Surfing The Sensory Wave.
04.04.2012 - 06.04.2012 32 °C
I love Thailand.....its capacity to beguile, bewitch and bewilder is boundless...and it does so by force.
Nowhere is this evidenced more fully than in Bangkok...the nations capital.
In much the same way as Mexico City ,the scale of this town is intimidating . 12 million souls packed in to the most populous area of Thailand by far. A sea of good natured humanity borne squarely on the back of a clearly defined national identity and an enduring magnet for tourists worldwide , with good reason.
Indeed,If Cities were earthquakes I would venture to suggest that Bangkok would be a nine on the Richter scale.......such is the explosive impact of its charm and at the risk of be-labouring a metaphor I would venture to suggest that Khao san road...the district where I spent three days prior to my next destination , Kho Samui, is the veritable epicentre of that earthquake.
The word "Khao San" itself translates literally to "milled rice" and is an attribution to the historical role of this street in the rice trade. However, as the 21st century approaches the middle of its second decade the scope of commercial activity has expanded exponentially to encompass a much broader spectrum of frenzied commercial activity and within the space of a couple of blocks, bars, restaurants, hotels , internet cafes, hostels,massage parlours, pharmacies and convenience stores jostle for the visitors attention .....falling over each another in feverish competition with the legions of street traders who work this area in pursuit of the tourist dollar.
This district has long been a favoured destination for the backpacker on a budget and travellers from around the planet converge on Khaosan road with their dreadlocks, sarongs and suntans to regale their fellow travellers with tales of their planetary exploration. Suntanned faces and sun kissed souls exchanging experiences and laughter over a Chang or possibly a Hookah pipe as the tide of business ebbs and flows around them and the steamy sun subsides over the city skyline.
Bangkok.....like New York, Buenos Aires and Rio conducts its business in a round the clock fashion and sleep tends to be a disposable luxury in the face of such energy .
However, when the yearning for slumber overtook the desire to immerse myself into sensory overload I was able to retreat to the excellent Buddy Hotel.....an inexpensive...clean and efficient oasis of calm wherein to recharge my batteries in preparation for another assault on this marvellous city. Thanks Kirsten for this recommendation !
My travels have enabled me to reunite with members of my family dispersed across the globe. Bangkok was no exception, and I was able to spend some late night/ early morning quality time with my nephew Luke ( currently living and working in Bangkok as an English teacher) and his beautiful girlfriend Fern.
In the space of a few hours we were able to explore the more notable and salubrious drinking establishments in the vicinity....and shared a hookah pipe with my nephew and his buddies which experience can be compared to that of smoking apples. In a city of firsts ( or the opportunity to experience them) this followed hard on the heels of my first feed of scorpions earlier that evening.
Fern was able to up skill me in the appropriate recognition of Ladyboys......(Khaosan road is apparently teeming with these individuals of a questionable gender) and I must confess I was completely unable to recognise the subtle differences.I am reliably informed however that the beautiful tall girls ( as opposed to the beautiful shorter girls) were very likely to be trans gender. No wonder some blokes get into trouble in this city !
Luke and Fern , thanks for your kindness. I do hope I can repay your hospitality in Australia soon !!
Serendipity would dictate moreover that immediately adjacent to my hotel was the excellent and delightfully surprising "Brick Bar".
This hostelry showcases local bands specialising in Ska and Reggae.The punters within a writhing mass of humanity...surprisingly devoid of westerners ( I was later informed that this bar is largely frequented by locals).... enjoying the unlikely transposition of Ska and Reggae Rhythms from the Caribbean to Asia which works so well that I was taken aback with the quality and energy of the musicianship. Thoroughly recommended !
Now to matters of a more sporting nature !
Im not a betting man.....but if I were I would definitely be investing a lazy 50 dollars on the Thai womens Table tennis team for Gold at the forthcoming London Olympiad.
Such is the fervour exhibited on the streets of Bangkok for the artistry of the more serious exponents of this craft ,that even the taxi drivers have become swept along on the burgeoning wave of enthusiasm...with at least five or six of their number urging me to attend the evening and late night practise sessions of these seriously gifted sporting virtuosos.....Apparently their legendary skills in the manipulation of the little white hollow ball rival those of Tiger Woods or Roger Federer in various other (less popular in Bangkok) small ball games.
Obviously constant practise does wonders for the hand eye coordination of these champions and their sporting facility spills over into the arena of Darts.
Impressive stuff indeed.
Table tennis is obviously thirsty work moreover.......and another popular skill with the ping pong crew is the ability to open a beer bottle without recourse to a bottle opener. Female multi skilling at its esoteric best and clearly an opportunity for the Chang beer company to harness the fortunes of the team in London and make a killing !
Having said all this however ,whilst I'm all for sporting prowess and correspondent enthusiasm I must confess that neither Ping Pong nor darts have ever been amongst my favourite spectator sports and I politely declined their offers.
Undeterred and without drawing breath these taxi driving sports aficionados then resorted to the seemingly universal taxi driver sales pitch with (seemingly) well heeled male travellers the world over...this being the recommendation to the potential punter of services of a different sportive nature from various professional ladies of the metropolis (and Im talking oldest profession here ladies and gentlemen).
Aha !!......This being more familiar territory...(having spent an inordinate amount of time fending off the more focussed marketing attempts of the
"Love for Sale" brigade in various Latin American countries) I was able to muster a suitably offended "one raised eyebrow" look of disdain and reassure them that in a city full of delights...such as Bangkok undoubtedly is.....my requirements for those particular services from the fairer sex were not on the agenda.
Moving quickly away from the taxi rank I was immediately accosted by the little old lady selling the wrist bands emblazoned variously and salaciously " I love you long time", "Big C**k in Bangkok" and the like and for the equivalent of several ill advisedly spent dollars became the proud owner of several wrist band gifts for my more liberal friends at home and overseas ! Sorted.
One of my favourite things about Thailand (and folks Im by no means a royalist ) is the uncluttered affection, respect and admiration (somehow escaping the tentacles of subjugation) afforded the Royal family by the average Thai citizen.
It is one of the first impressions of the visitor to Thailand.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej ,the Incumbent monarch,has been presiding over the Thai people now for some 66 years boy and man.This makes him the longest serving monarch on the planet by a more than comfortable margin ( besting Good Queen Bess by a full 6 years) .
However the British Monarchy, partly as a result of the buffoonery of some of its members over time seems not to be able to command the wholesale loyalty and affection of the British people.....much less the commonwealth , and whilst some segments of British society undoubtedly support and embrace the monarchy...the majority of us largely ignore and distance ourselves from their number.
In Thailand however the Kings longevity has been paralleled by a universal national love affair with the Thai Monarchy which appears to be an integral part of Thailands National identity.The King and Queens Right Royal countenances beam down from myriad poster hoardings across the city. Every bar and restaurant and private home displays portraits of the monarchy and the health and welfare of these amiable figureheads is paramount.
I like this.....its like a good natured glue that unites a nation....and the visitor would be well advised to acknowledge and respect this tradition.
My time here was all too short and passed like a busy frenzied whirlwind. Next stop the much less busy but equally attractive Koh Samui !
In summary this metropolis is a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of colour , sound and organised chaos . A billion fragments of churning detail clambering over one another to invade the consciousness.
In a previous blog I intimated that the traveller...to truly absorb the travel experience must open all five senses ( and the sixth if he's game)....In Bangkok to open ones senses fully is to open the flood gates to a sensory Tsunami. So travellers take note.......approach the Bangkok experience with the energy, enthusiasm and verve that it so richly deserves and it will repay your endeavours with interest. Enjoy !