By Kimberly Kosta
Travel is a time for self-reflection. For meditation and taking a giant step back from your life to examine it. It’s also a time to push your boundaries, to drink the shot, take the jump, kiss the stranger, swallow the worm. I wrote an article on being safe and what precautions to take travelling as a woman. I have broken almost every one of those tips at some point. Fortunately, Lady Luck was always smiling down on me and nothing bad happened as a result.
I’ve had cocktails with strangers, trusting the next round of drinks that came to me were ‘clean’ and free of anything more insidious than the cheap alcohol within (which believe me was insidious enough). I had travelled alone to Bangkok (which in and of itself was a great experience), but one night I decided I wanted some other humans to hang out with. So I looked up the nearest expat bar – What luck! Cheap Charlie’s was right in my neighborhood! I wandered over to introduce myself to some random German couple (take THAT, Introverted Self)! After a few (*cough: dozen) rounds, we decided to check out one of Thailand’s famous, um…shows. I’m not going to tell you what that entailed but when I woke up with a snowflake that had “Welcome to Thailand, ****” written on it I promptly washed everything and showered. I WILL say the shots I bought for that nice performer lady I talked to were probably just water. Expensive, expensive water. I laughed at myself. Oh, get off your high horse, internet. I still see them as people, you know? And anyways it was impressive no matter how righteous you are. I mean… I couldn’t do any of THAT with my…you know. Flower.
Talk about escaping the McWORLD!
At the time, I lived in South Korea, which is very pristine in its way. You see young people rocking out pop or punk styles, but they are all showered and well-cared for with freshly washed clothes, starched and ironed, and their looks are all carefully curated. Behind every rebellious bad-ass was a mother who cared. I loved living there.
In contrast, Bangkok was a grab bag of diversity. Was that a man or a woman you were just talking to? One moment you’re walking by someone hardly clothed to avoid the heat (or possibly to sell themselves) and the next you’re walking by someone in a full burqa. (At least you might in Soi Sukhumvit, also known as Little Arabia). There were fat people, thin people and everything in between people. There were stray dogs, but none of them menacing. The air was spicy. There were so many different skin colors. Crossing the road was terrifying, not to mention taking one of the motorcycle taxis. Hey, did you know in other countries the space between two cars is a “lane”? Yeah, I didn’t either, but I’ve got the gray hairs to prove it. It was awesome.
There was a lot to do, too. You can explore traditional markets (which I preferred), or try Terminal 21 for a really cool (literally cool) air conditioned shopping experience with each floor themed after a different famous city in the world. You can see lots of traditional temples and the Grand Palace or hit up the floating market (just beware of the boa guy – I paid to hold a BIGGUN which was all good, but then he tried to get the snake to “kiss” me. How many other tourists had that snake’s lips pressed against? STD!! STD!!! Luckily, I have the cat-like reflexes of, well, a cat). Buddha (my MAN) is everywhere. There’s Muay Thai fights, fabulous food and great shows (like Siam Niramit) to take in. The sky train is DUMB easy to use.
If you want to try haggling, there’s tons of opportunities. Just don’t be douchy about it. I haggled a little with a lady once, and when I got a really fair price on something (without gouging her) she was so grateful. She thanked me after because so many tourists use their over-sized, over-privileged, performance- enhanced economic status to overpower the locals a lot. I believed her. They have kids, too, you know.
There’s some off-the-beaten path stuff to find, too. Like the bar jammed into the space between two buildings and covered with a back curtain to make it difficult to find called the Iron Faerie. It was steam punk meets Bogart. The space was covered in old, beautiful junk, rusted and hailing from the early 20th century (at least in appearance). There was a spiral staircase right behind the bar of all places, twining up to the second floor. I remember sitting there on the only seat available: a metal bucket or something makeshift, getting into the jazz singer performing behind the bar, the only space actually available. She was crooning “I Love You Baby” and we were all singing along (BAH duh, BAH duh, Bah Dah DAH Dah Dah)…! I think I was drinking a white Russian, sitting next to my new American friend. The whole thing was brilliantly weird.
I miss Thailand and would whole-heartedly return. The locals were sweet and helpful, and the atmosphere was an exotic mix of seasonings both pure and wild. The perfect place to go if you’re bored of your Styrofoam-packaged, predictable, McLife.