Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Bugs, Boxing and a Bikini Wax in Bangkok

Oh yeah, I’m going there.

While I am usually shameless when it comes to over-sharing, I do realize that coming back after a three week hiatus to tell you about a bikini wax is not the most subtle of moves. But trust me on this one, it's hilarious. And yes, I’m trying to convince myself of it every bit as much as I’m trying to convince you.

But before we get to the awkward TMI section of the blog, let’s first cover the more appetizing stuff, like how we ate bugs.

I could fill an entire post about all of the delicious things we ate while in Bangkok, but I pretty well beat that dead horse in my last post about Singapore and Malaysia. Yes, we ate well, but I’m sure you are far more interested about the one time we didn’t.

But first, let me be honest: the average Thai does not eat bugs. We didn’t see them on any restaurant menus and have witnessed the act of eating bugs far more in travel shows than we did on the streets of Bangkok. However, at one of the markets we visited, there was a lady who sold all sorts of deep-fried nasties from her cart on the side walk. Grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets, grubs, tree frogs and whole baby birds. Now, I will eat a lot of things, but I will not eat a whole baby bird: eyes, bones, beak and all. Ew.

Instead, we opted for the grubs and the manageably-sized crickets (the grasshoppers had a lot of stringy leg that I wasn’t keen on having stuck in my teeth). First up, the grubs. Since Vincent’s gastronomic limits are essentially nonexistent- one time he made a stir-fry with fishing bait, realized his mistake and ate it anyway- he was the grub guinea pig.

“Hmm, they are actually really good! Try one, it tastes like shrimp.”

That, dear readers, was a lie. It most pointedly did not taste like shrimp. It tasted like bug, complete with gooey interior. I gagged and almost lost the contents of my stomach right there on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, Vincent was throwing back his bag of grubs like popcorn, oblivious to the crowd of people who had gathered to watch him in a sort of fascinated disgust. Some of the locals even took pictures of the big white guy happily eating a bag of grubs.

Next, the crickets. Despite his affinity for grubs, Vincent was a little more skeptical about the bigger bugs and was uncertain if he wanted to commit to a whole bag. As we contemplated what to do, a Thai lady bought a bag of crickets that the vendor sprayed with chili oil. Obviously sensing that we were staring at her, waiting for her to eat one of them, the woman offered to let us try some of her crickets to see if we liked them. And, surprisingly, we did!

Unlike the gooey grubs, the crickets were all grease and crunch and tasted more like pork cracklins than bugs. I was happy to have tried one but wasn’t about to make a meal out of it, but Vincent immediately bought a bag.

Of course he did.

Eating bugs wasn’t the only adventure we had in Bangkok, we also attended a Thai Boxing, or Muay Thai, match at a local arena. In Bangkok, there are several boxing arenas that gear more towards tourists, but the guy who ran our hostel (who happened to have a mystifying, yet hilariously over-the-top man crush on Vincent) told us to go to a local arena out of town, where entry was free and we’d likely be the only tourists there.

We arrived around an hour before the matches began to an already-full arena. I guess arena is a big word, this was more like an over-sized garage with an elevated ring in the middle and a few wooden risers lining the walls. Between those two structures, there was an area to sit on the concrete floor that was packed with Thais. We squeezed in, knee-to-knee with a mass of strangers who were just thrilled to count us among them. I’m not being sarcastic, they seriously were so excited. Three people even asked to take a picture with me. I guess a white girl at a Muay Thai match is somewhat of a commodity.

Now, I’m not at all one for violence: boxing, wrestling, even hockey games put me off. So before the match, I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t like the hyped-up machismo and testosterone-fueled frenzy that comes with a fighting match. But, as usual, my anxieties were for nothing.

I loved it.

