When I wake up this morning my neck is almost too sore to lift; there’s no way I’ll be up for clinching this afternoon, so I decide to train hard in the morning and then take off for the day.
After lunch, I head over to Sukhuvit and have some hairy patches waxed off my upper body, in preparation for the beach next week. If anyone out there is on the fence about this, don’t hesitate: you’ll feel like a new man after.
I take a ferry north from Saphan Taksin to Ko Ratankosin, one of the old parts of Bangkok and home to the Grand Palace and any number of big beautiful temples. What I want to see in particular is an amulet market which I’ve heard several people go on about, but it’s closed by the time I find it. I end up back at the ferry and eat dinner, and I look at a map for awhile.
I decide that since I’m in the area I should go look at Khao San Road, which is the city’s backpacking epicenter. Going from one tourist mecca to another, I don’t bother trying to get a metered cab; I’d have to walk halfway there before I’d even have a shot, and it’s not worth the two dollars I’d save; for the most part I think it’s fine to get swindled, as long as you know it’s happening.
Khao San is a wide street, largely closed to cars, with strips of Thai flags hung across at regular intervals; the flags remind me of New York’s little Italy, which I suppose is Khao San’s sister in cultural venality. The foot traffic is shoulder to shoulder, and everybody here is either farang or in the business of farang. On either side is a procession of tattoo parlors, noodle shops, “Italian” restaurants, currency exchanges, “Irish” pubs, hostels, cheap tailors, 7-11s (three on one block) and internet cafes; its easy to see what’s what because every business has a giant sign that lights up. At one end of the street’s a dental clinic, but I wouldn’t go there.
The sidewalks are lined with tables selling sundry eatables and dreadlock hair extensions and bootleg everything; at one stall, you can buy a “rock and roll” T-shirt with a video screen embedded in it. Ladies walk about selling jewelry that looks to me more generally “ethnic” than specifically Thai.
I want to sit down and take things in, but I’d feel guilty drinking beer after skipping out on training; after all, Muay Thai is what lets me feel like I’m better than the people here, and it’s an admittedly fine distinction at the best of times. I order an Italian ice at a sidewalk cafe, and I make myself nurse it so the waiter won’t bother me for awhile.
Sunburns; sunburns everywhere. Protuberances: bellies, backpacks. Cargo shorts are absolutely pervasive among the men here, a hard stream broken only by a few shirtlesses in board shorts and the tasteful lacunas of Japanese. Linen pants are pretty much their female equivalent, though a lot of women wear floral-print sundresses instead, and others wear both; I see a few hippy girls who do this and still manage to be achingly beautiful. Many people here look to be dressed in outfits bought entirely on this street.
A little ways off, a Thai with an open suitcase full of hip flasks in the crook of his arm marks me with his green laser pointer. A one-legged man scoots by him on his ass, shaking a cup of coins; he seems in high spirits. All about me is “Rite Round” by Flo-Rida and the sound of croaking frogs, made by ladies who are selling a wooden instrument which makes a croaking frog sound. But nobody offers me any yaba (translation: “crazy medicine.”) Don’t people in this town know how to have a good time?!
Every woman here above a certain age has a sunburned, Teutonic look to her, and wears angular eyeglasses. British boys seem to travel in matched sets—same stocky build, same ballcap, same haircuts and goatees—as if bulwarking each other against the strangeness.
There are no good tattoos on this street.
Eventually I have to leave my table, after the fifth visit from a woman grown incensed by my failure to buy her medallions. The ferry’s stopped running by now, and it will be even harder to get a metered cab here than in Ratankosin. I need to go a lot further now, however, so getting swindled is a more expensive proposition. But there’s not much to be done about it.