Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Goodbye Bangkok

I started my last day in Bangkok with a straight razor shave from a local barber – a slightly unnerving experience that left me with a fresh-powdered face and a few patches of whiskers to clean up myself at the hotel. For some reason I romanticized the idea of getting a world-class shave from a Bangkok barber, but the episode – despite absorbing the rising and falling cadence of the barbershop banter – left me wanting.

I checked out of the hotel before noon and took a stop-and-go taxi ride to the Hualamphong train station where I checked my backpack for the day. On a search for an Internet café I wound up in Chinatown, which is ten times as crazy as Khao San road – minus all the tourists. There are just as many people, but because of the omnipresent traffic everyone is forced to the sidewalks that are lined with food vendors, souvenir stalls and sleeping homeless people. I walk for 15 minutes before deciding that in Chinatown Internet cafés haven't quite edged out the chicken-on-a-skewer stalls or the fried-fishhead vendors.

My next adventure must've looked like a route Billy from Family Circus would've took as I meandered in the noonday heat past trash dumps, tent cities and outdoor asphalt soccer fields. At one point I wander into a local food court where KFC, Dairy Queen and other Western familiars lined crowded avenues of plastic knick-knackery. My favorite food stall: Duke's Fresh, which billed itself as "a slightly outrageous bakery."

Eventually I wind up at MBK, a massive shopping center near the sky train and the National Stadium, which has for sale just about everything – all located right next to a whole lot of nothing. What I mean to say is that MBK is a capitalist venture of the most ridiculous proportions. The entire fourth floor – perhaps 50,000 sq. ft. of individual 12 ft. by 12 ft. stalls– appeared to be dedicated to the selling of cell phones and their various accessories. Disturbing.

Tired of walking, I jumped into another taxi. The driver told me I could help him out if I let him take me to a couple of high-end stores – some kind of tourist promotion whereby he got vouchers for gasoline. I feign interest at a precious gem outlet and a custom tailor and he takes me wherever I want to go for the rest of the afternoon for about $2.

For lunch, I post up at a seafood restaurant where I sloppily wrestle with a whole crab tossed in a dark red chili paste and various vegetables. I amass a pile of wadded napkins and bowl of cracked shells, and I am convinced that the staff will be joking about me later – the American who had no idea how to eat the crab.

Afterward I jump into my first tuk-tuk and head back to the train station – a bumpy, stuttering ride through the afternoon traffic, during which my driver tells me that Chiang Mai – my next destination – is very cold right now. I nod, smile and wonder: In Thailand, how cold can it really be?

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