Cities and Their Celebrity Doubles: Bangkok / Nicholas Cage
Nicholas Cage is that rare sort of character. He wouldn’t seem out of place if you saw him shooting up heroin in the bathroom of your local pub, but you also wouldn’t be surprised to see him on TV, dressed in a suit, trying to stop little African kids getting AIDS. His performances range from completely crazy (The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, Vampire’s Kiss) to Oscar worthy (Leaving Las Vegas). He’s been the lead in decent action movies (The Rock, Con Air), spearheaded straight to DVD action trash (Tresspass) and has starred in his fair share of middling family-adventure drivel like National Treasure. Bangkok is similarly schizophrenic. Famous, or infamous, for such a diverse range of reasons, Bangkok has something for everyone.
Everyone who has travelled to Bangkok on a budget knows Khao San Road. Backpackers flock there to get their fill of whiskey buckets and 50 baht plates of Pad Thai, and although it can seem like a black hole sucking in far more tourists than it deserves, it’s a good place to get prepared for the road ahead. No longer just a road, the Khao San area is packed with anything a traveller might need, including fake IDs, tattoos, scorpions, and dodgy pirated CDs and movies. The reason I’ve stayed there twice is the cheap accommodation and the easiness of it all. I found a room for 300 baht which isn’t too bad in Bangkok, and although you have to put up with a lot of noise and incessant suit, tuk-tuk and ping-pong show touts, it is doable for a few days. This is the trashy but inoffensive side of Bangkok, and Nicholas Cage has certainly done a lot of movies that fall into that bracket. Have you seen Stolen? I hadn’t either until I started researching this post (obviously I didn’t do any research on Bangkok, I’d rather just watch bad movies) and the reason is it’s awful, but it’s an easy way to spend an hour and a half and has cheaply done car-crashes and action scenes. Khao San Road is a bit like a car crash except you don’t see any of the disturbing aftermath; you can save that for Patpong.
I only ventured into the depressing enclave known as Patpong because some friends wanted to meet at the Irish bar there. I couldn’t understand why a wholesomish couple I met in Taiwan would want to meet in such a place; I can only assume they didn’t know what goes on there. It’s the sex tourism capital of Bangkok, and therefore probably the centre of the sex tourism universe. I’d recommend keeping far away from Patpong unless you are into that kind of thing, in which case it’d probably be paradise. Werner Herzog’s film Bad Lieutenant is in a similar vein, but I actually enjoyed it. Cage plays the dodgiest cop you’ll ever see and does a great job of bringing the right amount of craziness and he-could-say-or-do-anything tension to what is a pretty depraved role.
For a while there Cage was everywhere. He cashed in on that fame by taking whatever pay-check he could and produced some truly bland films. Bangkok also has plenty of middle of the road mass-produced family fun, including a butterfly park, endless shopping malls which I’m sure have playgrounds and arcades, and something called Kidzania. These kinds of things, and films like National Treasure, may be good to distract young ones for a few hours but they have no real value to most travellers and can be found in most big cities around the world. Bangkok is one of the most visited city on Earth, so you can forgive it for selling out a bit, and it is certainly big enough and varied enough to avoid the aspects you don’t like (unless you are travelling with kids or a girlfriend who loves to shop).
Not the bees!!
Occasionally Nicholas Cage produces something of real class to show he isn’t just a cash-cow or completely insane. His roles in Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas and even Lord of War are good examples of top drawer acting, and it’s touches of class like these that really save Bangkok from trash and mediocrity. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho (I haven’t been but I hear it’s nice), Jim Thompson House (I haven’t been there either) Chinatown and the Chao Phraya River are all regarded as top quality inner-city attractions, and I’m sure there is a lot more that I haven’t thought of. The Grand Palace is my personal favourite. It’s about as opulent as buildings in Asia get (it’s actually a big compound filled with temples) and the colour and detail is pretty impressive. It’s still used for ceremonies and there is an air of sophistication around (apart from the thousands of other annoying tourists of course). The one drawback is if you are scantily clad (even shorts count as underdressed) you have to cover up with some weird Thai clothes. With a visit to the Grand Palace and some other worthwhile attractions, it’s possible to pick and choose the classy aspects of Bangkok and easily fill a few days, just like Nicholas Cage’s filmography.
The Grand Palace
Almost everyone spending any sort of time in Southeast Asia will at least pass through, or maybe start their journey, in Bangkok. It’s an interesting place, and just like a Nicholas Cage film, you never know what you’re going to get. Oh, he also starred in a movie called Bangkok Dangerous, but that was boring and I can’t remember it at all (I’m going to try and stick to watching one bad film per post, so I didn’t re-watch it).
Keep a look out for more tenuous links between cities and celebrities.
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