Thursday, 24 January 2013

Bangkok - the end of the road.

I spent five or six days in Bangkok. I did almost nothing of value; unless you count drinking and dancing with girls in nightclubs as things of value. At least none of them had a penis. I think. I spent a lot of my time sat in the lobby of my guesthouse-cum-brothel where I could access wifi, and watch a stream of ladyboy whores and old lady hookers come and go (in real life, not online), some with a handful of different clients within an hour. I was slapped by one of them one night, after his/her fifth waltz past me, I asked 'are you having a good night, fella?' - I know it's not fair to insult people's gender, I don't care what's between anyone's legs anyway (apart from people I'd be romantically interested in), but these ladyboys can be quite aggressive in asserting ne sais quois. The clients ranged from men younger than me, to men my fathers age, and none of them seemed ashamed or embarrassed in the slightest. Many would make quips or throw winks and I'd be delighted at the opportunity to ricochet some back, roused from my tipsy wifi immersions. One man about 40 came down asking to borrow some condoms, 'What, one for you and one for him?'  - I joked, but he smiled back and continued on his search for latex. Bangkok is a city of vice. It's the devil's playground, anything goes and it often does.

Khao San Road is where the majority of backpackers in Bangkok come, and I can't imagine another street in the world which could claim to be the epicentre of backpacking. The entire street, and surrounding blocks, is devoted to travellers. Whether it be guesthouses, bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, laundrettes, shops selling t shirts or souvenirs, Western chain food outlets, massage parlours, travel agencies, tailors, everything and everything. You can buy degrees on the street and the same person also sells viagra. Fake driving licenses, press cards, you can pretend to be anyone you want to be, and buy anything you want. The place is chaos, it's hell, it's a war, it's enticing. Local vendors wander up and down pointing green lasers at your feet, pinging LED helicopters up in the air, hill tribe women in jester hats try and make money selling these wooden frogs which make a frog-like sound when you scrape their back, or bracelets with offensive phrases woven in to them, such as 'cunt salad' or 'rape my kids'. Barrel-bellied men come in close and offer 'tuk-tuk?' before making ping-pong noises and thrusting a laminated menu of sexual vices under your nose. I never went to a ping-pong show. I'd been to one before, and had no strong desire to return, doubled with the fact I had no money and was living off one or two pounds a day for food, four pounds for accommodation and the rest went on alcohol. The girls who's company I kept were keener to go to the ping-pong than the boys. The road smells like a mixture of street food, engine grease and fornication, with the odd whiff of sewage if you're standing near a drain. On my first evening there Lars and I sat on an alleyway kerb drinking a 7-eleven beer watching a massive rat come and go about his rat business.

My days followed a similar pattern. I went out every night bar one. The days were spent lounging around, browsing the internet, popping out for street food of pad thai about 4pm, but generally avoiding the heat and bustle of the day. The evenings would start with some shop bought beers, before some stronger buckets of booze in a bar, and once we felt drunk enough to tolerate the club, we went to the club, until the alcohol wore off sufficiently that we became bored of dancing to the same music and trying our luck with all of the potential girls.

I was sharing a small double bed with Lars, in a window-less room, it was just a place to crash and hide like a cockroach away from the light. I also spent a fair bit of time with a young Dutch guy called Tim, who had the enthusiasm of an 18 year old, but the beard of a 25 year old. We spent a lot of time that week just chatting in the lobby and waiting for the evening to come. The American girls, Abby and Liv were also in Bangkok, and their company was always appreciated. They were staying with a friend somewhere in the suburbs, but they made a few trips into the central hell and we had some enjoyable evenings tasting what Khao San has to offer, and one evening ending with four of us crammed into our small bed, as they'd overstayed their visas and needed to depart on a border run early in the morning, so stayed with us, though it was so cramped I don't think anyone slept. I slept once they'd left and dreamed of playing football with Darth Vader. Interpret that one, someone.

One evening I met up with a childhood friend, Ben Layton, who was now living in Bangkok with his Canadian wife, the both of them working as teachers in the city. It was good to catch up and despite us barely not having spoken in 15 years, we got on well and I enjoyed his company.

The final evening I took a taxi an hour across town to visit him in his modern apartment, with the intention of dinner, drinks and a swim on his rooftop pool. Everything happened bar dinner, the least important things always get sacrificed first. I'd taken the liberty of also inviting Liv and Abby along to meet them, as Liv was looking for a job teaching in Bangkok and was hoping to stay for a year, so I thought it would be nice to introduce her to some people who are settled in the city and might be able to help her out. I arrived first and had time to chat with Charlotte, Ben's wife, before the girls arrived and we went to the rooftop pool. It was quite exciting for me to be swimming on a rooftop surrounded by skyscrapers, and Ben and I left the girls talking at the table as we did lengths and sank beers. By the time the evening expired, the girls had to leave and I said goodbye to my two American friends as they pulled away in a taxi, and Ben and I went to his local bar. The bar was by far the coolest bar I'd been to in Bangkok, but all of the others had been tourist dives with no class or character. We were almost the only people in there, apart from a couple in one corner who I went over to say hello to with the confidence of beer and whisky already inside me. He turned out to be from York and a reporter for Reuters, he gave me his card and with it a sudden desire to return to Bangkok (or somewhere similar) and work for an international news agency. I'll fire off a few prospective emails and CVs once my website has been redesigned and relaunched. I'll be firing them off into the dark, but like Tony Martin, you never know who you'll hit. That evening in the bar we got pretty drunk, shots were sank rapidly, a generous Thai at the end of the bar kept ordering us sambuccas; the cool bar staff told us he was a Thai celebrity, a singer songwriter who was famous and successful, but I would have no clue if they were pulling our legs or not, but I chose to believe them. Later on we were dancing shirtless on the bar to indie and Brit-pop, as the staff poured Jack Daniels down our throats straight from the bottle. I was pretty steaming by the time closing time came, and my flight home was in three hours, so with help I got a taxi to the airport. I got drunker during the cab ride, even though I'd paused drinking, it was still seeping into my blood. At the airport I met some awful south London sex tourist, who decided to buy me a beer, and we sat outside on the kerb drinking and smoking the last of our cigarettes, before I somehow navigated the obstacle course of an airport, without making too much of a fool of myself or declaring myself too drunk to fly. I had drunken conversations with a host of people throughout the airport, and I think they found me amusing, though I may have just been an annoying drunk. Upon boarding the plane, I walked through business class and asked aloud 'is this business class or the fat cabin?' on the sight of everyone being bloated and swollen with gluttony, or glandular problems, you decide. One woman looked up at me with disdain but I drunkenly and smugly staggered to my seat, where I made a song and dance to the girl next to me about the fact that the seat didn't contain a tv in the back, but just a mirror. I'd never experienced this before, there's been a tv since I can remember flying. I asked if I was meant to perform my own play, and started acting out some scene before passing out against the window, to the relief of the girl in the seat next to me. That's how I left Bangkok and almost seven months on the road.


  1. Great last para - love the stream-of-consciousness-no-self-censorship approach. Came into your blog via the Cambodia Otres beach piece - am looking for a possible hideout this December so thanks for that. Yer holiday snapshots aren't half bad either... Cheers!

  2. Thanks - can definitely recommend Otres beach if you're looking for somewhere to relax without getting hassled by hawkers, I spent two weeks for Christmas and New Year there, and it was perfect.