….Stays on Khao San Road (Bangkok Pt 1.2)

Calm Before the Storm: “Wander Awhile With Me, Said Wind”
[just recounting, told by an optimistic and much recovered backpacker]

January 17, 2014. I woke up like a child on holiday—a polite footfall outside my room brushes away my dreams. My eyes snap open like the shutter of a camera. Warm anticipation brews. I take a deep breath, quelling the surging feeling that I’ve already wasted time sleeping. It’s day two of many, I think to myself, no need to be frantic. Indeed, yesterday I’ve told many curious travelers that I hope to travel for about a year or “until the money runs out.” Plenty of time left. With that thought I begin what will become my Suk 11 morning routine: breath through light yoga, dress, deep breath, and walk downstairs.

In the main room, I’m greeted by a cast of morning characters that will soon become quite familiar—sleepy (or hung over) travelers on their various Cyberspace Age devices, and a greedy gang of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. I sustain several bites within minutes of sitting down at the communal WiFi table…which interestingly has a dead zone in exactly one human-sized corner of the bench seat that is inexplicably closer to the router. An irritated German business traveler confirmed this several times with executive zeal: “I sit here for nearly an hour yesterday, and I have all zees emails to write, and it no work and argh!” Pardon the digression: as a computers guy I remember these things, and the mosquitoes suck (pardon the pun) but whatever.

Breakfast is gloriously free..if you pay for the [possibly overpriced] room at Suk 11. One cup of coffee or tea, two slices of toast, and two pieces of fruit. The fruit is the winning showcase: a slice of refreshing watermelon and a wedge of pineapple that drips glucous, fresh and sweeter than your first kiss. It’s good to be in the tropics; the plentiful fruit carts around here tempt you with vibrant local treats. Some I can identify: pineapple, mango, papaya, star fruit, pomegranates, bananas, and–my favorite oddity–pitaya or “dragon-fruit”. Others remind me of action figures from the Pixar movie Monster’s Inc: mangosteen (มังคุค), rambutan (เงาะ), and durian (ทุเรียน) to name some (more here). Enough food porn, though.

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Ok last bit: fruit carving is an art here—this Suk 11 employee states that “she no good, beginner” yet she makes watermelon flowers that look too beautiful to eat.

My Swedish friends from yesterday soon join me and ask if I’d like to explore with them, to which I gladly agree. They exemplify my (biased?) opinion of good backpacker friends: well-balanced, personality-wise; both friendly and thoughtful; and each will go separate ways eventually–David to Malaysia and onward for coastal adventures, Anton to the Himalayas for trekking and climbing. For me, I’m more keen on their genuine interest in avoiding touristy haunts, so I join them.

And indeed, we soon sample bits of everyday life in Bangkok. First is a crowded ride on the BTS skytrain, which is quite like any other modern public transit—same same but different, as they say, where different for me is the overwhelming numbers of Asians, the table turn of ethnic majority. Indeed, it’s a bit odd traveling with a couple of white Europeans as an Asian American. I feel as foreign as they do, surely, yet the locals will often address me in Thai as if I’m a Bangkok expat or a tour guide. I think I’ll hold off more thoughts on the subject of being an Asian American in Asia until I have a bit more experience and thoughts on the matter.

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The view from NaNa BTS platform–Bangkok is a very green metropolis, flora-wise.

After a brief business stop in the Hua Lampong train station–really just a bare plaza filled with sitting, squatting, and lounging Thais and foreigners–we set off to find food. This lands us at a local restaurant a few blocks down the street. Here, another “not in Kansas anymore” moment. The restaurant is actually the garage of a townhouse (presumably the owner’s) filled with haphazardly colored plastic tables and seats reminiscent of Fisher Price toys. Out front, a simple food cart containing a display case for the vegetables and meat and a heated wok identifies the restaurant. Despite the restaurant’s modest appearance, the food is both delicious and cheap; we dine hungrily in the sweltering heat next to the owner and her employees, who are chattering about the televised news of the Bangkok riots blaring from an old TV.

