Sunday morning came along and I was up early due to the screwed up sleep patterns of 36 hours of travel time (jet lag). I crashed again and finally got out of bed around 9:00 am thanks to my alarm. The plan for the day (my wife’s plan) was to explore the Bangkok Chinatown markets and see all the cool / crazy stuff that might be found there and then (my plan) to check out what has been labeled as the “Center of the Backpacking Universe”, the 1 km long Khao San Rd.
Since neither of us had a SIM card for our phone we only had internet access in the guesthouse and so my wife did her best to memorize our route from a small map found in a book at the guesthouse lobby. It wasn’t enough 😦
We headed out and walked over the canal by Hua Lamphong station. We walked for about twenty minutes just kind of checking out the sites and such, all along my wife is searching for the street corner she had memorized on the map. About the time we hit the abandoned alley with the wrecked auto parts filling the sidewalk we realized we were never going to find the particular market she had spied on the map.
We walked on trying to figure out the best way to get back to Hua Lamphong station when an older Thai gentlemen stopped us and said (in his best broken English)…
“No, no…no go there…(pointing in the direction we were travelling). “Not good there…Better you go there”(pointing in a different direction, one that seemed more or less like it headed back towards the main drag). It reminded me immediately of the time in Rio that a young girl had tried to lure us down a side path by saying “No, no, don’t go! Too many of them there” as we were about to cross a bridge in Flamengo (Fortunately my wife wasn’t having it and I had already seen the shifty guy standing around on the side of the path…).
This time though, it seemed appropriate to follow the elderly guys advice and we swung back towards the center of town. It took us another twenty minutes of walking but we finally found the “Chinese Gates” that we had been looking for all along. By that time, though, we were pretty tired from walking and well overdue for lunch so we decided to give the Chinatown market a miss that day and try again later.
We had a short, but yet again delicious and cheap lunch and headed back to our room. Our plans for the night were to head over to Khao San Rd. which Alex Garland, in his book The Beach, called the “Center of the Backpacking Universe”. The name has stuck and the buzz around Khao San Rd. had me itching to check it out.
Around 7:00 pm we grabbed a cab and headed out for our first taste of the Bangkok nightlife. When we arrived at Khao San Rd. the driver hurriedly shoved us out (not in a rude way…I think he was just worried about blocking traffic) and there we were at the alleged “center of the….” well, you know.
One of the first things I noticed was that it wasn’t very crowded. I guess it was still early though and so we started gingerly strolling down the way. I’ll keep from belaboring the point but here was my take-away from walking the entire distance down KSR.
- The clothing / knick-knack / trinket vendors repeat about every 30 meters. There were a lot of stalls just selling the same stuff. Some were light linen pants, skirts, and dresses (my wife ended up buying a dress for 320THB (about $8.50 US), others were souvenirs like bottle openers, or wooden snakes, I even saw several vendors peddling Calvin Klein undies….BUT…Once you have walked the first 30 mtrs., you are just going to see the same stuff repeat over and over.
- Street food! There is a street food cart about every 10 mtrs. or so along the Road (they move around so this number could be off – suffice it to say, if you are hungry don’t worry. Pad Thai, Satay, fresh fruit, fresh juices, etc… (Oh..and Tarantulas, Scorpions, crickets, meal worms…) The prices for the street food seemed about the same (maybe a bit higher) as in other areas of town and you just can’t go wrong with Thai street food! As one long-time expat living in Thailand told me…”In Thailand if you see something on the street and you think it looks good…eat it, it will be” 🙂
- Bars: While the street vendors line the street, the bars / restaurants line the sidewalks. Beer and food here is as much as three times as expensive as in other areas of Bangkok. Near the guesthouse at Hua Lamphong (and most everywhere else)I paid (restaurant price) $75 THB for 750ml of beer (~$2.00 US), whereas the same beer was running as much as 210 THB (around $5.80 US) on Khao San rd.
In short, I’ll say this: If you are with a bunch of your mates and your not overly concerned with getting the cheapest “whatever” (beer food, etc…) then this could be a lot of fun. You could definitely feel the party atmosphere amping up as the evening turned into the night. In fact, had my wife and I been in town a bit longer and met some folks to party with, we probably would have had a good time hanging with everybody in Khao San. As it was, we were both still crazy jet-lagged, exhausted, and pretty much on our own so we grabbed a cab and headed back to Hua Lamphong.
The best part for me was knowing that on Monday Arete BJJ would be open and I would finally get some mat time in: 12 time-zones, an international dateline and an entire tectonic plate later 🙂