bangkok stinks

Literally. Every step yields a new olfactory assault: smoking coals; sewage; diesel fumes; sun-dried squid; miscellaneous South East Asian smell that has lingered in our nostrils since East Timor.

Nevertheless, we found this strangely endearing. It’s been a while since we’ve been in a big city and even then, Singapore and KL are positively sanitised by comparison. We had a hunger for some grit and Bangkok certainly delivers on grit. The traffic literally snarls and it’s one of the only cities in the world where you can be run over by a shop.*

Speaking of shops, it might sound a little strange but we often had difficulty identifying them. In Australia, there is a very wide differential between a shop and, say, a living room. Not so in Bangkok, where families frequently attempt to make an extra baht by merging the two. Our powers of observation and deduction were tested daily as we peered through doorways wondering if the items on display were family trinkets or goods for sale. Significant failure on one occasion when we wandered into someone’s living area, foolishly mistaking it for a thoroughfare.

After spending over a month in the tourist-dominated south, where menus mostly comprise the same handful of dishes tailored to farang tastes, we were also hankering for some authentic cuisine. We managed to track down a few items on the hit-list, including yam hua plii, miang kham and sangkhayaa fak thawng (what?), as well as lots of incidental noodles and some chocolate cake. Also revelled in the wide availability and usage of ingredients that are difficult to find and heinously expensive at home – most notably limes and exotic mushrooms. Just wishing I could get my hands on a wok.

Similar to the Phi Phi dilemma, we debated long and hard over whether to visit Bangkok’s the infamous Khao San Road, hallowed mother of all backpacker ghettos and highest concentration of neon signs outside Vegas. We skirted around it a few times and one fateful Saturday night, decided to plunge head first into the abyss. Like most things we think we’re too cool for, once we gave it a try, it was actually quite fun.** There wasn’t as much shockingly bad behaviour on display as we had expected and there were actually quite a lot of Thais out for a big night too, perhaps on account of this guy who was performing in a free concert. But take heed young grasshopper: it didn’t end well.

* I must attribute this incredibly witty remark to someone else, although I can’t remember who. I read it somewhere (yeah, good story Catie).
** Note, however, that this will not deter us from being too cool for most things in the future.

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