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The food here is amazing and cooked right in front of you. Also, this is not the restaurant we went to, fyi.

After lunch, we dive into a narrow and cluttered alley that brings us to a local neighborhood. We enter a courtyard between towering apartments, lit by a hazy afternoon sunshine that filters down through the maze of drying clothes strung between the verandas of the opposing apartments. Local Thais lounge under shaded verandas and eye us with harmless curiosity. It would seem that these locals don’t work in the tourism industry, or at least not directly; they seem pleased to “talk” with foreigners (“where you from?” “do you like Bangkok?”) and a little bemused. An older inhabitant makes a remark to his wife, and both chuckle. My hypothesized translation: “My goodness, those poor foreigners are lost.”

We decide to end our daytime quest and prepare for the backpacker party chaos that is the infamous Khao San Rd. But on our way back, we have one more adventure in store! The sky train empties us above Sukhumvit Road, which is a seething, shoulder to shoulder mass of protesting Thais. It’s part of the Bangkok protests! I almost laugh at the Western press’ over-exaggerated clucking about the risk for tourists. Largely, the “riot” here (and most places away from the government sectors) is very akin to an outdoor rally [1]. Roadblocks thwart traffic and stage—alternately hosting a Thai rock band and a megaphone’d speaker—sits prominently in the center of a major intersection. The crowd cheers and blows whistles, sings national anthems and songs in unison, and shouts responses to the speaker. Enterprising vendors line the streets, squatting on blankets next to their “Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand” paraphernalia–armbands, headbands, t-shirts, whistles, and flags all themed with Thailand’s red white and blue stripes.

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Bangkok protest @Sukhumvit. Better picture (at night) later.

Anton and David are content to watch momentarily and then return to the hostel for a siesta. I stay briefly to buy a t-shirt and mingle with the crowd, but not for long. I’m remarkably tired—jet lag aside, traveling lifestyle has a way of sapping your energy. It’s not just the excessive walking and moving; it’s the drain of contextual novelty, the mental calories that you end up burning because everything is different. [Nerdism] In truth, it starts from the fundamental monad of looking for traffic in the opposite direction before crossing the street and—moving up the chain of complexity—compounds demands on your body and mind [End nerd]. But it’s blissfully exhausting. Anywho I’m waxing..or waning (can never remember the distinction)..but definitely wabbering, so I’ll leave off. Up next is part one point three: the chaotic and hopelessly Western people safari of Khao San Road. Deep breathe.

Footnotes for the Curious Reader

[1] Indeed, there have been serious acts of violence and fatalities at the more aggressive riots (see here). My thoughts and condolences go out those injured or killed and their families and friends.


….Stays On Khao San Road (Bangkok Pt 1.3)

Feature Presentation: “….Stays on Khao San Road”
[wholly bemused, told by American college graduate who’s had his fair share of fun]

If you Google “Bangkok backpacking,” Khao San Road will likely be featured in all the top hits, from blog posts to hostel bookings to Wiki articles (assuming you don’t have wickedly draconian parental controls or something). In conversations about Bangkok with past and current travelers, I’ve heard the entire gambit from “avoid Khao San at all costs” to “you shouldn’t stay anywhere else.” The important commonality: everybody at least mentions it. Well, that’s enough hype for me to at least “check it out” for a night.

Anton, David, and I set off for Khao San around 9pm, armed with backpacks, cameras, and a token beer each. We hail a tuk tuk, haggle the driver down to half the offered price, and with a splutter of black smoke we’re off, weaving through the Friday night Bangkok traffic. Us three passengers converse idly to pass the time and dampen the high-speed exposure of tuk tuk driving [1]. Our driver–could swear his name was Kasem or something reminiscently Arabic–drives adeptly, though on a tuk tuk this feels a bit like riding in the trunk of a rickety go-cart driven by a caffeinated teenager. At one point we abruptly swerve to the left; a white BMW speeds past, its blacked out windows vibrating to Kanye West (or maybe it was Taylor Swift? I dunno *wink*). For a moment I have a flashback to driving on Chicago’s eight-lane freeways and I think, a tuk tuk driver could probably handle the infamous traffic of the Most American of American Cities.

