The Land of Smiles?
3/7/11 - 3/14/11
Bangkok stirs up a lot of different emotions in people. It is loud, it is fast, and you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. This freedom provides for a disconcerting liberation, the scope of which is limited only by your own inhibitions.
I had my first real taste of culture shock upon arriving in Bangkok. My flight arrived around midnight, and after navigating the giant airport, and working my way through customs it was already very early the next morning. After a short cab ride, I was dropped off at Khao San Road – the epicenter of the South East Asian Backpacker universe.
Khao San Chaos
The contrast between Malaysia and Khao San Road was palpable. Immediately upon exiting the cab I was offered drinks by drunken shirtless British guys, Thai men were making the noise of a ping pong ball being shot out of a tube (more on this later), street vendors were selling everything from pizza to scorpions, and fake id hawkers were posted up every 20 feet, indicating that I was probably slightly above the median age of this particular locale. After travelling all night, I just wanted to find a place to rest my head, and get away from the chaos of Khao San. My eventual resting place smelled like feet, there was a tv with one channel that played Bollywood music, and let’s just say the decor was slightly less than charming, but at this point I didn’t care.
The next morning, adequately rested, I set out to upgrade my accommodations. The area was still bustling, even at 10 am. I was serenaded by the sounds of cheerily haggling street vendors, the smell of chilis filled the air, Tuk Tuks (3 wheeled taxi carts) swirled around, and hungover westerners wandered around like zombies, aimlessly trying to unravel the mystery of what had happened the night before.
Inside a Tuk Tuk. The good ones can do wheelies
I found myself at a hostel called NapPark Inn. Trendy music played on the speakers, the design was smart and chique, it was spotless, and the common area had an array of mattresses and pillows on the floor. The most appealing part, however, was the sea of welcoming, smiling faces lounging their hangovers away, and belly laughing from various regalings of the previous night. I would stay at NapPark hostel the next 6 nights, it was my oasis in a desert of shenanigans and sin.
Recovery/pre-gaming/hang out spot
I met so many amazing people at NapPark. I’ve said in previous posts how much the people in a hostel can escalate the overall experience. This has never been more true than in Bangkok. Being able to share my crazy experiences with the people here is something I will never forget.
My first night out I was joined by several fellow NapParkers. We would navigate the Khao San area, and I would begin to scratch the surface of what this city had to offer. As I’ve stated before, Malaysia is a modest country. The Muslim culture doesn’t provide for many crazy nights. Sure, partying was had, but I needed to flip a switch to get back into the proper mode for Bangkok. This switch was flipped by something backpackers are all too familiar with, buckets. The ingredients for a bucket vary, however generally they consist of a small bottle of coke, a bottle of red bull (which, by the way, Thai red bull has amphetamines in it, essentially speed. I’m not joking), and a bottle of Thai whiskey. Combine, and get ready to party your ass off for the next 6 hours or so. My next six hours, would consist of eating a fried locust and a scorpion, meeting countless other backpackers, and meandering around the streets chatting with the thai hawkers, who, behind their urgency to sell you whatever they can, are actually quite charming and witty.
The veil of the seedy underbelly of the city would begin to be lifted that night. Nearing the end of our evening, a few friends and I found ourselves at a club at the corner of Khao San. There was a varied mix of westerners and thais, a mix which had remained fairly consistent at most of the bars. My buddy came up to me, and declared that every single one of the Thai girls was a hooker. Most of which were young, beautiful, and fairly innocent looking. Hoping to regain some semblance of my innocence, I vehemently, perhaps stubbornly, argued that this was not the case. He grabbed my arm and we approached a shy looking Thai girl at the bar.
Spencer: “How much for both of us?”
She hesitated for about 3 seconds, in my mind I was sure she would slap him and we would be on our way. She looked us up and down, and then:
“2000 baht” (About $60)
Spencer and I stumbled away from the girl, myself slightly shellshocked from the realization of the abundance of the oldest trade in the world in Bangkok. We headed back to home base, my eyes beginning to open up to the realities of the so-called Land of Smiles.
The next day would be spent lounging around the comforts of our hostel, myself now joining in on the storytelling and belly laughs. The discomfort I had felt from the previous nights social awakening had morphed into nothing more than an interesting memory, another piece of my travel puzzle. That day, we would also take in some of the classier culture Bangkok had to offer.
In stark contrast to the rest of Thailand, you are actually required to wear pants at the Grand Palace. You could rent these stylish digs there
Giant Reclining Buddah
The following night would take the intensity of the city to another level. We were going to do it big: Thai boxing, Khao San Rd, Ping pong show. The Thai boxing was, honestly, slightly underwhelming. I was more entertained by the rowdy crowd, and trying to figure out how the gambling system worked. Everyone was just yelling and waving money in the air, how could the little Thai man in the white hat remember all of this?
After our last match of the night, a fight between two 9 year olds, we crammed about 8 people into a cab back to Khao San Rd. We each drank a bucket, then about 10 of us caught Tuk Tuks to the ping pong show. If you don’t know what this is, it’s probably best to just leave it be. Unsavory doesn’t even begin to describe it, and it’s not something I really enjoyed or am particularly proud of. But hey, when in Bangkok right?
At the end of the night, it was time for more food. In Thailand, the food is so ridiculously good that you take any chance that you can get to eat the cheap street fare. We settled at a noodle place on the corner near our hostel, and began to discuss what had just happened at the show. As we waited, a pair of lady boys, a Thai man, and a Russian wandered up to the noodle stand. Some friendly banter was exchanged between myself and one of the ladyboys, and apparently something was lost in translation, because before I knew it she was screaming at the table.
No one is really quite sure what set her/him off, but before I knew it a plate of noodles was flying at my face. Using my cat-like reflexes, I dodged the primary projectile of noodles, but was scraped by secondary threats of dumplings and veggies. As everyone was yelling, the old Thai woman at the noodle stand began to bang her metal spoon on the table and yell at the ladyboys. Always good to have the elderly on your side, they’re deceptively feisty. The vigilant diversion allowed us enough time to slip away, and run back to safety at the hostel.
Prostitution, fighting, booze, drugs, pick your poison. In Bangkok, the world is your oyster. Me? I prefer a few new good friends, a couple of cocktails, sore abs from laughing, and to watch the chaos from the sidelines. Enter the ring if you dare, but just know the egg may literally be on your face in you provoke the wrong “lady.”