Bumming in Bangkok Days 112-116: A Couchsurfer’s Approach

So as not to bore you with in-depth details on the minutiae of my time in Bangkok, I will summarize my time in the city in one fell swoop and post. For the first day in a long time, I got to do what I will probably call ‘absolutely nothing’. For all my time running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I needed some true R n R even if it meant doing so in essentially a stranger’s home. In a way, this time would give me a reprieve from my latest temple tour to the next, greatest at Angkor. I occupied my time researching Cambodia covering all the details of what I would like to see and would be willing to pass up. I am allotting myself the full 30 day visa whether I use it or not thanks to the flexibility available on a long term trip as this. Besides making the occasional trip downstairs to fill up on some food or water, my feet rarely went beyond the apartment itself. Friendamigo (my Couchsurfing host’s chosen American nickname) arrived later in the evening as I was chilling like he were the stranger to his own apartment. Being the great host that he was, he offered to cook dinner. While he went about preparing Kung Pao (a spicy chicken dish with holy basil leaves and a fried up egg blanketing a mound of rice), I crudely cut up a papaya and then dressed it with a drizzling of lime juice (a trick worth attempting to turn this lax fruit into something that pops). He served up what I assumed was my dish since it appeared to be a portion for one. Not until I was halfway through his rendition of this famous dish did he make me aware that it was for the two of us to share rather than me greedily lording over it. Clearly I felt like a total dick being a loafer all day and then eating his dinner. I apologized without delay and he said he would just make another one with the extras he had. With that, essentially day one came to a close with the two of us sleeping on the same essentially unquantifiable, flat mattress with enough space between us. For the next few days, I tried getting wifi to figure out how to fix my iPod touch which decided to give up on me in the Yangon airport. My prevailing fear was that I would lose all my pictures and for the remainder of the trip miss out on some great photo opportunities. I tried everything under the sun, every trick all the self-proclaimed computer whizzes could come up with. Just when some hope might arise out of the muck and mire of this personally hated city, the iPod refused compliance. For the most part I had taken care of the perceived essentials necessary to leave Bangkok but this hassle chose to extend my stay in a city that I can fondly and amiably say I despise. All the while, I kept thinking how in a few months I will have the pleasure of reacquainting myself with this dreadful city when I apply for my Indian visa. Some people enjoy their time in this Southeast Asian power but for me it is too crowded with people, shops, and my arch nemesis tuk-tuks. Sometimes I struggle to find a full breath of air beyond the pollution that lovingly hovers over and amongst the city’s population. Personally, I don’t mind big cities if they offer more than the fancy hotels, boutique shops, high rise apartments and skyscrapers, and Western philosophy towards the night life. Paris, London, Rome, etc. can be crazy and down right dysfunctional at times but they offer culture and history that I feel Bangkok has dusted under the rug with the exception of the multitude of signs reminding visitors of their love and adoration for the dying King. I did the main tourist sites on my first go around through Bangkok so I was more than content to reserve myself to the outskirts of Bangkok near Ramkhanhaeng train station. The only times I lurked out of the shadows was from necessity for my blessed iPod touch leading me to brave the chaos that is undying Bangkok traffic and pedestrians. I will admit that one part of Bangkok holds a true, genuinely warm place in my heart. The food culture in Bangkok is just plain impressive. You can not go hungry in Bangkok as long as you have some spare baht to toss around. Note: guava with a spicy sweet dusting grew into one of my favorite healthy street snacks. Near the apartment, I found a restaurant serving up some A1 quality food (filling as well – not skimping out) for just barely over a dollar. For those with a foodie curiosity, Raad Na and Pad See Eiw reigned over the table. Sure at night I occasionally had to dine in the presence of mice and rats scurrying around me on the unclean floor but what would a Thai restaurant experience be without it. When I somehow found the wherewithal to focus on the joy of the meal at hand, I would occasionally see a large black figure progressing between the legs of an adjacent table. At first, I assumed in one quick snap of my peripheral that it was in fact the largest rat man or nature had ever created but when reality had caught up with my illusions I realized it was actually a cat. Beyond this restaurant, food is everywhere at mostly all times of the day. I love how little communities seem to have formed in the thick of the Bangkok madness. These streets and neighborhoods revolve themselves around the everyday man’s shops and marketplaces that give it its lifeblood. With in a place like this I tended to forget I was in an overarching city like Bangkok. In their small allotted stands, whether along a main road on the sidewalk or apart of a larger marketplace, locals are frying up various pastries, grilling up a random assortment of meats, boiling fully spiced soups, etc. When not too crowded (which is still crowded but not Bangkok crowded), I enjoyed simply perusing the areas to soak up the energy, commotion, and aromas that can only be deadened by the next market or food street that surely sits around the corner. Although I have not seen Bangkok fully (a task no one could achieve), I think I can now saw I have gotten an idea of its scope. A strong and undeniable disconnect exists in the city. In the west along the Chao Phaya River you have the main tourist sites including Chinatown, the Grand Palace, Wats Arun and Pho, and Khao San Rd. Here, you can see some impressive architecture and dedication to the religion of Buddha but you can also venture into the grime that sticks like glue to the sketchier parts of town. On the other hand, the center of Bangkok is a place evolving each and every day to the modern and vastly western city style it tries to emulate. Grand malls with all the necessary Louis Vuitton and western chains dot these areas along with cleaned up parks and a cleaner, more tolerable approach to what Westerners are accustomed to. Amongst all this, there are slums that are pushed off to the sides left to be ignored but without putting blinders on you can not help but notice the large separation between the two. I found viewing this divide on one hand fascinating while increasingly eye opening and depressing on the other. This city is living and breathing with many layers of social economics at its footstep, more than any other city I have stepped foot in. With that blurb behind me, let’s get back to my godforsaken iPod touch (I know, I know, worse things could have stricken me). After trying all the tricks up my sleeve, I went to an Apple repair store willing to attempt to fix whatever bug lay within. More time would be needed, bringing me in closer to an embrace of a city that I fervently pushed off. On one day of waiting for the repair shops to give me a likely negative reply, I chose to go to Lumpini park for some jogging and walking around its man-made lake and using some of their public exercise equipment. Returning to the shop in a sweaty mess and daze, I found out the answer I long expected: no good could be done with this piece of hardware. With that in mind, I purchased a new iPod touch for use down the road. Since I had been dying to leave Bangkok as soon as I arrived, I raced over to Mo Chit bus station to hopefully buy myself a ticket for tomorrow morning to Siem Reap (aka the launchpad to the world’s greatest display of temples and to a place I had been dying to see my whole life – the root of my desires to see Southeast Asia: Angkor Wat and the other temples that filled the area). Little did I know, the bus station was not as close to walking distance from the skytrain station as I had expected. After a long confusing walk in the dark asking people of its whereabouts, I finally found myself at the bus station (which resembled a small disorganized airport based on the people going through it) and bought my treasured ticket. From there, a short sweaty jog led me to the train station and further along to the apartment for some much needed nourishment of Raad Na topped by a fried up egg, Thailand’s original ketchup-style version of sriracha, fish sauce soaked chilies, and a dollop of vinegar seasoned by more chilies to get the fire burning. I got as much sleep as I could that last night knowing a six o’clock wake up call waited around the corner.

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