17954 reads
Posted by Tim on Apr 7, 2006
Return to Bangkok

When they last left you, the hedgehogs had just arrived at the mighty temples of Angkor. They spent six days there, and of course encountered much adventure and excitement. But those tales now need to be set aside, because this chronicle is growing so out-of-date that stern measures must be taken. Thus it is that our tale resumes one week later, back in the metropolis of Bangkok, Thailand...

Belly of the Beast

It's called Khao San Road, and you either love it or you hate it. And generally, you hate it. Most of the people we know do, anyway.

It used to be just another residential street in the Banglampoo district of Bangkok, but that was before the backpackers came. The story is that during some important festival in the late 1980s (I forget which, exactly), budget tourists found all the low-cost accomodation in town booked up. Being outgoing little problem-solvers, they started knocking on doors, asking the locals living on Khao San to rent them rooms. The residents caught on quickly, and soon the first guesthouses emerged. Then bars and travel agencies followed, and well... things just kind of snowballed from there. They really took off in a big way when the book The Beach was published (and then turned into a big-budget film starring Leonardo DiCaprio), and the number of tourists passing through Bankok went through the roof.

Today, Khao San Road is part Las Vegas, part Times Square on New Year's Eve. It feels a lot like one of the early Lollapolooza concerts, and quite a bit like Spring Break. (For our readers from other lands, I apologize for my American-centric analogies.)

The sidewalks are crowded with stalls, so it's no problem if you'd like to munch some deep-fried insects while having your hair braided and getting a fake ID. There are Beer Chang T-shirts, septum piercings, fisherman pants, bootleg CDs and some dirt-cheap pad thai, probably all available from the same street vendor. At the ubiquitous bars, "beer girls" in silk slips encourage inebriated tables of gap-year kids to order another round or three. As you try and push your way through throngs of people and clouds of pot smoke, tuk-tuk drivers will spring up to bar your way and seedily offer to take you to "ping-pong shows." A baby elephant will be led by on a chain begging for food, while the preacher on the corner loudly tries to save your immortal soul.

It's really just wonderful.

Ok, maybe not. But I have to admit, I don't dislike the Khao San scene as much as some people (for instance, the lovely Jessica, who hates it with the heat of a nova). True, it does at times feel like it's just packed to the gills with the most horrible people in Thailand, tourists and locals both. But it's fun. It's the exhilaration of sensory overload, the exhuberant recklessness of taking everything to the logical extreme. And it's the best damn people-watching in the world.

For a little while. Then I need to retreat to someplace quiet for a few dozen hours. :)


In Bangkok, we were once again reunited with our friend Klaus. We'd said goodbye to Klaus in Phnom Penh, whereupon he traveled to Indonesia for some scuba diving and we continued our exploration of Cambodia. We'd promised each other before parting ways that whoever arrived in Bangkok first would meet the other at the airport/bus station, preferably holding a sign of some sort.

Now, the standard for these signs had been set some months before by our friends Michael and Sophie. And they'd set it quite high, at that.

We traveled far and wide to gather the necessary supplies (a story for another time), and in the end we arrived at the airport clutching our humble offering. As amused as Klaus was, the reactions of the other passengers and staff were almost even more fun for us.

Reunited with our Klaus, we quickly spirited ourselves away to a lovely little Italian restaurant to commence the feasting and the drinking. Many exciting tales were exchanged. (For his part, Klaus had encounted in one of his dives yet another whale shark, the greedy bastard.)

Over the next few days, the three of us planned our next adventure together: The People's Democratic Republic of Laos.

Our antics in Laos will be the subject of our next few posts. But first, one last Klaus-related anecdote.

Some time ago, Jessica wrote a post about a day the three of us shared on the island of Ko Chang. Klaus, who is 38 years old, immediately emailed that post to his mother. Because he travels with a film camera and doesn't develop his prints until he gets home, it was the first time she'd ever been able to see a photo of him while he was traveling.

Jessica and I thought that was absolutely adorable, so we made up a little page for her: a collection of photos of her son (and a hedgehog or two) in Ko Chang, Sihanoukville, and Kampot. For those who are interested, I present to you... Klaus-Spotting. (Mom and Dad, we promise we didn't get as close to the water buffalo as Klaus did!)

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones:

The Stuffy Who Fell On The Floor

The Stuffy Who Fell On The Floor

Coming to America

Coming to America

This Will Do Nicely

This Will Do Nicely

April 7, 2006 at 8:01am
First time first! Yea!
April 7, 2006 at 8:49am
I'm trying to decide if I'd like Khao San Road or be overwhelmed by seediness and tawdry. It does sound exciting, but I suspect that I'd veer more towards Jessica's opinion, but maybe less nova heat level and more campfire heat level.

Oh yeah, found out recently that I'm most likely moving to Barcelona this summer. I hope we intersect in Philly before I leave. Or that you guys come and visit me.

April 7, 2006 at 9:45am
Hehehe… love the Klaus-Spotting bit– his momma must have been thrilled.

Stay safe!

April 7, 2006 at 12:54pm
Ugh! I'm number four, but I suppose that's better than being numner 2,876,999 or something… ;) Anyway, I LOVE the cute sign you two made for Klaus and I look foward to checking out some of the sights at the website you made for his Mom. You two truly are wondeful people, but you knew that already didn't you? :D I'm going to miss you two like crazy over Easter, but I'm tickled pink (OK maybe rainbow) that you're having an awesome time on your trip. Take care of each other and hug Senor Pig for me. XXXOOO -----> Me
April 7, 2006 at 1:04pm
I love the Klaus-Spotting pics! I think he and Pad would get along great seeing as they both tend to wear the same kind of hats. I look forward to seeing more picks at Klaus-Spotting site in the near future. Until then have fun, soak up the sun, and drink some fruity cocktails for me. TTFN! ---> Me
jp reiss
April 7, 2006 at 1:49pm
We love khao san road, well I do, well maybe not, but I do quite like it, a bit. Would love to be there now with you both. Do you know there is a cafe that serves proper English tea on khoa san. Klaus-spotting rocks.
April 8, 2006 at 7:07am
Khao-San sounds like something out of the 70's, something Kubrickish. No funny smoke for you!
April 13, 2006 at 2:25am
overloaded senses aren't my thing, either.
hurray for meeting up with friends! the sign is quite adorable.
April 16, 2006 at 2:18pm
They put the funny pictures of me on the internet!
Now here are the pictures of them that I took :)
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