Directly outside my hotel are two dance clubs, facing each other. The street between them is the dance floor and nobody seems to mind that the wall of noise produced by the two competing sound systems has no discernible rhythm. Described by Alex Garland in his novel, The Beach, as ‘…the center of the backpacking universe’, this is Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road.
By day, the strip looks a standard tourist trap. Vacationing families wander through with their young children, checking menus at the dozens of tourist-Thai/western restaurants. Street vendors hawk T-shirts, cheap souvenirs and good street food.
I meet up as planned with an old mate from work. In a random restaurant, eating, drinking, sharing old stories about life in the middle east, catching up… we simply fail to notice the transformation occurring around us. Only standing up to get the bill we realise we’re now in a nightclub. The music starts. We wander out and into a few more street beers.
The night shift vendors, noticeably more assertive than their daytime counterparts, peddle sex, drugs and good street food. Want a drink? No worries. The street bars stay open all night. Feel like inhaling Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) from a balloon? That’s a thing now apparently, and it’s 50 baht ($1.50). Just ask where you see the signs saying ‘Laughing Gas’.
Not surprisingly, nobody is actually laughing, because, you know… Nitrous oxide just makes your head feel fuzzy for a few seconds, and your voice seems an octave lower and… well, that’s what I’ve been told…
Want a girl? No worries… or perhaps satisfy your bi-curiosity with a kathoey (Thai ladyboy). Thousands to choose from! Maybe you just want to eat a scorpion or a centipede on a stick, for some reason… they have those.
At both ends of the street, a dozen tuk-tuk drivers ask me where I am going. They strongly advise that I, with their assistance, get a girl, or a guy… or just let them take me to a nearby place where female performers do unspeakable things with improbable objects designed for other purposes.
If you’d prefer something a little more relaxed, just leave the street and go… anywhere.
I step around the corner into relative calm. A woman is relieving herself rather aggressively in the gutter. Reclining there, having hitched her skirt to reveal a remarkable commitment to tattooing, among other things, the woman puts on quite the impromptu performance. She looks up and meets my eye as if to say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? …bit humid tonight’. If she is consciously aware of this present display of projectile public urination, she surely won’t have this memory tomorrow’.
It gets later, and messier (the street itself and the people on it). The street bars (ranging from modified food carts to people with a cooler and some beer on ice) are open. I’ve long-since lost my old mate, somewhere on the strip. Now it’s just chatting and street beers with all manner of random party folk. At 4.00 am, drinks are still flowing. The party has contracted to pockets of strangers, sitting on plastic stools or in the gutter. It seems one member of each group is required by law to have an acoustic guitar handy. Piles of garbage grow large behind a street food cart, which is open.
At 5.00 a smattering are still drinking. Some tuk-tuk drivers and ladyboys are still out, doing the hard yards. The street looks like a football riot has recently passed by.
Just before dawn, a couple of miniature garbage trucks arrive and their teams get to work. Then comes morning light. Khao San Road is ready for another day.