Thursday, December 9, 2010

Banging round Bangkok

It's always fun to return somewhere I've been many times in many different states of mind over the course of several years. Bangkok looks different every time, partly because it has changed and partly because my eyes have changed.

As always, I've been haunting the area of town around Khao San road, while trying to avoid actually setting foot on Khao San Road. I'm fond of this part of the city, not because it's awesome per se, but because it's full of memories, and because every other part of Bangkok I've ever measured is an unwalkable, mind-numbingly boring, traffic-ridden shithole. I'm not saying Bangkok doesn't have other neighbourhoods that are built on a human scale -- I'm just saying that I have never seen any.

Erin and I are taking a night train back to Chiang Mai this evening, so we've joined the legions of other zombie-like tourists in this place, sitting in tourist cafes and slowly sipping Chang beer while waiting for something better to happen. Within a few days' time, most of the tourists we see here will be hundreds of kilometers away, many of them sitting on beaches drinking more expensive bottles of Chang Beer, but some of them will be somewhere interesting, like Rangoon or Luang Prabang or Saigon or Calcutta or Kathmandu.

Kathmandu! The idea of it makes me shiver. Why have I never been to Nepal?

I close with a status report on Bangkok, written for those lucky people who have shared this city with me over the years. Nate, Erin, Inge, Tom, Koen, Liam, Jesse and Tucker, here's what's become of the place:

- Nakorn Pink is pretty much the same, except they've put up new signs where they've finally corrected the spelling of the name to Nakorn Ping. Last time Erin and I were here, they'd brutally increased the rate for fan rooms to 490 baht; I'm pleased to report that they've now got a "special offer" room rate that's apparently been in place since August 2nd, and you can get a fan room for a much more reasonable 400 baht.

- The sidewalk bar where Jesse got kicked in the neck during an argument over the bill is still open. In fact, it's greatly expanded, with a bunch more tables now on the street, and a few more tucked inside a garage door in the building behind. We saw no sign of the neck-kicker, however; presumably he has died of internal bleeding from flopping himself down on the street while drop-kicking some hapless tourist in the neck.

- Every other sidewalk retail or drinking place has expanded off of the sidewalk and into the street. Word must have gotten around that the cops don't care if you use the street as your shop floor, because everyone has done it. Consequently, there's very little room for people to walk on Khao San Road anymore, much less to drive on it. Khao San seemed oddly dead, actually. Soi Rambuttri, which 7 years ago was much quieter, is now where the main backpacker party is.

- Popiang House (a.k.a. BBC World) is still alive and kicking. They've got tables permanently set up on the sidewalk across the street, where they used to set up mats on the sidewalk and illegally serve beer after hours. I have no idea what the after-hours drinking scene is like here n0w; Erin and I went to bed early because we are very old.

- The ruins of Samsen (two years ago I posted a photo here) are now partially demolished. They've taken the top few floors off, so now the roof is at the same level as the adjacent buildings. I would have thought that surely the entire building was worthy of demolition, but the owners apparently saw some economic merit in the crumbling bottom half of this half-built edifice.

- That hotel they demolished the gay baguette place on Samsen Soi 2 in order to build still isn't finished. They look like they're getting close.

- And finally, for the old man in me: everything is more expensive, the beer isn't as cold, the women aren't as pretty, the t-shirts aren't as witty and people don't smile like they did when I was 26. The whole world is going to hell and nobody else even notices because they're too preoccupied with playing with their Nintendos and listening to their Walkmen. By God, I remember when you could get pad thai served on a hooker's naked back for six and a half Canadian cents in this town. Nothing is any good anymore; it's all been ruined by all of these people doing exactly what I'm doing, except that they're the ones who ruined it because I was here first.
Actually, Bangkok is remarkably similar to how it was 7 years ago. I think the locals have more money than they did in 2003, and everything costs about 10 baht more than it did then, but the tourists are just as drunk and the Thais are just as forgivingly friendly and willing to take money from stupid people as they ever were.

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