The fight itself was only one part of the match. First, there was the ceremony before each fight where the boxers walked around the ring, praying to each corner post before doing this little dance in the middle. I can’t do it justice with words, so here’s a video

Then, during the fight itself, while the two opponents are pummeling each other with fists, elbows, knees and feet, a trio of musicians plays a rhythmic, hypnotic melody on their instruments, turning the match into a kind of highly physical ballroom dance. The fighters sway side to side with the music as they plan their attacks and the whole thing is actually very beautiful to watch. We did witness a KO, which terrified me because the victim didn’t move for a good twenty seconds and I was convinced I had just witnessed someone’s death, but other than that, there wasn’t too much excessive violence and only minimal amounts of blood.

Taking the match from sporting event to cultural spectacle was the crowd, who yelled and groaned and clapped and screamed throughout each fight. Even more interesting though was the betting. Everyone- man, woman, child- was betting with an intensity that rivaled that of the boxers in the ring. At first, we didn’t understand at all what they were doing: people yelling abstractly to the rest of the crowd, making rapid-fire hand gestures, talking into head pieces with their mouths covered by sheets of paper. Then we realized that each person was betting against other people in the crowd, not against a bookie. They would yell their bet while motioning with their hand the amount and then wait to make eye contact with someone who wanted to bet against them. It was complete chaos, with money being passed through the crowd after each match, but it was fascinating to watch. We were so enthralled with the antics of the gambling crowd that we almost forgot about the two guys in the ring beating the hell out of each other.

Speaking of beating the hell out of someone, I got a Thai massage. And not a “massage,” I got an actual, traditional Thai massage. And it hurt.

You see, unlike most Western massages that are meant to relax you, the Thai massage is intensely physical. You lay down in your silk pajamas expecting to be gently kneaded into a drooling, blissed out stupor only to be pummeled ruthlessly for nearly an hour. It’s a lot like Muay Thai, actually, where your assailant can use her fists, elbows, knees and feet, but instead of having your ass kicked by a fit, hard-faced boxer, you are pleading for mercy from an unassuming little old lady who only a few minutes ago was washing your feet and offering you tea. It is intense. After my massage, it was all I could do to stagger back to our hostel and collapse face-down on the bed, completely exhausted by someone else’s physical effort.

The next day I was a human again and was able to see a few of the many tourist sites that Bangkok has to offer. The city gets a bad rap, not undeservedly, for the whole sex tourism thing, but it also has a surprising amount of attractions of a less hedonistic nature. It really is a lovely city, with long boats floating down picturesque canals and numerous temples, palaces and pagodas.

Come on, one picture of street food...

I can’t think of an appropriate segue from Buddhist temples to a bikini wax, so I’m just going to jump into it. If this is way too much information for your delicate sensibilities (and really, who could blame you?), stop reading now. You have been warned (but don't worry, there are no pictures.)

For my appointment at a tiny local beauty salon, I was led to the back of the actual salon, up a dark, creaky wooden staircase, through someone’s kitchen and into what looked like a bedroom without any furniture except a bare mattress on the wooden floor. At the foot of the mattress, also on the floor, was a thin blanket: my waxing table. The idea was to lay on the blanket leaning against the mattress in my underwear in a position that can only be described as “the Frog,” while a tiny Thai woman sat cross-legged on the floor between my legs and ripped out any unwanted hair.

And I was paying for this.

In the beautician’s defense, she at least talked to me during this torture, trying to take my mind off the fact that this was probably the most uncomfortable- physically and emotionally- I had ever been. During the course of our conversation, I absentmindedly asked her if Western women were hairier than Thai women. To answer my question, she told me that when she first started working, she only waxed local women, but then when she moved to this salon, she started working on Westerners as well. One of her first Western bikini wax clients was a tourist who apparently had been traveling for a while and had neglected that particular grooming habit.

At this point in the story, the little Thai lady between my knees stopped what she was doing and looked up at me, her eyes wide with awe-struck earnestness. 

Then she whispered, “I had never seen so much hair in my life.”


  1. Looks like you had a rich experience in Bangkok! About the last one, I think everyone gets uncomfortable talking about a bikini wax experience. It’s a good thing yours was covered with humor. What the Thai lady said was really funny, realizing the sincere delivery of the line. But I think it’s helpful too. Always make time for this hygiene practice for fear that your waxer might be thinking the same! :D

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