The first time I stayed in Bangkok I booked a posh hotel in the Silom business district of the city so that i could treat myself and adjust to jet-lag and potential culture shock. I had a relaxing time, an early sleep/wake schedule and more or less a “chilled-out” experience. Upon meeting up with my two high-school buddies in Koh Tao and telling them of my time in Bangkok, they reacted with utter confusion and mild shock. Both told me that I got it all wrong, that my initiation into Thailand had to be, “the Khaosan experience”. So when we arrived in Bangkok after our trip to Kuala Lumpur, it was decided that we would stay in the backpacker mecca that is Khaosan Road (pronounced cow-san).
Granted, I did visit Khaosan Road my first time in Bangkok, it was around 2pm and there didn’t appear to be anything much other than run down hostels and an increase in the typical street-side vendors of cheap souvenirs and mysterious grilled meats. Little did I know that Khaosan comes alive at sunset, so during my visit most of the denizens inhabiting this area were deep in their REM sleep cycles at 2pm.
After deboarding our plan at Suvarnbhumi airport in Bangkok, our subsequent cab pulled us into the area around 5pm and I could tell that the place seemed to be “waking up”. We walked around looking for a place to stay the night and settled on one of the many Guesthouses that line the street. One night stay with air-con was only 650 bht. Take a look at the accommodations:
Not too shabby for this part of town. Next on the agenda was getting some food in our bellies. After a 5 second scan of the area, we settled on the establishment across the street. Typical menu, all the western favorites for over 100 bht and all the local Thai deliciousness for under 100 bht. I went for my go-to which has become the chicken cashew stir-fry with a coconut shake. The restaurant was of course open-air (I don’t think I have eaten indoors since I’ve been in Thailand) and we ended up getting a spurt of rain showers, nothing a quick umbrella can’t fix. Our attention then shifted to the strange statues positioned around the eatery, strangest of all was this giant Buddha-like incarnation that featured a golden mask and grotesque toenails:
After dinner was a 1 hour Thai massage (250 bht) and a quick nap to prepare ourselves for the night ahead of us. If you have ever seen the movie, “The Beach”, you may recall Leonardo Dicaprio’s arrival in Bangkok near the beginning of the film. He is on Khaosan as he walks to his initial hostel where he meets “Ducky”, surrounded by neon lights, shady characters, and pushy vendors. Well, Hollywood is spot-on with that representation. Khaosan at night turns into a street lined with open air bars and back alley dance clubs. On the street are vendors selling street food: grilled meats, fruit and even fried insects. You are constantly fighting off Thai salesmen trying to sell you custom tailored suits (who is buying suits?), Tuk-tuk rides and invitations to Ping-Pong shows (I will not explain what this is, it’s not what you think. I think comedian Dave Attell gives a good assessment of the activities performed during one of these shows). My friends and I are just interested in a few beers and the cultural melting pot that is simply people watching on the street.
Beers turn to cocktails, cocktails turn to shots and shots turn to the infamous buckets. Before we know it we have bar hopped almost every spot on the strip and as we sit telling jokes with some Brit and Thai friends we made along the way we realize the sun is up. Reality sets in and we pay our tabs and stagger back to our guesthouse to sleep away the impending hangover.
The following day, or should I say later that day, I wake up at 3pm and hold my head in my hands as I join my friends for breakfast. Luckily almost everywhere in Thailand serves up an American breakfast at all hours. After eating, it was back to the room for me for Thai movies on TV and falling in and out of sleep. The day would have been considered a total waste but later that evening the boys and I did end up going to MBK (the giant mall/flea market in Bangkok) so that I could get my iPhone camera and backplate fixed as well as catch another movie.
Unlike the movies we went to in Malaysia, before a Thai movie starts you are obligated to stand up in your seat as a short film of the Thai King is played as tribute. The Thais hold their monarchs in great reverence and it is a great insult to disrespect them in any way if you are a westerner. We watched “American Reunion”, which was surprisingly good and immensely nostalgic. After the film I almost forgot I was in in Thailand as memories of my own journey from high school to the end of my twenties ran through my mind.
Back to reality, we got a cab back to Khaosan and, still nursing my previous nights antics, I decided I would take the train up north to Chiang Mai the next day, parting ways with my lifelong buddies Travis and Jon and venturing out on my own once again. Sad in many ways, but excited to experience more of this great land and make new friends.
My Khaosan experience was quite different than my first foray with Bangkok and I have met several others who have gone through the same experience i have. No doubt I will be back though Bangkok and it will be hard not to stay in Khaosan one more time.