Saying Goodbye to Khao San Road

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“You know, Richard, one of these days I’m going to find one of those Lonely Planet writers and I’m going to ask him, what’s so fucking lonely about Khao San Road.” – Alex Garland, from The Beach

It’s almost empty in the Macaroni Club just after noon.  There’s a table with four blonde girls to my left, behind me a man does work on his laptop.  Then there’s me and there’s a rat.  The rat is fat and brown and has a patch of hair missing from its lower back.  It scurries around from table to table, wandering aimlessly.  In its search, the rat comes dangerously close to the man working on his laptop.  It walks by his foot but he doesn’t notice.  I’m drinking coffee and looking at the rat, and it dawns on me that I’m the only one who knows it’s there.   My friends have gone to the Grand Palace, and I’m alone at a table because I was too hung over and tired to get up on time.  I imagine they’re out and about, looking at relics from a colorful and glorious past, and here I am, in an almost empty café, watching a rat.

The street vendors are setting up.  By two o’clock, Khao San Road will be full of commerce.  T-shirts will line the streets like wallpaper, gaudy and lewd and full of crass humor.  One of my favorite ones has a pink silhouette of a boy and a girl on a black background.  It’s a sweet image, and underneath it, in pink letters, are the words “Fucking Friends.”  The food vendors have begun their work as well, cooking up cheap plates of Pad Thai and selling bottles of Singha beer for fifty baht.  It’s early and I can hear the croak of the wooden frogs sold in the streets.  It’s the sound that I’ll eventually associate with Thailand, the low ribbit made by rubbing a small stick backwards over the notches on the frog’s spine.

In the afternoon I sit outside Nap Park.  The backpackers are gathered outside, drinking already and smoking cigarettes.  I plop my bag down on the ground and sit, not saying a word to them.  It’s early still and the only thing I want is for my friends to return from the Palace.  We’d spent the previous three nights drinking our way up and down the street, strolling by the ladyboys done up in makeup and high heels and the old tuk-tuk operators whispering to us about the ping-pong shows.  We’d heard a Thai band play Lady Gaga covers and a young local guy with an acoustic guitar play Oasis songs.  We’d run into other people from Incheon and laughed, astounded that we could find each other accidentally, so far from where we lived, out by the cart with the roasted scorpions and the fried crickets.

There’s a phrase about Khao San Road – a writer described it as “a short road that has the longest dream in the world.”  It’s a place that has life to it, energy and pulse.  Sitting on Khao San Road, even alone, one gets the feeling that they’re a part of something, even though that something might not be much, no more meaningful than a half-bald rat is alarming when nobody notices it.

At five o’clock my friends arrive.  The sun is just beginning to set, another Khao San Road night ready to begin, and we collect our belongs, get in a cab, and leave.

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