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When I came to Thailand, I knew about two things : it’s way more touristic than any other country I’ve visited in this trip, and I might see a lot of portraits of the King of Thailand.
I discovered a third thing : I was right. You see a lot of portraits of the King.
After cruising two days on the Mekong, I came out of Lao and I took the bus to Chiang Mai with other travelers I had met on the boat. Chiang Mai is a nice city. And by that I mean, it’s not an unpleasant city. After three weeks in Lao, Chiang Mai was city-like at the extreme : cars, motorbikes, tuk-tuks… city life! And so many tourists!
Because, yeah, it’s a touristy city. Some parts are filled with pub travel-agency laundry restaurant massage-parlor hotels, and the sight of a middle-aged plus-sized tourist parading with a short-skirted over-make-up-ed thai girl is not as uncommon as you might imagine.
In Chiang Mai, you can do lots of things : the old city to discover, temples to visit, massages to get, learning thai cooking or thai boxing… I don’t like hitting people so I chose to get a cooking course. I already learned some cooking in my trip (Jeremie, you’ll like to learn that), but this was a real course, and I learned to cook a six course thai meal, with other students, a visit to the local market… and a tasting of what we cooked. And let me tell you that what I cooked was really good, especially the spicy papaya salad. Yummy stuff.
After a few days of Chiang Mai, I decided I had enough and did an unforgivable : I took the bus to Bangkok.
And not anywhere in Bangkok… to Khao San Road…
Khao San Road is sometimes compared to a Mecca for travellers, tourists and other backpackers. The legend tells us that in the olden times, fourty years ago, it was a forgotten street in a poor but central part of Bangkok, where cheap hotels sprung out of appartment buildings, and then a complete industry sustained by the rapidly growing (sex) tourism took hold in the area, filling it with t-shirt sellers, “massage” parlors, ozzie pubs, tattoo boutiques, nepalese tailors named A. Rmani, silver jewellery shops, Sikh yogis named Dr.Singh that can read your mother’s first name in your palms, bookshops that don’t buy used books anymore because they can’t sell any because nobody reads anymore when travelling (thank you Internet). If you except the Thamel in Kathmandu and the Naya Bazar in New Dehli, Khao San Road has the biggest concentration of travelers. At five in the morning, the first backpacks are seen getting out of the night busses from Phnom Penh, Phuket or Chiang Mai, and while they are scouring the street in search for a cheap hotel room, they can meet with the last drunkards from yesterday night, who are the new best friends of that japanese rasta guy. The first street shops come at about eight or nine, t-shirts with Britney giving the finger are hiding rows of sunglasses where the only choice you have is between Wayfarer and Aviator, both fake of course, and traveller’s jewelry, like shark claws or taiga tiger tooth. It’s crazy what you can do with a chicken bone. Around midday, people get out of their hotels and kill their hangover with their first beer. Newly tattooed aussies discover the drawings last night left on their skin, because when you’re drunk you don’t remember all the genius ideas you had. Don’t worry mate, the pink care-bear on your tummy may have been inked under a deep emotional state, but you can tell your chums back home it was done ironically. And while drunk. You’re a real hero, mate. You drunk lotsa beers, mate. Around five, the sun is low on the horizon, and tourists come back from their visit of Bangkok, their bags heavy with statues made of precious wood, kitsch souvenirs, and “ethnic” or “authentic” paintings to hang in the living room back home. Seven! The first drunken british guys go to with the first british girls, packed in colorful dresses two sizes too small, to the typical restaurants : mexican bbq, Indian fast-food or KFC… After that, groups of reformed Israeli military take tuk-tuks to go to sex shows, or ping-pong tournaments (I don’t really know what it’s all about). Then at nine the streets are blocked : travelers are flocking around travel agencies for the tickets to the night busses to all the corners of S-E Asia, there are backpack barricades and you can’t find any sandwiches or bottled water in all the 7/11s around. The busses finally depart, and leave the streets for nice and boring french couples who go out after putting Maceo and Lea to sleep, and they’re looking for the gallery-cafe on a rooftop that’s mentionned in the french Lonely Planet and the Routard, but not the Petit Futé because yeah, well, two guides might be enough. Midnight. Everything’s still, except in Khao San Road, where ladyboys start the night-long hunt for big german tourists who won’t see any difference. I say german, but don’t get me wrong, I also saw big austrians in their place. Tattooed eurodouchebags with sunglasses and a tank-top featuring a local beer logo are hand-humping the drunken meat of eurosomething girls who came to South East Asia for the Mystical Experiences and the Nature and stuff ; while the blare of a live cover of No Woman No Cry is resonating through the whole passage, from one of the Rasta cafés that’s also an internet place, “massage” parlor, tattoo and souvenir and tattoo souvenir boutique (who among us never dreamt of offering a Bob Marley tattoo to its significant other?) and laundry thing at $1 the kilo. And at three after midnight, all that little circus is closing shop, t-shirts go back in the bags and everything’s folded shut. The wisest tourists are coming back to their hotels, without noticing that they don’t have their wallet, room key, passport or dignity left anymore. One “Thai Lady” might have taken everything. They get really cross if you ask if theirs are real or fake, and if *snip* (doing the scissor gesture with the fingers)…
So yeah, Khao San is a little Babylon. It can be fun to be around, but not for very long. Me? I found a nice veggie place behind the Burger King, with macbook-using japanese people and french hippies with grey dreadlocks. And free WiFi. And I also met with my old boss from the work I left in August, he’s visiting with another colleague whose sister is not unknown to me.
One day I decided it was too much, so I took a bus ticket to Koh Phangan, home to the Full Moon Party, to get together with a friend I met four month ago in Mongolia. Then I went to eat in an all-you-can-eat buffet with a japanese hot-pot on a conveyor belt. One, two, three of my deepest wishes abou foor came togeter at last, thanks to Giselle, the freckled Korean girl I had met a month before in Lao and with whom I went to this restaurant. I had promised her we would meet again, and I wasn’t mistaken!
After that and a night in the bus and a boat ride with Virginie, a nice french girl who sports her lao+chinese origins with utmost grace (that and a cap to cover her short hair), I finally arrived in Koh Phangan.
Almost paradise. You have to forget the french couple couples, who don’t have kids yet so they travel with other couples, or Swede girls who came for the beach and the coconut trees and monokini in winter, and cheap booze of course, and to get bored in the sun instead of getting bored in the snow. When you see Sweden in Winter, you can understand them.
Koh Phangan, home to the Full Moon Party. At the begining, it was just a birthday party under a full moon twenty years ago. Then they did another party under the next full moon… and now, every 28 days, it has become the biggest rave party under the stars on a beach on an island in Thailand. If Bangkok can be compared to Babylon, the Full Moon Party can’t really be related to anything from the Bible, because in that time, though alcohol and drugs existed, techno music on beaches didn’t. If you really want to put it in a biblical context, picture a great bunch of people turning to salt statues in the end.
Yet, the following morning, waking up to see the sun rise over the ocean was a nice thing.
Two days later, I’m in Malaysia, in Penang, in a crappy hotel in Chinatown. Thailand was fun, but I don’t want to come back yet. Maybe in thirty years to spend my midlife crisis in the arms of a ladyboy. Before that, I have lots of other countries to discover and to come back to, without so much social pollution caused by western tourism.
Friends, if you wish to go to the other side of the world, you can go to Thailand, but don’t make it your only goal. It’s a very fun and easy country to travel, but there’s lots and lots of other sights in the world, than british tourists trying to sleep with ozzies.
But well, do as you wish, that’s why I love you all.
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