A half hour or so later, we arrive on the scene of brightly colored lanterns, neon signs, blaring music, and a horde of foreign backpackers: we are here! We pay the driver and then shuffle our way down the infamous backpackers’ mecca. It’s a proper rager, and even though it’s Friday night I’m led to believe that Khao San storm rarely ebbs [2]. We gawk and stroll the length of the street, then settle in at an outdoor table at Gulliver’s Travelers to watch the carnival.

A brief description:

Five hundred meters (5-8 city blocks) of Thais and tourists of every nationality, drunk on the scene— alcohol or otherwise–and sporting everything from dreadlocks and Thai fisherman’s pants to dreadful sport coats and fish-themed ties. These fiesta fleas bump and burp and bustle through a road haphazardly decorated with steaming food carts; street stalls selling knockoffs and novelties; deceptive lady boys hawking strip clubs and sex shows; and cheeky boys selling flowers to swarthy women—a fierce freshening awaits those who meekly decline. Among the local hustlers, a few celebrities stand out: a wizened and grinning elderly Thai woman bearing a metal tray of skewered scorpions, black as death; another aged local veteran who makes an unreasonable chunk of cash by slingshotting a neon-flashing whirligig high into the sky; the “ping-pong show” hustlers, who advertise their venue with puckered lips and a wet “pop pop” that leaves just enough to the imagination; and the nitrous tank gang, who swiftly exchange wads of Baht for a head-wobbling balloon and a hearty snicker. After nearly drowning in the bacchanal fantasy on the street, the Khao San revelers gasp and stumble their way to the sanctuary of crowded bars that line the road. These raucous establishments spew a buzzing medley of drunk babble, hookah and cigarette smoke, and a bass-heavy mix of house and trance and club bangers, each seeming to compete with the rest for the unsung prize of “loudest mess of the night.”

Khao San Road, January 17, 2014.

[Recovery from poetic reverie] To be honest, the permanent parts of Khao San–the bars, clubs, and hustlers–aren’t so special. The place reminds me of Bangkok’s version of Las Vegas, much like Japan’s version of Disneyland. It’s seedy like a rotten raspberry: dirty, odorous, bad for your health, and sticks with you afterwards—though perhaps not in your teeth [3].

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Great meme huh? OK, so I didn’t take many pictures in BKK..my bad.

But, the one redeeming and perhaps entirely unique facet of Khao San is the overwhelming numbers of backpackers from around the world. I would swear that I saw a tourist from each one of the two hundred or so countries, but I fear that might the beer talking. True, I didn’t speak to many of them—to those I did, I don’t recall saying much of substance—but the people-watching was superb that night. Looking back now, about three weeks into travel, I will concede that the people safari—observing and meeting and getting to know people from every culture and creed—has been the most fulfilling part of my trip so far. And, Khao San will likely wolf the cake on diversity per square foot.

Which is not to say that I like everything about the backpacker circus on Khao San Road. Some of the participants are rather comically grotesque, particularly this reoccurring character: an overweight pale man holding an appropriately fat cigar in one greasy hand and spewing putrid smoke from a putrid-er gut over a beautiful Thai girl held with the other hand, the luck[y|less] latter likely hoping the former’s wallet is as overstuffed as his tastes. [Consenting afterthought] OK, yes, I bummed a few cigarettes and patronized part of the debauchery with my drinks at Gulliver’s; perhaps I am not much more noble [end afterthought]. Not my culture, though, and that is all.

