Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Leaving Asia

I've packed up and left my bags at Sakul House hotel reception. I had a last pad thai—a disappointing one—and will get one last Thai massage before heading to the airport on the 3 p.m. shuttle.

The tourist bus doesn't run anymore from Khao San Road to the airport, but the shuttles are only 130 baht door-to-door. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to use them FROM the airport, so for that I've been taking the airport train to Phayathai and catching a meter taxi from there.

The unusual here is normal now and I am not phased by much in Bangkok. When I think back to when I first arrived in June and remember how excited I was by a modern, clean room and sticky rice, I have to laugh. Small things struck me as delightful on my first day in after four months in Africa. I'd been excited by free bottled water and iced coffee. And of course, the chance to get my parasites seriously checked out.

Last night, I took one last walk down Khao San Road. Make no mistake, this is a ill-mannered place, full of beer and drunk tourists and cagey fortune-tellers and fried things on sticks. After a few days here, it's easy to wonder why exactly you're here. I was here for the ease—the cheap laundry and plentiful street food, the competitive hotel prices, the overwhelming number of people keen to massage my feet for an hour in exchange for seven bucks.

I can't say that I love Khao San—sometimes it's just plain annoying, like when I heard Hotel California three times in one morning. And sometimes watching all these tourists partying raucously with their friends can inspire self-pity. Not that I'm alone, but that I've never known how to be raucous and never understood the lifestyle that so many people slip into without a thought.

But I do like easy. And the tourist ghetto sure offers me that.

I walked in the semi-dark of night mixed with electric neon and streetlights, past the Doppler effect of rising voices in outdoor restaurants, past the beer hawkers and the pop-up bars, past the T-shirt sellers (one tried to get me to buy a white zebra T-shirt until we had a discussion about how we both detest white T-shirts), the pirate DVD hawkers, and the dozens of Thai teens out to enjoy their Halloween. The evening was warm, the shops were all still barricaded behind sandbags and retaining walls, and occasionally I'd almost trip over a small kid in a Batman costume.

I'd been in Asia four months, in Africa four months.

That means only two more to go. Which is...I don't want to think about it. At the beginning of Asia, when I'd been doing "ordeal travel," I would have been relieved.

But now? Going home and acclimating yet again to routine and daily life?


I hope I get back to Southeast Asia sooner than the eight-year gap between my Bangkok-Sri Lanka trip of 2003 and arriving in Bangkok on June 19 next time.

Here's a last look at the river over the weekend. I shot this on Saturday, by the park and also up across the khlong in the Samsen area.

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