The writers of The Hangover 2 were onto something. Tired sequel though it may be (a near play by play reshoot of the original with a new backdrop and a couple of new characters to placate the theatres full of people who just spent 35 bucks a head to see the same movie again three years later) still, they got something quintessentially right. The problem is you’d have had to been to Bangkok to know it.
The original The Hangover (for those of us who’ve been living in a cave) was set in Vegas. For the sequel they move the party to Bangkok. Which makes perfect sense. Because Bangkok is next level Vegas. Vegas on Viagra. Three centuries in the future. Personally, I didn’t like Vegas (as probably anyone emerging from 10 stunning days of white water rafting in the natural glory of the Grand Canyon probably wouldn’t. Or any 16 year old minor traveling with her parents wouldn’t. Or anyone with a negative interest in gambling or Celine Dion or boxing wouldn’t). Which is not to say it’s not something to see. Vegas is certainly worth seeing. But if you’re yet to make the trip, don’t see Bangkok first. Because after Bangkok, Vegas looks like EuroDisney.
Anything you want (I’ll say that again,) anything you want, you can find in Bangkok. Siam Square station drops you on the doorstep of four titanic shopping centres at various levels of luxuriousness with Chistian Louboutin at the top and Payless Shoes at the bottom. The Chatachuk weekend market stalls span acres of narrow alleyways selling literally anything a person could want to buy, knock off high end electronics to livestock. You can spend 50 cents on a delicious street-side dinner of chicken skewers and sticky rice or dine al fresco, white tableclothed and fine china’d on the roof of one of Bangkok’s five star hotels. And that’s only half of it.
I’m not an economist so I haven’t analysed the market share, but for my money I’d say sex is probably Bangkok’s biggest commodity. Go-go bars, ping pong shows and prostitution are defining features of Bangkok nightlife. Old white men with beautiful young Thais outnumber the old white men in Bangkok without. Challenge a woman to a game of pool in a Bangkok bar and she adds a mark to your bill for the $2 privilege. A traveler (of limited reliability) informed me that all of the go-go dancers cum prostitutes in Bangkok are ladyboys, pressed into their first surgery before puberty to ensure their feminine aesthetic thus commercial appeal, and strung out on crystal meth to keep them subdued. I heard first-hand accounts of sex performers “swallowing” live animals and razor blades with their neither regions. And these are just my extremely peripheral brushes with the industry. The sex trade in Bangkok is dark and vast, the partially submerged hull of the ship, keeping the ornate ballrooms and pretty lights afloat for all those drinking and dancing on deck. Most people don’t want to see the scabbed barnacle-covered bottom in the harsh light of day. But then most people probably aren’t watching for the submerged iceberg that could rip the whole thing apart either. (See the Titanic reference there?)
There’s a Blade Runner-esque quality to more than one Asian city. Kuala Lumpur certainly has it. Saigon also. But Bangkok owns it. When cars start flying and the rest of the world is still trying to figure out how to organize air traffic to maximize safety, the air streets of Bangkok will be choked with taxis and flying scooters. What the hell, here’s another film reference. The Fifth Element. That’s not far off either. There’s a futuristic almost post-apocalyptic feeling to it. As if, in the rubble of some great disaster, the rich, the clever and the opportunistic took refuge in Bangkok and from that new capital are relaunching civilization under a new world order. Or maybe it’s the reverse and Bangkok is on the brink of something. Some explosive evolutionary event or breakthrough. At the forefront, riding the wave of modernity head and shoulders ahead of the pack, Bangkok’s neck is stretch, eyes on the horizon, oblivious to the fact it may soon be plunged face first into the reef while the rest steer to safety. But for the moment, adrenaline outweighs fear. And I’m not planning on getting married any time soon, but should that change, I know where I’m having my bachelorette.