Anyhow, yes, Khao San is unique, or as unique as anyplace if you looked deeply enough I suppose. Let me take you back to Gulliver’s Travelers. Now, I had vowed to take in all of the chaos and partake in as little as possible. I did drink a fair[ly large] quantity of beer and smoked a handful of cigarettes, but that’s quite tame. The only intimacy that I pursued on Khao San involved one absolutely scintillating Israeli girl—I would have kicked myself later if I hadn’t tried—and both of us walked away with pleased smiles and neither of us doled the other a single baht. But that’s it….well, I may have cajoled Anton and David into joining me at The Club, where it’s possible that I let myself get a bit hedonistic dancing on the upper platform with a couple beautiful Thai girls. Hard to say—the night was hazy at that point [4]. I do distinctly remember the end of the night: step one, engage in fare diplomacy with a tuk tuk driver; step two, crazy ride home singing horribly along with Thai tunes on the radio; and step final, drink two full liters of water and fall asleep dreading….

The Hangover, Part II.pi: “Well, Almost Everything Stays on Khao San Road”
[painful amusement, told by, well, a hungover person]

Well it was bound to happen at least once in Bangkok. I woke up the following morning feeling stale and way too tired, with that dry feeling in the upper cranium that signifies the oncoming 24 hours of discomfort. I immediately try to mitigate–two tylanol and another liter of water, and a hot shower–but it’s far too late. The headache sets in before I get the first bite of breakfast down. Ah well, I grumble, I’ve had worse. Anton and David seem to be moving slow today as well but we all have the “if you take a day off, then Khao San wins” attitude, so we head to another tourist gem of Bangkok: the Chatuchak Market.

[Wholehearted attempt to give Chatuchak proper justice, despite the pounding in my head] Thailand is known for its street stalls and secondhand markets, but I don’t think any of the rest compare to Chatuchak Weekend Market. The market area sprawls over 100,000 square meters—frankly, I’m not sure “sprawls” is adequate, for Chatuchak appears as if it mushroomed to glut the entire space like a virile bacteria colony might overrun a pitri dish. Take one step under the corrugated metal roof of the outer complex—which surrounds a looping street and a central complex—and you are lost. The dimly lit alleyways squeeze between rows and rows and rows of one room shops that connect like the rooms of a cutaway dollhouse, each shop brimming with the entire spectrum of art to bric-à-brac, antiques and showpieces to overstocked commodities and knockoffs. You could furnish every home in Portland with the exotic this and that sold at Chatuchak, and the place would refill itself in a day. It’s Alice’s rabbit hole of consumerism. It’s…it’s just crazy [f**k it].

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Chatuchak Weekend Market map

Back to the hungover trio. We somehow make it through the wormhole of the outer complex with little more than some knockoff Ray Ban shades (which regrettably don’t even block UV light). We wander through the inner pathway, gawking at the tourist zoo that in many ways rivals Khao San Road [5]. But the hangover takes away some of the novelty for me: I feel like I’m just detoxing around and eating chicken skewers, occasionally dodging lobster-burned tourists. I vow to come back at the end of my trip and fill a second suitcase full of knickknacks for friends and family.

The sweltering heat (listen to me—sweltering—let’s see how I fair with the summer) gets the best of us so we seek shade in the neighboring park. We rent a multicolored bamboo mat and gratefully plop down to read or pass out. I lay down and idly watch the light rays anoint the other lounging, picnicking and yoga-ing park-goers. My mood instantly improves and I have the mental energy to compare Chatuchak to Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili market, which I visited on trip to Egypt back in 2009. Both are equally chaotic, but there’s one significant difference. With rare exception, Egyptians heckle, Thais do not. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a time-elapsed excerpt from my written journal. The first impression:

Bangkok is chaos. Chaos reigns supreme. Chaos holds title and deed over all. Chaos takes commission.

A bit drunk on jet lag and culture shock, I fear. But the follow-up, a few days later:

…but it is leisurely chaos. No one yells. An exchange between local and farang can start and end with a single smile. There are no catcalls, no jeers, no “Look! Look! See here, see here! My friend my friend my FRIEND!”

