Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2001 00:57:04 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: big chang 40 baht
Khao San Road is a bizarre place -- possibly the densest concentration of backpackers in the world, kind of a free-for-all 24-hour street fair. Calling it "Khao San Road" makes it sound bigger than it is; Khao San itself is basically a two-block-long side street, and the area as a whole is maybe eight or ten square blocks, not that Bangkok has square blocks. It's packed with discount travel agents, pirate CD sellers, fake designer clothing, Osama bin Laden t-shirts, miniature disco balls, wind-up cellophane flying butterflies, henna tattoos, $3-a-night guesthouses (I'm relatively at the Ritz paying $7.50 for mine), and of course, rows and rows of cheap bars. You walk down the street after dark and you constantly pass Thai women singing out "big Chang 40 baht" (which is nearly the only English they know) -- ie., double-size bottles of Beer Chang for 40 baht, or about 95 cents. Little bars are set up any place there's room for a couple of table, including nearly all guesthouse lobbies and up and down the sidewalk (any place not occupied by someone selling counterfeit press cards). There was one guy with serving a full bar out of the pop-top of a red velvet Volkswagen minibus -- it's hard to describe exactly, but it's the kind of thing that I thought had died with disco.
Does any of this have anything to do with Thailand? Not really -- it's kind of Camden Locks Market come to Asia -- but it's still a heck of a place.
Bangkok as a whole is an amazing place. It's crowded and the air is bad and crossing some streets can be an exercise in frustration, but on the whole not as bad as I feared. Walking from place to place I think is better than it was in Penang -- the sidewalks are better here, and less likely to be lined with foot-wide, 3-foot deep open ditches, for storm drains. Buses go everywhere, and while I haven't had much success in learning anything from the crappy bus map I bought, I have done okay simply by getting on buses that seem to be going in the right direction -- bus fare is a whopping 8 cents, so mistakes aren't very painful. (In fact, one mistake managed to dump me right in the middle of the Chinese wholesale flower market, an awning-covered chunk of street about 3 or 4 blocks long with what seemed like acres of roses, carnations, lotuses, and other pretty things I didn't recognize.)
Even better than the bus is the Chao Prya Express Boat service, running up and down the Chao Prya river, with scheduled stops at piers every dozen blocks or so. Fare, end-to-end (about a 50-minute ride): 10 baht, ~24 cents. The river is wide and muddy, and lined with piers, restaurants on stilts, and big gold-roofed temples. (Bangkok is lousy with big gold-roofed temples.)
Today has been kind of a business day -- I have spent the morning searching for the Vietnamese Embassy (so I could apply for a visa), doing a bit of shopping, picking up my laundry, and wandering around a bit randomly. Tomorrow I'm going to play Tourist a bit more seriously, and go see the Emerald Buddha, the Royal Palace, a couple of big gold Buddhas, and maybe some other required stuff.
Internet access here costs 75 cents/hour, so I may bore you all with too-frequent updates.
c. -- colin | opportunity calls from a payphone, bruno. you never roald | get a chance to call it back. (christopher baldwin)