We arrived in Bangkok late at night on March 3rd, caught a taxi straight to our guesthouse, and despite having gained six waking hours that day had a rather difficult time sleeping due to jet lag, techno bumping late into the night, and an unfortunately-placed air conditioner that dripped directly on our faces all night long. In the morning the area was much more bright and beautiful–hot pink and purple taxis, lush green leaves spilling out of guesthouse verandas, and yellow flags in rows fluttering over the streets.
We’ve been staying on Soi Rambutri, a prettier, quieter street by Thanon KhaoSan, Bankgok’s backpacker ghetto filled with the worst of the West–loud, sweaty, sunburned tourists showing fleshy patches of skin, hairy legs and bare shoulders. The whole neighborhood is narrow alley/streets filled with weaving cars, trucks, stinky tuk-tuks, loud motorbikes and plenty of pedestrians maneuvering over the red tiled pavement. The smaller streets don’t seem to have clearly-defined priorities: that is, Soi Rambutri might be a pedestrian thoroughfare until a motorbike comes barreling down it bobbing around the tourists and Thais alike, and taxis will sometimes drive straight at you and turn off or slow down at the last moment, or crawl past you so closely that you have to keep track of exactly where all of your toes are.
On KhaoSan you can buy anything you want–there are street food vendors everywhere (selling pad thai, rice dishes, grilled meat on sticks, papaya on ice, a plastic bag full of something to drink, sticky rice with mango, armies of sun-dried squid, a fish skewered through the face) clothing vendors (thai fisher pants, knockoff Armani suits, shoes and flipflops, oft-misspelled english joke t-shirts), stalls to buy tours to anywhere in Thailand and Cambodia, and plenty of aggressive taxi drivers and even more aggressive tuk-tuk drivers to get you where you want to go, for a price. You can also get Thai massage and fish massage (putting your feet in a tank where fish nibble your toes) while watching stray mangy dogs who seem very good natured for how hungry they must be amble by. We’ve passed by monks in gold-orange robes, a man with no legs scooting around on a skateboard, and kids swimming in the polluted offshoots of the Chao Phraya river. The air is warm and very humid, filled with contrasting smells of delicious grilled foods, cigarettes, car exhaust, raw sewage and incense.
So far, the city is a lot to take in; we’re currently north of Bangkok in Ayutthaya, the town built atop the ruins of Thailand’s former capital in the 14th-18th centuries. Next blog post: our adventure getting a Chinese visa in Bangkok!