Now, I should state that I very much liked Egypt and miss the few Egyptian friends that I made outside of the buyer-seller space. And, there are many confounding factors that muddy the comparison [6]. But the excerpts do illustrate the human capacity for adaptation to strange environs. On the first day in Bangkok I could barely open my mouth—so stunned was I with the exoticness of the place. A few days later, I was trouncing around and speaking my “nid noi” (นิดหน่อย or “a small amount”) Thai to the food cart owners and Suk 11 workers. It’s a surprising joy of traveling: the foreign does not stay foreign for long (though it may never become familiar), particularly when you still need to eat and sleep and communicate. Um, that might have been a veiled plug for my friends to come join me during my travels.

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Chatuchak Park—a good place for napping and reflecting.

The auburn-tinged evening soon finds the park, so we head back to Suk 11. Anton and David had to check out earlier in the day, but I let them store their backpacks in my room for safekeeping. As they carefully repack, I lay exhausted on my bed and fight sleep. We make courteous plans to meet again at some point, all realizing that it may not happen and none of us would be hurt. Then, it is time for them to catch the train to Kho Tao, where they will take the PADI open water scuba course. I have a brief feverish urge to join them, but it subsides quickly. We exchange hugs, and once again I’m alone.

Afterward
Thus passed the first three days of my Asia travels. Unsurprisingly, I’ve spent little time by myself so far. The urge to meet new people and observe their culture against the backdrop of the local culture—and thereby truly learn my own culture—is too strong right now. Later, there will be solitary moments and much reflection. As for Bangkok, my activity will prove to be subject to Moore’s Law: exponential growth curve. A new character, a blitzy but thoughtful South African, will help spur a true dive into sleepless madness that will make this Khao San night sound tame. We will barely escape Bangkok before it sucks the life out of us with a smile, and will carry the frantic momentum all the way up to Chiang Mai. All this and more to come, and next up: “It Begins With Grapa (Bangkok Pt 2).”

Footnotes for the Curious Reader

[1] In Bangkok Pt 2, I’ll likely admit that tuk tuks are nothing compared to riding backseat on a motorbike taxi.

[2] Khao San’s eternal festivities were confirmed by a sleepy Finnish girl in Ayutthaya, who stayed at one of the many hostels near the road for about a week: “Ha no, zat place never sleeps I think!”

[3] The only thing missing from that rotten raspberry simile is the noise, a deafening cacophony that leaves your ears ringing long after you’ve left Khao San. Not bad, eh English teacher?

[4] Their names were Ploy and Aom, or at least that’s what I think they yelled over the blaring house music.

[5] On further investigation, the estimates state that over 200,000 people visit Chatuchak’s 15,000 and counting booths..on every day that it’s open (see here).

[6] In Egypt, I was part of a large and easily identifiable tour group; now, I’m alone or with a few other independent travel companions. More significantly, there I looked very different from the local population; here, the locals often unknowingly speak Thai to me. I promise a more thorough reflection at some point. Not yet. Too soon.


Same Same, But Different?

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Watching the world pass by.

This picture was taken on a 3rd class train ride from Lopburi to Phitsanulok, Thailand. You can’t quite see out the window, but I’ll describe it:

Miles and miles of patchworked rice fields—shallow, muddy water contained in square plots, with tiny green shoots sticking out in perfect order—interrupted on occasionally by small villages of orange, blue, and yellow buildings shaded with corrugated metal or gilded white temples overseen by enormous Buddhas, backdropped by hazy mountains and sparsely populated with ambling Thai farmers wearing sun hats.

I watched this flow by for hours from the hard metal bench of my rickety clackity train. I began to daydream of growing up as a rice farmer—passing the days bent double, spending all my time and energy reaping the most produce out of my small, square plot. I began filming the landscape to remember the daydreams..and then I had a nice laugh. Here’s the thought:

Videoing rice paddies from the bench of a third class train—
I wonder—
do Asian tourists film corn fields in the American heartland?

That is travel—everything is new and fresh and exciting, even when you’re viewing life as normal in a foreign context. Same same, but different.


