So this is Bangkok. If you look really hard, you might even see someone from Thailand.
That's my first impression of the place. It's raining outside, the umbrella that's been useless since Singapore sits dryly in my room while the rain comes down. It's been a slow, strange morning.
I took the night bus in, and arrived at some bus terminal in some dark corner of the city somewhere between four and five in the morning. Didn't know where to go, didn't know what to do, so I sat on a stone bench with piles of garbage underneath and ate two tangerines. At the time, it was the best option.
I followed the only stream of people I saw, made my way to a taxi line, and then saw buses, running even this early, and I got on the bus and a helpful ticket lady asked "Khao San Road?" the backpacker ghetto where all travelers seem to find themselves. I nodded, not really knowing what else to say. I rode the bus a little in the predawn blackness, guessing at passing snatches of the city, and was quietly tapped on the shoulder and told this was my stop.
I got off the bus and saw nothing but street, food stalls being rolled down the road and a late night/early morning scramble of people, workers and revelers and hookers, oh my. I ran into a friendly Australian girl, Jessie, who's just returning to Bangkok after a year of traveling, one of those round-the-world plane tickets that saw her to North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and now, just shy of a year later, a flight on Sunday back to Oz. We walked a bit and found Khao San Road, and the entire spectacle, barely a pulse at that ungodly hour, reminded me of some kind of faded MTV nightmare, drunks with beer-stained t-shirts and dig-this hippies with identical faces and tattoos and up-to-the-elbow meaningless bracelets doing the same shit on the sidewalk. I walked, head down, looking for a room. Nothing, all full.
We walked farther, chatting and good lord the rain is really coming down outside now, and we found a secondary road off of Khao San, another road whose purpose is to make foreigners forget as much as possible that they are actually in another country. English signs and promises of sandwiches and "European food," and, already sweating in the predawn heat, Jessie and I sat down at an outdoor cafe, and decided to take turns stalking up and down various roads, looking for a place to sleep.
Jessie left her bags with me, I ordered a bottle of water and discovered a half-drunk bottle of Johnnie Walker Red under my seat, and after two failed trips up and down various roads, Jessie decided to sit down and just wait till noon, when everyone was due to check out and vacancies promised to appear. I got up and found my way down a back(ish) alley, and found a room, a double bed with aircon and it's own bathroom, a place that looked like the goddamn Ritz compared to the tent filled with ants and sand and clothing-for-pillows I'd been using for the last couple of days. 550 baht, which seems and is high, but screw it, I was overtired and dirty and sweaty and needed a place to sleep NOW, not tonight.
I went back to the cafe, a block or so away, and told Jessie. I'll take it if it's too pricey for you, I said, knowing that rooms can be had for as cheap as 150 baht if you're OK with a fan (no aircon for you at that price range), shared bathroom, and questionable hygiene. We made our way back to my room, I turned on the aircon, and we just collapsed in the cool air and quiet. I was a week's worth of beach in my hair and on my body, so I showered and we just sat there talking about traveling and her time at a Tiger Temple west of Bangkok that I have to go to now. We both took overnight buses into Bangkok, and it was the nerves of finding a place and getting settled, for a day at least, that kept us awake, but soon enough we both just slept.
She went and found her own room, I went out and explored what little of the city I could between then and now, getting out of this downpour. From what I can tell, Bangkok, or at least this tiny little part of backpacker Bangkok, is just a sea of crap, a bunch of tourists who come and dip their toe in Asia here in Bangkok, get the massage and the cheap t-shirts and DVDs and braid their stupid me-too dreadlocks and obsessively check MySpace or Facebook. I've seen both in pretty much all the languages of the West, and they're all equally stupid. I know there's more to Bangkok than this one tired tourist ghetto, but so far, the only Thais I've seen have been trying to scam me, and everyone else is just hovering around this plastic version of a foreign country.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm just another tourist. I know living in China doesn't give me any special insight into Asia, I know I'm as much a member of the mob of travelers and gawkers as I am disgusted by them. C'est la vie, I guess, but that doesn't mean la vie can't be disappointing.
When the rain lets up, I'll get the hell out of this bubble and try to see what Bangkok really has to offer.