I sit at the edge of the bed, in tears. My head is pounding with the likes of a migraine that has not left me in two days. My eyes are closed, and I fear to open them for having to deal with my surroundings; I am in a dingy windowless room in Bangkok, walls stained by the greasy hands of hundreds if not thousands of travelers before me. The smell of raw sewage nauseatingly permeates the room from the bathroom shower drain; a hole in the floor. A bare and harsh fluorescent bulb flashes above me, casting a garish and unworldly tinge on the room; I am sure I’ve seen this in a horror movie before.
And this is a vast improvement on the place we stayed in last night.
Welcome to Bangkok.
This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
For every person who has said they enjoyed Bangkok, I have spoken to another who advises to get out of the city as soon as possible. It seems that you either love it or hate it. I fear I fall into the latter category.
The legendary Khao San road is a mecca for backpacking tourists. Hundreds of guest houses are available for budget-minded travelers, off small alleyways, behind and above restaurants, and occasionally as stand-alone buildings. Accommodation starts at $5/night and increases according to the amenities preferred (or the level of squalor you are willing to endure).
Khao San road itself is a wide pedestrian road about a kilometer long, and an experience for all the senses. Peddlers selling souvenir trinkets, bags, accessories, clothing, and CDs clutter the streets. Restaurants, bars, massage spas, and guesthouses line each side, and street food carts selling everything from corn on the cob to fried bugs spout out smells both delightful and otherwise.
The streets and alleys in the area of Khao San road also feature more of the same, in varying degrees of chaos. Close your eyes and you will hear everything from music being sold at pirated CD stands to wooden musical instruments (also being peddled) to sizzling woks, laughter, bottles clinking, and thousands of people walking, talking, laughing, and crying.
Inhale and you will smell everything from meat frying and sauces bubbling, to exhaust fumes and the feces of the many stray cats and dogs underfoot.
Neon lights, the full spectrum of colours, noises galore, people everywhere, the constant chatter of a native language that sounds like a fax machine to one who doesn’t understand the intonations; an overload for all the senses.
And it is all very much too much for me.
In one day, I was ripped of my so many different people that I lost count. I only thank my lucky stars that the exchange rate between dollars and the Thai baht is so favourable that a single loss rarely exceeds the equivalent of $30. But that is still too much for me to handle.
My trust in the human race has been shaken. Sure – as a tourist I am to expect to be overcharged and swindled. But the prevailing theme of how I live my life has always been to trust people. Even with this in mind, I had thought myself to be a fairly savvy and street-smart traveler, but the natives are smarter yet.
I have been taken by tuk-tuk drivers to numerous places I never asked to go to (because there is a commission in it for the driver if I use the service they insist I use, be it a travel agency or tailor), and when I finally arrive at the location I asked to go to in the first place, the price has tripled since the original negotiation. I have been abandoned by other drivers mid-ride and left in places where the price to get out is a premium; been sold bogus electronics that broke before the day was out, and been sold yet other overpriced, over-promised, and substandard items. Mud is on my face, thick and full.
I am truly bothered by the constant overt attempts to swindle travelers. Hearing that the Thai people are renowned for their kindness and generosity, I have over and over again been lured into conversations by friendly smiling faces, only to somehow end up getting sucked into something in a dishonest and underhanded manner. I say “no” about a thousand times a day and still it is not enough.
Do those who have less money than me also have less conscience too? How far are they willing to go to get their hands in my pocket (literally and figuratively)?
I guess I should consider myself lucky not to be in a place where I could easily be killed or maimed for the contents of my wallet; at least here people utilize creative attempts to get my money, and usually I get something in return – whether or not it is useless or less than what was initially promised.
And I guess I should consider myself lucky to have money in the first place, and the ability to travel to these places and expand my horizons.
Bangkok is a huge and expansive city that just never ends. I am a small and insignificant part of it, with no place to fit in or feel at home and let my guard down. And after traveling through it, being lost in it, feeling sick, losing sleep, and losing even more money, I can’t wait to leave.
I don’t plan to come back to Bangkok. I only hope that the rest of Thailand redeems itself for me.