….Stays On Khao San Road (Bangkok Pt 1.1)

Bangkok: “Sawat dee ka, farang.”
[Worn wonder, told by Western backpacker thrown immediately into the fire]

Bangkok. Hectic city that never sleeps, or sleeps restlessly. A leisurely-chaotic cultural haven plagued by gawking and griping tourist rats, or farang (ฝรั่ง pronounced “falang”) as the locals say. But the Thais have mastered the plague, learned to channel it literally into their open and waiting pockets. Smiles and scams, as a Thailand veteran once told me. And it is quite true. Let me start at the beginning, though.

It is Thursday, January 16, 2014, and I have landed at Savarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. My reality shifts the moment I exit the plane. I trudge into the airport, still weak from traveling halfway across the world on the dregs of stomach flu and prescription Valium—a muting cocktail, to be sure. But context switch is a healing art, and I quickly ascribe to the practice by drinking in my surroundings. And what novel sights, even in the familiar setting of an airport! The curly squiggles of Thai signs and posted directions, the images and figures of Buddha and ….the vast sea of short, wiry Asians with jet black hair and matching eyes! It is my inaugural experience as part of the superficial majority and I will expound later, but for now I will simply state [mild sarcastic relapse] that it is quite refreshing to be one of the taller people around [end relapse with stomach grimace].

The novelty wears off quickly, as I must become business-like and handle step one of countless: get through customs. I bought a one-way ticket, which poses a slight issue. Often times customs officials will check for proof of onward travel, which on principle I do not have [2]. Instead, I had “purchased” a one-way flight itinerary from Chiang Mai (Thailand) to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) in early February, printed off the confirmation page, highlighted my personal and flight information, smudged out the “you must purchase this itinerary within four days of making your reservation” with an ink pen and eraser, and crossed my fingers that a young and bored customs official will let me pass. I had also retrieved a couple bank account statements—my way of saying, “Look look! I have money! I won’t stay! Promise!” Now at the airport, I prepare my documents and winningest smile, find the youngest looking customs official with the longest line in front of him, and enter the queue feeling a bit anxious.

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Mission: Unclassified Adventure

I am positively let down, like a young cop witnessing neither crashes nor explosions on his first high-speed chase. The customs official, a cropped haired and boyish Thai whose half-smile states “I know why you’re here,” glances at my passport, then looks back up at me and asks laughingly, “who is this?”

“It’s me!” I laugh, muscles relaxing and immediately at ease, “that picture was taken in 2007, I was much younger then [cheesy tourist smile].”

“Ok” says the official, shaking his head. And that’s it. No further checks or questions. A stamp and a smile, and suddenly I’m in Thailand.

[Brief reflection] In truth, I do look very different from my picture. Then: Beatles-mopped hair; thick glasses covering shallow, shy eyes; a thicker body from six years of playing football; and of course no smile—it wasn’t cool to smile back then, or something idiotic like that. Now: true long hair pulled into a tight bun; glasses gone and [vain moment] eyes that pierce and challenge and engage [end vainglory]; body thinned by the grad student budget and a full mustache that the right people love and the best people hate; and always smiling—especially for customs officials. Reflecting as I moved past the booth, I’ve come a long way and grown quite a bit. My personality and demeanor carries a great deal more experience now, and perhaps a wink or two of wisdom…perhaps [end reflection].

There is only a small hiccup in the enjoyable saga of the first day. At the airport taxi counter, I am confronted by my first labeling of faranghood. I greet the two Thai ladies at the counter and engage in the “please talk loudly and slowly and gesture frequently” to get to my hostel: Suk 11 on Sukhumvit Soi 11. They jabber with themselves about where the place is, and say, “OK! Taxi! 500 baht.”

I know this is a gross overcharge meant for unwitting tourists, so I ask, “Can you have them run the meter please?” with a smile that drips sweetly. “Meter. Kob kun kap [thank you].”

The reply I receive is a narrowing of eyes and “[rising crescendo] Whaaat?! No! 400 baht or no taxi!”

