I mean, where better to do anything at all, than Bangkok?
One of my favorite cities in the world, definitely.
I've been in Thailand a couple of weeks now -- on my own, a very personal and private celebration of my 20 years of English teaching, that started here. Maybe celebration is too festive of a word, as I haven't been partying much. A remembrance ceremony. A meditation, even.
Considering my life path, yes, but also considering Bangkok, where it all began.
I went through Songkran, which has developed from handfuls of people throwing water around to a massive crushing parade of celebrants dousing each other relentlessly. Pumping up your weapon to shoot water on somebody, and perhaps put white paste on their face? Not very subtle sexual sybolism, I suppose, though the original idea was about washing away sin. Now's it's got a Halloween feel to it, with masks and the LGBT community out in force.
If you read my first memoir, you'll know the story. I went backpacking in 1994, and by 1995, decided I wanted to teach English ... in Taiwan. But they wouldn't give me more than a 2 week visa, so I ended up taking the first job I saw in the Bangkok Post, the largest and shittiest chain language school in the city.
Khao San road was a lively place in 1995, sure, but it was a lot mellower. We weren't tourists, then, or even backpackers, we were "travelers." (With all the snooty pretension you can imagine that goes with that.) It was fairly rare to meet somebody who was just travelling for a couple weeks or a month. People were out for 6 months or a year, in those days. Khao San road was still just mainly one street then -- -- there were a couple bars, a lot of cafes and cheap guest houses -- I think practically none of them had air-con or hot water, in those days.
The big draw in those days were movies; the cafes would play bootleg videos and it was always a treat for those of us who'd been on the road a while. Pirated CDs and cassettes were big in those days, also, as well as the t-shirts and fisherman pants and so forth.
While a certain amount of beer got drunk and pot got smoked, I would say in general it was pretty quiet back then. Bangkok was a place to relax and enjoy first-world comforts after the rough roads of India, usually. There were a couple bars, but people were so tight with their pennies in those days that attempts to open nicer bars and nightclubs always failed quickly, because people didn't want to spend the extra money.
Jesus Christ, it's like a cross between Bourbon Street and Bartertown in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The main thing I notice is that "Khao San Road" has pretty much expanded to fill streets on both sides of it and both ends of it.
When I first lived here in 1995, I lived on Rambuttri road, in the Green House Guest House.
READ ABOUT IT HERE ON TRIPADVISOR
At that time I liked it because it was quiet, cheap, and you actually got a real room. (A lot of cheap guest houses those days had plasterboard walls.)
Rambuttri was the street you walked (or lived) on if you didn't want to get bugged by t-shirt vendors on Khao San, a quite street with a couple of guest houses and a bunch of food vendors. Now it's like the motherfucking Champs Elysee. Open air cafes with neon and paper lanterns and giant buddhas and live music and such. There are fire-eaters and break dancers and buskers, too.
The Green House has changed a lot -- they knocked out the side wall and built a sidewalk cafe. (The entrance used to be in that alley.) They have some rooms with air-con and hot-water now, but they still have the little cubicles such as the one I lived in, just a bed and a fan and that's it. (I lived in Room 54 for a year between April 1995 and April 1996 -- the ETX Suite. It costs 350 baht now ($12 now) and cost 100 baht ($4) back then.) Weirdly the walls aren't green anymore. Why would they change that?
But about the area in general, I gotta say, basically, it seems a LOT more fun than 20 years ago. (See, I'm NOT one of those bitter old men bitching about how the old days were always better.)
The backpackers are far and away a more appetizing lot. The Russian and Eastern European chicks certainly up the beauty-quotient a lot, and short-time tourists are just generally healthier and more "kempt" than we used to be. Back in the day, the nationalities represented were pretty much ONLY American, British, Australian and a smattering of other Europeans. There were also a lot of Israelis, usually fresh off military service.
The Brits in the 90s were a bad lot, particularly, football holligans and ravers with IQs decimated by ecstasy abuse and untoward obsessions with the number of beats per minute in the dance music. The female to male ratio seemed way off in those days, also -- a lot more males were backpacking than females. Now it seems fairly even.
Back in the mid-90s, also, Bangkok seemed very uncomfortable with backpackers in general and Khao San Road in particular. I remember there were a couple of scathing articles in the Bangkok Post about what a shithole Khao San Road was, with the firetrap guest houses, a lot of theft and drug abust and rape reports. (There was one guy who sold jewlery, a middle-aged Chinese guy who wore jean shorts and tie-die shirts, who had been accused of rape so many times the police finally put up flyers warning people about him.) The police were constantly busting rooftop parties and such. There was talk of shutting the whole area down to build a mall, if I remember correctly.
Now they seem to have come to respect it as a cash cow if nothing else. The cops are omnipresent but polite, and keep patient watch over the debauchery.