Saturday, January 24

Organised Chaos (A Trip To Thailand): Part One

Thailand is a country I’d heard colleagues and friends rave about, and a country I'd desperately wanted to visit for years. I’d been to South East Asia before, it represented a bare element of humanity; dirty and chaotic, yet passionate and beautiful. I'd treasured those past trips to Asia, and I expected something similar in Thailand. I’d also had a love for Muay Thai for a while, so Thailand was on my 'bucket list' of countries to visit. 
My attitude to travelling was to do as little planning as possible, and go with the flow. My travelling companion had also visited Bangkok before, so I figured it would be a winning formula.
In hindsight it wasn't a winning formula, but I don't regret the attitude I employed.

I arrived to a busy, small and run down airport. After standing in a long taxi queue, I was ushered into a car with a driver who barely spoke English. He told me it would cost 500 Baht (around $20 NZD/SGD) to go to my hotel. I had been warned about unmetered taxis, and the scamming of tourists, so I told him 400 Baht. I figured fixed sums are smarter, since the drivers incentive is then to get you as fast as possible to your destination. This opposed to a meter, were his incentive is to take the longest route possible.
The driver agreed to my price, but not without much (what I took to be) cursing. He then starting talking on his phone in an angry voice. As I was driven passed signs written only in Thai, dark and unlit streets and with my ignorance of the city, I realised how vulnerable I was. If the driver decided to drive me down a deserted alley and introduce me to some 'friends', I would have had no forewarning or defence. “Shit” I thought to myself, “I may be about to start my Thai holiday passport less, moneyless and perhaps dead.”.
Luckily my fears  never came to fruition and with much relief, we arrived at my hotel.

The room and facilities were joyless, though cheap (close to $20 a night). I quickly found my friend, who had arrived several days earlier, and excitedly left to explore the city and eat some delicious food.
There was a slight problem. My friend didn't know the city. Despite having spent a month in Bangkok in 2012, and having been in the city several days before me, he had no clue where to eat. So after wandering for around these unknown parts for 30 minutes, I settled on a place to eat. I could tell it was priced for tourists, when the dishes cost more than in Singapore. However at this point I didn't care, being hungry and still buoyant having finally arrived in Thailand. The food itself was delicious, though the portions stingy.
The tones of that first evening; uncertainty, exploration, a shadow of disappointment though ultimately enjoyment, characterised the rest of our trip.

I found that my friend's lack of knowledge about the city also extended into the day time. We spent the next couple of days quasi aimlessly wandering around the city on foot, with me apparently the leader of our expeditions. Hours passed walking and taking in Bangkok. In many ways Bangkok was entirely ‘ordinary’. The traffic was chaotic and dangerous, the city polluted and dirty. Street food was everywhere and souvenirs were hawked. It was hot, but the constant refreshment of water and fruit juice were small blessings. There was some greenery and tropical imagery to take in. Nobody spoke much English, which meant the great art of pointing was used frequently. The fact that in this way, Bangkok was so similar to many other cities I had visited (in SE Asia, or elsewhere), was disappointing. Where was this Mecca of travel so many Westerners had mentioned?

The Khao San Road experience!

Khao San Road was another infamous place in Thailand, with a notorious reputation. We arrived to find it filled to the brim with tourists, Pad Thai, massage parlours and bars. Every 20 yards we were offered cheap drinks, massages or invited to ping pong shows. I felt like this street was a figurative, and during night time literal, Thai fellating of tourists. It was so transparently crass, that I felt a tinge of disgust and bemusement. I can only imagine the most ignorant of travellers enjoying this place, or those that wanted a thoroughly depraved experience. The typical Khao San Road tour, it seemed to me, was to get drunk on cheap alcohol with your lads, eat Pad Thai, pose with some fried insects from the street stalls, abuse some locals, go to a club and pick up a desperate Thai girl (or ‘girl’), get in a fight with some other whites, then fuck said girl before collapsing in bed, to wake up the next morning with a terrible hangover. 
However despite my moral posturing, part of me lusted to experience such pure hedonism. I am an occasional drunkard, and at such times, I am the guy that people tell stories about after (thankfully they are almost always amusing stories).

After these first few days, I was introduced to my friend's Thai acquaintances and the trip changed course, ever so slightly.