So much for fitting in (though I will talk later about the wild experience of being an Asian foreigner here). I know that the confrontation is a show, but I’m tired and not willing to fight, so I fork over the cash and take the taxi to Suk 11 [3]. A note for those reading this and following in my footsteps: brave the BTS public transit. It’s a very cheap, very clean and well operated sky train with ample announcements and postings in English. Next time.

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BTS transit map–in English!

The joy of travel resumes at the hostel, a uniquely quaint wooden and bamboo complex operated by friendly but informative Thais. Suk 11 is a multistory complex; the ground level composes the main room and office with a stairway going up to three floors of rooms and dorms. The public area walls are festooned with decorations made by employees and guests alike: drawings and paintings, strings of prayer flags and thank you notes, colorful bits of recycled flair, and pictures of the Thai king. Upstairs, long bamboo planks passing between lantern-lit shrines and art installations form the hallways between rooms. The rooms are clean and cared for, though I still put my own padlock on the outside door after I stash my backpack. Don’t want my stuff to be stolen at the first place I visit.

At around 6pm, I go downstairs to talk to my fellow backpackers. What a United Nations we are at Suk 11—United Nations +1 even! In the six short days I spent there, I spoke with people from China, Japan, Sweden, Britain, Australia, US, Germany, France, Estonia, South Africa, India, Italy, Spain, Israel, Iran, South Korea, and of course, Thailand. The Asians all ask me curiously about my background, and I alternate between saying I’m from the States and from Korea to test the difference in reactions [4]. There’s also a wide range in age—from the young high school age backpackers to the graying early retirees—and socioeconomic backgrounds—ragged longhair dirtbaggers all the way up to the collared business elite vacationers. It’s a scene from my traveler’s dream: meet and engage the entire medley of backpacking culture.

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Canadian friends inside Suk 11, the guesthouse rooftop grotto, Sukhumvit Soi 11, and the guesthouse restaurant by night

Tonight, however, I am tired and hungry and so I begin to speak earnestly with a pair of mid-20s Swedish backpackers. Their names are Anton and David; I soon learn that they are fellow climbers and following the continental European practice of working hard to take some time off. The three of us hit the streets, hungrily window shopping the rows of Thai food carts boasting seafood and fish (fried whole, not a scale missing), chicken and unidentifiable skewers, noodles, brightly colored vegetables and other fantastic edibles. I haggle my way into some pad Thai for 30 baht (less than one US dollar), and it is beyond delicious. The three of us sit on the concrete stoop of a 7/11 behind the cart, eating greedily and sipping beer, all the while lightly discussing our respective countries and listening to the cart owners banter with each other in their tonal language. It’s all quite a trip—the new sights and smells, the loud and hectic bustle, and the jet lag make me feel euphoric, and bewildered.

At 9pm, the jet lag wins. I feel like I’m back in college—bleary eyed and watching the sun rise out the window of an academic building. I bid my new friends a good night, promise them that I’ll join them on Khao San Rd (more later) tomorrow, and head to bed. In what must be the shortest time on record falling asleep, I smile contently and think to myself, This will be epic. This will be irreversibly mind-altering. I have arrived.

Footnotes for the Curious Reader

[1] Thank you Anna for the heads up on onward travel, though it was not needed. Thank you Ashley for the drop on Suk 11—incredible place to stay!

[2] This is probably to ensure that you are not some poor or bankrupt urchin hoping to make it in Thailand but more likely destined to drink and dine your dwindling money away and end up grovelling in the streets, fatefully gripping the country’s philanthropic dress hem and contributing nothing but needs. Also, I feel that this is my dad talking through me, but I mostly agree with him.

[3] I do not begrudge or scorn these women, or any Thai working the farang thing. From one angle, Thailand is practically raped by tourism (not exactly my views). I will continue practicing Thai and watching how the Thais do, so to speak, and hopefully will have better experiences in the future.

