Diary of The Travelling Seanchai
Khao San Road, summer afternoon!
After a bus from Pai and an overnight train for 14 hours, I found myself in Bangkok again. Of all the Asian cities, I am most familiar with this one after my 3 or 4 conference presentations here in the last few years so it was a good spot for me to come nearly half way through my trip.
We (Mick “Jenga Master” Jones and Julie “34%” Hart, she got the deciding vote on everything the three of us did!) checked in and I took myself off to Khao San Road, famous to all backpackers and anyone that has seen “The Beach”
It is definitely one of my favourite places on the planet, an unabashed and unapologetic freak fest in the best way possible. I took my usual spot, brought a book so I didn`t look conspicuous and looked out at the people walking by, over a few beers of course, for a few hours.
After coming from the colder North the first thing you notice is the clothes, or lack of! T-shirts make you look over dressed as singlets rule supreme and jeans are something that accountants that are trying to look cool wear! One girl immediately realised her major faux pas as she wore high heels in a world of flip flops (thongs to the Aussies), making her far more of a spectacle than she had hoped or anticipated! Gangs of English, Irish or Scottish lads walk down the street topless and with beers in hand, fulfilling a deeply suppressed luxury rarely afforded in their own countries!
Another rarely afforded (poor phrasing possibly) pleasure is the number of white gentlemen of varying age (25 to 65) who have managed to woo a beautiful Asian girl as a girlfriend/guide. The former (in the age group above) have cast away the frustrations of small town attitude and in a world where they don`t think their mothers will ever hear of their dalliances have made full use of the number that their mates older brother gave them in the pub on the last night before they left. The latter just don`t care, have made their money, have long since discarded their hotel bibles, morals, scruples and will soon be not so subtlely separated from their wallets.
KS Road brings together the Asian markets to the Western dollar/euro/pound but it does so effortlessly, not the awkward juxtaposition of so many other cities. Us westerners are old hat here and the fusion is immediately comfortable and recognisable. There were bombs in this city 6 days ago but no-one here cares for that as parents wheel their kids down the street and couples do their best not to offend local sensibilities by giving each other a public kiss.
I`m not of the backpacker mentality that demands that you need to get off the beaten pack to `truly` experience a country, those `other bloody tourists have ruined it for us hippies` brigade. You can find truly different experiences in these countries without having to stay every night in a hut with no running water and no access to a hot shower. On occasions its good to get away from creature comforts but self inflicted purgatory smacks of masochism to me.
So that is why I love this road, there is a great familiarity which I truly believe I had the first time I came here too. With that, you sit back and almost impatiently wait for someone you know to walk by! For me it was two Israelis I`d met a few days ago in Pai and earlier, Milena from Croatia that I hadn`t seen since Sapa in Northern Thailand and whom I thought was in Laos!!
The tattoo artists and the dreadlock ladies are out in force, ready to turn you from ultra conservative to outer edge cool if you can give them a few hours. It makes the original tat freaks and rastas uneasy to see how quickly the `mainstream` are catching up as they try desperately to think of the next fad to get on board with that will take years for the rest of us to gather up the courage to do.
Fathers walk ahead of their teenage daughters and survey with zealous authority over myself and the other people watchers (like train spotters but way cooler!) He needn`t worry because this road throws up a wealth of international beauty that causes equal amounts of envy, excitement and whiplash.
An English guy sits next to me having a beer as his wife approaches with a puppy dog smile and several bags, she rushes to kiss him and he sighs as he wonders how much that kiss has just costed him. You overhear some weary travellers saying that they have lost their appetite after reading three menus a day for the last few months, the difficulty in having to choose all the time is getting to them and they yearn for the relative constriction of their under stocked fridges.
The Thai boys serve beer during the day but from 6pm, the Thai girls take over in their skimpy dresses and seductive smiles. Contrary to popular belief they are not the same people who have just had a clothes change and some shaded make up to diminish an Adam`s apple.
And with all voyeuristic of sports, there is a certain welcoming disdain for the new arrivals, the fresh meat who walk down the road with their backpacks still on, still trying to become part of the city which can only be done once they`ve found a room, discarded their bags and joined us at the bar! We have only settled an hour before but we have all felt the scalding glare of those that have arrived before us in other towns and now its our turn to bask in our booths from the side of the street!
Its a road that rewards those with imagination and teases those without. The temples, pagodas, mountains and rivers of SE Asia are amazing, but I love afternoons like today, which anyone can do in Temple Bar in Dublin, by the Opera House in Sydney, in Downtown Crossing Boston or wherever as long as you have a beer, a keen eye and a sense of humour!
Taxis, Temples and Torture