[Story starts here] I was aware that a motley band of like-minded scoundrels, including my brother, were already raising hell in Bangkok, and when we finally caught up with them it was three in the afternoon and they were deathly hungover. Such a term is relative, however. Whereas when you’re at home ‘deathly hungover’ means camping out on your couch, ordering a pizza and watching True Blood reruns for the next twelve hours or until you stop hating yourself, in Khaosan it means about ninety minutes of low-grade self-pity followed by a further twelve hours of heavy drinking – and that through a straw, because it’s Buddha Day and we must keep up appearances.
I believe this is one of those times where one can quite confidently say something is worse than it looks. And it looks pretty bad. These guys are in rough shape.
Tana orders two buckets of Chang. There is some random but half-hearted groaning from behind sunglasses, and then the straws are passed around and resignation sets in. So it begins.
Things continue at a fairly good clip for a few hours. We trade one bar for another, somehow manage to identify the most expensive riverfront restaurant in the entire city and eat at it, and then reconvene at Khaosan Road to see where the evening takes us. It takes us nowhere good. There’s an awful lot of Chang involved, some of it delivered in towers, all of it in defiance of the Buddha. At one point we’re involved in a card game. There may or may not have been a snake. A guy with a monkey tries to sell me what he claims is fruit, but I’m convinced is some kind of giant insect egg. We revisit the quality of pad thai that can be acquired from street vendors for 20 baht – about 66 Canadian cents. Turns out it’s surprisingly good when you lack any kind of culinary objectivity. We change bars five or six times, from patios to backrooms to rooftops to the street.
And while all this is going on, these guys are playing a game: they bet each other to do stupid shit for one baht and some glory – a practice that soon came to be known as one-baht betting. They goad each other into eating deep-fried insects, bribing street vendors, making strange proclamations loudly and at inappropriate moments, and performing general shenanigans to the amusement of tourists and locals like – all for the hell of it and one baht (about a third of a Canadian cent), and some video footage that is probably best forgotten. I suck at this game, a fact they won’t soon let me forget, but these guys are disturbingly good at it. They’ll do anything. All it takes is about fifty Changs and twelve cents in Thai change for hours of entertainment. It’s like being back in college.
Meanwhile, all around us Khaosan Road exists: a mind-numbing riot of sound and texture and aroma and colour that is so utterly chaotic it finds its own strange kind of order. Society is represented in cross-section: from destitute backpackers and the poverty stricken, to ladyboys, prostitutes and the working class, to rich Euro travelers, American college students and Eastern Bloc refugees. It’s a filthy hot mess of every type of human imaginable, most of them unwashed, sipping dirt-cheap alcohol through a straw and suffering from mild sensory overload. This bizarre and vibrant chaos continues well into the early hours, and even after the street vendors have gone home there are still pockets of revelers and stray dogs who just aren’t willing to let go. When the bars finally close people sell beer out of coolers. No one seems to mind. Police presence is minimal at best. If there are no rules, what is there to enforce? And somehow it all works: while I’m sure crime and violence exist, I saw no evidence of either. Khaosan and its inhabitants maintain a base level of decency and hospitality that continue until first light, when street vendors begin to reappear and the show starts all over again.
What a life.