[4] Admittedly, I get a better reaction when I say that I’m from Korea—comments on my English, questions about whether both my parents are Korean, and many smiley greetings of “annyeonghaseyo!”


Here Comes Bangkok!

I write too much..probably because I think too much. Now my posts are subdivided into sections and I will release them incrementally, 1.1 releasing momentarily. Enjoy!


Update: Ready, Set, Blitz!

It is day 10 in Thailand–some moments I feel like I’ve been here for a month, other times it seems like only a few days have passed. Time stretch is not limited to hallucinogenic drugs, it seems. Still, though I’ve imbibed nothing unhealthy (except for smoggy air), I suppose I am indeed on a trip.

A briefish update: so far, I’ve been in Bangkok (chaotic metropolis), Ayutthaya (ruined ancient capital), Lopburi (town of monks and monkeys), and Sukhothai (smallish cultural mecca), and I’m writing this post on a bus to Chiang Mai. On that note, so far I’ve traveled on grim but scenic 3rd class trains, crowded short hop “buses” and cushy long haul buses, gleaming futuristic sky trains and subways, and–of course–in the back of , converted truck cabs, and a couple moped taxis. The gauntlet of planes, trains, and automobiles.

Regrettably, I’m behind on blogging, though I make time to write every day. It’s a precarious balance—taking time to write about the wild things you’re doing and doing enough wild things to write about. I’m also currently traveling with a new friend from South Africa; he’s only here for a month and quite blitzy in personality besides—hell, the dude walks at a speed twice his height. I’m finding that the short-timers are fun to travel with—always wanting to go and see and do and engage—but I will likely need to go solo once I find a place where I’d like to chill and deeply explore.

And that place is sounding like Chiang Mai, so-called bohemian capital of Northern Thailand. There I will stay with a friend for the [sarcasm] inhospitable cost [end sarcasm] of slightly above $30 USD per week. I am grateful for this—money flows quickly when you don’t have a source of income (yet).

More to the point: I’m halfway through writing part one of what will likely be a three part series on Bangkok. I will delegate most of the colorful stories and thoughts to the longer journal entries (by the way, you can sort posts here by category if you’d like), but here’s a quick taste:

I’ve overtaxed my sensory capacity and wallet in Bangkok: fought back jet lag by touring the tourist zoo on Khao San Road and exploring the equally chaotic Chatuchak Weekend Market; went to the protest to rub up against strangers; and gorged the five senses on spicy Thai food carts—and one chromed out Middle Eastern meal washed down with Turkish coffee and mint hookah—and got loose in laser-lit megaclubs filled with beautiful cosmopolitan Thais. I’ve strolled and yoga’d amidst crumbling ruins and temple’d gold Buddhas in Ayutthaya. I’ve played charades with orange-robed monks at mountainside monasteries and raced a horde of sovereign monkeys in Lopburi. I’ve bicycled and napped in a park of towering temples and chedis and stone Buddhas, and sampled the Eastern world’s funky cuisine—squid skewers, dim sum, banana leafed coconut treats, curries, fish fried whole without a single scale missing, and of course, buttered silk worms (they are quite good..and the cart vendor ate one first)—in Sukhothai.

That’s all for now—I bid you all a smiling adieu…

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[Laaater! #somedayI’llgrowuppromise..maybe]


Photographer Needed!

Regrettably, I’ve been terrible about taking pictures. There’s been some great opportunities—an overhead night view of the Bangkok riot on Sukhumvit, laser lights knifing through hookah smoke in one of Bangkok’s super clubs (fitting that I don’t remember the name?), vendors selling scorpions. Here is my pledge to be better at it! In the meantime, if you’re traveling through SE Asia or want to and you’re a good photographer with a thirst for adventure, meet up with me and I’ll take you rock climbing! Also if you’re a good photographer and you’re following my blog, please feel free to give me constructive feedback on my pictures!

And now, here’s a terrible photo of me on a motorbike taxi with a Thai friend:

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[Smile, you’re about to side saddle a ride through chaos!]