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Backpack & Budget : Alone and Vulnerable in Bangkok

August 14, 1994|LUCY IZON

Thousands of backpackers have interesting, exotic, trouble-free adventures in Southeast Asia each year. But last winter, Karl, 26, on the homeward leg of an around-the-world journey, almost wasn't one of them.

Karl arrived in Bangkok after a trip through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He found himself near Bangkok's infamous red-light district--Patpong. Curiosity got the better of him, as it does with many Western travelers, and he decided to take a look at this area, which has earned itself a notorious reputation.

It was noon, a time when the streets are pretty much deserted, and Karl was alone. Barkers try to entice tourists to come in to see live sex shows. A barker invited him into one of the clubs. Karl declined at first but after an offer of a cold beer for 50 Bhat ($4) and the promise that there wasn't a cover charge, he changed his mind.

Once inside, beer in hand and eyes adjusted to the light, he looked around and realized he was the only patron. He was uncomfortable, so he put 100 Bhat ($8) on the table and headed for the door.

Two bouncers blocked the exit. "The manager will bring the bill," one of them stated.

When the manager appeared, the bill he presented listed charges ranging from an entrance fee to entertainment. The total was 500--not Bhat, but dollars!

Realizing that there was no other safe way out, Karl reluctantly pulled out his wallet. The manager took it from him, fingered through the $200 cash inside and handed him back a few bills.

This upsetting situation could have been worse. They didn't check him for a money belt. He had been carrying $1,200.

The lesson is this: Wherever you are, especially when you are on your own, don't allow yourself to be enticed into situations where you are vulnerable.

Always carry the bulk of your money in travelers checks.

Be informed so you can avoid potential problems and then try not to let the lousy actions of a few sour your view of a whole country.

Fortunately, for budget travelers, current sources of information geared to guiding independent travelers through Thailand are available. Look for them in libraries and retail bookstores.

In October, 1992, Lonely Planet published a 623-page, fifth edition of its award-winning "Thailand: A Travel Survival Kit" by Joe Cummings, $17.95.

In December, 1992, Moon Publications produced its first edition of the "Thailand Handbook" by Carl Parkes, $16.95. It's packed with 568 pages of information and maps.

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