One Night in Bangkok
Trip Start Mar 02, 2004
34Trip End Apr 02, 2005
From the airport freeway, passing temples, houses, slums, roof-top gardens, rakish skyscrapers, down into the city and Khoa San road, the guest houses and crowds and shopping and deep-fried scorpions. And all for just one night. On the islands and now in Bangkok, I've never felt so strongly about coming back to a place before I've even left it.
And I didn't even care to go to Bangkok. At first it just seemed like a big chaotic distraction from the beach. How I was wrong. Of course it is big and chaotic and I wish I'd stayed longer. To think that I would have missed this place if I hadn't been robbed. At the airport coming back from Samui the girls were intent on heading into the city to shop, again
If there was a point in my trip to Thailand where the Lonely Planet was truly unnecessary it was in Bangkok, one of the great cities in Asia, where the guide can only confuse things, especially when so many Thais speak English. In no time we're on a shuttle bus bound for downtown and Khoa San road, the so-called grande dame of shoe string travel neighbourhoods.
There's something special about coming into a city in Asia, how from the freeway there is so much to take in, things that you'll never see up close no matter how ambitious a traveller you are. Things that you take for granted at home but that are so alien and fascinating here.
We get to Khoa San road as the sun sets, and it's love at first sight. I'd heard that this area is grimy and too crowded, seedy even. And it is, but Khoa San road has a buzz that's at once engaging and addictive. With a couple rooms secured in some unremarkable guest house, we hit the street for some power shopping.
I'm usually a goal oriented shopper, not a browser, but this place is an adult Toy-R-Us, a gold mine for nick-nacks and knock-offs
Khoa San road is intoxicating. There's so much to take in that my mind reeled at the goodness of all I saw, the brilliant commercialism and depravity. Want to teach English in Asia but lack a university degree? Buy one in Bangkok. Need a driver's license or passport? Come on down. They'll cook one up while you wait.
And the food! The scorpions and locusts, larvae, and other assorted deep-fried bugs; luscious spring rolls; tiny quail eggs cooked with light soy sauce; dried strips of cured beef grilled to perfection; bitter mango with demerara sugar; Pad Thai for 75 cents; and the requisite unidentified meat on a stick. Some say to be weary of street food, and that's probably true. But if you are truly weary of everything you should be you'd never leave the house.
And you'd be deprived of more than just food. I was strolling down the street when a quail egg vendor tapped me on the shoulder and held out a 20baht note I'd dropped on the pavement. Would this happen in downtown Toronto? Would I have returned the money if the roles were reversed? I'm not sure, and it only endears me further to this place.
After hours of shopping and ogling we need an intervention, some kind of professional help, so we settle in for a few drinks on a patio and people watch. A curious thing about Bangkok is that the city laws prevent alcohol sales after 10pm. The bars issue last call and start to shut down and the convenience stores padlock their beer fridges.
It's at odds with what this city represents. Bangkok is the Moulin Rouge in city form, and I didn't even get down to the infamous red-light districts, which I've heard make Seoul's pink lights look like main street America.
For now Khoa San road will have to suffice, and as things close down and the shutters are shut the place gets more questionable, and it's time to throw in the towel. It's not that things feel particularly dangerous, certainly not more so than what I experienced on the islands. And it's not so much the Thais you have to worry about, many of whom turn out on the street to watch the more "seasoned" foreign tourists, mad with drink and the freedom of Thailand, make fools of themselves.
If I am a fool it's only because I didn't spend more time here. With an early morning flight, the girls and I have to keep it on the down-low, and on a surprisingly fresh Sunday morning we catch a cab to the airport through mostly deserted streets and freeways, passing mammoth temples, palaces and shrines in the now-dormant city. Forget everything you've heard about this town and see it for yourself. After less than 24 hours in Bangkok it's one of my favourite cities in the world.