How did I end up in Bangkok, the backpacker “mecca” of Southeast Asia?
It actually all started all the way back in Junior year of college. Back then, I was doing a double major in business and econ. I thought since a lot of the courses were overlapping, why the hell not, take a few more classes and grab myself another degree. Big mistake. Econ classes are hard. And I had to take a lot of them. The beast of them all was econometrics. Which was essentially taking calc, stat and econ all rolled into one. If you aren’t too great with math like myself, it’s pretty much suicide. So one day, I literally woke up with an epiphany and decided to drop my major. Fast forward to Fall of my Senior year, I realized I could graduate by that December. Do I dick around for a semester or just finish up and do something else?
I had heard of people going to South America so that was, at the time, my number one priority. Since I had ~6 months to kill, I wanted to do two trips. South America was one, the other one not so sure. I had thought about Australia but seemed pretty expensive and westernized. Europe, despite being the quintessential post-college trip, had “been there, done that” the year prior when I studied abroad in the UK.
I’d been to Thailand once as a kid with my parents so I figured Southeast Asia is cheap, food is great, nice and warm, and did I mention cheap? A perfect destination before South America. The day I landed my job was the day I booked my trip. January 8th, 2009 to March 11th, 2009. Aggressive? A little. Do I wish I had more time? Definitely.
After a ~24 hr flight on a shitty China Airlines (different from Air China) flight with a stopover in Taipei, Taiwan, I touched ground at BKK. First thing you do when you land? Get $$$. I remember it almost like yesterday: I went to the ATM, put in my debit card and pulled out some Thai baht. Being so excited, I took the cash and left the ATM. 30 seconds later, a Thai woman working there comes up, taps me on my shoulder and hands me back my debit card. Trip almost clustered within an hour of landing. As I made my way out, the first thing I noticed was the humid, stuffiness of the air. That would be my life for the next 61 days.
Khao San Road – I still remember my amazement the first time I ever saw it. It was as if you took the busiest street fair, dropped it into the middle of a metropolis, infused it with alcohol, brought in tourists from all around the world and let the damn thing run wild. Love it or hate it, you have to appreciate Khao San.
If Bangkok is the heart of Southeast Asia, then Khao San road is the beat. The road itself really isn’t that long or impressive. What makes it so famous is the variety of stores, shops, restaurants, bars and people on the road. People don’t start stirring until early afternoon but then the party lasts until sunrise. Every two steps you walk you’ll run into clothes vendors selling counterfeits of every kind of name brand apparel, people hustling fake ID’s of every nationality and state, bars with people spilling out into the streets and of course the pesky suit vendors who try and hustle you into a $99 suit. There’s also people selling knicks and knacks like laptop sized Zippo lighters, sunglass huts, bookshops and of course the tattoo parlors and “massage” shops. Then, of course, are the multitudes of street food vendors.
Street Food – In total, I spent about 10-11 days in Bangkok on this trip. On average, I’d say I ate 4 meals a day. Out of those ~40 meals, how many did I eat in a restaurant? Zero. One of the best things about Bangkok and really SEA in general is the street food. No where else can you get food that is so delicious at such a cheap price. These vendors on the street sell just about anything: noodle soup, pad thai, curries, fried rice, freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs and toast in the mornings. And the price is cheap. For a dish, you’re looking at something between 30-45 baht which is $0.85 to $1.30 which will fill you up. Because of this, I would eat about 4 meals a day, sometimes even 5. Whenever I got hungry, I just strolled over to the nearest cart, peeked around and got what I wanted. My most frequented place were the line of carts outside of my guesthouse on Rambuttri. Not only did these little places have seats and tables, but all of the people making the food were lady boys.
Lady Boys – A Thai phenomenon. Don’t get too drunk or you might end up making out with a dude. Lady boys are everywhere in Thailand and have become one of the attractions on the Southeast Asia backpacking tour. Many are post-op and very attractive so at first glance, it might be very difficult to tell one apart from a girl. One clutch tactic I developed was to look for the adam’s apple (although there is surgery to remove it). I also ended up referring to them as “apples” so they wouldn’t understand when I would point one out. Even though a large majority of people in touristy areas of Thailand speak english, it’s more along the lines of pidgin-english so they don’t have that expansive of a vocabulary. These ladyboys usually work at bars as bar girls. Others are in more insidious places such as message parlors with happy endings, actors in sex shows and of course straight-up prostitution.
I’m running on fumes here so I’ll wrap this one up. With Bangkok, there is so much to cover and so much to write. Next time I’ll make sure to talk about the suits, the beer, the nightlife and some other odds and ends.
Here’s a couple more photos: