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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

Hacktreks in Bangkok

The Khao San Road – backpacker purgatory

I know Bangkok is soon, just over that rise surely? But still it creeps up subtly, catching you unawares, hard to see a defined edge.
The outskirts are grey, buildings ramshackle, under construction/deconstruction, a clutter of concrete blocks, struts and thick metal rods, as though in need of abandonment almost. Maybe these places were never meant to be, a good idea disregarded, rubble-strewn shelter for a population explosion.
A light rain falls, absorbing all the colour, turning the streets neutral, to slate. People move quickly here, with a purpose and eager to find a welcome place.
The city is that brown haze on the horizon, softening the appearance of huge glass high rise, hiding distinguishing features from this distance, seething masses cloaked.
You join the main flow of traffic, 6 lanes each way in parts, just another 4 wheels in a city of millions too many, a single blood cell through the veins towards the heart of Thailand. The traffic is thick, clogging the arteries like choking cholesterol, gridlock angry, impatience, revving stress levels loud. It feels like something is about to give…

The Bangkok I first see is surprisingly flash, neon pulse, all mod-cons, shopaholic super sidewalk, techno edge. It doesn’t intimidate like I imagined it might – it invites. Possibilities endless, Gucci cosmopolitan, satay chicken, steam vent designer smog, old and tradition swept aside with the litter into corners for new and modern.
The bus passes the other side, I’m sure after a wrong turn and there is a brief snapshot of people – shacks, crude construction handmade shelter beside railroad tracks, garbage, open-air steam cook smells, bonfire and shit. Children , wild hair, chasing litter, cats chasing rats, rats chasing roaches, a metaphor for the city. And then it is gone, sent to the back of the queue by a big Starbucks world of glass fronts and claustrophobic concrete rise.

The Khao San Road – backpacker purgatory.
One-stop for all things needed and not needed, Thai tradition fake and long gone, not required really. A commune for odds and ends the world over, international marketplace for crap. Welcome to Thailand open-armed rip-offs, neon lit and draped in tie-dye.
Bootlegger heaven, this, that, the other. Beaded while-U-wait, tattooed while-U-wait, wait with a beer or a cocktail served by a genuine ladyboy. Restaurant churn, faster-faster-faster food – dish out noodles, rice, fake crappy watered-down food at thick stodgy prices. Fry and sizzle dead insects for photo opportunity, cautious with those chopsticks.
Electric neon overkill, it is pink green yellow blue red, but it is never dark, silence unheard, hum and throb. A thousand nationalities, wide-eyed, one-stop farang convenience. New people, old people, stereotype catered to the extreme dude, dreadlock holiday. Tight tops, big tits, slim figure, golden tan, perfect teeth, the best midriff you’ll ever see. Good smells, bad smells, 24-hour everything, mass market arms reach for your convenience, never move from that barstool, never take your eyes off that movie. Irony of The Beach lost, copies read, movie watched, big screen subtitle so you can hear above the moped buzz. Leonardo DeCaprio warns of bullshit backpacker clique, but still they will search, traveller commune concept loathsome.
Tuk-tuk, fucked up, "Meestah! Meestah!" Motorcycle drone, taxi red/blue, green/yellow, wait and wait, remember your face, take you in, take you out, take you for a ride in a world of bad traffic headache sounds.

Visas in 24, everywhere, every country, the solar system and beyond and the broken promise of super-slick air-con vehicle to get you there. Trust their smiles with your passport. Access the web, access the world, access all areas with a coke, a fruit juice, with a pretty Thai girl on your lap - take you back home in the blink of an electronic pulse. Baht per minute, baht for sale, baht special inflated rate, busy calculator fingers charge quick, rounded up to the next minute if one second over.
Blast you with dance, blast you with trance, swing your pants. Bob Marley good times with hints of ganja and sunshine and sex still to come. Full Moon, top tune, dance in the surf on Ko Pha Ngan, on a plate, easy access, book early to avoid disappointment.

Osama bin Laden is alive and well and smiling ironically down at you from the front of a 200baht t-shirt, from a rack with Bruce Lee, Chairman Mao, Kermit the Frog and Che Guevara.
Head for peace if you can, tall order. Silence is golden and if the Thai’s on the Khao San could manage then they would market it and sell it along with everything else, charges per second.
No escape. Cardboard room that still smells of the inside of the cereal packet it maybe once was, hamster cage, newspaper and droppings. Green misty vapours, thick drain clog smells, coughing plumbing, bronchial taps spitting vicious hissing brown water, life inside rattling pipes, bang and drip with a pulse.

The fan spins for eternity, or until the fuse blows, whomp-whomp-whomp-whomp, the ghost of Vietnam helicopter, Hueys over Hue, cold sweat veteran shivering despite the heat, ready for The Shit.
Plastic wrapped, lightly salted, the place that never sleeps – The Insomniac Rotten Apple maybe. The rats are fat, perspiration thin gloss sheen, tainted.
Thanon Khao San.
Has to be seen.
I love/hate it here.

Matt Casey Feb 2003
© Matt Casey

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