retrospect, I think I was somewhat ripped and could’ve gotten them cheaper but I definitely crumbled under the high pressure sales pitch. I ended up with 5 jackets, 7 pairs of pants, 8 shirts and a handful of ties (unusable however, too short) for (50,000 baht) ~$1,500 all in. When you average it out to ~$300 for each, it’s not that bad. The fact that they are tailored is pretty awesome as well as they fit me pretty nicely compared to off-the-rack shirts.
Buying tailored suits is always a tricky proposition, especially if you aren’t informed on what kind of cuts/fabrics/styles you are looking for. What makes it even harder is that there are so many tailors that it’s very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. If I could go back and do it again, I would’ve done more research and gone to different tailors. Just knowing about what goes into a suit and how one is made (fused or stitched) is very important. You have to also remember that you can’t rush the process. The day you buy is the day you get measured. Making the suits takes at least a few days and then you have to go in and get fitted. One fitting is minimum, 2 or 3 is even better. I only had time for one but fortunately things turned out all right. When fitting, you must be vocal as they will try to say “Ohhh… that looks fine”. If you don’t like how it is, make them change it because that’s going to be your only chance.
Despite feeling a bit ripped, I’m pretty satisfied with what I got. I’ve been wearing my suits/shirts pretty heavily for about 9 months now and nothing has fallen apart or completely broken down on me. If I went back, I would definitely buy some more suits, but this time with my haggling skills well honed from the months of traveling.
Beer and Alcohol – What trip would be complete without a copious amount of alcohol consumed? Thailand, and Southeast Asia in general, is probably the easiest place on earth to get absolutely shitfaced/plastered. You would think that the little ladies selling them on the street would have some really sweet deal. NOPE. In Thailand, the source of the cheapest booze is also where you get your slurpees: 7-ELEVEN.
Let me tell you a little something about 7-11s in Thailand. Not only does it sell booze, but for a backpacker, it really is heaven. This place is so money because it has everything: any toiletries you are missing, food, booze, even pre-paid SIM cards can be bought here. Some of the ones I went to even had great music blasting. But I think the best part about it was the air conditioning. In Thailand, AC doesn’t come cheap. Unless you are in a fancy shopping mall or a nice hotel, you won’t find it anywhere… except your neighborhood 7-11. I remember many a time when I would make a beer run, only to end up sitting inside a 7-11 for a good 10-15 minutes just to cool down; one of the most refreshing things one can do in a hot, muggy city. The selection of beers there was also very good. Of course you had the imported stuff but when you’re in Thailand, why drink that? The usual suspects were Beer Chang and Singha. On the islands, Leo and Tiger were more prevalent.
For better for worse, most of the time I drank Beer Chang. The reason? The value play because it was the cheapest and strongest. At 7-11, they would sell them in 750ml bottles for 38 baht, or a bit over a dollar. And the things packed heat. You consume one of those @ 6.4% ABV and you were well on your way to a good night. Singha was seen as the premium option, slightly weaker but quite a bit more expensive at what I remember to be ~50 baht. However, Chang had its price. Anyone who’s had a big night out on Chang knows what the “Chang-over” is all about. For some reason, maybe the impurities or the junk that is in the beer, hangovers from Chang are pretty terrible. But hey, you gotta pay to play right?
One phenomenon of Thailand and Southeast Asia in general that I’ve never seen anywhere else is the concept of drinking out of buckets. You know those pails you brought to the beach as a kid? Well there, people drink out of them. And I must say that it is the single greatest idea I have ever seen relating to alcohol consumption. The thesis is that people want to drink and be social. What better way to be social than sharing your drink with 5 or 6 or 10 other people? Disregard the sanitary aspect for a second (you’re in Thailand, not a hospital; plus the alcohol kills the germs) and you find an amazing concept. You get a bucket, throw in some ice, pour half a bottle of vodka/rum/tequila etc, throw in a mixer, top it off with some Thai Redbull and toss in a few straws and BOOM. Magic happens. There’s something about drinking out of a bucket that brings the best out of you. Not only are they incredibly cheap, about $5, (especially so in Vang Vieng and the islands) but they get you drunk, the crazy Thai Redbull (illegal in the states) keeps you going all night and you end up sharing with all of your newly discovered friends. I’ll need to add a beach themed bucket bar to my list of things to do when I get older…
Nightlife – There’s nothing quite like discovering people passed out on the street in the morning. In Bangkok, it gets to the point where you become desensitized to it. During my stay in Bangkok, I mostly went out in the Khao San area. There’s about a million bars and clubs in that area so you can pretty much find anything you’re looking for. I never made it out to Sukhumvit or the Pat Pong area but if strippers and prostitutes are what you’re looking for, those are the places to go. The great thing about all the countries pretty much outside of the US is that you can booze on the streets. I must say, there’s a simple pleasure in having a cold beer while strolling on a warm evening. The other cool part of it is that you can continue drinking in between bars and clubs saving you cash. Yea, maybe that’s the part I like the most. Although Bangkok is a great place to party, I found that I had better nights in some of the other countries and places I went on my SEA trip. I don’t think I found the right places as the majority of the time I was in Bangkok was at the beginning of the trip when I was trying to sort out my suits and where I wanted to go. I’m sure if I went back, I would have an amazing time.
Tuk Tuk Drivers – The BANE of backpackers and tourists. These dirt burglin’ sonofabitches are some of the most annoying, scammiest, people you’ll ever meet in your life. Think of the seagulls in Finding Nemo except its “TUK TUK?? TUK TUK?? TUK TUK?? YOU WAN TUK TUK?” You’ll go insane if you concentrate on them, so don’t. They cruise the streets looking for sucker farangs to take them on an overpriced taxi ride or even worse, a jewel shop hop. In Bangkok, whenever I actually needed to be somewhere, I took a cab. Tuk tuk’s have no meters so if you don’t know how much it’ll cost exactly, you’re most likely going to get torn a new one. In addition to their overcharging, another insidious plot are the “hidden temple” tours. I nearly got scammed myself.
What they’ll do is stand in front of a well traveled tourist area (such as the Royal Palace), see you walk by and tell you that the attraction happens to be closed for the day. You’ll think “Why thanks, what a nice guy to save me time and effort!” Nope. Tuk tuk busts out a map, shows you a wide selection of “off the beaten path” temples and he’ll take you around for only 10-20 baht. 3-4 hour tour for less than a buck? Too good to be true? If you weren’t born yesterday, you’d smell the reeking bullshit.
What happens on these “tours” is they take you to a little piss-poor temple followed by 2-3 gem shops. Fake gem shops, working with the drivers to funnel clueless tourists into their high-pressure sales tactics. I heard stories of old rich couples dropping a couple of G’s on a gem, only to find out it was fake once they actually had it properly inspected. This goes on for the said 3-4 hours and you can’t really just peace out because you are way out of the main area, have no idea where you are and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to get back. So you’re stuck with this guy lugging you around to shitty temples and even shittier gem shop and wasting your entire day.
Now I know some people who took advantage of this. Say you had a day to kill and you just wanted to cruise around Bangkok. You could just go up to one of these drivers and say, “You choose 3, I choose 3″ meaning he takes you to 3 shops, you get to go to 3 spots. The driver isn’t stupid and knows that you know. It’s a mutual agreement and the driver gets his cut from the shops, you get to see some cool sights on the cheap. Win, win I guess.
Man, I’ve been on a tear with these posts. That’s it for now, if inspiration strikes, I’ll throw down again.