Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Parts of the Bangkok Entry I Don't Mind Publishing Under My Real Name

I just found a write-up of my first few nights in Bangkok. If I had any brains, I would delete the whole goddamn thing. An excerpt:

The bus was mostly empty. I was so accustomed to the pangs of loneliness and homesickness that they were sort of comforting -- something familiar. It was a dark night; large portions of the city only nominally lit. The towers of the city center cast a pallid backdrop to the low, brown clouds. Khao San, however, was lit with neon and open flame.

From an infrastructural perspective, the road serves as a sort of grimy connective tissue between a busy commercial lane and a tangle of dilapidated apartment blocks near Bangkok’s commercial center. The only local foot traffic that Khao San sees is at the end of the work day when bleary-eyed workers make their way from their businesses on one end of the street to the brothels on the other. Culturally, Khao San is the stuff of backpacker legend. It’s where Leo drank cobra blood and found the map at the beginning of ‘The Beach’. It is the epicenter of almost all transient activity in a three country radius.

I stepped out of the bus and was immediately accosted by a handful of adolescents in battered sports jackets. They offered "the last room on Khao San". Simultaneously. I declined.

Setting out in search of accommodation on my own terms, further propositions came in a steady bombardment:

Room with fan - $3

Beer - $1

T-shirt - $4

Cocktail bucket (they tend to forsake the glass in favor of the plastic beach pales you made castle battlements with as a kid) - $4

Watch - $40, down to $5 at first sign of disinterest.

Then there are the drug dealers:

Opium/marijuana/highly suspect ecstasy pills - open to negotiation. (You can get coke too, but common wisdom is to avoid it like, well, Thai coke. High grade heroin is easier to come by than cocaine in the area due to its proximity to the Golden Triangle. See: 'American Gangster'. Both are white powders, and dealers rarely care enough about their customers' wellbeing to make the distinction. A lot of Westerners kill themselves in Asia with heroin overdoses. See: 'Pulp Fiction'). [Note: I don’t do drugs, but I am informed]


The gross commercial overpopulation of the area and the sort of cutthroat capitalism practiced by the locals is disorienting at first, but I found it all fascinating once all of the individual catcalls had aggregated themselves into a babbling, foreign white noise.

I got a place to stay from the street lady who sold me a bowl of noodles. I’d taken my food and made the universal sleep gesticulation: Tilted head over folded hands. My server's eyes lit up and she waved excitedly for me to follow her. She abandoned her noodle cart on the street and led me into the building behind it and up a flight of stairs. We paused before opening the door to my room and she held up enough fingers to represent $2 worth of Baht. I gave her the money, she gave me the key.

The room was a Malarial petting zoo. Roaches, bedbugs, the scratching of mice inside the walls and a grainy haze of mosquitoes that spawned in the hall puddles. The mattress was out of an episode of Dexter; a blackened stain in the middle and no sheets or blankets. The pillow looked like it had been used as an oil mop in a mechanic's shop. There were no windows. But at least the door had two bolts and an extra loop for my own lock.

I dragged the nightstand away from the wall, placed my pack on top of it and locked the room as I left. My resolve not to actually sleep or touch anything in the room imbued me with a second wind for sampling the city’s nightlife.


“Don’t drink the vodka,” Chris said. I’d just met him, but we were getting along well. “They refill them with homemade stuff. Can’t fault their initiative, but it’s fucking blindness potion.” I pulled a beer out of a cooler behind the bar and put money down.

Megan had fallen asleep on Chris’ arm. She breathed heavy, counter-nausea breaths.

“You want to check out another patio bar I heard about? Supposed to have fire dancers,” Chris continued.

“She going to make it?” I asked, nodding at Megan (who very obviously would not).

“I have no idea who this girl is.”

“Ah, okay.” He propped her against the bar and waved/shrugged to the group of girls she’d come in with. We took our beers with us.

Chris was in his mid-20s and a former member of the British Army. He was on month six in the process of burning or liquefying and drinking every last cent he’d saved over his 5 years of service. He wore a Tibetan prayer flag around his wrist, a half-finished tattoo on his neck and a black tshirt that just said ‘one’ on the front. I’d asked him what he did in the army and he said, “Soldiering”.

[Redacted… Bangkok is ridiculous]

Anyway... Bangkok. I don’t typically recommend a visit. I can’t imagine anyone would.

But it is the way it is because visits are sort of unavoidable. It’s the doorway. Barring some cataclysmic shake-up of the Southeast Asian economic landscape, if you travel, Bangkok will get you eventually. It just does. If you ever find your way there, just relax and enjoy.


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