Bangkok: Smog, Stupas, and Sex Shows

Sprawling Bangkok, or "Bangers" as it's known in travel lingo, is home to over 8 million people. This number is expected to reach an astonishing 12 million by the year 2010. So to say the city is crowded would be a serious understatement. With high growth come all the trappings of a newly modernized Asian city: poverty, noise, horrendous traffic, inadequate sewage systems, and some of the worst breathable airon the planet.

Bangers on a clear day.

All traffic cops wear face masks to filter out the dirty air.

Yet, despite all the shortcomings, Bangers has much to offer the World Stomper, albeit a short stay before respiratory problems set in. The most visible delight in Bangkok are her numerous Buddhist temples, shrines, stupas, and simple wooden houses where monks live and study. Soon after dawn, Buddhist monks can be seen in their colorful robes making their way along the canals and narrow streets. Devout Thai people wait to fill the monk's bowls with food and other essentials, a practice which Buddhist teaching says will give merit to the provider.

Urban monks temple hopping.

The other diametrically opposed attraction to this seemingly pious city are the infamous sex shows on Patpong Road. Being a no-holds-barred investigative reporter, I found myself entering the "Queen's Castle" with a friend I knew from Vietnam. (Female readers please pardon the following sexist overtones).

The club was very dark with two rows of bar tables around a stage set up like a boxing ring. The first act we saw was a naked woman being painted in fluorescent colors under a black light. When finished, she danced around the ring and pulled out a long colored handkerchief from her crotch. Almost as soon as we sat down, two cute girls in skimpy bathing suits jumped up on our laps. The girls encouraged us to touch them anywhere we wanted, but kept pestering us to take them back to our hotel rooms. We told them we wanted to watch the show, and what a show! Crotch highlights include: two girls loading up and shooting bananas into the crowd, dropping Ping-Pong balls into a small cup, puffing a cigarette, pulling out a string of razors, shooting darts at balloon targets, and, of course, every imaginable sex act you could think of . . .

Receiving blessings in a Buddhist temple.

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