Immerse yourself in the non-stop energy of busy, bustling Bangkok
They looked like women.
They had slender arms and curvy waists. They wore enough eyeliner and foundation to keep local drug stores profitable.
And yet, as they circled a pool table with two Western men, it was clear to my friend Eileen and I that they were — biologically, at least, born men.
“Do we tell them?“ Eileen asked.
“Maybe the guys already know,“ I said. “If they don‘t know and we tell them, it might make things worse. Especially if they‘re already on second dates.“
Spend enough time in notorious Bangkok locales like Patpong or Nana Plaza, and you‘ll see a similar scene play out. It even happens in some of the more reputable bars and clubs.
But there‘s more to Bangkok than cross-dressing, at least for most of us, I hope.
Many travelers treat Bangkok as a pit stop. It doesn‘t have the tropical fantasy beaches or the rustic feel of the interior, but it makes up for it with 24-hour energy spouting in all directions.
For a city of more than 10 million people, Bangkok remains a bargain, despite being pricier than most of the rest of the country. A five-star hotel isn‘t cheap, but isn‘t out of reach.
The Oriental, famous as the choice of literary giants and dignitaries since Westerners started visiting, sometimes runs an Internet special for $199 per night. Your floor concierge will do anything for you — if you need one shirt washed and you need it in an hour, it‘s done.
For lighter budgets, three-star hotels along the popular Sukhumvit Road run about $70 per night. Youth hostels run from $10-25 per night.
If you‘ve been walking around all day at Bangkok‘s national treasures — the Grand Palace and nearby Wat Phra Kaew temple are the big attractions — order up a foot and calf massage when you get back to your room.
In most hotels, the masseuses are legit, and the massage will only run about $7 to $10 for one hour. Even after a day of touring, you won‘t be sore the next day.
The Red Cross Institute, also known as the Queen Saovabha Institute, is a slightly less touristy alternative to a wall-to-wall temple tour. This functioning health clinic studies snakes, their venom and you. For a few dollars, onlookers get a slide show, followed by a live show of several snake varieties. Feel free to pose with a giant boa constrictor around your shoulders at the end.
After another massage, delve back into the nightlife. It ranges from the cheap, backpacker haunts of Khao San Road to the ritzy Sky Bar at Scirocco Hotel.
For something really different, take in the Calypso Cabaret at the Asia Hotel. It‘s sort of like the family- friendly Disney World of drag shows.
At least you‘ll know up front who they are, which is more than some guys in the Patpong district seem to have figured out.