Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Bangkok – Steam
Bangkok, in its traveler’s mecca of Khao San Road, welcomed us with its steamy brew of sauna-like humidity, mid 30’s (C) temps and carnival-meets-hippy-gypsies scene. Khao San is a boisterous, blaring, unrepentant fiesta of a traveler ghetto in the midst of a city which is no stranger to urban intensity. The air is steam of fetid ghoulash, with pungent punches from garbage and sewers.
Don’t send your senses on vacati! on to this particular spot. They won’t get a moment’s rest. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. If you arrive, as Shira and I did, at 5:00 a.m., your senses won’t be overwhelmed. They will, however, notice the aftermath of another night of Khao San Road-erhia: empty bottles, trash, the odd murky puddle, and the even more odd leftover
traveler-reveler still not in bed, dazed, and seeking just one more shot of whatever it is of which he should definitely not have one more shot. And One or two all-night roadside vendors frying up something frightful. (Anything consumable directly from a deep-fryer at 5 a.m. is, by definition, frightful).
Yet at that hour, Khao San is letting off all the steam it has absorbed during the heat of the day and the heat of the night. All the consumption, all the purchases of trend-o cool duds and tchatchkas-East, tiger-balm, pirated digitalia, insense, frankincense, nonsense. It al! most feels like it could rain Pad Thai oil droplets. The steam settles on you like a warm coating of invisible tar. Welcome.
One of the advantages of the Khao San chaos is that you can find a room at 5 a.m. We did. The usual box, with two single beds, a ceiling fan (right out of the opening scene of ‘Apocalypse Now’) which cycles the otherwise torpid air and, for an extra 100 Baht ($2.50US), a nod of the noggin to ‘luxury’ and to the fact that for the first time I’m traveling SE Asia with my wife: a private toilet/shower adjoining the room. (Otherwise, you share same – toilet
and shower, not wife – somewhere down the hall with other even more on-the-cheap road-sters).
The pace of prep leading up to our departure, especially for Shira who had to wrap up three part-time jobs, was intense. Throw in a 3:15 a.m. wake up for departure to Bangkok via Kiev (where during the layover I suffered a five-words-of-English round of charades with a drunk Russian army
officer who claimed he was on his way to Pakistan – which might or might not have explained the fact that his carry-on luggage consisted solely of two bags each filled with several bottles of vodka, one of which had already been significantly ingested, its contents perhaps not even touching the sides of his esophagus on the way down); add to that a total of 24 sleepless hours of travel until we finally dropped our heads on the thin pillows in our box with beds in Bangkok, and you have a sense of why we spent a lot of our first day or so in recovery mode.
Lest you think that Bangkok is Khao San and vice-versa, rest assured that Bangkok explodes in every direction (although southwards, it hits the Gulf of Thailand soon enough). It is a massive tribute to the absence of the concept of urban planning, a jungle of concrete where jungles of a greener variety once held sway. Despite the sound and fury, the exhaust and the kilometer upon kilometer of burghal bulging, it shelters within its confines many beautiful and traditionally Thai tidbits. Wats (Buddhist temples) with their pointed, multi-tiered colourful roofs are everywhere, monks in saffron, orange or gold robes wend their way along the sidewalks; the royal family – very much revered here (guidebooks even make mention that one should not mock the royals) – are in evidence on signboards, public fountains and even in likeness over the gates of nationalized industry. There is even a special set of vocabulary in the Thai language set aside for referring to the royal family. Bangkok definitely exudes an Eastern flare, a breath of the exotic for Westerners.
One last word: Shira has been great! She has been her usual wide-eyed self, taking in so much that is new, digesting. We did a full day of travel-trail-type touring hitting the grandiose and rainbow circus
grounds of Wat Phra Kaew and the Royal Palace as well as the Vimanmek teak mansion this past Sunday. We strung the two together via a sojourn by water taxi up the breezy (escape the humidity for a few moments) rippled waters of the Chao Phraya river which snakes its way through the city. One tuk-tuk ride (think golf cart with NO suspension and a two stroke motorcycle engine and you’re getting warmer doc) too. And, for good measure, we decided to forego the tuk-tuk on the return journey and added about a 90-minute sweat-athon
walk through fish markets and along busy main streets. Throughout, Shira has
been enthusiastic and smiling, keeper of the kosher food and the spring in my
step. (Ok, she did get pretty tired by the end of our long, hot day on Sunday
and crashed at 7 p.m.)
Better do something similar m’self soon and hit the wood (not the hay – my ‘mattress’ here is a slab of wood with a think veneer of a blanket on it). Yes we’ve arrived at Harbor House. But more on it next time.