Bangkok: A tribute to Hunter S. Thompson the drug addict, alcoholic, adulterer who shot himself in the head.
Like batter poured into a pan, Bangkok sprawls outward, expanding and cooking at the same time. Although only a capital city for two hundred and thirty years, it’s history is everywhere: In its Chinatown market that is as old as the city itself, in its giant lavish temples that are surrounded by beggared, street sleeping locals and advantageous tuk-tuk drivers, in its decrepitness.
The main tourist hangout is a dollar bill shaped area in the city’s old town. Tourists flock here to take advantage of the residents’ desperation. The Thai locals rub their dirty feet as they sprawl out on deck chairs, drinking up glass after glass of beer and numbing everything evil that transpires.
Eating in Bangkok is a risk-taking adventure. Hunger and stress sit side by side in your stomach. Many of the streets are lined with food stalls cooking up pad thai, spring rolls, and bits of animal that are unidentifiable. Most of it tastes different, but all of it is smoked with exhaust fumes, and baked for hours in the hot sun. You think about every bite, hoping that it won’t leave you shooting vomit from your mouth or exploding excrement from your bowels.
The heat. The heat is almost unbearable. Sweat covers your body and the sun cooks your skin. A comparison to Hell cannot be overlooked.
After a spending a few hours wandering around the streets, Sara and I were anxious to get back to our hotel, where stepping into our air-conditioned room and feeling the relief from the heat would be the highlight of our day. We decided to take a ferry back along the river. As we searched for a ferry-friendly port, we were met with warnings. “The ferry doesn’t stop here, but I can take you on my smaller boat.” Pier after pier left us with disappointment. One Thai man stopped us as we turned on the road that led to yet another jetty. Friendliness drained out of him as he told us about his life, where he was from, why he was in Bangkok. He showed us pictures of his kids and told us how he had prayed at the giant Buddha that he’d have a boy. He showed us on our map where we could see these Buddha statues. Then he asked us where we were going next and told us not to buy our tickets on Khao San Road, the backpacker street. We knew this already, but appreciated the honesty. As our guards lowered he sprang at us with disappointing information. “The best place to buy everything you need is here” and he marked the map. You can take a tuk-tuk there and stop to see the Buddha statues along the way. He raised his hand and pointed to a tuk-tuk driver whose vehicle was positioned to pounce. Before we had a chance to think, the man signaled him over and showed him the map. The driver pressured us to get in. The stench of a scam was overpowering. We refused and walked away as they both yelled for us to wait.
Giving up on the boat ride, we asked a different tuk-tuk driver to take us to our hotel. He would only do it if we made one stop at a clothing store. Commission money shone from his eyes. Four negotiations with four different tuk-tuk drivers later, we were on our way back to our hotel with feelings of betrayal. Before the trip we had read many notes on how to be respectful to the locals: Women should cover their shoulders, people should be greeted with a hand together bow, shoes should be removed when entering a home. We went out of our way to show respect, yet disrespect was thrown in our faces over and over as we attempted the simple task of getting back to our hotel.
Later that night we went out to find food. We made our way along Khao San Road sidestepping around the sloppiness that was excreting from the drunken tourists. We found a back alley with a row of vegetarian restaurants. Hoping the lack of meat would push aside the worries that accompany a meal, we sat down at an outdoor table and ordered. A couple and their young child occupied the table next to us. The toddler wandered around the alley as his parents ate, stopping to explore the dark corners as cockroaches scattered. A motorcycle raced by nearly hitting him. Across the narrow lane sat a drunken Englishman, surrounded by large, empty bottles of beer and sitting next to a very young Thai girl. The girl had a glazed over look and swayed her head back and forth. She only spoke in slurred Thai. The Englishman suddenly erupted with profanity. The beer had done its part to numb him and took him deep into sloppiness. The girl left the table, staggering into some locals. She noticed the toddler and smiled. Disappearing for a second she came back with a balloon and danced it in front of the child’s face. Together they played, the baby looking at home, and the drunk, young girl looking resurrected with innocence. Later, I saw her propositioning a 50-something year old man, the innocence gone and the glazed over sloppiness back. On our way back to our guesthouse, we stopped at one of the many 7-11s that are spotted across the city like chicken pox. Bringing a handful of beers to the counter, we paid, and the clerk offered to open one for the road. We would make several trips back to the American chain, buying up the cheap beer and numbing all that is Bangkok.