I got into Bangkok yesterday, and have mostly been hiding in the hostel since. I’ve not warmed to it, though it’s plenty warm enough. It’s the kind of warmth that forces you to accept that you will be drenched with sweat for your entire stay, and means you can’t apply sunblock to your forehead as it will inevitably be sweated down into your eyes and sting like buggery (learnt that one in India). I’m feeling a bit like a kid who keeps throwing his toys out of the pram because he’s bored of the beach and just wants to go home and watch cartoons – there’s very little about Bangkok that appeals to me.
I’m staying just off Silom Road in the south east of the city, near the once infamous Patpong area where American GIs would come for some ‘R&R’ during the Vietnam War. While it’s nowhere near as seedy as it used to be, there are still lots of floor shows featuring such acts as girls who can fire ping pong balls from between their legs (no prizes for guessing how), sex shows of various kinds, and massage parlours offering massage, and the rest. When I got into the airport, and ever since, I’ve been seeing lots of shifty-looking single white men in their forties and older, and as much as I don’t like to make assumptions or generalise, I’ve been muttering ‘sex tourist’ to myself under my breath on a regular basis.
Bangkok actually smells like India, a combination of hundreds of individual scents that puts you in a particular place and a state of mind – exhaust fumes, sweat, spices, fried food, cigarettes… who knows what else. It’s like trying to analyse kryptonite to find out what it is that makes Superman go all feeble. There is only one other smell I can think of that is so evocative of a place and time – the smell of the Lower Fifth corridor of my old school – socks, sweat, deodorant and cheap aftershave that has me breaking out in spots and reaching for the nearest Cure CD.
I spent most of my evening yesterday reading Pete McCarthy, who kept me company with The Road to McCarthy, a book swapped with Simon in Shanghai, about his travels to Tangiers and further afield in search of some tenuous family connections. It was full of beautiful little observations on life on the road that had me laughing out loud – not good in a small hostel room with thin walls, where I’m likely to appear to the other residents to have some sort of mental illness. I was gutted to find out this morning that Pete McCarthy died of cancer last year at the age of 51.
Anyway, it’s time to get out of Bangkok, as soon as possible. At the moment, I have the urge to skip the rest of South East Asia altogether and get to Australia early to work on a farm for a while, but I’m not doing it just yet – if I’d have got into India through Delhi, I might well have done the same thing, and lots of people do – and I would have missed out on three of the most amazing months of my life – so with that in mind, I’m heading for Trat and the Ko Chang National Marine Park near the Cambodian border – a stunning looking group of Islands with exotic wildlife and deep blue waters (I’m told). If it’s great I can stay for a while, if I don’t like it, escape is at hand with Cambodia just next door.