Never mind the bollocks

Day 155 - Bangkok

If there is 1 place synonymous or perhaps infamous with the backpacker circuit then surely this is it. If there is 1 place whose reality so precisely matched my expectation of it, whose sights, sounds and smells mirrored those of an imagination fed by popular media then surely it was here. I woke after the first proper sleep in days and walked out onto the balcony of the Romruen Resort. Beyond the sliding glass door was a wall of heat, thick air enveloped me and mocked sweat glands sprung desperately into action. We had arrived in the world's hottest city or its outskirts at least. Eschewing originality the bags were repacked and the two of us headed for the traveller's rite of passage that is the Khao San Road. It isn't Thailand, it isn't really Bangkok, it is something else. A road constructed from dreams of escape and the unquenchable thirst for the exotic. You could write it off as a parody of travel, a hollow shell of culture that ceased long ago to represent anything other than the human desire for hedonism. But hate this place and you must hate your own hypocrisy because you created it, you, me and our kind. Personally I was torn. Sipping a Chang outside one of the road's numerous bars my eyes roved for vomiting revellers to disdain while I hoped for a divine wind to lift me above the plastic chairs and the predictable. But I also savoured the unbridled, unabashed vigour of the place. From the tattoo parlours (was 30 a little late to be getting inked? I decided not) and bootleg DVD stalls to the on-street massages and fried insects it is a rough symphony of experiences.
Tania hooked us up with a friend of hers called Prim who took us to what was reputedly the best place for Pad Thai in the city of 50,000 places to eat. After months in South America's culinary monoculture spices and fire filled my mouth and dormant areas of my tongue awakened. Perhaps though the novelty was over-exploited a few days later when I loaded a dish so heavily with chilli that it scalded my tongue. The Taling Chan Floating Market was another haven of fine cuisine. Fish pulled fresh from the water were grilled by wizened women on small boats moored to the bobbing pontoon on which we ate at tables so low Borrowers would stoop to them. A motorised launch took us around the back canals among wooden houses teetering on the edge and past local children frolicking in the murky waters. Huge shoals of catfish tussled over the pieces of bread thrown from our boat, the scene was a writhing silver mass of contorted scale.
The dawning reality of diminishing funds had made it clear that our plans for a grand tour of South America and South East Asia were unrealistic. At least consecutively unrealistic. The galling spectre of work was rearing its ugly head. The two of us would have to sweat and strive for money, not something we had had to do for yea....months. Discovering the average wage in Thailand to be around $6 a day it didn't seem the likeliest of countries in which to fill the travel coffers. Neither myself nor Michael, despite having checked, found ourselves qualified English teachers either (the Thais are getting awfully bureaucratic these days) so that avenue of employment was uncompromising also. We had no choice but to go to a distant outpost of the Western world. A country, nay, continent that lay essentially unclaimed by colonising Europe well into the 18th century. It hadn't featured prominently on any 'must-see' lists of mine but travel is an unruly beast and try to control it as you may it never ceases to surprise. So we were off to see the wizard in the land to the south, to seek our fortune and renew old acquaintances. Speaking of which we'd met by this time a couple of expats from way back. Ali and Jo had been living and working in Bangkok for some years and furnished us with friendly company, extensive recommendations and, kindest of all, accommodation for our final few days there. A great night out in the Patpong area (the 2nd syllable of that name will give you a clue as to its fame) granted a slightly scary glimpse at what this city has to offer, but only a glimpse. I eagerly await the day I can return here but for now we go south.

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